Jan 182015
 

My blog on Charlie Hebdo shootings, in DNA on 8th January 2015

Is the price of offending nutcases, death? How far do you hold your silence? Who all are you supposed to be scared of? Can you really blaspheme against a religion you don’t follow?  If you don’t believe in God, or you don’t believe in the story of the origin of the universe in terms of religious reference points, if you don’t believe in a ‘One God’ theory and are joyfully polytheistic, if you like beef, if you laugh at idols, if you question the Virgin Birth, if you don’t believe that Prophet Mohammed is the last prophet— are you committing blasphemy or going against religious beliefs?  What if they are not your religious beliefs? Are you supposed to follow the religious dogma of religions you don’t follow? And why?

There is this extreme religious fundamentalist arrogance that looks at the world and expects it to be reordered as per the dictates of someone’s interpretation of a ‘holy book’. And the reason the term holy book is in quotes is that there is no one holy book for all the people, and there never will. Every time, we give in to any section of population whose sentiments are ‘hurt’ by some depiction or the other, we are not just giving up on the essence of religion, but the essence of a Secular Democratic Republic. The job of the State is not to assuage offended egos, and self appointed guardians of morality, religion and God, but to protect the rights of the individual whose right to express and expression is threatened.

 

299854-charlie-hebdo-collage

Some of the illustrations in Charlie Hebdo

The ruling against the representation of the Prophet was to prevent idolatry (which is considered to be taboo in Islam).  However, when people, who are neither followers ofIslam nor of any religion, are killed by terrorists for physically depicting the Prophet, this is the most primitive form of idolatry behaviour possible. A human sacrifice to an angry God.  No God, no religion asked for this. Self appointed guardians of religion, who are possibly borderline psychopaths, are setting the agenda and expect the rest of the universe to follow out of fear.

Expecting people who do not follow a faith to follow the taboos of a faith is not just nonsensical, it also interferes with other people’s freedom to religion of their choice. I have been hearing voices on social media, op-ed pieces in respected newspapers on how restraint is needed in expression. This piece from the Financial Times especially hit hard–

Financial Times later changed this to a version that did not include the word stupid. Actually, Charlie Hebdo is not being stupid. They are exercising their freedoms.

There was an inexplicable quote by a woman I really admired as a school girl, Kiran Bedi -

Why provoke is a good question but maybe a better question is why do some people get provoked while most of the world doesn’t. And, why are we supposed to give up our freedoms for these whiny, attention grabbing types? And how long do we live in fear, and for what all?

We live in a world where anything can cause offense. The fact that you eat meat can cause offense to a vegetarian; the fact that you as a woman demand control on your body may cause offense to an orthodox religious type; the fact that you interpret the scriptures can cause offense to those who believe in a comic book version of the religion. There is no end to those who get offended and throw a hissy fit that says ‘pay attention to me and my views, I am important’.

Every time we give in to buy peace, we forget one thing – peace cannot be purchased. And peace purchased to assuage the anger of a psychopath carrying a gun, is temporary fragile peace. You will do something else tomorrow to offend him and cause him to raise the gun again. This is not about religion. This is about domination of all spaces in society and making them comply with a twisted vision of reality.

It needs to stop now. Peshawar and Paris are the clarion calls to stop appeasing bigots of all shades.  And, finally I will end with a quote attributed to Charab – the cartoonist who was murdered yesterday by terrorists-

“I am not afraid of retaliation. I have no kids, no wife, no car, no credit. It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I prefer to die standing than living on my knees.”

Jan 182015
 

My column in the DNA on the 29th of December,

It is that time of the year when publicity hungry groups go chasing movies they want to ban. Two years ago, it was those who wanted Vishwaroopam to be bannedbecause it affected their sensibility and hurt their sentiments, now it is another set of groups who want PK to be banned because it hurts their sensibility and sentiments. At a very fundamental level, the two sets of groups, despite their affiliations, are similar. What do they want – they want the world to be re-imagined in their own narrow, humourless, intolerant, uniform, black and white view of what is acceptable and what is not. Furthermore, there is this deep rooted arrogance that they are God’s spokespeople and God, for some unknown reason, requires their intervention. If anyone even remotely believes that this is linked to faith or devotion, they would be mistaken. This is linked to piggy backing on a more famous brand name (God, Religion, Stardom) for interested parties to make a name for themselves and establish themselves as a source of unelected power and influence.

