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India: After the riots against a film screening...

Tuesday 30 January 2018, by siawi3


India: Loud mobs and silent rulers

Ruchir Joshi

The Hindu, January 28, 2018

The anti-Padmaavat mass goondagiri stems from a disease that has been eating away at our society for a long time

So, imagine this: you are a young man getting on with your daily life when someone from your religious community, caste or ethnic group comes and taps you on your shoulder. “Hey,†he says. “Have you heard? Such and such a film (or book) has insulted our great _______ (fill in god, deity, prophet, historic leader, icon), and we are gathering to protest! Come!†You growl: “What? They insulted him or her, how dare they?†In a heartbeat you drop everything and go off to join the protest. Such is your seismic fury, your sense of being personally attacked, that you suddenly find yourself a part of a mob that’s pelting stones at a school bus full of children, that’s bashing the hell out of anyone you can find who is not identifiably part of your group. You haven’t read the offending book (you don’t even read books, maybe), you haven’t seen the film because it hasn’t been released (none of your leaders have either, it’s all a chain reaction, dominoes of hearsay toppling), but you don’t care. You believe that your core has been physically assaulted, that you are merely striking back for your honour, because if you let this pass, your group will be obliterated by the cuts of dozens of books and films.

Ways of responding

No, that is lying nonsense. If your sense of self is strong, you raise your voice in the group and say, “Hang on, but has anyone actually read this book?†Or, “Shall we wait and see the film first?†If you have a life that is in any way fulfilling, with a serious chance of achieving some goals, you also ask: “Okay, so this idiot has written this book (or these malicious villains have made this film, or that gutter-worm has painted that painting). So what?†If you are really secure in your religious identity, the only force you need to prove anything to is the one you worship. If that omnipotent goddess/god and/or his/her all-powerful prophet is insulted, they are more than capable of dealing with it, you don’t need to get involved. If your religious identity is insulted, then reply by achieving great things. If your sword of honour is actually blessed by the almighty, do not sully it by pulling it out to slash at every dog that barks at you in the street. Certainly do not give yourself the licence to attack innocents in the name of your group.

But actually all this is irrelevant rhetoric. In most cases of a section of people feeling “insulted†, you will find that the “offence†is reverse-engineered. What this means is that a political aim is first identified — as a group we need to increase our power, we need to create stronger unity among ourselves by whatever means necessary, we need to leverage the politicians’ anxiety about losing our vote, we need to stamp on other competing groups, we need to make others fear us. How do we do this? Ah, look, here is a book that we can claim offends us and on that basis we can give ourselves the licence to kill. Here’s an obscure set of drawings made 30 years ago, let’s dredge it up and attack every exhibition of the painter because he belongs to a minority we need to cow down. What’s this, a film showing two middle-class Hindu women in a relationship? Will screening the film turn millions of women into lesbians? Of course not, but it’s a godsend, we can riot and assert ourselves. Oh, look, here’s that first offending book again, or rather the writer who wrote that book a quarter century ago, he’s coming to a festival here during election time, let’s put on our offended-topis again and create trouble. The political parties will have to give us some concessions.

All politicians are guilty

It’s been said before but it bears repeating: the anti-Padmaavat mass goondagiri stems from a disease that has been eating away at our society for a long time. Politicians from various parties have been guilty of allowing it to fester for narrow, short-term gains. Rajiv Gandhi was guilty, as was Narasimha Rao; Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was guilty, as is Mamata Banerjee; Asaduddin Owaisi has been directly involved in promoting this sickness; Raghubar Das of Jharkhand is guilty. Ashok Gehlot, who endorsed the mullahs protesting Salman Rushdie coming to the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2012, was guilty. At that time, there was an opposition leader happily attending the JLF dinners, even as her party was trying to slap cases on those of us who protested the de facto ban on Rushdie. She is now Chief Minister of Rajasthan and in this anti-Padmaavat violence, she is as guilty as her counterparts in Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. What these people are guilty of is standing by and allowing the cynical manipulation of disaffected young men (and some women) for political gain. They are guilty of complicit silence, a la their strongman boss in Delhi, while the mobs run riot across the top half of this country.



