A Conversation With Mr. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

Mr. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay has been a writer, columnist and journalist based in Delhi. He is an expert on ‘Hindu nationalistic politics’. His works include: ‘The Demolition: India at the crossroads’ (1994), ‘Narendra Modi: The Man’, ‘The Times’ (2013) and ‘Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984’(2015).  In this interview with Politically Correct, he talks about his personal journey, the state of Indian media and the current political status quo. Excerpts:

Q: You have been in this profession for the last three decades, covering a myriad of stories as columnist for a large array of media platforms. How do you see the changes in the Indian media from the time you started as a journalist? What has been the biggest upheaval?

A: The biggest change has been in terms of size and number. The presence of the Media has been empowered by sprouting of innumerable websites, newspapers, channels etc. Proliferation of the language media has been corresponded by higher literacy level and today not only English newspapers but also newspapers in the regional languages have gained a lot of attention. Much greater noise is being made by them than what they used to do in the 80s. Today the Media makes itself heard 24/7. I think this has been the change of foremost significance.

Q: Don’t you think the ethics of journalism has gone through changes over the years?

A: I came into this profession during the Post-emergency period when the public psyche still held the acrid memories of Emergency-days. During the Emergency, there was a clamp-down on the Media. The establishment of the Janata Government gave some sort of relief to journalism. Simultaneously, there were incidents like Bhagalpur Blinding which propelled people like me to join journalism.  Investigative Journalism became a catchphrase and the youth aspired to be journalists. We were always told about the famous quote of L.K. Advani about media during emergency, when “media was asked to bend, but it crawled”.  However, a certain section of journalists have had a legacy of being spineless in this country. They were blind. Ethics is not something, which has made Indian journalism distinct over the years. The number of people having an upright spine is still pretty less.

Q: Collusion of journalists and politicians has been a cause of worry for many. Lutyen’s Delhi circuit is generally a phrase used to reflect upon this nexus. Do you have a view on that?

As we have crony capitalism, there is crony journalism. That is not something surprising. Right from the time India became independent, there have been cases where people who were journalists went on to become prominent politicians of the time. Yes, I would say, now it is much closer and there is a greater connectivity between the two than it was in the past. I don’t feel it’s fair to say Delhi journalists are to be blamed solely for this nexus, as it happens everywhere in different states and their capitals. So, this is an ailment of the journalists across the country. There are large sections of Delhi media which is favorable to PM Modi. There are many who are neutral and are critics of the government. They don’t align themselves with the government, but that’s fine.

Q: About the book, ‘Narendra Modi: the Man, the Time’, you have said that you did not write the book in terms of binary but on neutrality. But Christiane Amanpour (senior journalist at CNN) says that writing should be truthful not neutral. Do you have a view on that?

A: Being neutral also means being truthful. They are complimentary to each other. I don’t see any contradiction between these two.

Q: Do you think that television journalism is more of sensationalism and excitement rather than giving actual content to the viewers to ponder upon?

A: Globally television is more frivolous than the print media. Television has been a means of entertainment and entertainment has its own crassness. I think it has affected Indian media also. Our cinema industry has its history of being crass and Indian media has been affected by it. Let me give you an example of crassness. Yesterday a hearing was going on in the International Court of Justice, the Hague. Mr. Harish Salve was pleading India’s case. All the English news channels were covering the proceedings live. I don’t know about a single Hindi news channel, if not other channels in regional language covering it live. So you presume that viewers of non-English news channels are stupid. They don’t need the news from The Hague. That is crassness.

Q: Of late, this has been the talk of the town that in the print media, the marketing department is taking over the editorial department. In fact, Mr. Jain of the TOI went the distance of saying he does not want to do news but sell news. How do you see it?

A: I understand what you are saying. There are some editors, who do guard the editorial say against marketing and there are editors, who don’t. Fortunately, I have worked with those, who guard. There are certain basic rules in all the media companies and what you require is reasonable adjustment and it is exactly 3 decades since the media promoters started to look at the newspapers not as a tool of political crusade but as a business commodity. Then happens the advent of colors, better packaging, glossy papers etc. Basically, all the big media companies are corporate-owned and you simply can’t act contrary to them. You need adjustment.

Q: So what is the future of the media?

A: Grow according to the market. Every industry has certain responsibilities. The Media should not cover only what the public wants. The Media cannot be populist. We can decide what they will read and see. So we should not take the position what Bombay film industry has taken.

Q: Some people think about some particular news channels that they are biased and inclined towards certain views. Is it true in journalism?

A: None can deny it. Every person has the freedom to think about these channels. Each and every media company has a certain orientation and that is how they function.

Q: You have had a long career in journalism and you have written a lot of editorials and columns. People say that journalists should not have opinion about everything. Is it the way to look at it?

A: We should have opinion of everything. Now it depends on what you are writing. You change your approach based on whether it’s an opinion or a film report or an analysis.

Q: Have you ever been told to write on something on which you’ve never written?

A: No. Never in my career. But still, I have written on culture, environment, law, so I’ve written on a lot of things, virtually everything.

Q: You have written the book, ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, the Times,’ from a very neutral perspective. You also said that he discontinued his help when issues like 2002 and setbacks of his Government came on the fore and he became quite reluctant to talk. How did you see it?

A: He didn’t want to talk on the topics on which he had spoken already.  I don’t want to get liable of why I’ve written what I’ve written. I’ve said what I had to say in the book.  I will repeat, whenever I asked Mr. Modi about 2002, he would say , go and check what I had said earlier. This is a very dangerous area to discuss and it certainly appeals him.

Q: You covered Modi after 2014. What has been the biggest change?

A: He definitely has grown. He has become much more capable of things at a much bigger perspective. Being a Chief Minister of a state is much smaller affair than being the Prime Minister.

Q: Modi talks about development. Modi talks about inclusive growth, ‘Sab ka Sath, Sab ka Vikas.’ He has worked to create his image of a development-man. Has this image-manufacturing process been more successful than the actual execution of Government projects?

A: Everyone works on his or her image. He has greater interest in many things those others politicians don’t have. Personality plays a role. Though one cannot fault him on his personal attire; like Sonia Gandhi is particular about her sarees, Indira Gandhi was particular about the white dye on parts of her hair, in the same way Mr. Modi has some personal flares. He is much more flamboyant. The chapter “modisutra” in my book talks about how much care he takes for his clothes, specs watches and pens, basically his whole personal look.

Q:  Your show, A Page from History, on Lok Sabha TV, was discontinued in 2015. How do you relate that to the change of regime in the central government?

