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Freedom does come at a price

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Published on January 23, 2015 with No Comments

ViewpointMore than three million people came together in a unity march across France to express solidarity with those17 people who died during three days of deadly attacks in Paris. While many searched for causes and a handful for solutions, the overwhelming message was of solidarity with the victims and Charlie Hebdo, and when more than 40 world leaders joined the start of the Paris March linking arms, it sent the strongest message. Yet another strong message was sent when several hundred Muslims in Madrid, held banners saying “Not in our name” next to the train station where in 2004 bombings killed nearly 200 people.charlie

“Paris is the capital of the world today,” French leader Francois Hollande said, and it indeed has. The type of satire exercise by Charlie Hebdo is not everyone’s cup of tea, thus freedom of press versus the religious intolerance remained as the topic of discussion even though the act of killing were an outcome of religious intolerance, as some fanatics found religious creative caricatures offensive. The planet has a long history of religious strife and warfare. This attack brings to mind a history not quite as long. That’s the war against freedom of speech.

While the world got united for the rights of the media, epic tussles were witnessed right there in India. India faced its ‘Charlie Hebdo’ moment in a unique and weird way, when Perumal Murugan, the Tamil author of ‘so-called controversial’ novel, Madhorubagan’, (translated and published in English as ‘One Part Woman in 2013) declared himself dead!

Demanding a ban on the book, some caste-based outfits, took to street protests in Namakkal against Perumal Murugan alleging that his novel has degraded the women of their community and a Hindu deity, related to the noted Ardhanareeswarar Temple in Tiruchengode, where the presiding deity is part-Shiva and part-Parvati. Following taut and rigid opposition, Perumal Murugan said the author in him is dead, only the teacher in him is alive and announced his decision to quit writing. He also stated that he would withdraw all his other books and agreed to compensate for the publishers who would face losses. The timing of the protest does bring out some hidden agenda as the book hit the stands in 2010. Good five years back! Media reports have now exposed that the agitation launched against Murugan were handiwork of a Hindu outfit Sangh Parivar that directly controls the ruling Bharitya Janta Party. One of the prime objectives of the communal elements was to force the authorities to register a case against Murugan to create fear in him.

In Punjab yet another controversy erupted when Punjab Government stopped “with immediate effect” the screening of the contentious film “MSG” on a day when the head and nine more members of the Censor Board quit. Members who exited followed Chief of Censor board Leela Samson and accused the government of being “cavalier” and “dismissive” in the way they have been treated, making an obvious reference to an apparent interference by ruling Bhartiya Janta Party. While the Parkash Singh Badal let SAD in Punjab consider the “baba” turned lead actor Ram Rahim Singh nothing less than a trouble maker who earlier had dressed up in similar attire as 10th Sikh Guru Shri Guru Govind Singh and thus earning the ire of the Sikh Community. Ram Rahim’s issuance of diktat to his followers to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party during the assembly election had upset the political bandwagon of the INLD-SAD, but found enough favour from BJP to get the picture cleared from the censor Board. The BJP had gone on to win a complete majority in the 90-member Haryana Assembly by winning 47 seats. 25 elected MLAs of BJP had formally gone to Ram Rahim Singh to thank him after results were declared. The forced passing of the movie by censor and subsequent ban by Punjab government has less to do with the freedom of speech but more with ploy adopted by political parties to please few without having any concern whatsoever with harmony and well being of masses who have holding protests for and against the movie.

Power hungry preachers from all faiths and their political linkages who use caste and communities to attack and restrict media, bludgeon castes and communities for what they perceive as gains.
In this imaginary world, Charlie Hebdo, author Perumal Murugan have not died, nor have their creative contents. Charlie Hebdo rightly fully continues to create ripples in the creative minds. Murugan continues to write, leaving aside attention of his haters; free from the fear of violence. Unless civil society sees a threat to democracy in the arm-twisting of authors, the culture of intolerance cannot be fought.

 

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