Do people have the right to protest – indeed they do. Can people protest about a film that they dislike? Of course. But do people or groups have the right to prevent others from watching a film – a very emphatic no.  A film bothers you – don’t watch it. A book bothers you, don’t read it. A piece of music offends you, don’t hear it. There is nothing and no one forcing someone to consume any artistic product. On the other hand, the groups that protest, try and force the State to ban a film; or prevent an author from a public gathering; or prevent the performance of a play; or ask for a book ban; thereby depriving others of consumption, by threat of creating a law and order situation – do try and force the rest of the world to accede to their wishes. This is intrinsically undemocratic and also goes against a civilizational ethos of not just pluralism, but also dissent. People have the right to express their creativity and their point of view, without threat from outraged hordes.


Protest against PK in Jammu. PTI

Last year, while writing about the outrage over multiple things (including Vishwaroopam), I had written this:

Goethe, the German author, poet and dramatist, observed that the “There is nothing more frightening than active ignorance.” It is a quote that comes to mind every time there are protests about books, authors, paintings, films, music – in short ideas and concepts. Most who protest have neither read, nor seen, nor experienced the object of their outrage. They believe that the idea has profaned what they hold in great esteem. And, they think, therefore, that they have the right to silence this ‘offending’ view so that no one gets to experience it. John Stuart Mill, in his seminal work “On Liberty” (1859), termed this behaviour of wanting to silence a particular view, as evil. He said “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error”.

The government must send out a stern message to all those who are protesting against the film (or any other work of expression). You have the right to protest and the government will defend it. But break the law, and you will go to jail. Vandalism, threats, and trying to shout down the rest of the population will not be tolerated. The message needs to go out loud and clear, for the more these groups are emboldened by inaction, the more they will thrive.

Sep 222013
 

My comment piece in the DNA on the 11th of September

In Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, two young men knifed another man who was stalking a woman. The stalker’s family lynched the two. And before you could say “what happened” there was a full blown communal riot that claimed 38 lives.

The army has got called out to restore order. It is alleged by political parties of all hues and shades that the riots were caused not by people intent on killing each other, but by a video on youtube that showed, in graphic detail, the lynching of the two young men. Except that the video was not of this particular incident in Muzaffarnagar, but of a similar incident in Pakistan a few years ago. This is not the first time that doctored pictures and doctored YouTube videos have been used to inflame passions. Fake videos and photoshopped images of the violence in Burma towards Rohingya Muslims caused a backlash across various parts of the world, including India.

Similar tactics were used during the Assam riots last year. As always, the call is to get politicians not to shoot off their mouths before they see evidence, but to curtail social media because, the logic goes, that 90% of India who have no access to social media will get outraged by seeing inflammatory, disparaging and obscene picture and video content on computers and smart phones they don’t possess, and spontaneously burst into riots.

If you think that Indian politicians are the only ones subscribing to this logic, you would be wrong. The Turkish PM laid his troubles at the door of social media, so has the Brazilian government.Even the British Police blamed the power of social media in fanning the London Riots.

But, to blame the tool (social media) for riots is to mistake the wood for the trees. It gives administrators a convenient way out for their reading and mishandling of the situation. There was no youtube or social media during the Partition, or during the 1984 riots. The internet was at a nascent stage during the 1992 riots, and social media, as we know it, at a fledgling stage during the 2002 riots.

Then as now, it is people who caused riots, people who make inflammatory speeches and people who kill other people. Putting those who cause and participate in riots in prison is the solution, not curtailing social media.

Jan 292013
 

Bites the hand that feeds him – screamed the headline on Firstpost.in on Shah Rukh Khan, reminding me of Sholay. Had discussed the film with my class this morning, and the film was kind of fresh. The introductury scene of Gabbar, he is ranting at his 3 men for losing to those two. In the most chilling part of the scene – Gabbar pulls out a gun and plays Russian Roulette with his defeated men. He asks of one of them (Kalia)
“ab tera kya hoga kalia?”

Kalia squeeks – “Huzoor meine aapka namak khaya hai”

“ab goli kha” say Gabbar, shooting him.

This entire concept of namak khana, biting the hand that feeds them – is so incredibly – how does one put this nicely ? – feudal.

——–

The fact that the author loathes SRK is fairly evident, what is more is that this loathing seems to have overcome any half decent form of accuracy. Hey, i know opinion pieces are meant to be opinion, but even opinion is based on a modicum of fact. Some samples :

More importantly, he was embraced by a generation of Indians who were evidently so swayed by his looks (or whatever else they saw in him) that they readily overlooked his vacuous performances, blessed him with fame and fortune – and even went on to crown him ‘King Khan’.

(embraced across generations – not preteens anymore – but pretty much the rest, and especially women)

At the peak of his career, Shah Rukh was spoken of in the same breath as the Shahenshah of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan. That comparison may have been valid in terms of the box-office appeal that both held, but a certain indefinable element of classy refinement that Bachchan exuded even when the cameras were not whirring remained forever out of reach of SRK.

subjective – and therefore one will not comment on it. biases are allowed. I have mine, am sure the author has his. Except that in the last year – SRK was the highest earner in Bollywood, not someone past the peak of his career.

