Curtailing freedom of expression will not solve anything: Let ‘Midnight’s Children’ be screened- Sep 10, 2012
Decades after the Satanic Verses was banned, in another time and another era, we revisit the paranoia around Rushdie’s work with the possible banning of the film Midnight’s Children in India. Deepa Mehta’s cinematic take on the book is expected to be brilliant. And it would be a pity for Indian audiences to miss out on it, considering it tells the story of a nation post Independence with all the imagination and panache that only Rushdie can have.
The controversial aspect of the film is its portrayal, in a negative light, of a Prime Minister closely resembling Indira Gandhi and her declaration of Emergency. At the time the book was released, Indira Gandhi had sued Rushdie libel in a London Court.Interestingly, it wasn’t the criticism of her political actions that annoyed Indira, but this particular passage: “”It has often been said that Mrs. Gandhi’s younger son Sanjay accused his mother of being responsible, through her neglect, for his father’s death; and that this gave him an unbreakable hold over her, so that she became incapable of denying him anything.” These words were removed from all post-1984 editions of the book.
We can all safely say that the above is a piece of amusing trivia in today’s context. Much has been written and said about the Emergency and other writers of fiction have set their stories in that traumatic context, usually ending up criticizing the seizure of democracy fro the Indian people and the restrictions on freedom that it entailed.
However, it doesn’t look like all this is history for the ruling Congress party and the Gandhi family. Over 25 years after Indira has passed on, this country is still trying to skirt the issue, be politically correct, run away. We are dangerously close to being in a sort of Emergency situation now, with freedom of artistic expression being curtailed in the name of security. The Aseem Trivedi incident, the crackdown in Bengal on anyone who stands up to Mamata, the intolerance of the Indian government on Washington Post’s article on the PM as a tragic figure…..
When we subscribe to the view that any sort of media can incite tension and violence and therefore view cutting down the freedom of expression as a logical response, we are on very dangerous ground indeed! One of the reasons why it is a pleasure to live in India, despite the infrastructure issues, the social divide, the growing pressure of resources, the inefficiency and corruption, is the feeling of enjoying a certain sort of freedom. The pleasure of walking the streets without a Big Brother watching you. The ability to be who you are, more or less. The ability to voice dissatisfaction and dissent without fear, as long as we do it non violently.
If that changes, we lose an essential part of our identity. Each one of us should fight to continue to enjoy the right to free expression. To do so, we would first need to rid ourselves of easy prejudice and truly open our minds. Is that asking too much of a nation full of people just struggling for their piece of a rapidly shrinking pie?