A:  It was said by a large number of people that the show was discontinued because I had written a book on Mr. Modi, which did not please the political masters and bosses in the country. I was personally disappointed by that decision. In the show, I never took a line. It can possibly be the most neutral perspective on an absolutely controversial subject like history.

Q: You have done extensive coverage of RSS-VHP and Hindutvadi  ‘Kamnadal- mandal’ politics of the 90s. Do you think Hindutva has been normalized in the mainstream?

A: Yes. They have greater acceptance today than the 80s.

Q: Is it because of the marketing?

A: It is due to the adoption of several strategies: marketing, decline of the Congress, fall of the Soviet Union, relentless targeting of minorities in India. Idea of India is diversity and diversity is something seen antagonistic in India’s becoming a superpower.

Q: Should we compare Mr. Modi to Turkish president Erodgan? Is his Government Erdoganised?

A: It is too early to say whether that kind of constitutional change will happen in India or not. Let’s see. A lot of things he should not have done and there are also a lot of things he has done in his administration. Works needed to be more on ground and less on words.  I would have liked if he had become more inclusive. His greatest achievement would be further weakening of the opposition.

Q: In your article ‘Fringe is the Main-stream,’ you commented on Adityanath. Was Adityanath a strategic choice or an aadesh from Nagpur?

A: It became a convergence of interest. Nagpur agreed. Delhi agreed.  Kolkata agreed. Everybody found him suitable.

Q: RSS has created a class of ideologues to connect to the mass. People like Rakesh Sinha, Rajeev Malhotra shout their agenda. How is this tactic?

A: RSS always had people who had no intellectual potential. Now they have started to get in some people for their own good of expanding among the mass. But they need to increase the caliber of these people. They are so angry most of the times. Everybody considers them intellectual, so I also consider them ‘intellectual’. It’s a subjective assessment. Let people decide. There are people in Sangh Parivar with whom we can have some fine rational debate and discussion even while disagreeing. I do it all the time. But most of them are terrible.

Q: So is applicative Hindutva different from ideological Hindutva?

A: there is only one Hindutva. One expression of it is articulate and another is crude. RSS is the umbrella organization and the ABVP, the BJP are affiliated bodies to it.

Q: Right-wing trade unions in India have repeatedly talked of swadeshi. How is BJP’s stance with more liberalization a swadeshi step?

A: Yes. I think the basis of Make in India programme is swadeshi. He has termed Make in India as the mother of all swadeshi programmes. He has been able to convince RSS.

Q: Yogi Adityanath is not actually from the RSS. He is from the Mahasabha. What is the difference between the two?

A: It’s a strategic convergence. Still they are people within mahasabha who don’t want to come together.

Q: Coming to the book on 1984, people often accused that 1984 is not discussed with greater detail.  Do you think 1984 investigation was not handled properly?

A: One should not compare 1984 with 2002.  These are the sinful episodes if our history. We need resolution to both of these. 1984 was investigated very well. A booklet, ‘Who Are the Guilty,’ was published.

Q: What’s the main objective of writing about this in 2015? Is it an obituary?

A: No. BJP had talked a lot about the 1984. So it’s interesting to see what they do while forming the Government.  Books on tragedies connect with me at times.

Q:    can you name your favorite book among the three you had written?

A: My first book on Babri Demolition has been my favorite. It has helped me to grow more and learn more.

Q: India has a history of attracting the youth to left-wing politics.  How do you look upon the youth, attracted to right wing policies?

A: This is due to the failure of left wing politics in India. Proper strategy was required with the change of time.

Q: Do you have any message for the new aspiring journalists and how do you reflect upon your personal journey?

A: Only one message – Read as much as u can. It should be informative as it stays with you.  My personal journey has been a never ending process. It’s been a great learning experience and I have never said that I have known everything.

The interview was carried out by Aditya Poddar, a student of Commerce  and edited by Sambuddha Bhattacharjee, a student of Political Science, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.

The Story of a Yogi?

As I present to you this article, it would be safe to provide a disclaimer before I end up being a controversy’s child analogous to the very subject of my discussion today. I, through this article of mine, do not intend to hurt any one person, group or religion’s sentiments.

As the timeworn saying goes, and I quote Sherlock Holmes,

“Sentiment is a chemical defect found on the losing side.”

However, it is quite ironic how sentiments are stirred within the gullible population of the nation by our ingenious polity. With respect to this statement, which many might consider to be superfluous, clarity of thoughts and expression (which is clearly absent in our political system today) is required. But my writing shall not disappoint you.  I cannot possibly pen down my intellect without being politically incorrect, because that would be HYPOCRISY, which is something I am yet to major at. So, I hope you shall pardon my callous use of language and a naïve approach towards the harsh realities we are bordering towards in the literary format that I present to you.

***

Once upon a time, INDIA- my BHARATA MATA, your HINDUSTAN, and our BHARATA DESH was a golden bird whose wings were clasped to the ground by the British Raj. They robbed us of our glory, they plundered us of our wealth and treasury, and they ransacked us of our faith from fraternity. It is easy to shrug off a matter by saying “let bygones be bygones”, but it is these past horrors that come to haunt us. Here, I mention the ‘Divide and Rule’ policy as formulated by the British which has blemished the very sense of solidarity among us. The ending of British rule in India was to be the advent of a new era, but who knew that old grievances would tailgate further coherence of independent India.

We are no longer bound by a foreign force, but are fettered by the distinct ideologies of ‘dharma’ and ‘jaati’, the seeds of which are deep rooted and watered in the many political parties  that have varied political prejudices which further determine the fate of our polity. BJP adheres to the very ideology of Hindutva and Hindu Nationalism. Thus, the very façade of loathing the CM of Uttar Pradesh should be ruled out if at all we have voted for Bhartiya Janata Party in the first place, and thus, I skip right to the man of the hour- Yogi Adityanath. However stern and focused a politician he may be, there is a huge miss in this influential CM.

A YOGI or A DHONGI

This saffron-clad sadhu turned politician appears and claims to be the flag bearer of Hindutva. With his razor sharp tongue, Yogi Adityanath has a strong foothold over Uttar Pradesh, which has already led to a hue and cry among the Muslims with the bizarre comments that have been made by him attacking the Muslims.  A strong mascot of the Ram Mandir issue, his influential and robust leadership will lead to a deepening of the crack between the Hindus and the Muslims into an abyss, after which, there will be no turning back. His vigorous speeches are fanning the fire of communalism, keeping it alive among the myriad of other problems our country is facing. We call ourselves a SECULAR state, however, the government, or to be precise, this particular leader is swaying the whole crux of his substance on a theocratic basis, instinctively libeling Islam or Pakistan.

