October 21, 2016

India: Art under control (Edit, Kashmir Times)

Kashmir Times - 20 October 2016

Art under control

The present discourse of subjecting artists, film personalities to patriotism tests on a daily basis must end for sake of culture and also democracy

BJP leader Ram Madhav's remarks that any individual's patriotism should not be tested on a daily basis is at odds with the party's silence over the manner in which intellectuals, journalists and film makers are hounded for freely expressing their views. The party is in power and should be responsible for the threats to individuals and the constitutional right of freedom of expression. The film makers particularly are caught in the eye of the storm for doing business with Pakistani stars and musicians and film maker Karan Johar has finally been bullied into displaying his patriotism by vowing not to work with Pakistani actors in future and by apologising for his previous silence in his bid to ensure that his forthcoming film starring Pakistani artiste Fawad Khan is allowed to be released without a controversy. Reports had earlier pointed out that the film maker was already making last minute changes to his film by replacing the Pakistani actor's face with an Indian and changing the script as the two lead female characters were initially Pakistanis. However, the Cineplex association had already announced what it called a voluntary ban on the film's release. The government for long has been silent on such bullying tactics by Hindutva goons and sadly also television crews. Instead of speaking out against such harassment and ensuring protection to film makers, it has allowed irrationality and hatred to dictate the course for artistes in the country. Artistes and filmmakers openly criticising the bans on Pakistani artistes or calling for keeping art and culture out of the present state of hostility between the two countries have been persistently trolled, hounded on television studios and threatened by hoodlums of Shiv Sena and other wings of the RSS, also the parent body of the party in power in India. Those supporting continuation of cultural ties have either had to prove their patriotism by supporting the government, eulogizing the army or have been made to apologise. This is fascism of the worst kind and needs to be opposed, not endorsed by right thinking people and the government which has been sitting pretty much silent. The country has already been bogged down by rising levels of intolerance to free speech and expression with writers, intellectuals and cultural personalities bearing the brunt. Bollywood has had its share of controversies with likes of tall stars like Shahrukh Khan and Aamir Khan getting brickbats for their comments of feeling insecure owing to their Muslim identity, instead of understanding the reasons of such insecurity. The danger to the country is far more from within than it is from outside as the borders are ably protected by the soldiers guarding the country's territories. There is, however, no safety from hoodlums questioning other peoples' patriotism. But for Ram Madhav's bit remarks, which are pretty much ambiguous, there is no assurance on ground to protect the right to free speech or to oppose the shameful targeting of film personalities and other cultural personalities. To deny the latter protection is another way of patronizing the hatred inspired hoodlums.

It is the government's responsibility to crackdown on such an atmosphere of insecurity and hatred being built by victimising performing artistes in the name of India-Pakistan hostility. It must speak out and give full protection to them, whatever the views of any individual artiste and must stand by at least their right to express their views. Secondly, the very discourse of banning Pakistani artistes needs to be introspected dispassionately. What patriotic cause does it serve by targeting artistes from across the border who are not part of the Pakistani establishment or its military or how does such a ban make the lives of the soldiers and commoners in India any safer? Such demands have not been imposed on cultural personalities even in times of war. But for the daily studio wars on air round the clock on television channels, India and Pakistan are not yet in a state of war. The diplomatic channels are pretty much intact and the high commissions of both the countries on other side of the borders are operating without any hindrance. Trade and travel ties are business as usual and the hype over border ceasefire violations and hostility may in all probability not have even been able to put an end to the usual cross-border smuggling. Then what is the logic behind making filmmakers, cultural personalities, intellectuals and civil society activists soft targets and singling them out? Such people in the past have played a great role in not just creatively contributing to the society but also removing dispelling myths, mistrust and demolishing walls of hatred. They must be protected and allowed to work and perform without patronised bullies constantly nagging them. India and Pakistan share a common history and cultural legacy. The need for cultural ties and people to people contact at all times, irrespective of the relations at the official and military level cannot be underscored and must not become a casualty.