Padmaavat proves again: State might no match for bullies

Above all, watching “Padmaavat†is a statement against the creeping lumpenisation of public space and discourse

Updated: Jan 24, 2018 23:44 IST

Smruti Koppikar

Mumbai offers many lessons in giving in to the bullies, and one in calling them out.

Watching a film should be enjoyable and stress-free. With Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s epic period drama “Padmaavat†, it is anything but. Watching it has become a statement in support of him and lead actor Deepika Padukone, both of whom have been threatened with physical assault, disfigurement and death. It is a statement against the appalling and unconstitutional methods employed by the little-known Karni Sena against the film, its director and actors.

Above all, watching “Padmaavat†is a statement against the creeping lumpenisation of public space and discourse. Self-appointed defenders of anything demand to have their way, threaten public order, take law into their hands, and deliver “justice†by taking lives in most horrific of ways. In doing so, they brazenly challenge the authority and writ of governments. In this case, the defenders of Rajput aan, baan and shaan, as they remind us, have also cocked a snook at the Supreme Court, no less, which declined to ban the film. These sainiks are hard at work, torching malls and theatres, stoning a school bus.

But the Karni Sena did not become so powerful overnight, in a vacuum. Unreasonable young men who terrorised in the name of the cow and lynched Muslims or Dalits were celebrated as “gau rakshaks†; abusers and misogynists who threatened rape-murder online were encouraged because the Prime Minister followed them on social media; men and women who publicly declared that their belief/faith superseded the law of the land were hailed as public leaders.

On each such occasion, there was a fundamental shift in the balance of power between the aggressive law-breaking bullies and those they persecuted. Had the Rajasthan government called out Karni Sena’s bluster early, things may not have come to this pass.

Mumbai offers many lessons in giving in to the bullies, and one in calling them out. The Thackerays and the Shiv Sena have threatened the world of arts, literature and cinema – and mostly got away with it. Ironically, Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena backed the release of “Padmaavat†, counter-threatening that “those who obstruct it in Mumbai would have to face the wrath of MNS workers†. This is convenience.

What if the film had depicted a Maratha warrior in unflattering light? Would he have allowed its release? Both the Shiv Sena and the MNS have perfected the art of stalling a film’s release, threatening — often carrying out — violence, making a spectacle of Bollywood czars and stars bowing to them to “avoid trouble†at the box office.

Historically, the Sena’s response to disagreeable depiction, dissent and criticism has been threats and attacks. The legendary Acharya Atre was physically assaulted because he had criticised the party as “Vasant Sena†given the tacit support it apparently received from then (Congress) chief minister Vasantrao Naik.

In 1972, Sena chief Bal Thackeray had objected to parts of Vijay Tendulkar’s celebrated play “Ghashiram Kotwal†and slandered him in public. The Sena “banned†author Kiran Nagarkar’s “Bedtime Story†when it was first published.

It violently campaigned against the publication of Dr. BR Ambedkar’s “Riddles in Hinduism†. In the 80s and 90s, Thackeray counted the most powerful men in Bollywood as his friends. They courted him to avoid trouble. Their acceding to his menacingly-worded requests enhanced his extra-constitutional power.

Filmmaker Mani Ratnam had to screen “Bombay†for Thackeray before its release, never mind that the Censor Board had certified it. Violence was very much in the air.

In 2016, Raj Thackeray made Karan Johar’s life hellish before the release of his “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil†because it featured a Pakistani actor. Eventually, Johar compromised by donating Rs5 crore to the Army Welfare Fund as some sort of patriotism cess. This deal, do not forget, was brokered by CM Devendra Fadnavis.

In 2010, when the Sena had threatened to block the release of “My Name is Khan†, the then CM Ashok Chavan and his deputy RR Patil ordered preventive arrests of Shiv Sainiks and declared they would go to theatres for the first day first show. They let it be known that the government was in control.

If the state chooses, it can enforce law and let order prevail; the bullies are no match for its might.