Area 14/8: Who will provide affirmative action in India?


Area 14/8

Consumed with weapon purchases, maritime capabilities and external threats from China and Pakistan, India has it seems neglected to peek at the state of affairs within its own boundaries. In the past few months, multiple incidents infringing the right of freedom of speech have occurred which has prompted writer Salman Rushdie to smear India with his “cultural emergency” allegation.

Although Rushdie’s credibility is uncertain and his agenda equally debatable, his accusation rings of the truth. India’s cultural intellect, its writers, poets, film makers and artists are being censured if their opinion and expression does not conform to the mainstream perceptions of India. Recently, a Tamil film called Vishwaroopam was condemned by Muslim religious groups in Tamil Nadu since it projected Muslims in a negative light. The government decided to ban the release of the film claiming that they lacked sufficient police forces to monitor all cinema houses for riots. Vishwaroopam’s producer, Kamal Haasan was so disillusioned that he threatened to leave India for a secular state abroad. Eventually, he agreed to cut some scenes from the film.

Elsewhere, renowned sociologist, Ashis Nandy, was attacked for insulting unprivileged classes by drawing links between corruption and “other backward classes, scheduled casters and scheduled tribes” at the Jaipur Literary Festival. A case was registered against him by Rajpal Meena, Chairperson of the SC/ST Rajasthan Manch, and subsequently, he was charged with the Prevention of Atrocities Act.

The controversial Salman Rushdie also made headlines when he accused the West Bengal government of deliberately hatching a plan to prevent his participation in Kolkata Literary Meet for the promotion of his new novel, “Midnight’s Children”. Even last year, protests and death threats had compelled him to cancel his visit to the Jaipur Literature Festival.

There are many other instances where unconventional news or statements have been targeted. India ranked a shocking 140th out of 179 countries on the Press Freedom index, issued by Reporters Without Borders. Reporter Soorinje would attest to this fact. He was arrested for multiples offences including criminal conspiracy, rioting with deadly weapons and using criminal force on a woman with the intention of outraging her modesty. Soorinje’s report on an attack on a birthday celebration involving Muslims at a homestay in Mangalore had held right wing extremists Hindu Jagarana Vedike responsible. Similarly, two women were arrested in last November when they Facebook comments offended followers of Bal Thackeray.

India should not be singled out for rising social discontent over freedom of speech. There are many such cases present in modernized societies too. The real issue concerning India is why the government chooses to be a part of this oppression? This is the government which likes to highlight itself as a democratic pluralistic nation where people of different religions, ethnicities, races and social statuses reside in harmony.

The government uses the maintenance of law and order as a justification for its extreme measures. But is law and order code for protecting parties’ mandate? In West Bengal similar to Tamil Nadu, people believed extreme steps were taken by the government to prevent any ill-will with Muslim voters. Are these infringements on the freedom of speech a political game only? Politicians may indeed be using cultural intellectuals as easy targets to keep the public distracted from pressing issues like poverty and unemployment.

It may not be just that the government is afraid of extremists; it may even share the same sentiments. Many state officials include hardliners like members of the Bharatiya Janata Party( BJP) sparking suspicions about state-sponsored terrorism. India’s Home Minister admitted to the involvement of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP in promoting terrorism within the country and placing the blame on minority communities. Just recently, BJP was very vocal in banning Pakistani writers from attending a literary festival in India.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Indian Constitution under Article 19. However, this freedom is subject to certain limitations such as “public order”, “decency or morality” and “security of the State”. The Supreme Court seems to be maintaining a low profile in controlling the government’s outbursts of actions. In Nandy’s case,for example, it stayed the arrest but also supported the state’s response saying that an “idea” is capable of inflicting harm.

Indian has failed to implement affirmative action. Since the government is not longer impartial, it is now up to the masses to reclaim their right to the freedom of speech.

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