A Modest Proposal to End All Controversies on Freedom of Expression in India

(apologies for cross posting on Commons Law and Reader List)

As we know well by now from the freedom loving sentiments (that are expressed loudly and frequently) by all sections of the guardians of social order in India, (that is Bharat, that is Hindustan), the real reason why certain insignificant documentary independent and student films, contemporary art exhibitions in university campuses and performances are banned, and their heinous perpetrators arrested has to do with the general populations right to sleep undisturbed each night and not to see anything other than cricket matches, news about cricket matches, election analyses, kaun banega crorepati, Abhishek Bacchan’s wedding, and yoga on TV.

Why should anyone in their right mind want to see, read, listen to or even think about anything else?

Consider the folly that some students in Kottayam have recently contemplated, making a film on of all things ‘Homosexuality’ .

Or, of the students in the Fine Arts Department of M.S.University in Baroda who went ahead and organized an exhibition of student work that contained offensive erotic imagery.

Both of these moves have been met with swift and timely responses. The offending students in Kerala have been expelled by the Christian educational institutition where they were enrolled, and the offending art student in Vadodara, one Chandramohanm has been arrested by the local police at the urging of Hindutva minded citizens.

There are only two things we need to learn from incidents of this nature. The first is as follows –

Actually, all that people need to do is to insist that only the self appointed guardians of public morality (of all stripes and shades) have the right to appear in any broadcast, exhibition, film or other forms of mediated communication. We need every channel to broadcast morally cleansed reality TV all the time. How else will this nation boldly venture where none other has gone before – into that heaven of bliss and freedom known as ennui for the billions.

If, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we only had priests, hindu holy men, muslim divines, chistian priests, dalit messiahs, communist apparatchiks, gandhian crusaders, and secular activists, politicians, moral crusaders and do gooders of every stripe and persuasion on TV, in public fora, on web sites – acting as artists, as film directors, VJs, crooners and even as item number specialists or porn stars then all our cultural problems would be solved. Think of how fetching Dr. Praveen Togadia would look in a leather thong.

Our national cultural life would then be like an undending and refined Republic Day pageant, full of approtiately attired folk dancers, uplifting martial music and tasteful tableaux of ancient heritage, combined with images of modern progress and development. That would be a fitting expression of the very soft power of an awakening and shining India.

The public would also, by this strategy, get its fill of salacious and erotic content, (rss pracharaks would be filmed having more sex with every gender and form of life, inheritors of the BJP legacy would be seen snorting cocaine, Christian evangelists would be seen in the throes of real estate speculation and Muslim holy men would be seen imbibing their favourite form of spiritual succor in the form of halal scotch and the secular guardians of public morality would be doing what they do best – making money for the cause by setting up yet another special exploitative zone).

The guardians of public morality would themselves guarantee that the salacious and sleazy content offered to the public would be 100 percent patriotic, in keeping with Indian tradition and un-subversive as it would be produced by people like themselves (whose motives are above and beyond question).

This experiment has been briefly and successfully undertaken in neigbouring countries like Afghanistan, where, the supervision of the entire matrix of communication by the ‘Committee for the Suprresion of VIce and the Promotion of Virtue” during the brief Taliban interregnum did not result in any loss of cultural content, or lack of entertainment, for the general public. It just ensured that the Talibs had the authority to purvey the right kind of high minded and halal sleaze. Hey, no one can quite tell whether what you have behind a full burqa is full frontal nudity or not, right. So all you need to do is to dress everyone up in full burqas to ensure that everyone’s erotic imagination runs riot. Similarly, if the guardians of public morality were to erect permanent visual barriers in front of medieval Hindu temples, the general population could speculate at leisure (and to a hitherto unimagined pornographic excess) as to the actual content of the obscured sculptural friezes. I would heartily welcome this measure as a form of highly evolved and consciousness altering Yoga for the mind.

I propose that we all arrange for noisy demonstrations and organize lengthy electronic petitions to demand that the entire reins of communication and expression in India be handed over to a truly secular and representative board of guardians of public morality which would include – representatives of every religion (minority, majority or micro-minority), every political party recognized by the election commission of India, the cricket control board, the motion picture association of India and at least 4 morally upright page 3 celebrities, two selfless activists from public life, three television anchors, two sahitya academi winning authors who are unknown and therefore un-controversial, and five art critics and curators. I also propose that this committee be headed (for purposes of spiritual and ethical direction) in rotation, by one of the Shankaracharyas who is not accused of attempt to murder and the at least one member of any Waqf board anyewhere in the country who is also not a history sheeter.

