Tuesday, March 30, 2010

No better than a mad tea party

Be it with the ban on Satanic Verses or the forced exit of M.F. Husain, India is yet to find the golden mean between offensiveness and freedom, writes Somak Ghoshal

Indian democracy stands at a peculiarly knotty crossroads at the moment. A senior rightwing ideologue could be facing a charge of conspiracy for his alleged role in inciting the demolition of a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya, which led to communal riots nearly two decades ago. The chief minister of a state is, at long last, being questioned by a special investigation team, appointed by the highest court in the country, for his, once again, alleged involvement in the pogrom unleashed on Muslims in Gujarat, eight years ago. A leading artist, now in his nineties, has been successfully hounded out of the country by hoodlums. In exile for several years, he has finally relinquished his Indian passport for a Qatari citizenship. A renowned Bangladeshi writer, with a fatwa hanging over her head, has been given refuge in this ‘robust’ democracy. Yet, she continues to live in fear of being physically attacked by religious fanatics. Looks like we have more reasons to feel worried about Indian democracy than to celebrate its supposed glories.

This year is, in a way, an anniversary of sorts for the failure of Indian democracy, 60 years since the Constitution came into effect. It was 35 years ago that Emergency was imposed on the country by Indira Gandhi; another 25 years have gone by since Sikhs were butchered in the wake of her assassination (little justice has been delivered on that account); and some 20 years ago, the Congress government, led by her son, Rajiv, banned Salman Rushdie’s controversial work, The Satanic Verses (1988), even before it was published in India, and much before Ayatollah Khomeini had imposed a fatwa on the author in 1989. All it took was a strong protest by a Muslim parliamentarian, Syed Shahabuddin, and, oddly, the finance ministry put an embargo on the novel. It is significant perhaps that Mrs Gandhi had taken great umbrage at Rushdie’s caricature of her in Midnight’s Children (1981), and had successfully sued him in a London court for defamation. The Rushdie affair became a landmark of sorts in the history of Indian censorship, a spark which ignited waves of intolerance in the subsequent years.

Full report here Telegraph

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