In one of his recent speeches in Lucknow, he made a hostile remark which raises a very prominent question on how such a type of leader will lead India’s most populous state with such venomous intolerance and biased prejudices that the state of Uttar Pradesh has ever seen-

“Akbar, Aurangzeb and Babar were invaders. The sooner we accept the truth; all the problems of our country will vanish.”

Such judgements have been passed by this man who is entrusted with the precarious future of the many citizens the state contains. To further analyse his statement, it ridiculously means that by demeaning one caste, we all can fight poverty, violence against women, religious conflicts, and the varied troubles our country is foisted with.

Having mentioned ‘violence against women’, this saint of a person once commented –

“If they take one Hindu girl, we will take 100 Muslim girls”,

Justifying even further how violence against women is inevitable where the leaders harbour such opinions.

Another arguable sin which a high priest like him committed was to incapacitate our belief in the phrase – ‘sab moh maya hai’, because when he went to give his condolences to the family of the Border Security Force soldier who was mutilated by the Pakistan army, he brought with himself an air-conditioner, a sofa and carpet which were conveniently and immediately removed from the house after his departure. This shows a sheer lack of humanity, but a serious penchant for materialism which takes precedence over the jawan’s precious life. Here, on one hand, where yogis are supposed to shun power and worldly pleasures for a life of meditation and spiritual quest, this man has preached and invoked violence.

Thus, to dream of a utopian country where our leaders avoid the power politics and begin to sincerely preach Hindu-Muslim harmony is to live in a bubble, but I guess, it is in this bubble where we are safe, where we have the sensible notion of Right and Wrong, where we are united towards our outlook for a peaceful nation.

For the dearth of words, I would like to add to my article a minute variation of the classic combination of words that has, of late, caused a phenomenon on social media (Thanks to Dr. Shashi Tharoor).

Exasperating farrago of distortions, misrepresentations and outright lies being broadcast by a votary priest masquerading as an abhorrent meteoric hypnotic.

There cannot possibly be a happy ending to this, because the situation is only to worsen. The irrational need to indoctrinate their particular ideologies among others does not stand a strong ground and is not acceptable in a country where we are promised the freedom of thought and the freedom to practice, preach and perform different religions.

“A dhoti clad priest
In the garb of an inexorable beast;
The vast shaved head
Many evils which it’d embed;
Wisdom which the saffron tilak exudes
Crimson which his brainchild may produce;
Enthralling mantras his tongue rolled
Caste-based differences which he evoked;
‘Dharma’ and ‘Jaat’ as we all smear,
The inevitable end is near.”

 

***

The author, Mahima Maniar, is a student of Political Science at Loreto College, Kolkata.

How Feminine is Feminism?

