While we proudly brandish Gandhi’s portrait on our currency, we simply fail to live upon his ideals. Where India was once recognised globally for values such as tolerance and non-violence, the new India is no more recognised for the same virtues. The new India is recognised as an insecure state rampant with intolerance, which just can’t handle criticism, whether it comes from outside the borders or within them.
Trigger Warning: Mentions of abuse, harassment, domestic violence.
If you have ever been to China, you might have been advised by your travel agent to not speak ill of the administration or the government anywhere you go, not even in private. Give it five more years, and India will be that country. With journalists, comedians, activists and dissenters being put behind bars, it almost feels as if the government is trying to scare those who dare to speak up.
All it took was a tweet from a pop star to enrage an entire country, and everyone was quick to react, with the Ministry of External Affairs giving clarifications to Bollywood celebrities tweeting #IndiaAgainstPropoganda. But what happened next was even worse as people went on to abuse, slut-shame, glorify domestic violence and even threaten Rihanna, for a simple tweet urging people to talk about the ongoing farmer protests on the borders of Delhi NCR. Even celebrities like Kangana Ranaut stooped to their lowest and made vulgar tweets about Rihanna. So much so that Twitter had to delete her tweets.
Much like the emergency of 1975, we are now too witnessing the rise of the state-sponsored media, which works relentlessly to misguide the people by manufacturing stories praising the government and villainizing those who criticize the state and its policies. Caravan, an independent media outlet, which finds itself on the opposite side, found its Twitter account blocked as per the directives of the IT department. A few days later, Caravan’s reporter Mandeep Punia, who was covering the farmers protest at the Singhu border was abducted and detained by the Delhi police. While the mainstream media did not pay heed to this news, many renowned journalists and several independent media houses came together in solidarity with Punia and against this act of intolerance. After long sessions in court, he was finally granted bail. I guess this is the price you have to pay for honest journalism in the new India.
However, this new India still manages to maintain its own manner of equality- each sector faces this wrath of intolerance equally. And the film and entertainment sector is no exception. Quite recently, when an Amazon Prime series Tandav hit the web, controversy surrounded the entire crew of the web series. Several people took it to Twitter alleging the series insulted Hindu god Shiva. The easiest solution would’ve been a sincere apology and censoring the offensive scenes. And as expected, that did happen. But still, the actor of the series, Zeeshan Ayyub was targeted, and then an FIR was lodged against the makers and the actor. But, I can’t quite understand why an actor is being booked for acting, a director for directing. I mean, Shahid wasn’t booked for his depiction of a toxic masculine male in Kabir Singh. Shahrukh wasn’t booked for his depiction of an eve teaser in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.
Being from the field of performing arts, I can say that freedom of speech and expression are core for my field. I know that there are many flaws with the commercial cinema of our nation where stalking a girl is normalised, but talking about a political group or anyone associated with politics can become a debatable issue at the Supreme court. With this Tandav controversy, It’s shocking to see that how an artist whose passion and determination towards the craft is totally visible by his excellent performance, today has no security and could even get arrested just because of the way the audience perceived the show. With the ever-increasing intolerance, will we have any new political shows and films from now onwards?A theatre artist from Delhi University
This is far more serious than we think it to be. There are clear signs all around that freedom of speech is being systematically attacked. A database published by the website Article 14 stated that out of 405 cases filed for criticizing governments and politicians in the past decade, 96% of them were registered after 2014 when Modi came in power. Furthermore, in Uttrakhand, the police warned those making “anti-national” or “anti-social” comments on social media to be prepared for “dire consequences” as the police are now monitoring social media handles. While the state of Bihar warned those protesting saying they might not be eligible for government jobs, bank loans and passports.
Even the world of comedy couldn’t find its way around the rising intolerance. Soon after the son of a BJP leader interrupted Munawar Faruqui’s stand-up comedy show in an Indore’s cafe, alleging the latter had insulted and made fun of Hindu deities and gods, Munawar was arrested by the police, for a joke he did not crack. Eventually, the police admitted that the claims against Faruqui relied entirely on the word of the Hindu nationalist intruder. Turns out comedy is the new offensive.
Feature Image Credits: The Companion