Yesterday, an art exhibition in New Delhi showcasing modern nude art was forced shut temporarily by activists of Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Later, the organisers reopened it with police protection. The activists claimed that “the nude and obscene paintings show women in very bad light and disrespectfully and are highly objectionable.”
Late last month, there was a censorship controversy surrounding the Kamal Haasan produced & directed movie Vishwaroopam despite it being cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification of India. Certain Muslim groups in Tamil Nadu (TN) objected to the screening of the movie protesting that it portrayed Muslims in poor light and said that the movie’s screening could impact the “social harmony in the state”. A spokesperson of the Muslim organizations said, “There is a danger that the public may view any Muslim with a beard as a terrorist waiting for an opportunity to plant a bomb”. To add to the drama, the TN government banned the release of the movie in TN under section 144 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code to ensure the preservation of the public peace and tranquility. Later, TN Chief Minister J Jayalalitha said that the ban on the film would be lifted if Kamal Haasan and the protestors come to a mutually agreeable way forward. Last week, Kamal Haasan reached an agreement with the Muslim organizations when he accepted to mute five scenes thus putting the controversy to rest, at least for the time being.
Both these cases highlight how certain right wing organisations claiming to be interested in how certain identities are projected in the public sphere have held hostage the performance and display of arts in our country. The former while protesting the paintings at the art exhibition sought to protect the identity of women in our society while the latter sought to protect the identity of Muslims.
One cannot fathom how such self appointed custodians of women and Muslims feel justified in causing disruption to other people’s lives in the name of representing and safeguarding the identity of their professed constituency. These people, I am pretty sure are in the vocal minority. The silent majority consists of right thinking people who believe that as long as we are not hurting someone else or coming in their way, it should be OK to act on our free will and exercise our right to consume what we choose to; whether it is in sphere of arts or ideas or whatever else.
These self serving goons who claim to represent their alleged constituencies and aggressively impinge on our freedoms continue to do so in various circumstances because they have seen that their subtle and overt threats at violence have worked in the past. If only these rogue elements were cut to size by showing that their threats do not work then they will have no incentive to keep raising their ugly heads in the future. These thugs must be taught a lesson and the internet denizens can utilize the power internet and the social media to do so. A couple of action points are highlighted below in this struggle against these cultural terrorists:
It would be great if people upload uncensored clippings from the movie Vishwaroopam and post it online on YouTube/Vimeo/Metacafe and other such video sharing sites so that interested people can see what the producer/director had original intended for all to see that caused these thugs offence and led them to raise the protests against the film.
On the art exhibition issue, people must go online in huge numbers to the Delhi art gallery’s website and view the paintings online and appreciate the same. Better still they should share these images widely and comment using social media. This will humble organizations such as Durga Vahini who have no business meddling in what people choose to do in their private lives when it comes to their decisions of consuming art.
The time has come to unleash the power of internet and social media in the form of concrete actions from the silent majority who hitherto have been suffering largely in silence or at best countering such tyranny by giving vent to their feelings on social media. A stronger action along the lines mentioned will decisively demonstrate to these goons and thugs that when it comes to discussions and engagement in the public sphere, they can no longer cow the authorities and general public into submission with their implicit and explicit threats of violence.
P.S (updated 9 Feb): I unfortunately omitted another significant instance when a similar censorship occurred in J&K when some chap named Bashiruddin Ahmad (who calls himself the “Grand Mufti”) issued a fatwa against Kashmir’s all girl rock group Pragaash for singing. Pragaash disbanded after receiving a lot of hate posts and threats on their Facebook page. In this case, it would be all the more poetic to defeat these goons using the same medium they used for their threats. If someone could access a copy of their live performance at the Battle of Bands festival and share widely, it would be fitting reply to this moron who calls himself Grand Mufti and his demented followers!
Update to the previous update (27 Jul 2013): The aforementioned Grand Mufti had issued the said fatwa against Pragaash on the grounds that music is banned in Islam; however reports of him enjoying a musical performance in public clearly show that this cultural terrorist has different standards for himself and for others.