What began as a social theory or rather, a political movement arguing that legal and social restrictions on females must be removed in order to bring about equality of both sexes in all aspects of public and private life, is now quite a celebrated topic for numerous debates and discussions which marks the rise of a different form of nouveau, enlightenment in the development of human understanding and widening of human thoughts and actions.
There have been numerous claims and counter-claims of what is “true feminism” and what should be the scope of its matter. I will, however, present my own interpretation of feminism and try to distinguish between the different parts of this topic.
In order to attain a “true” understanding of feminism, we have to delve deep into its matter and observe its beginning, in the 18th and the 19th century, marked as the “First wave” of Feminism.
The growth of logical thinking, scientific ideas and the enlightenment period, fall of the Church, the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution and the rise of the Nation State and democracy in the Western European countries signalled a new development in the socio-political aspect of human history and modern civilization. Men were given the right to vote their leaders, who will lead their country. Leaders, who were elected by the people, of the people and for the people and hence, represented the ‘public’ opinion.
The irony lies in the fact that, the word “public” which was coined in the 14th and the 15th century, necessarily referred to the views of the ‘general masses’ and that of ‘everyone’ and stood opposite to the word “private” and at the same time, women, who formed half of the population, were deprived  of the membership of this “public” sphere. Women were denied the right to vote, voice their opinions, or the opportunity to understand the working of this nouveau enlightened, democratic era, which ironically stood for “everyone”, “public” and the “people”. It was the MEN who formed the rights, laws and rules which would not only guide their welfare, but also that of the “lesser humans”, the “other sex”, the women, whose welfare was thought to be “naturally” placed at a position lower to that of men. It was as if women were different creatures or sub-humans. This struck many enigmatic women like Mary Wollstonecraft.
This led to the successful first wave of Feminism or the Suffragette movement, which took up the issue of Democracy, for ALL, and protested against the male domination, leading to the granting of voting rights to women.
The second wave of Feminism was simultaneously carried out along with the Civil Rights Movement. Betty Friedan, in her book, ‘The Feminine Mystique’ has elucidated how educated women were growing sick of their daily chores. It was as if their destiny to give birth to children, take them to school, take care of her husband, and stay in the kitchen for the rest of the day, even after a sufficient education, which made them elligible for jobs. Friedan also mentions how the working ladies were made fun of being “unable to produce babies” in the workplace and were hardly given any promotion. The movement led to the passage of ‘The Equal Pay for Equal Work Act’ and many such other Laws, throughout the globe, which called for women’s empowerment. Mention must also be made of the women in music, who were encouraged by the movement, such as Laura Nyro.
The third wave had a wider scope and aimed to recognise the various identities that is inherent among humans and accommodate all these in the society. Third-wave feminists had a more broad goal, focusing on ideas like queer theory, and abolishing gender role expectations and stereotypes, that is supported by the patriarchal society and hetero-normativity.
The thing is, ‘modernity’ is thought to be a harbinger of equality among the sexes. It is thought that modernity has brought about women’s empowerment and it is sufficient to bring about an upliftment of women’s position in the society. However, the present situation is not as heavenly or romantic as socialism or capitalism thought modernity would be.
There is inherent a sense of oppression, which deprives women of several opportunities and the whole sex is socially tagged as something very weak, dependent and lacking confidence. It is a fact that the modern society is a patriarchal society where families still prefer a male child and though property seems to be equally divided among the male and the female child, it is the former who gets the most of it.
There is a reason why even after the three waves of feminism, there is necessary a fourth wave, which aims to charge at the present oppression that hinders not only the opportunities of the female sex, but also that of the minorities, the LGBTQIA+ groups and several oppressed classes and castes.
It is a fact that till date, doing something “like a woman” is considered to be negative. It is as if someone is making fun of the individual if he/she is doing something “like a woman”. This is quite a sad occuring and I believe, that the presence of this fact itself is a proof that oppression of women is inherently present and women’s empowerment needs to be emphasized upon.
The complexity of inter-sectionalism lies in the fact that, where some feminists argue that the ‘Burkha’ and the ‘Hijaab’ is disgraceful for women and imposes male dominance on them, some Muslim Feminists argue that it is quite empowering as they can look at a man’s skin, or gaze at their faces but the man cannot do so. However, not going into such complexities, it can be said that Feminism is a necessity in bringing about a humanitarian development of the society as a whole. It is a necessity to recognise and give place to the various identities and diverse human beings that are present in the society who need to be given equal rights irrespective of any of their identities.
Moreover, many men just assume that the maintenance of a household is a woman’s job. This is an extremely selfish claim which arises due to them, being born in a society which programs them to think in that way. There are men who say things like, “I am busy babysitting my kid tonight”, when actually he is caring for his own child, because it is his offspring too! It’s not his wife’s job and he isn’t babysitting when he is doing it… it’s both their jobs!
Then, is feminism a completely feminine theory? Is it different for different people? What is the role of men in Feminism?
In order to answer these questions we need to delve deep into the liberal understanding of Feminism and observe how intersectional feminism talks about equality of all the sexes and genders and looks at them as an inevitable part of humanity and societal reality.
Feminism transgresses its feminine boundaries and steadily creeps into the realm of gender, sexuality and asserts their multiplicity. It points out to the quiet mass of people who do not identify them either as male or female, or pose a behaviour, different to the normative behaviour assigned to the sex they are born into.
Feminism also stands strong while questioning the official notions of masculinity which vehemently rejects and denies the identity of a ‘Man’ to any male individual who does not adhear to the official notions of hetero-normativity.
Feminism also questions, with the help of social evidences, ‘logic’ and ‘scientific claims’ which have historically brought about women’s oppression and has given women a weak and dependent position.
There is a preconceived notion that feminism is essentially a feminine ideology, that women use to empower themselves in various walks of their lives. However, it should be stressed, how feminism has transgressed it’s feminine boundaries, into that of masculinity and a transition area between the two conditions. A movement that had begun for the granting of certain civil rights and legal rights for women for their opportunitues, has now evolved to question the official notions of what is masculinity and has given a strong voice to many men, who have been discriminated, socially disregared and rejected by the larger group of not only, the “masculine” men but also women, who have been socialised into believing the patriarchal norms and it’s dominance.
Feminism gives a voice to those men who do not fall into the celebrated category of “masculine” men who project a certain behaviour, not similar to that of a woman, who possesses neither emotions or sensitivity. Feminism claims that there is present not one, but various forms of masculinity. Only one form of typical male behaviour is thought to be masculine, male-like, in the patriarchal society  Coincidentally, the word ‘masculine’ was itself coined around the 15th-16th Century, and it related to only a typical form of behaviour professed by the heterosexual, white, English educated, European men, who set the limits and standards for men to be identified as behaviourally masculine. Hence, the word masculine is actually quite restricting and does not have a space for all those men who do not toe the lines of the “normal, masculine, men” and are tagged as “queers”, or even “homosexuals”. Mention should be made of the oppression that this form of masculinity caused all around the world. The Britishers tagged the Bengali, young men or the ‘Babu’ as effeminate and undeserving of the ‘masculine’ tag since they were earned their income through the Zamindari system and were generally, pot-bellied. Even among various African and North American tribes, the men were tagged as effeminate since they lived in a matriarchal society, or had a queen as their tribal leader. Even in the modern era, men who don’t behave in certain ways, or don’t watch sports or are not into sports, who don’t educate themselves in the scientific subjects are treated as effeminate and are socially disregarded during socialization. This had led many men to grow to be un-social individuals and some have grown to hate their own sex.
As a concluding note, it can be stressed that the various parameters that are set in the society should not affect an individual’s life if she/he fails to meet them. Differences and uniqueness should be accepted and regarded in the society and I believe, feminism strives to achieve such a society where humans will be accepted for who they are, what they believe and their liberty should be regarded as a norm. It should also be said that one’s liberty should not hinder another’s opportunity or the right to yield her/his liberty. True feminism believes in inter-sectionality, humanism, liberalism, egalitarianism and has been a product of a several decades of struggle and I believe, it is necessary to facilitate the process of reaching that stage where human nature will be more accepting, open minded and will not disregard uniqueness or difference of the human race.
The author, Meghjit Sengupta, is a student of Sociology at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.

Hindutva: A Ghost Story

 

It’s easier battling the living. You can be sure where your weapon falls. The cut it makes. The blood that spills.

But, fighting a ghost is another thing.1 You can’t just begin right away. In order for the fight to be possible, you got to create the ghost. You got to work really hard.

Because, creating a ghost, is a huge issue. After you’ve done your bit, jotted the details, joined the dots, and can almost see the shape emerging before you, there are high chances of your discovering just another dot you’d completely overlooked, a little detail you’d previously missed.

And dots are generally too many. And they are all over the place. And the crazy thing about them is that you can join them to make whatever you wish. The ghost of a pumpkin. The ghost of a cactus. Anything.

And when that ghost is the ghost of Hindutva, things (usually) take a wrong turn. The cactus becomes the pumpkin. The pumpkin then becomes the pie. So, what was in the beginning a thorny plant, is gradually made to appear as a sweet-dish.

In this essay, I would like to un-do the picture a little. Un-join the dots. And then join them once again. To present the cactus as the cactus. The pumpkin as the pumpkin. And the sweet pie as a lie.

Here follows a set of three myths, which combine to create the pumpkin pie, the ghost, the giant myth of Hindutva.  The worshippers of the ghost—they who fly by night, they who chant its name, they who offer up flesh and blood to slake its monstrous thirst—they want us to believe in these myths. I argue against ‘them’. I argue against ‘their’ politics. I go like this—

            Myth Number One: ‘Hindu’ just means ‘Indian’, so chill !

This is kind of cute. Like Juliet calling the rose in ‘any other name.’

