Sunday, March 8, 2015

My India

India is a country in transition and the society is hopelessly divided into modern, semi-modern, traditional and outright primitive. What is right for the traditional part of the society looks outdated and often embarrassing for the modern part. As modern India grows and starts occupying a bigger segment of the social space there is bound to be friction with the past. The media is seen as progressive and liberal in its outlook and therefore sides with the modern society. Most of the struggle between the different segments of the society is fought in the media spaces. Television news channels provide a glimpse into the many debates and discussions this relatively new democracy undergoes on a daily basis.
The more or less universal condemnation of the censorship moves by the government in the Wendy Doniger book issue, the CBFC chairman appointment and the Nirbhaya documentary case puts media among the progressive forces in the country that are trying to stem the slide into a closed society. China is an example of the effect censorship by State has on the society as a whole. Only the officially approved creative works see the light of day- it can be constricting and controlling the creative outputs. We in India have had a relatively free run since independence. But in recent years the sword of official censorship is increasingly being wielded to support a single idea of India. Gone are the days of celebrating the plurality and the vibrancy that goes with it. Now we are constantly reminded of the need to adjust to the official line, especially on culture.
Where are we headed? Whose idea of India should we accept and follow? What about fundamental rights of the citizens of India and individual freedom? Will they just be confined to history and the constitution of India? Scary thoughts about the future.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

India's daughter

A documentary is a glimpse of life. A film captures a slice of reality. The debate today is- whether the documentary made for BBC 'India's Daughter' should be banned? The argument for the ban as articulated by the government is that this documentary portrays India wrongly to the world at large. The government appropriates to itself the right to decide how India and its various components will then be represented through the various mediums of expression.
Every individual, through expression, constantly is creating and recreating India for us and the world. Curbing this right through censorship will bring down the diversity that is India. There is no one India- a homogenous cultural juggernaut. The one bright spot on the horizon is the multitude of cultures and practices that abound this country. Any attempt to meddle or control this will dilute the essence of India.
Just like the good and progressive side of India needs to be shown, the ugly and regressive also should find its place. One cannot artificially paint India as the land of milk and honey. We need to create one and the beginning can be made by putting a mirror to the society. Change and progress will not happen if embarrassing issues are swept under the carpet. They have to be dealt with if we want to call ourself a healthy democracy.

Charlie's world

The French cherish their freedom. When a leftist leaning magazine was attacked for publishing the controversial cartoons, the French government put its full weight behind the magazine. The message was very simple- we may not agree with your views but we will defend your right to have it. The French paid a heavy price for their policy on freedom but doing so would have jeopardized the very ideals of the French Republic.
The multi-cultural society exerts its own pressures on the various organs of the State. The legislature is constantly influenced to bring in laws to protect the interests of the minorities and thereby bring about their integration into the larger society. The judiciary is also under pressure to review and interpret the laws in tune with the changing needs of the society. And finally, the executive performs the task of delivering the policies to the people.
Freedom is non-negotiable. Any dilution of this freedom is the beginning of a restricted society. A society that is restricted will find alternative and sometimes violent ways of expressing itself. Freedom is a safety value-  it allows the frustration and anger to be channeled into various modes of expressions- films, literature, theatre, arts and even political action. One thing Charlie Hebdo episode has driven home to us Indians is the fact that basic freedom is worth defending.