In his eternal quest to be the ageless Peter Pan of Bollywood, Shah Rukh appears not to have come to terms with the fact that while once he may have commanded a forgiving fan following, he is well past his prime. Like the Norma Desmond character that Gloria Swanson essayed in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, he is only clinging on to the memories of a happier day when the arclights were turned on him and the adulation of fans enveloped him in a warm, glowing embrace.

good lord, this person obviously neither watches Hindi films nor follows box office reports. Norma Desmond, incidentally, is the lead character in Sunset Boulevard,  a silent era star, and who, in the film, hasn’t been seen since the coming of sound. SRK’s last film – the unintentionally funny – Jab Tak Hai Jaan – was one of the 8 films that crossed the 100 crore mark in theatrical revenue in India & twice that in overseas territories - (that means that many tickets were sold).

So, by every verifiable metric, it’s fair to say that Shah Rukh Khan has enjoyed more success – and earned more fame and fortune and fan-love – than he arguably deserves. Which is why it’s difficult to account for the victimhood chip – rooted in his identity as a Muslim – that he bears on his shoulders.

Who decides who deserves what ? He doesn’t deserve this on what parameter ? Has the author seen other super stars – desi and hollywood and their performances ? Does a Tom Cruise deserve success ? Superstars bring people to the theaters, they create value all down the value chain.

And, the author’s grouse :

In an interview that he gave to an overseas publication, Shah Rukh Khan is quoted as saying that he “sometimes become(s) the indvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India.”

Now, which part of inadvertent does the author want explained ?

this is a translated version of what was written in Samna after SRK suggested that Pakistani cricketers play in the IPL (for the record, i don’t support that or indeed them being cast in films or tv shows)

Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray on Saturday said Kolkata Knight Riders co-owner Shah Rukh Khan should be given Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Nishaan-e-Pakistan, for supporting the inclusion of Pakistani cricketers in the IPL.

Thackeray said in his party mouthpiece Samna that the ‘Khan’ inside Shah Rukh Khan must be crushed by the ‘Har Har Mahadev’ war cry.

The author goes on

It’s true, of course, that your films have had their problems with Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, who kicked up a shindig by protesting against your film My Name Is Khan on specious grounds.

The Shiv Sena did not have a problem with the film “My Name is Khan”, they had a problem with SRK statement regarding IPL and wanted to take it out on My Name is Khan in retaliation (btw i have seen the film and it is mawkishly sentimental)  And this is what SRK said , that got him into trouble

“They are the champions, they are wonderful but somewhere down the line there is an issue and we can’t deny it. We are known to invite everyone. We should have. If there were any issues, they should have been put on board earlier. Everything can happen respectfully,”

And, incidentally this is what Shilpa Shetty (another team owner, whose name is not Khan) had to say about the same issue:

“If you ask an Indian whether he would like to see Shahid Afridi play in our country, he would say yes. But you must look at it pragmatically and see that we have had these people who are constantly threatening.It’s not something we hold against the Pakistani players. We completely understand the situation but as franchise owners are we willing to take that risk? If something happens to the Pakistani players, the onus lies on us and who is going to take responsibility for a situation like that,”

And this is what Preity Zinta (another team owner, whose name is also not Khan) had to say about the Pakistani Players in IPL

”We would have loved to have the T20 world champions in our teams to bring real joy to the extravaganza but what can we do if we have certain threats about not only our own safety, but the safety of the Pakistani players too, with no official quarter assuring us of foolproof security of players during the tournament,’
Therefore, given the same event IPL, to be held post 26/11, with three star owned teams – if you eliminate all other factors – the only one left is that they picked on SRK because he is a Muslim. (it could also be because he is a man, but i dont think that he SS would eliminate 50%+  of their voters)
And it continues,
So, grow up, Shah Rukh, and learn to take it on the chin like a man. Don’t bite the hand that fed you – and made  you who you are – by running off to an overseas publication and crying your heart out, thereby providing the space for low-life terrorists like Hafiz Saeed to take potshots at India.
On SRK Being resposnible for Hafeez Saeed’s comments, it would be good to read the whole piece and figure where that comment came from. I daresay it was from mangled  headlines from the MSM. In which case, i wonder who is responsible for Hafeez Saeed’s comments. Also, what is this with treating Hafeez Saeed’s statement as being important, instead of dealing with it with the contempt it deserves – what do people expect from Hafeez Saeed –  Kudos for India?