Well, to establish that ‘Hindu’ is not just ‘Indian’, but also the chauvinist, patriarchal, masculine Hindu, one must begin etymologically. Arguably, the earliest traceable use of the word ‘Hindu’ appears in Zend Avesta—

The first chapter of the Avestan Vendidad contains an allusion to a portion of Northern India in a list which it gives of sixteen lands or regions…The fifteenth of these domains, was Hapta Hindu, ‘Seven Rivers’, a region of ‘abnormal heat’, probably identical with the territory of Sapta Sindhavas, ‘Seven Rivers’, in the Veda.2

It is interesting that even in this very first instance (possibly) of the use of the word, the religious is not separate from the territorial. It is probably anticipatory of how the word eventually came to bear connotations both regional and communal.

The semantic bifurcation of the word established itself clearly for the first time, as the word travelled to the west and the east.3 In its Persian and Greek acceptation, the word became a signifier of region—‘the-whole-landmass-stretching-between-the-Hindukush-and-the-Hindu Sagar’ (yes, you’re right)—and, in its Chinese acceptation, it possessed a religious dimension—the followers of a religion, Hinduism.

For a considerable time in history, true, that ‘Hindu’ meant Indian. Yet, gradually by and by, the word came to be used (prominently, at least since the sixteenth century) in its religious sense. Ekanath (1548-1600) writes: ‘If I call myself a Hindu I will be beaten up, and Muslim I am not’ (Hindu kahan ta mariya, muslaman bhee nahe).

However, despite its lack of clarity (or because of it) the word Hindu, after a brief period of flirtation with other words, was ‘adopted by the British to characterise all things in India (specially elements and features found in the cultures and religions of India) which were not Muslim, not Christian, not Jewish, or, hence, not Western’, as affirmed by Frykenberg.4 Thus, came about the idea of pan-Indian Hinduism.

Now, the rise of this idea of pan-Indian Hinduism, coincided with the emergence of Indian nationalism. Hence, inevitable questions began to be raised about the relationship between the two: will Indian nationalism (or nationalisms) be territorial or religious in nature?  This issue, which remains unresolved to this day, went back to the ambiguity inherent in the word ‘Hindu’—does it stand for a country or a religion? The fact that both the words: India as well as Hindu, etymologically go back to the same word (Sindhu) dramatised this issue of ambiguity.

One can thus visualise two channels along which the energies released by the emerging nationalist forces in India could play themselves out. One channel was that of territorial nationalism—an aspiration represented by the Indian National Congress. Another was represented by the All-India Muslim League, formed in 1906, more in line with the optional channel of religious nationalism. Although there was an initial Hindu reaction also to move in that direction, it was basically checked by the rise of Gandhian influence in Indian politics from 1920 onwards and the primacy which the Indian National Congress began to enjoy thereafter. However, Indian and Hindu nationalisms did finally begin to diverge. This happened after the collapse of the Khilafat movement of 1919, which ended in a series of communal riots by mid-1920s. The founding of the RSS in 1925 clearly symbolised this vicious breach.5

It was during these times that neo-Hinduism began to emerge, as distinct from the other reformist Hindu movements as the Arya Samaj,6 Brahmo Samaj, and the Ramakrishna Mission. Neo-Hinduism began to display a distinctly ethnic streak and evolved a word to go with it—Hindutva.

The word was first popularised as the title of a book by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? The book is the real charter of the neo-Hindu ethic, and was written in prison, after he had come in contact with Khilafatists whose attitude apparently convinced him—a revolutionary till then—that Muslims were the real enemies, not the British.7

Savarkar’s stand is very close to the British stance of pan-Indian Hinduism. If you read carefully between the lines of Savarkar’s text, he is talking about an ethnic standardisation. National identity rests for him on three pillars: geographical unity, racial uniformity, and a common culture. Commonness, standardisation and adjustment are the watchwords. There is no place for diversity, difference or multifariousness.

Though in his text he affirms again and again, that ‘we have all along referred to the progress of the Hindu movement as a whole and not to any particular creed or religious section thereof’—never does he show whole-hearted acceptance of Islam or Christianity as valid ways of living. Rather, they are ‘others’ who must be ‘brought in’ and standardised, that is made to shed all differences of culture or community.

He asks, ‘But can we, who here are concerned with investigating into facts as they are and not as they should be, recognize these Mohammedans as Hindus?’ His reply is, ‘they cannot be called Hindus in the sense in which that term is actually understood, because, we Hindus are bound together not only by the tie of the love we bear to a common fatherland…, but also by the tie of the common homage we pay to our great civilization—our Hindu culture…our Mohammedan or Christian countrymen…cannot be recognized as Hindus. For though Hindusthan to them is Fatherland as to any other Hindu yet it is not to them a Holyland too. Their Holyland is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and Godmen, ideas and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently their names and their outlook smack of a foreign origin. Their love is divided. Nay, if some of them be really believing what they profess to do, then there can be no choice—they must, to a man, set their Holyland above their Fatherland…’8

Thus, even for Savarkar, the subtlest and the most muted of the Hindutvavadis, ‘Hindu’ and ‘Indian’ are not equal. The Hindu is whose ‘Holyland’ (whatever he meant by that) and ‘Fatherland’ (what would Freud have said about his choice of word?) are the same—India. He is the true Indian. But, oh for the ones less fortunate! They are half-Indians, however much they belong to the land, just because they are a follower of a different religion, and because their ‘holyland’ is not in India. He suggests that their only means of integration into this (now) secular democracy is to give up their religious identity. This includes, among other things, an acceptance of Hindu customs, the Hindu system of Caste, and the acceptance of Sanskrit as the one language of the nation.

Please note that this is not a call for secularism. This is not an appeal to citizens to see themselves as Indians first, and then as members of their religion. Because, simply, Savarkar’s advice is not for Hindus. He is not advising Hindus to forget that they are Hindus to qualify as Indians. This is something that the ‘other’ religions must do.

Cute. Isn’t it?

——-

Myth Number Two: Don’t worry, Hindutva is not Saffron Radicalism…

            Rubbish.

Hindutva is Saffron Radicalism. An emotion of a particularly bad sort.

Look up some excerpts from Savarkar’s book, Bhartiya Itihasatil Saha Soneri Paane (‘Six Golden Epochs in Indian History’).9 On pages 390-391 of the above-mentioned book, Savarkar takes to task the Marathas for not taking revenge on Muslims in response to the atrocities committed around the year 1757 by Abdalli. Savarkar would have liked the Marathas to not just take revenge, but to annihilate Muslim religion (Mussalmani Dharma), exterminate the Muslim people, and make India “Muslim-free”. He reports with great approval how Spain, Portugal, Greece and Bulgaria had done a similar thing in the past and ensured the safety of Christianity.

