This is shocking. We should stop pretending that we are a blooming democracy when in fact, the basic tenets of freedom of expression aren’t adhered to. Violations of freedom of expression in India are so common place nowadays that any protesting bloggers or any other group are considered recalcitrant. We like to trumpet the fact that India is the largest democracy and is a shining example to all those dictatorships around the world especially in our neighborhood. However, signs of a successful democracy isn’t restricted to throwing out the incompetent incumbents only to elect equally inept leaders but to ensure freedom in a complete sense. We have achieved political freedom from the British and only lately have we begun to experience economic freedom but we still remain hostage to the errant elements of the society.
The disturbances created by the moral police (on both sides of the religious aisle, mind you) aren’t that infrequent anymore and are exposing the continuing failure of law and order. As Amit points out that there are still regressive remnants in our penal code (e.g. section 295(a), section 153(a) and section 377) that empower these miscreants, I fail to understand how obvious acts like barging into an autonomous university and thrashing an academic institution doesn’t qualify as a far serious crime. Even the freedom of speech right in our Constitution (Article 19) is severely restrictive in nature by imposing ‘reasonable restrictions’ in the name of ‘public order, decency, or morality’. I hope you understand how broadly these ‘reasonable restrictions’ can be interpreted and we aren’t without precedent, the worst being the imposition of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi. Our lengthy Constitution has been amended so many times that the amendments themselves can comprise of a separate constitution (or two).
It is hard to hope for any change if the Penal Code and the Constitution themselves empower the moral police and justify their blatant acts of violence. I do not find it funny that the poor fine arts student, Chandramohan was jailed (out on bail now) for “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion” but the BJP and VHP activists that attacked the exhibition were not. Of course, the far serious aspect of this matter was that the dean Shivaji Panikkar was fired by the university for not closing down the exhibition. If only the university had stood by its student and faculty for academic independence and artistic liberty, I would have believed that we still have hope.
I don’t find this issue covered enough in the Indian mainstream media (the story failed to make it to the headlines). It is a sad day when even the citizens feel apathetic to this issue that most consider as just a tussle between artists and the moral police. At the core of their beliefs, most citizens might believe or even agree with the miscreants that Chandramohan deserved to be roughed up and jailed. But they fail to understand the actions of these hoodlums is not motivated by any noble intentions toward their culture or religion but merely to score a political point. Today it is a kiss or even a so-called obscene painting but tomorrow it might be your opinion. I am reminded of the First they came… poem. Remember, when they come for you, there will be no one left to come to your aid.