Monday, May 15, 2006

Indians Like Protesting

Vir Sanghvi in his Sunday column in the Hindustan Times takes off on the late Pramod Mahajan's cynical perspective on our nation while writing about the storm that seems to be slowly brewing around The Da Vinci Code that's hitting the theaters this Friday.

Pramod Mahajan, Sanghvi tells us, believed that

[. . . ] the propensity to protest and the desire to censor had nothing to do with Hinduism, or Islam for that matter. It had to do with Indians. We are a nation of protestors. Give us an issue and we will demand a ban.

[. . . ]

India’s Christians are Indians first and Christians second. In other words: give them an issue and they will protest, protest, protest.

[. . . ] it is not Muslims or Hindus who are illiberal when it comes to religion. It is Indians. Even Indian Christians will demand bans on films that Christians elsewhere in the world regard as entirely acceptable.

So in this fresh and unnecessary controversy we have one of Bombay's former corporators, Nicholas Almeida, offering a reward of Rs 11 lakh to anyone who brings Dan Brown before him “dead or alive.” Almeida also has gravely declared, “God may forgive Dan Brown. But Almeida will not.”

Adding their own mite to this cause is The Catholic Social Forum (CSF) which has called people of all religions to fast unto death at Azad Maidan until the government bans anti-Christian films like The Da Vinci Code (Tickle My Funny Bone is the other film under fire).

The Bombay Catholic Sabha (BCS) has already petitioned the Chief Minister of Maharashtra to demand a ban on the film because according to its president Dolphy D’Souza, “Freedom of expression is being used in a whimsical way.”

Vir Sanghvi concludes with this:

And the tragedy is that because we give in to anybody who protests loudly enough, we risk becoming an illiberal state, held to ransom by any nutcase who claims that we have insulted his religion.

We have already become an illiberal state. The sad thing about this is that most of us, or at least a good number of us, have accepted this as our reality. We know that whenever there's a small chance of a controversy, there'll be one. We just shrug at the inconvenience and work our way around it. It has become just another inconvenience that we have learnt take in our stride.

When we (that's my friends and me) talked about putting this movie on our viewing list sometime back, I recall how the discussion immediately moved to and cursorily discussed the possibility of protests and a ban on the film. We spent more time wondering how we could work our way around the inconvenience. That there would be a protest and a demand for a ban was assumed as a given. We spent more time figuring out if we could get the tickets to the preview show or at least for one of the shows on the first day before the protests gather volume and the movie is banned or screenings disrupted.

Yesterday during the course of a conversation with a friend we touched upon this easy and indifferent acceptance of illiberal ism. He nodded and said something like this, "Yup. Religion and religious fanaticism seems to be occupying the same status and amount of thought in our minds as a late local train or a disruption of train services. We curse a bit, consider if this is a situation where the train is five to ten minutes late as always or is it one of those times when a train isn't going to be coming in for at least the next half an hour or so. If it is a five or a ten minute delay we grumble a bit and wait for the local train to arrive. If it is a half hour -- one hour delay, we come out of the station and take a rickshaw or a bus. If it is really serious, we go back home. We know that next morning train services would be normal. None of us think about protesting or questioning the railways. . . We seem to increasingly moving towards a similar acceptance of fanaticism. We accept that there will be the occasional spurts of intolerance in our religious landscape. If it is some idiot asking for the head of a cartoonist or asking for a ban on a movie, it no longer merits more thought than deciding how am I going to watch the movie inspite of this inconvenience. If it looks like the idiots are going to take to the streets and slit a few throats for their religion, we stay at home. We know that normal services will be restored in a day or two. That Sanghvi is right -- we have accepted illiberalism as a part of our lives. Any religious nutter can claim that his religion is insulted and make noise. None of the regular junta is going to take a stand and say that we want to watch a movie in peace and yes, we know it is entertainment. No one of us is going to ask the fanatics to go home and get a life. We take it for granted that we will never make as much noise as the fanatics. In fact we hardly even whimper." And we moved on to discuss more pleasant subjects.

Sigh.

I guess blogging doesn't count even as a whimper. After all how many people read blogs? And a blog can't make a fanatic stay at home, can it?

1 comment:

iNFiNiteSaDNeSS said...

We could hope, I guess that's we do anyway. I grumble on my blog, hoping there're other like minded people who are more action-oriented than I am.
That people take crap lying down is known to all - I don't see ANYONE protesting that their right to free speech and freedom of opinion are being trampled by religious fanatics. In a contest of freedom of speech and fear of insulting religious sentiments, freedom of speech always is considered second. I wonder why....