Further (page 392), Savarkar is unrelenting in his criticism of the Marathas for failing to exact revenge, not only on Abdalli and his forces for their atrocities on Hindus, but on those ordinary Muslims who continued to live in Mathura, Gokul, etc. According to Savarkar, the Maratha army should have killed ordinary Muslims (that is, not soldiers only), destroyed their mosques and raped Muslim women. The revenge was to be taken, not on the perpetrators of the earlier atrocities, but on those who had nothing to do with the earlier episodes, on those who were ordinary residents of these places and whose only crime was that they shared their religion with the perpetrators of the earlier atrocities. The above reference from Savarkar’s book indicates that he believed in the collective guilt of Muslims: they were to be punished not for what they had done, but for what their co-religionists had done.

What would you call this? Hindutva? Saffron Radicalism? Or both?

Or, would you finally say that they are the one and the same thing?

Here’s an excerpt of an interview, published on March 3, 2003, of the famous historian Bipan Chandra—

What exactly does Hindutva mean?

Hindutva is nothing but Hindu communalism. But the word ‘communalism’ is so dirty in our country that even communalists don’t call themselves communalists. The votaries of Hindutva have shifted from their initial stance on Hindu rashtra.10

Yet, the Supreme Court of India, in its Supreme Knowledge and Authority, has sought to define ‘Hindutva’: in its historic 1995 judgement, it conferred upon ‘Hindutva’ the status of a ‘way of life’. Hindutva apologists have, for long, clutched on to this piece of judicial ruling as conclusive philosophy. I will let it go by saying that whichever Hindutva the judgement talks about, it is not Savarkar’s Hindutva. In fact, the judgement doesn’t even mention Savarkar.

It is like delineating Marxism without talking about Marx, or the Gujarat of 2002 without Narendra Modi.11

———-

Myth Number Three: Join your Hands, and Close your Eyes, for Hindutva Rejuvenates Bharatiya Culture.

            Please. The only thing that Hindutva does to ‘Bharatiya’ culture is that it destroys it.

The other day, I read a sketchy post by a wannabe Hindutvavadi. In the twisted, little write-up he desperately sought to get one fact straight: Indian culture is under threat, and Hindutva is the answer.

Yes. Our culture is under threat. But Hindutva isn’t the answer. It is the threat.

Let’s get back to etymology for a while: have you noticed the tendency among Hindutvavadis and Hindutva-sympathisers to call India by the name ‘Aryavarta’? ‘Aryadesa’? ‘Aryabhoomi’?

If Lacan is right, and the unconscious is indeed structured as language, the preference for this particular term has an explanation. The Hindutvavadis often preach that this our Aryavarta has been subjected to invasions by foreign races, and their cultures have engulfed and replaced ours. Our only means of rejuvenating our great Aryavarta is through Hindutva.

This amounts to assuming that ‘Aryavarta’ is India Unadulterated. Its culture is India’s Original Culture.

Let’s begin by saying that when India was Aryavarta, there was no cricket, no chai (let alone chaiwallah), no Doordarshan (‘India ka Apna Channel’), no Tata Salt (‘Desh ka Namak’), no democracy. In other words, there was no India. It was another civilisation. It wasn’t us. Besides, if you think of it, anyway the original inhabitants of this land were not Aryas, not Hindus. Believe it or not, there was life before Hinduism. Perhaps, India’s Adivasi people have a greater claim to being indigenous to this land than anybody else.

On a graver note, this hankering after Authentic Indian Culture has tremendous connotations. Note, that this is racism at its highest worst. Note, that this authenticity was what drove Hitler to the murder of a generation of Jews. No wonder, Gowalkar, the respected RSS ideologue, its second chief after Hedgewar, and a great fan of Hitler, wrote—

In Hindustan, land of the Hindus, lives [sic.] and should live the Hindu Nation…All others are traitors and enemies to the National Cause…The foreign races in Hindustan…may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizen’s rights…To keep up the purity of its race and culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races—the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here…a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.12

To those who say, we need Hindutva to counter cultural invasion, I have just a few questions. Are nuclear bombs Hindu (Indian)? Is corporate-globalisation particularly protective towards what you call Indian Culture? …Yet, these are measures, either taken, or supported by the BJP, a political party that has (at least, had) ‘Hindutva’ as one of its official policies, both written in its manifesto, and publicised by its cadres.13

It’s interesting that just when Manmohan Singh, then the finance minister, was preparing Indian markets for neo-liberalism, Advani went on his first Rath-Yatra.  In December 1992, the Babri Masjid was demolished. In 1993, the Congress government of Maharashtra signed a power purchase agreement with Enron—a contract, disastrous as it turned out, that kick-started the era of privatisation in India. Then, as the Congress whined from the sidelines, the BJP wrested the baton from its hands. The first act of the BJP in office was to conduct a series of nuclear tests. Across the country, sadhus and corporates alike, celebrated the Bomb. The VHP wanted to distribute radioactive sands from the Pokhran deserts as prasad to people all across India.

The BJP government conducted an extraordinary dual-orchestra. While one arm kept busy, selling off the nation’s assets in chunks, the other, to divert attention, arranged a baying, howling, deranged chorus of Hindutva. The inexorable ruthlessness of one process fed directly into the insanity of the other. Parts of the enormous profits generated by the process of indiscriminate privatisation went into financing Hindutva’s vast army—the RSS, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, and the myriad other charities and trusts that run schools, hospitals and social services. Between them they created tens of thousands of shakhas across the country. The harted they preach, combined with the unmanageable frustration generated by the relentless impoverishment and dispossession of the corporate globalisation project, still fuels the violence of poor on poor—the perfect smoke screen to keep the structures of power intact and unchallenged.

Now talk about culture-invasion.

———-

Even as I write this, notifications pop up on my laptop screen, showing the rotund face of Uma Bharti. ‘Kuchh saazish nahi, sab khullam khulla hai, Ram Mandir banke rahega. Koi maai ka laal nahi rok sakta…14

Oh, the ghost of Hindutva!

Oh, the worshippers of that ghost!

Tell us something:

Have you heard Ghalib? Have you read the Book of Revelation? Do you know what nehari tastes like? Have you been to Kashmir?

Of course you haven’t.

Stay in your grave. RIP.

