The past few weeks have seen a series of events unfold in the country. While Ashis Nandy was criticised for a speech at the Jaipur Literary Fest that went against certain sections of society, Kamal Hassan’s magnum opus Vishwaroopam was banned following widespread protests by factions claiming that the movie offended religious sentiments. More recently, a fatwa was issued against Pragaash, an all-girl music band from Kashmir whose songs were dubbed as going against religious conventions.
Concerned citizens took to social media to question every citizen’s right to freedom of expression.
However, social media has not been spared in the past either.
Not too long ago two girls in Mumbai were arrested for their Facebook status about the death of a political bigwig and the chaos that ensued.
A politician’s son too did not hesitate to arrest a college professor when he sent ‘derogatory tweets’ about his wealth.
The growing levels of intolerance in our country are dangerously affecting art.
Apart from being a creative outlet, music, dance, literature, paintings and cinema are manifestations of how solid the ‘Freedom of Expression’ of a democracy is. The country has always been synonymous with culture and there are increasing instances of shackling its forms of art by imposing restrictions.
This brings us to a question oft-repeated and argued over in television debates: Have we conditioned ourselves as a society to take offence and thus get offended easily?
Some sections of society believe that views that are not coherent with their ideologies are propagated through popular culture and choose to protest against the same.
It is up to us to stop and examine how much of it we are actually imbibing.
As responsible citizens, the onus is on us to stay neutral despite the inferences that we think that books, cinema, art and music might propagate about our community or religion.
Brickbats are not without bouquets. A recent Chennai High court order deemed certain provisions of the Tamil Nadu Dramatic Performances act of 1954 that required public performances to obtain police permission as “unconstitutional”. Many theatre personalities welcomed the decision calling it a “victory for the freedom of expression”.
While this is a small but significant victory, it is yet to be seen how the law will be implemented.
(Poorvaja did her Bachelor’s in English at Women’s Christian College, Chennai, before studying journalism at ACJ.)