The second thing we need to learn is as follows – (and this emerges naturally from the contours of the first suggestion outlined above in this proposal).

The successful realization of the demand that the field of cultural life and activity be entirely taken over by the current guardians of public morality woul allow the rest of us to be finally freed from the pursuit of culture so that we can get down to other serious business. Like thinking more precisely about how to illuminate a few guardians of public morality from below with the help of the right kind of chemicals. I always knew that if those of us who practice culture right now, stopped doing it, and started practising inorganic chemistry instead, the entire political field would be much more interesting, and perhaps, incendiary. That is why I can now understand the wisdom that my elders had when they used to advise me to study science and not arts after my 10th board examinations. I regret that I did not listen to their advice.

I have not so far come across any right thinking guardian of public morality calling for bans on textbooks of inorganic chemistry. And as far as I understand, that is where one can learn about things like Cyclo-trimethylene-trinitramine, (popularly called Cyclonite, Hexogen, or somewhat loosely -as- ‘Research Department (composition)X’) – a substance first offered to the public for its medical and healing properties by the German chemist called Hans Henning in the 1890s and later developed for a variety of uses.

[To know more about this substance – see the appropriate Wikipedia entry]

It is my view, (and I would like to see this debated, so that my arguments can be sharpened and refined by being made subject to rigorous criticism) that the selective, precise and well timed use of the knowledge gleaned from textbooks of inorganic chemistry can be a far more effective means of artistic, literary and cultural criticism than anything that anyone can learn in any art or media school or university deparment of literature, theatre or film studies.

When, and if, the successful takeover of culture by the guardians of public morality in India has been undertaken, it will be time to re-enter the field of public cultural criticism and activity, well armed by the healing properties of Hexogen.

regards,

Shuddha

16 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal to End All Controversies on Freedom of Expression in India”

  1. Freedom of speech should not be limited to denigrating Indian cultural and civilisational values.

    Those broad minded propnents of freedom of expression shoyld paste Mohamemd’s cartoons as well the way they are pasting vulgar paintings of bharatmata.

    Are we really honest or merely puppet of certain vested inteersts whose sole aim is to crete inefreiority complex about everything Indian and greatness fro everything foreign.

    If we are really honest and courageous, we should publsih satanic verses and Moahmed’s cartoons as well.

    you can get them from http://www.faithfreedom.org very easyly.

    Please show the courage. use one stick to handle all. You selective preaching only to followers of Indian civilisation is the lifeline of fanatics and they very rightly convince their follwoers are able to convince that look freedom of expresiiojn means `abuse Hindus and Indians’ and that’s why satanic verses is banned but `o hindu awake’ is not. Mohammed’s cartoons are banned while MF Hussein’s paintings not. Savarkar is banned while iqbal is not.

    let me see if there is any honest intellectual in this forum or all are merely agents of gangs of Mao, marx, macauley and Mohamemd the four gangs busy in destroying their own culture and civilisational values.

  2. Jay,
    Am not sure why i am taking the trouble to respond to your “pseudo-secularist” type argument. But, shuddha’s text seems to take the trouble of all – use your phrase – “using one stick to handle all.”

    Anyway, it is rather tempting to to use one stick to handle one particular bunch in Gujarat. Perhaps you could take the trouble to read the following article by Ranjit Hoskote. He makes the distinction between hinduism and hindutva rather clear towards the end.
    Best
    A.

    Hindu Sacred Art Offends Self-appointed Custodians of Hindu Culture

    Ranjit Hoskote

    In a grimly ironic turn of events following the 9 May arrest, without
    a proper warrant, of Chandramohan, a final-year fine arts student at
    the M S University, Baroda, the self-appointed custodians of Hindu
    culture have now demanded the closure of an exhibition showing the
    vital role of the erotic in Hindu sacred art.