Notes—

  1. Jacques Derrida’s invocation of the spectral in Specters of Marx provides the basis for my metaphor of the ghost. In his text, Derrida introduces the figure of the spectre/ghost for its potential for deconstruction. The figure of the ghost suits Derrida’s deconstructive purpose, as well as my own essay, because, it ‘is neither substance, nor essence, nor existence, is never present as such.’
  2. See Jackson, A.V. Williams, ‘The Persian Dominions in Northern India Down to the Time of Alexander’s Invasion.’ In Ancient India, ed. E.J. Rapson. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, pp. 319-344.
  3. The findings about the etymology of the word ‘Hindu’ draw on Arvind Sharma, ‘On Hindu, Hindustan, Hinduism and Hindutva.’

The author, Suchismito Khatua, is a student of English at St. Xavier’s College, kolkata.

THE DEMAND FOR “COMMON” CIVIL CODE

“The Uniform Civil Code maybe described as controversy’s favorite child.”

Article 44 of Directive Principles of State Policy says “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India.” But it is a matter of regret that article 44 of the Constitution has remained a dead letter for the Indian judicial system. Article 44 is based on the notion that there is no viable relationship between religion and personal laws in a civilized society. In one hand, Article 25 of the Indian Constitution allows everyone the right to follow, profess and propagate his or her religion with utmost dignity, whereas Article 44 seeks to divest religion from social relations and personal law.

The discussion for having a proper Civil Code for all did take place during Constituent Assembly proceedings, where the then Law Minister of India, Mr. B.R. Ambedkar stood in favour of reforms in the society by having a proper Civil Code. But due to stiff resistance, this proposal was not allowed to be passed in the Assembly and hence was pushed to the category of “non actions” called the Directive principles of State policy. Therefore the meaning of Uniform Civil Code was articulated as a proposal to replace the personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major community in India with its own sets of laws governing every citizen.

When we talk about equality before the law to all in society, we cite the criminal laws of the country. But in civil matters such as marriage, adoption, succession, divorce and inheritance, the allowance of patriarchy is on a high. The dilution of gender justice done through ages has not awakened the minds of a common Indian. Therefore the idea of a “Common Civil Code” needs to be well conceptualized so that it can be understood by all. Religion cannot be used as a tool to justify acts of public immorality, public disorder or discrimination. The rightful interpretation of religious texts is essential to counter these draconian laws to the extent possible.

By setting aside the discriminatory aspects of existing personal laws and incorporating modern and progressive aspects, we can move towards a common civil code. The applicability of so many personal laws for different communities has created a deep-seated problem in the Indian judicial system. This fact has been acknowledged by the Honorable Supreme Court of India which has time and again stated that there is a “Total Confusion” when it comes to personal laws governing religious practices.

The Supreme Court of India has been very active on the issue of same Civil Code for all. It has given landmark judgments to support the cause of non biased civil laws in India whether it is in the famous cases of:

  • Shah Bano (1985), which talks about maintenance of Muslim women after divorce.
  • Sarla Mudgal vs. Union of India and Others (1995), which raised three pertinent questions for Courts; first, whether a Hindu husband married under Hindu law by embracing Islam, can solemnize a second marriage? Second, whether such a marriage, without having the first marriage dissolved, would be a valid marriage for the first wife who continues to be a Hindu? And last, whether the apostate husband would be guilty of the offence under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code?
  • Daniel Latifi vs. Union of India (2001), where the court stated that reasonable and fair provisions include provision for the future of the divorced wife with no confinement along the divorce period as stated in Muslim personal laws. This remains the final case law in this regard.
  • Shamim Ara vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (2002) ruling which supported the claim that arbitrary ‘triple talaq’ is invalid. 

These decisions support the view of Shri K. Kannan, a former judge of the Court of Punjab and Harayana that by borrowing from laws of various communities and making judicial pronouncements that assure gender equality, the nation can move towards a uniform set of civil laws in due course.

Assessing the present scenario, the government has asked the Law Commission of India headed by retired justice Balbir Singh Chauhan to formulate a report on the formulation of Common Civil Code. The Law Commission chief has said that people must be educated on this issue. People should know and understand this Civil law reforms from a humanitarian viewpoint to guarantee the equal rights of citizens, rather than from a non-moderate religious attitude. 

Till the time this matter is seen from a religious perspective, from a perspective of curtailing minority rights, then this issue will face the same resistance as other major reforms in India.

This is high time for introspection among citizens of India on whether they would like to continue to enforce principles of the 18th century that destroy the 21st century of India. Rigidity is inheritably imbibed in many of the personal laws of India. It is a fact that there remains greater rigidity in the personal laws of some communities whereas,in others, serious reforms have been introduced, that have contributed to the progress of those communities. But there is lack of comprehensive reforms even in those outdated laws.

Viewing this demand from a macro level perspective, the implementation of this matter will give a global outlook to India in terms of equal gender rights, equal minority rights and of course equal human rights. Moreover, it should not be seen as a concept presented by the Western World. Rather, it is the periphery adopted by the leftist governments in the east, where state and religion are seen differently and where state is above the question of religion.

There is hope that a call for a Common Civil Code will purge the nation of inequality by removing the evils of polygamy, child marriage, and arbitrary divorce, rigid grounds for a divorce, unjustified property rights and disparity in adoption laws. It is significant to note that the personal laws of the Hindus, such as those relating to marriage, succession and other issues, have all a sacramental origin in the same manner as in case of Muslims or Christians. The Hindus, along with Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains have forsaken the sentiments in the cause of national unity and integration; some other communities haven’t; although the constitution enjoins the establishment of a “Common Civil Code” for the whole of India.

Thus in order to generate wide consensus, any discussion on the issue of Uniform Civil Code in India must be cognizant of the undue stress given on the word “Uniform”. Uniformity in civil laws is often linked with majoritarianism  causing sections of society to resist this revolutionary reform. The very concept of complete uniformity in society is a farce and it is therefore essential that the codification of civil laws should encompass every person under its purview. It has rightly been observed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court that

“Justice to all is a far more satisfactory way of dispensing justice than justice from case to case.”

The author, Aditya Poddar, is a student of Commerce at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.

From Independence to Indifference

Two hundred years of British dominion in Bharatavarsha was a chapter of maturation of the country. The test of  forbearance from the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre to the Partition of India was instrumental in strengthening unity amidst diversity of the Indian culture. It was a transfiguration of the Indian struggle for Independence into a Revolution emanating from the transformation of the Indian citizens into experienced leaders. There was no prospect of any prolongation of the British rule as their crookedness was forced to succumb to the strong foundation of this Country. Out of this Havoc was born the Indian democracy with the largest written constitution in the world.

