Edit & Opinion

Muzzling Dissent: Ouch! Govt is touchy

As India is busy taking shots at recovery against Covid 19, lost in euphoria of taming the virus fiend is the growing cacophony of intolerance once again. If the sedition case against a person calling UP Chief Minister Yogi “a man of thick skin who has transformed the State into a jungle raj,” was bad, worse is the criminal complaint against OTT platform Amazon new web series Tandav over insult to Hindu Gods and defiling of a place of worship. While a Maharashtra BJP MLA warned of ‘Joote Maro’ campaign against its makers another MP wants the serial banned. Underscoring India’s open secret: Ouch, our netas are touchy!

Yesterday senior BJP leader and former Megalaya Governor Tathagat Roy filed a complaint against actor Saayani Ghosh for a meme on Twitter alleging it hurt Hindu sentiments, “You have committed an offence….…now be prepared for the consequences”, he threatened. Notwithstanding, various High Courts, stating dissent is a hallmark of democracy.

Alas, 2021 is no different from 2015. When BJP leaders and even Ministers sought to tom-tom Hindu religion, faith and worship and justified the unjustifiable following the Dadri lynching of a Muslim that he stored beef. From love jihad, anti-Pakistan cultural-sports protests, killing of rationalists, beef ban to Gau raksha and religious intolerance et al India continues to be entrapped in its moribund opaque world view.

Appallingly, there is a 165% jump in sedition cases filed in 2020, 124 cases against 93 in 2019, 70 cases in 2018, 47 in 2017 and 35 in 2016 according to the National Crime Records Bureau. In the last three months alone over eight cases have been filed, two alone against journalists accused of sedition and arrested on the way to UP’S Hathras to report the gangrape of a Dalit teen on the fallacious ground of being part of an ‘international’ conspiracy to defame the Yogi Government. Showcasing,  the ugly side of power out of control!

Ditto in Gujarat whereby the CID nailed a journalist for an article suggesting Chief Minister Rupani might be replaced over his failure to handle the pandemic. He was let-off after tendering an unconditional apology. The JMM-Congress Jharkhand Government followed suit by slapping a case against State BJP Chief and Rajya Sabha MP Deepak Prakash for trying to destabilise its regime by tweeting they would form the  Government.

The Delhi Police booked ex-JNU Muslim scholar Umar Khalid and other Left-wing activists for “meticulously planning” last February’s riots to disrupt US President Donald Trump’s State visit and bring a bad name to the BJP Sarkar on the bases of books on riots, some pamphlets and a few WhatsApp chats. Sic.

Earlier, seven sedition cases were filed notably, against Left-wing and Muslim activists for rising slogans against CAA-NRC “Pakistan Zindabad…We have to take Azadi by force.” The Manipur Police arrested a well-known political activist for his Facebook comment showing erstwhile king and newly-elected Rajya Sabha MP Sanajaoba Leishemba bowing and greeting Amit Shah accompanied by a comment minai macha  meaning ‘son of a servant’.

Recall an innocuous cartoonist Assem Trivedi was arrested for sedition by Mamata in Kolkata. Before him another of his tribe famed Shankar cartoons of Ambedkar in NCERT school books were posthumously removed. Tamil Nadu banned noted actor-director Kamal Hasan’s 100 crore magna opus Viswaroopam which dealt with the issue of terrorism on the fallacious that it would hurt the sentiments of ‘unknown’ Muslim groups and create a law and order problem.

Abominably, the BJP turns another cheek over its’ members language and conduct. It only takes action and seeks to rein them in when  the Party  headquarters realize that such utterances are damaging its electoral prospects. Despite, Prime Minister Modi asserting, “National interest takes precedence over one’s ideology”.

Sadly, intolerance is the rhetoric of our times. Remember, we have been through seasons of political intolerance whereby any film, book or artwork which pokes fun or is not in sync with our leaders thinking, cause and outlook is not only banned, vandalized but worse every view is considered an act of sedition. And the writer, film maker or official given a mouthful and barred.

Notably, this once again raised the ante on Article 19(1) (a) which grants a citizen the right to freedom of expression. Raising a moot point: Is India heading towards an era of political intolerance and Hindutva values thrust down our throats? Is the polity afraid of the clash of ideas in our public life?

Clearly, in a milieu of competitive democracy, if caste politics ensures convergence of electoral booty, politics based on religion has better chance of polarising voters via vicious speeches inducing raw emotions of hostility and hate. Who cares if it is destructive and stokes communal violence and sows the seeds of rabid communalism.

The Centre and State Governments cannot pass the buck to each other for ongoing madness. Either which way it is the polity which gives it a communal or religious twist. Raising a moot point: Can dodgy language and conduct by those in power be condoned? Does a neta’s tag warrant a lenient view?

What action have Central and State Government taken against the perpetrators behind hate speeches or those inciting communal violence? Why are politicians’ discourses becoming more and more venomous and toxic? How does criticizing the Government or a belief be considered anti-national or tantamount to spreading “hatred”? By doing so does it not make a mockery of the concept of a “nation” built on the values of democracy?

Is the Government, Centre or State crushing free expression, suppressing dissent? Have we lost the ability to accept criticism? Bordering on a narcissist phobia? Is it mere coincidence or a sign of an increasingly knee-jerk, reactionary country where one is forced to go public about a frown, removal from job or punishment? 

Are we so paranoid or intolerant that any outpouring is viewed as a threat to the nation, the Constitution or the Government? Is the polity afraid of a clash of ideas in our public life? Should this become litmus of one’s patriotism?’

Obversely, does criticism of Government or leader connotate putting a person behind bars? Is this the Government’s way of teaching us a lesson in rashtra prem and desh bhakti? Do we want to produce robots who only act at the command of what their leaders and chela thinkers, benefactors and wealth creators’ desire?

The tragedy of it all is that the political class exploits the common man’s emotions and only looks at what will help popularize it more with its vote bank. Even if its amounts to heading towards an era of intolerance and cultural terrorism.

Clearly, the speed with which our tolerance is falling to fragile levels is scary. Forgetting, that if an individual’s freedom is denied, then the freedom of a community will be trampled upon too. Our leaders must desist from using narrow-mindedness and prejudices as pedestals to stand on to be seen. The right of our thinkers, artists, filmmakers and intellectuals must be protected at all costs. In a mammoth one billion plus country there would be a billion views and one cannot curtail people’s fundamental rights. It is imperative for the public to decide. It would be wise for the powers-that-be to remember that criticism is a sign of a thriving and robust democracy. India could do without netas who distorts politics and in turn destroys democracy and laughter. Pay heed before it’s too late.

 

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About the author

Poonam I Kaushish | INFA

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