    Earlier today, 11 May, students of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the M S
    University put up an exhibition of reproductions of images drawn from
    across 2500 years of Indian art. In a silent protest against the
    brutality with which their fellow student has been treated for
    exhibiting works that BJP and VHP activists claim are offensive and
    obscene, the students put up pictures of the Gudimallam Shiva, perhaps
    the earliest known Shiva image, which combines the lingam with an
    anthropomorphic form; a Kushan mukha-linga or masked lingam;
    Lajja-gouris from Ellora and Orissa, resplendent in their fecund
    nakedness; erotic statuary from Modhera, Konark and Khajuraho; as well
    as Raga-mala paintings from Rajasthan. All these images, among the
    finest produced through the centuries in the subcontinent, celebrate
    the sensuous and the passionate dimensions of existence – which, in
    the Hindu world-view, are inseparably twinned with the austere and the
    contemplative.

    This treasure of Hindu sacred art did not win the favour of the
    establishment. The Pro Vice Chancellor issued a verbal request that
    the exhibition be closed, which the Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty, Dr
    Shivaji Panikkar, ignored. A written order followed, and was similarly
    ignored. The Pro Vice Chancellor then arrived at the venue,
    accompanied by some members of the Syndicate of the University. They
    requested Dr Panikkar to close down the exhibition, then ordered him
    to do so. When it became clear that the Dean would not bend to their
    will, they had the exhibition locked.

    It appears that the champions of a resurgent Hindu identity are
    acutely embarrassed by the presence of the erotic at the centre of
    Hindu sacred art. As they may well be, for the roots of Hindutva do
    not lie in Hinduism. Rather, they lie in a crude mixture of German
    romanticism, Victorian puritanism and Nazi methodology.

    What happens next? Will the champions of Hindutva go around the
    country destroying temple murals, breaking down monuments, and burning
    manuscripts and folios?

  3. Dear Jay Sharma,

    Thank you for your comments on my text on Kafila.org. I have very little reason to disagree with you on this issue. I think that all views (including those that I hold, or agree with), and all things sacred, ought to be open to criticism, even to ridicule. I am quite prepared to defend acts of speech or expression that offend people who are not Hindu or Indian or both.

    Actually, I happen to have written at length on the Mohammad cartoons, and my position is not one of agreement with those who called for bans against the cartoon images, either in India, or eselwhere, even though I thought personally that the images were in bad tase.

    I am not in a position to judge the quality of the images or works that have been created by the Chandramohan who has been arrested in Baroda, as I have not seen them. But I would defend his freedom to make them, even if I did not personally value them in aesthetic terms. Even if I disagreed strongly with what they represented. The true test of a belief in the freedom of expression consists in accepting the freedom of those whom you dislike or disagree with.

    I have always been against any ban, including the ban on the Mohammad cartoons, or on Satanic Verses. I have myself downloaded and distributed copies of Tasleema Nasreen’s book ‘Dwikhondito’ when it was briefly banned in West Bengal at the urging of some Muslim clergymen. I have spoken publicly on these issues. For instance, I have spoken against the ban on Satanic Verses in a public forum on censorship organized by the Campaign Against Censorship in Jamia Millia Islamia university, some years ago.

    I find it interesting that you are quite prepared to assume that you know what my position on these matters is without bothering to actually find out what I have written, or spoken.

    Please do try and educate yourself in future, and do not try and jump to conclusions so quickly and easily. You could end up doing yourself damage.

    best

    Shuddha

  4. Whereas I entirely agree with the points picked up by Shuddha in response to J’s somewhat inspired and provocative comments, I would still like to reiterate that unlike Hinduism and myriad other pagan cultures Islam and Sikhism do not address the question of bodily desires. We do not creatively engage with Islam and Sikhism at the level of pictographic representation involving the bodily representation – including sexuality and nudity – because they do not wish to be so engaged. In fact, they resent being thus invoked.

    (However, this is not to say that their cultural registers expunge all irreverent references. Follow their music and poetry and you would find hugely transgressive spaces… It is another matter that we choose not to look at them in our unbridled desire to pan everything Islamic.)

    The same, however, is not true of the rich and vibrant tradition of visual representation in Hinduism unless, of course, Hinduism embarks upon a negation of its own past and enjoins artists to desist from such representations in future. The question, however, is who will issue such an injunction without erasing the past histories and practices of Hinduism! For, there exists a large body of pictographic and literal references which continue to be invoked and related to as historically identifiable traditions; and, such invocations are not merely restricted to representational art but are in fact part of the day-to-day process of the lived as a form of ritualized practice. For better or worse, we continue to celebrate and apotheosize the yoni and lingam in a highly fetishized form of puja-paath. Unlike certain other religions Hinduism has always invoked modes of sexuality as a creative principle of life. There is absolutely no reference in either Islam or Sikhism to even obliquely encourage such representations.