However, this was only a momentary subjugation of injustice and corruption. A battle that had been fought unitedly  parted ways, the repercussions of which are still being faced by the Indians. The preamble of the Constitution reads ‘India is a sovereign, socialist , secular and democratic republic’. However, it’s realisation is only a dream of every Indian.It seems that the spirit of nationalism witnessed a demise with the termination of the British colonisation. The democracy, which was supposed to be ‘by the people, of the people and for the people’ became only ‘of the self’. Consequently, the representatives of the natives became flag bearers of fraud and corruption. The curse of poverty and communalism began to take roots in the country because the battle for leadership had changed its form into a battle for authority. When cries of inequality and indifference fell into deaf ears, there began a crusade against crime. Consequently, the homeland of the natives has now taken the form of a battlefield.

Since corruption does not confine itself to any religion or community, the movements for reform are also incentives of integrity. The struggle of Irom Sharmila in Manipur bears a testimony of this fact.Change does not happen by itself nor can it be inflicted upon. A complaint without an action is as meaningless as a life without equality. This is reflected from the conflict of ideas and viewpoints that is inclusive of people from all the strands of the society. The heated debates in the media to the physical protests on roads are clear indications of the fact that corruption stands abated in front of integrity.Even religion cannot be its weapon of mass destruction. The discriminatory practices of both the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board are equally criticised by all groups of the society. The joint struggle for the upliftment of the condition of dalits and the venture of combating the gau-rakshaks are all exemplary embodiments of nationalism and humanity. Resignation of the chairperson of the SUM Hospital in Odissa after the fire mishap and the cancellation of the order of bail of Rocky Yadav by the Supreme Court are products of the participation of the public in an effort to wipe out duplicity and Sham.

However, there has been a deep seated skeptimism about this internal skirmish between the ‘good’ and the ‘evil’. Some argue that the so called ‘victims’ of corruption are actually traitors with an ambition to incite disregard for the nation and tear it apart. Moreover, such acts of ‘sedition’ are clear evidences of the fact that corruption has dismantled not only the Political regime of the country but also the foundation of the country as a whole. The notion of integrity has blotted out because egoism and indifference have achieved eminence.

A Mantra from the Upanishads reads ‘Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya’ which means leading from darkness to light. Nepotism has taken such deep roots in the Society that it has apparently expelled the very idea of an egalitarian society. Freedom from  ideological fundamentalism prevailing in the Society is a need of the hour. Failure to enlighten parochial mindsets with righteous and patriotic ideas can both be catastrophic and detrimental to the Society.

The author, Aastha Agarwal, is a student of Political Science at Loreto College, Kolkata.

The Murder of Creativity

‘Censorship’, is not just a word in India. For some fringe groups, in general, and the infamous Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in particular, it is more of an emotion. The unrestricted use of the tool in the recent times by the CBFC, for the sole purpose of being politically correct, is something that has clamped down on people’s creativity.

It is beyond question that checks and balances (read censorship) are vital when we talk about something as influential as films. The problem however arises when such checks and balances overshadow rationality and deliberately infringe upon the freedom of speech and expression that a democratic state like ours guarantees. The question, thus, is: Is censorship, in the form it is presently practiced, acceptable in a mature democracy like ours?

It was about fifty years ago that there was a major challenge to the constitutional validity of ‘Censorship’. The Supreme Court, in its historic judgment to the case of S. Rangarajan vs P. Jagjivan Ram, talked about the major impact cinema has on people’s minds. The apex court, in its judgment, also established the validity of ‘censorship’ (even pre-censorship) as a tool used by the state to check ‘objectionable’ material from reaching the public. It however failed to ensure that the tool, in the days to come, would be used in a responsible manner.

The Cinematograph Act, 1952 was nothing but a continuation of the colonial era censorship laws which were created for the sole purpose of curbing the freedom of speech and expression of the people. This continuation was made possible because the leaders then believed that the people were ‘very gullible’ (as pointed out by B.V. Keskar, the Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting at that time). To some extent, his argument is valid, because the consolidation of a newly independent country required such measures. Provided that more than 75% of the Indian population was illiterate during the 1950s and 60s, the people were indeed ‘very gullible’. But times have changed, and there has been a steep increase in what we call the ‘visual literacy level’. People today understand the difference between the real and the unreal, and the same logic that was used way back in the 1950s cannot possibly be used in the 21st century as well. So, the necessity of using the instrument of ‘censorship’ frequently, which undoubtedly existed in the initial years of our democracy, ceases to perpetuate in the present scenario.

Having said that, should I not call it an act of grave hypocrisy when the state allows every adult to make a decision as important as voting, but continues to choose for them what to see and what not to? If the people are considered capable of choosing their government, they are definitely capable of selecting which film to watch and which film to avoid watching. Thus, the very idea of censorship in a democracy is paradoxical.

The second question is about the lack of rationality shown by the CBFC in the recent times. The case of ‘Phillauri’, a film starring Anushka Sharma, shows the incoherent nature of the CBFC. Apparently, a scene with ‘Hanuman Challisa’ had to be muted because it ‘failed to scare away the ghost’. During its establishment, one of the principal objectives of the body was to restrict superstitious material from reaching the public. Now, with the ‘Phillauri’ incident, it has transformed into a body promoting superstition. The theatrical release of ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ was banned on grounds that “the story is lady-oriented, their fantasy above life.” If the Board is actually so serious about morality, it should also have banned films like ‘Kya Cool Hai Hum’ which objectify women, and undermine the concepts of morality and decency to a far greater extent. These unfortunate incidents manifesting ambivalence and apparent double-standards bring about the inevitable question: Is the CBFC competent to censor our films?

The problem of unnecessary censorship can only be eradicated if the powers of the Board get restricted to Certification, just the way it is in the United States. The responsibility of the Government should only be to ensure that the people understand very clearly the nature of film they are about to watch. Strict certification and regulation of the audience can solve most of the problems faced as a result of irresponsible film-making. Censorship, on the other hand, should be used only under exceptional circumstances and must be looked after by a more capable, reasoned and responsible body, like the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) that comprises retired judges and people with special knowledge in the field of cinema. Until then, creativity of the individual shall continue to be compromised.

Freedom of speech and expression is something that strengthens the base of a vibrant democracy. Be it painters, poets, film-makers or comedians; unless they can speak their minds without fear, our democracy will not be complete. Limiting people’s right to imagine and create, the way it is being presently done, will only weaken it.

The writer, Pranjal Mondal, is a student of Political Science at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.