While the developed world is becoming more liberal and tolerant towards dissent and freedom of expression is being a fundamental right, we are becoming a more and more repressive state. It is also that the ruling combines are falling over each other to promote religious bigotry and violence in its name. While we have a Dadri where a Muslim was lynched for possessing ‘beef’ which later on turned out to be some other meat, we have Malda where a mob of Muslims ran amok damaging public property and violence against others in protest against an alleged insult to their prophet. We have the unofficial boards for film certification, drama censorship and the like all over the country, which ban movies, plays, books which have content which may not be comfortable to them. When the two largest religious groups are on the rampage can others be far behind? Sikhs have been on violent protests all over Punjab about desecration of their holy book. There was a feeble attempt by a Roman Catholic group to get a play ‘Agnes of God,’ which was about a nun in a convent getting into the family way and ascribing that it was an incident of immaculate conception, banned. This was also supported by some members of the clergy! However this attempt was thwarted by the community itself many of whose leading lights said that their faith was not so shaky that it would be damaged by a play and that they would go and watch it!
While the Jain community are small in number, they so constitute a very influential lobby. On their festival Mahavir Jayanthi they demanded a ban on the slaughter of animals which was conceded to by the govts who were anxious to please them. In these days of freezers, one fails to understand how this could prevent people from eating meat but some local administrations went so far as to extend this to nearly a week. However, marine products were exempt from this. This was probably not to antagonize the fisherman community who are a powerful lobby by themselves. One fails to understand as to why a majority section of the population should change their diet to ‘respect’ the ‘religious sentiments’ of a small minority. If it were the other way round, say if it would be that a law be passed to make it compulsory for all to eat some specified non vegetarian food on a particular day in deference to the religious sentiments of a particular community how would that be? People who would be revolted by such which would sound preposterous do not have any qualms on thrusting their dietary preferences on others. While we have restaurants proclaiming halal meat, pure veg, Brahmin veg, Vaishnav veg, it would be a totally personal choice to patronize any of them. But, restricting the dietary choices in a geographical area at a particular time or for all time is a violation of the fundamental rights of a large group of others.
Satire is a tool to enable one to laugh at oneself or at others it is a dramatic expression of one’s opinion which is welcomed even by those who are the butt of such. But, the intolerance of criticism, whether satirical or serious has now risen to greater heights, under the present dispensation. Let, us first look at the political aspect. In the pre- emergency period there was a political idol who was above all criticism- it was then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi she was the idol of her party and also some of her followers who would brook no criticism of her. The moment it was done, the critic would be branded as anti national, anti people and in short anti everything, with mobs baying for the blood, burning of effigies and so on. After those infamous days it is the present incumbent who has risen to such heights thanks to his Bhakt brigade.
There will be hordes of ‘activists’ carrying out vicious campaigns on the net while the common party worker(read the unruly mobs) will take to the streets in protest by burning effigies, throwing ink, blackening faces and such. The excuse is that this person is the duly elected Prime Minister and any criticism is anti national! While this is the position of the present Prime Minister, the very same hordes had no such feelings when the previous incumbent was being subjected to much harsher criticism or when they do the same to other duly elected Chief ministers of states or other elected representatives. It is not that the elected Chief Ministers of the states are any better some of them are outdoing the top man! Starting from pasting stickers on relief material donated by others during the Chennai floods to slapping defamation suits on those who criticized her or her policies she is giving stiff competition to the man at the top. In the east not to be out done is the famous Didi who cannot stand even sharing of a cartoon lampooning her! In each of these cases it is the lumpen elements which enforce the dictats of the rulers.
While the lumpen elements are enforcing the dictats of the rulers, the rulers themselves are at the beck and call of some of the so called ‘religious’ leaders who claim to control the vote banks! We have many examples of such and even a miniscule minority can claim that the lampooning or any criticism of their cult figure is blasphemy! The latest in this is the sorry state of a comedian who dared to imitate the head of a cult called as Dera Sachcha Sauda who calls himself Ram Rahim, thereby giving an impression that he is an epitome of all religions. There are a number of criminal cases against him in keeping up with the norms of the community of so called living gods that he belongs to! He has also produced, directed and starred in badly made movies! But, a satirical take on him resulted in criminal cases against those who produced, directed, acted, scripted it! This was due to the complaint by one his devotees under section 295A of tie IPC for hurting religious sentiments! Though the man himself says grandly that he has forgiven the blasphemy, his devotees seem to be more offended!
The abuse of section 295A has risen to new heights under the present ruling dispensation and it is time that this section itself is consigned to the dust bin and no civilised nation has such laws. More draconic laws do exist in the so called Islamic states whose primitive mind set and barbarian rulers impose worse punishments for blasphemy and apostasy. Some govts. have even tried to bring themselves under the not to be criticized category by trying to make such criminal offences! The section 499 which makes defamation a criminal offence also belongs to the trash can as the same has been used by autocratic ruling parties to muzzle the opposition.
Are we going to be a modern society, a civilized state or are we going to the middle ages is a question that is before all of us including the ruling party who are claiming to ‘modernise’ the country. This is not possible unless there is freedom of expression.