On his being inebriated and badly behaved – sure – he is human. And,a flawed one at that. Where he attacks people who cannot fight back – like the security guard in Wankhade, please take him to task. When it is with other, equally successful,  members of the film  industry, let them sort it out.

I can criticize India, the armed forces, decisions on hanging terrorists or not, Pakistani Players or actors in India, peace with Pakistan and the rest of it – and not once (mabye once) there will be calls for me to move next door. People may question my logic, my intellect, my wisdom, my credentials – but not my right to be in India and make those comments. SRK has those rights too. He is a citizen and like all citizens has the right to critcize the system without having to prove his love for the country every time he does so.


Finally this is neither about the Indian state, nor the people of India, nor the great Indian paying audience – couldn’t care who was what religion so long as they sell tickets.  It is not even about political parties, apart from those  like the Shiv Sena – whose stock in trade this is. People from across the political spectrum came out to support SRK, when the Shiv Sena went on that blistering attack on him.

“We do not consider it correct to use such terms for Khan. His contribution to Bollywood and as a cultural ambassador is immense,” Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP, contradicting their ally in Maharashtra to defend SRK. .

This is rather a comment on the Indian media, who takes things out of context to raise passions, then when those passions are raised – whether it was in terms of misquoting SRK on IPL or in this current case, or indeed anyone else – use those raise passions to attract more eyeballs. Am not sure that this is meant to be the role of the media – to stir the pot and wait for people to get at each others’ throat.

I am not the world’s greatest SRK fan. there are films that i have enjoyed, films i have loathed and films i have not even bothered to watch.  But, this is a hatchet job. And, a badly researched hatchet job at that. I am not sure what bothers me more.


(declaration : I have neither met SRK, nor worked with him, or have pitched to him, or likely to – we are completely in different universes) ..

This, incidentally, is the piece that firstpost had issues with. and, it is a wry, funny piece on what it means to be a Khan …

Dec 212011
 

This from India Today

In the midst of a debate on monitoring content, a Delhi court has restrained social networking sites including Facebook, Google and Youtube from webcasting any “anti-religious” or “anti-social” content promoting hatred or communal disharmony.

Additional Civil Judge Mukesh Kumar, in an ex-parte order, directed the social networking websites to remove the objectionable content in the form photographs, videos or text which might hurt religious sentiments.

The court on Tuesday passed the order on a civil suit filed by Mufti Aijaz Arshad Qasmi through advocate Santosh Pandey who had also submitted the printouts of the contents

Someone needs to give judges, ministers, politicians and bureaucrats a crash course on the nature of the Internet. The fact that it is not centralised. the fact that it is not controlled. The fact that it is made up of billions of computers across the world. Even if the content is deleted from social networking websites, and doesn’t get replaced, doesn’t mean it won’t exist on the net and won’t be shared again. And, there is no way anybody can guarantee that this ‘offensive’ stuff won’t be shared again.

On a more practical note, practically everything modern can be considered to be hurting religious sentiments. To start off, every religion can be considered offensive to someone else from some other religion. When the revealed religions say there is but one God, and he is ours, it can be considered offensive to all non revealed religions. Religious traditions like Buddhism which dont have a God at its core, it can be considered to be offensive to those who believe in the concept of God. Religious traditions like Hinduism which accept animism, atheism, monotheism and polytheism would probably blow the brains of those who don’t understand variety. So, what all do you ban ?

So what kind of content would be declared offensive in the future ?

  • Would Atheist material be hurting religious sentiments?
  • Modernity & modern laws – universal suffrage, equality of genders, universal education, banning of child marriages, equal rights, the rights of women, the rights of sexual minorities, – could these be considered as hurting religious sentiments?
  • Constitutional Law can it be considered to be anti- religion and hurting religious sentiments.
  • How about videos that talk about women’s emancipation? The right of a woman not to be beaten or raped inside a marriage – is that anti-religion? Is the concept of divorce and material associated with it anti religion
  • Is science anti-religion ?
  • Is content that talks about evolution anti religion?
  • Does content that talks about the right of Dalits to worship in temples, be considered to be anti-religion.

People who file cases against content or cause violence based on their response to content are guilty. Not the content. It is their ego responding. Not God. Not religion. Politicians and courts need to start ignoring this offended ego. 

We jump up and down like a bunch of scalded kittens when an obscure group tries to get a ban on the Bhagvad Gita… they are mirroring our actions.What is religion for one, is offence for the other. there will be no end to this, unless someone draws a lakshman rekha on this silliness. If something offends you, don’t read. But, expecting the world to share your outrage on the offense is stupidity. The system is encouraging such stupidity.

Religion or God, don’t need mere mortals to defend them. They can manage on their own. The greatest blasphemy is to assume God needs your help … S/he doesn’t.