Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Time for Cultural Emergency?

Victim, Kamal
Recent developments in Indian cultural scenario have raised a critical question: Have we reached so low a point where it is difficult for intellectual development of the society to take place? Ashis Nandy, a prominent public intellectual, shares a point of view which can be less popular, but the demand for legal action against him is uncalled for. Similarly the demand to ban ‘Vishwaroopam’, Kamal Hassan’s latest film, by the Muslim hardliners is one of the many examples to show the growing intolerance in the political class. Few days back two Pakistani theatre groups had to go back from India without performing because of the threat they received from Hindu right wing groups.We cannot forget how India's legendary artist M.F Hussain had to leave India and take refuge in other countries, leaving a tint in India's art scene. These examples do not speak much about the masses as they talk about the petty leaders. It is important to see leaders as a different entity from the people. 

When Akbaruddin Owaisi gives a hate speech, it must not be understood to be the public sentiment. Similarly the Thakre’s hate speech does not represent the entire Hindu community. But the way media, specially the social media, perceives these incidents are sad. Our collective conscience has made narrower lanes for us to walk. We see Pakistani state as same as the Pakistani public. Society is full of prejudices. Instead of fighting these prejudices, we have a political class which is working hard to reinforce them. 

Nandy’s remark may be less popular. But there is also no blinking to the fact that we have tried to understand him out of context in this case. Nandy has devoted his entire life in understanding the society. People can have different understanding of the same society. Sense of reality of a certain point of view is always different from another point of view. But this should not mean that a particular person should not say what he or she wants to say. Voltaire said something very important. He said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Alas, our political class has not read Voltaire. 

Nandy’s remark must be debated in the public space, as well as in private space. People who object should use strong words to condemn him, and fight with facts to prove him wrong. Similarly Vishwaroopam must be proved wrong with a better film by the people who feel it portrays Muslims in a bad light. Why in hell should our society be modelled around only political class? Why should the cultural representatives not come forward? Why only politicians should have the right to raise their voice above all? 

It is a myth that arts and culture belong only to a particular class. It is also a myth that only an intellectual can understand what another so called intellectual says. Everything boils down to people of the society. Each and every individual has the right and capability to become an intellectual. What we term as intellectual today has a very narrow definition. And a narrow definition cannot help in understanding larger dilemmas. It is important that the so called intellectuals come out of their self imposed protective shells and engage in the process of dialogues. But if they engage in dialogues, then any particular section of the society should not demand them to be arrested if they do not sound sweet to them. 

We never had the courage to demand arrest for the Thakreys, who very often and clearly talked about the communities they do not like. Because they belong to the political class they have a right to freedom of Speech, then why not Nandy? This logic is sad. We must avoid such equations. Society, fortunately, is not as simple as Mathematics where we engage in equations, where left hand side should be equal to the right hand side. Society is much more complicated, and it requires patience and calmness to understand the equations it carries. 

It is this complicated behaviour which asks us not to have a cultural emergency, but engage more in cultural debates for a better tomorrow.
Can we have a discussion, please?

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