    So your arguments about Danish cartoons and the rest are nothing short of insidious attempts at scoring a perverse point. What you are pleading for, Mr J, is not the freedom of expression – that is only a masquerade – what you are asking for is the exact opposite: an end to the tradition of visual representation relating to Hindu mythology and religion. In order to achieve that you are falsely pleading for, in fact obscenely insisting upon, a pictographic representation of Hazrat Mohammed and publication of the cartoons ridiculing the prophet. You want to kill one tradition through sectarian censorship and invent a new divisive one.

    What is worse is that you do not even feel uneasy indulging in such communal nit-picking. I used to think it was childish but no more. It is menacingly fascistic.

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  6. This entire Vadodara debate is going – from Shabnam Hashmi to Vivan Sundaram – in a wrong direction. The left is invoking either some sort of a pristine insulation for the Universities or quite literally an appeal to the Constitution of India. The universities, as we know them today, are sullied beyond recognition and academic sanctities have been trampled upon incessantly by all shades of ideology. Likewise the constitutional guarantees have become mere paper assurances that everyone trifles with without any compunction. No one is talking about the essentially transgressive nature of representational arts: artists are playfully transgressive even when they protest whereas the fundamentalists are violently and even muderously destructive in gagging such transgressions. I remember many weeks ago Shivam had raised a point – which even I had on an earlier occasion – about the need to critique the discourse of resistance. I think we urgently need to have a serious look at this issue. There is no point nurturing a foolish dreams of a benign state nor, for that matter, that authority/authorities would function reasonably within the parameters of constitutional civility.

  7. Panini ji, I must say that in the Baroda ARt controversy I would be on their side too. My problem is not with the discourse of resistance but with its language. When the issue at stake is something as disgusting as what is happening in Baroda – where indeed a friend of mine is in the thick of things and I feel as though I know Chandramohan personally – I would indeed close ranks with the practioners of the ‘discourse of resistance’, whatever their language be.

  8. Dear Shuddhabrata,
    I really liked what you wrote and the style with which you delivered your line of thought…!I hope to write again after I recover from it !
    Warm regards-Radha

  9. Shivam ji, if it is only a question of being counted which, given the horrifying way the things have moved, becomes absolutely imperative, I unhesitatingly stand in the company of Shabnam Hashmi and Vivan Sundram.

    But I must absolutely insist upon an artist’s right to be transgressive – what is human creativity without transgressions – regardless of how tyrranical the state is and how compliant and frightening the executioners (the authorities – the ACPs and the VCs) and how murdrous the vigilante fascists (the Bajrangis and their ilk) acting on behalf of this irreparably malignant state.

    I am afraid I cannot agree with you when you make a distinction between the ‘discourse’ of resistance and the ‘language’ of resistance. The two are inalienably linked and reflect the intensity of ‘passion’ and ‘reflection’ with which you are able to decisively steer an important act of resistance away from mere ‘strategic’ compulsions.

  10. It is very sad that India is full of people like Jay Sharma ( name changed ). I dont know how he worships Atal,Advani Raj Nath as Bhrama Vishnu Mahesh with Vijaye Rahje Sindhiya as a Hidnu deity in the middle. A truley secural individual is least bothered about this representative quality of an image, be it a Dera image, a Hussain image a Chandra Mohan Image or even this latest from Jay Sharma’s Rajasthan.

    A lot has been written on this representation problem by great writers like Barthes or Susan sontag. Who knows if they come to such a stupid conclusion even a fter reading these great authors.

    a quote from Marcel Duchamp comes to my mind.
    ‘ One can not understand the image if the eye is incapable of tears
    ( the quote almost reads like that )

    Mr. Jay Sharma, the world/earth is suffering in more ways than one, please have a second look at what is happenning around us. So cool down…

  11. “My problem is not with the discourse of resistance but with its language.”

    Shivam ji, can you please provide the link to the article in question. I cannot find it on your blog.

  12. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article est Proposal to End All Controversies on Freedom of Expression in India at Kafila, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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