Friday, February 1, 2013

The Asian Age OpEd: Antara Dev Sen -Be clear. Don’t joke

Be clear. Don’t joke Antara Dev Sen Feb 2, 2013 

"Yes, we are easily offended. We happen to be sensitive people. And identity politics is hugely important for us. Kindly adjust."

Disclaimer: This article does not intend to hurt the sentiments of or commit any atrocity on members of any caste, gender or community. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

We are an earnest nation. We take ourselves very seriously. We take every fraction of our fractious populace very seriously. As we should, of course. Being funny is a terrible thing, as some of you taken to cracking jokes may have discovered by now. If you happen to be a satirist, seek a change. Either in career or in country of residence. We can’t figure out what you wish to do, why you exist at all. Why can’t you just say it as it is? Do understand that we in India have a long tradition of honesty and sincerity, we will not tolerate people saying what they do not mean. We have ways of shutting you up.

See how we are trying to arrest one of our finest academics and long-standing friend of the dalits for apparently committing atrocities against dalits, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes? All because of his inexplicable love of irony and arguments that provoke you to think. Ashis Nandy, ally of the marginalised and the disempowered, is charged with a non-bailable offence under a law meant for people who kill, rape, mutilate, enslave, intimidate and pose serious danger to the SCs and STs. See how easily we use laws made to protect the socially oppressed to turn the heat on sociologists keen on sharing views on society and politics? Makes you laugh, doesn’t it?

Why do we need to air complicated views on life anyway? Isn’t just living it enough? And this clamour for academic freedom, for freedom of thought, this craving for space for free exchange of ideas — really! We are a free democracy, we have all the freedom we need. Anything more would be bad for health. Arre bhai, where is the time to follow your freedom of expression? You don’t even have time to follow your own train of thought. So many soundbytes to take offence at, so many tweets and Facebook comments to track. This is not the age of careful arguments, not the age of reason, certainly not the age of subtlety. Be brief, be clear. Don’t joke. And avoid stuff that may offend. Okay? Yes, we are easily offended. We happen to be sensitive people. And identity politics is hugely important for us. Kindly adjust.

Look at Kamal Haasan. What is the point of making films that may hurt minorities? If Muslims have a problem with Vishwaroopam, the state government has every reason to ban the film. Perhaps forever. Like we had quickly banned the Satanic Verses 25 years ago. And even today, Salman Rushdie is being kept out of literary meets in Jaipur and Kolkata.
Of course, we look at majority sentiment too. Why do you think M.F. Husain had to leave his homeland and die in exile? Because the Hindutva brigade took offence. And the state, always sympathetic to hurt sentiments, stepped back, allowing the saffron goons to rage and rant and drive the elderly artist out of the country.

(Disclaimer: The author has great respect for Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Zoroastrians, dalits, SCs, STs, OBCs, Brahmins, Salman Rushdie, Kamal Haasan, Ashis Nandy and their detractors.)

What do you mean giving in to mob sentiment? Of course the state does not work in partnership with the mob — what a curious thought! But don’t expect the state to support your insensitive behaviour. It must protect those who are — or may be — hurt by your selfish pursuit of freedom of expression. When the sarkar is your mai-baap, get used to living your life under parental guidance. And it will guide you towards serious self-control, it will help you write, paint, draw, speak and think correctly, without causing offence to anybody. Protecting its people from too much free thought is a parental passion of the mai-baap sarkar, which treats its citizens as infantile, to be led only by controlled passion play, not careful contemplation.

So even Brahmins, a privileged identity group, can be offended. The Brahmin Youth Federation of India lodged a police complaint against Hero motorbike for defaming and “denigrating” Brahmins. Because an ad for Splendor bikes shows a happy father “Shivram Iyer” and his delighted daughter “Sowmya Iyer” out on a spin on “Splendor Iyer”. Calling a mere machine “Iyer” was a huge insult, hollered the Brahmins.

Any funny behaviour may seriously offend us — we could even clap you in jail for waging war against the nation. Whether you are a self-willed activist doctor like Dr Binayak Sen or a juvenile cartoonist like Aneesh Trivedi. (No offence, “juvenile” is not yet a bad word, and in this case does not mean disgusting-criminal-who-gets-away.) We may even jail you for sharing a cartoon, like Mamata Banerjee did in Bengal. Controlling cartoons is our national pastime, we dig them out of textbooks, trawl the Internet to confiscate them, censor sites, slap people into submission, hold political rallies, shake up Parliament, and have no idea what the joke is.

Okay, the space for intellectual freedom may be shrinking. But how does that bother you? When was the last time you had an intellectual interlude? And where exactly was it? We have ways of shutting it down, if you wish. Life would be simpler.

Oh don’t worry about laws being misused, leave that to the police and politicians. Remember the university professor in Kolkata arrested for forwarding a clean, child-friendly cartoon about Ms Banerjee? His charges included eve-teasing and humiliating a woman. Quite rightly too, since the chief minister happened to be a woman. The more socially disadvantaged you are as an identity group, the more laws you may have at your disposal to attack unsuspecting free spirits with. Remember that. You never know when you would want to use it.

And humour? You really don’t need it. Not when you have so many problems. How can you laugh at times like this?

(Disclaimer: This article is intended for the perusal of non-threatening and non-threatened individuals and may contain information that is privileged or unsuitable for excessively sensitive persons with no sense of humour. If you are not the intended reader, any perusal, dissemination or idle reading of this article is not authorized, and may cause dizziness, irritation and fury.)
The writer is editor of The Little Magazine.

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