Arundhati is not the point/Paromita Vohra

The post is originally published in the Mid Day. We reposting here considering its importance in the ongoing debate. Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. She runs Devi Pictures production company. 

Paromita Vohra

It doesn’t matter if the God of small things changed your life and you breathlessly hang onto her every word. It doesn’t matter if you think, like one commentator on the Internet, that you could never “disagree with a face like that”.

It doesn’t matter if you think Ms. Roy is smug, strident or misguided. Whichever side of the debate you are on — armed revolution or non-violent protest, hard-core patriotism or agnostic nationalism, whether you think history means knowing the date when Ajay Devgn changed the spelling of his name or that what’s happening in Kashmir is not history but politics — surely that’s the point? The debate, I mean. But maybe I’m forgetting history. So, a quick recap:

1857 – India’s first battle for Independence.

1860 – British colonial rulers create a legal provision against sedition by which subjects are not allowed to excite disaffection towards the state.

1975 – The Allahabad High Court finds PM Indira Gandhi guilty of misuse of government machinery for her election campaign. Protests against her government grown.

1975 – Indira Gandhi declares a state of Emergency. Fundamental rights, including freedom of expression are suspended. People are jailed, tortured and killed for anything “destabilising the security of the state” — a protest, a strike, a criticism. 1,40,000 persons across the political spectrum were detained without trial (according to Amnesty figures), the news was censored and oh, by the way, there were also forced vasectomies and hysterectomies (I guess the poor are a threat to state security). And lots of people were good enough to censor themselves (nation-building).

2010 – We want to invoke a colonial law, made to restrain subjects of the British Empire, to prevent the citizen of a democratic country from expressing a political point of view. How retro. Are you sure it’s not a plug for this new movie called, Back to the Future, sorry, I mean, Action Replayy?

2010 – In an audience poll on CNN-IBN, 79 per cent feel artists and writers should set limits on their expression, which sounds suspiciously like ‘censor yourself before we censor you’.
The point seems to be, why do we want to be called a democracy? What’s in a name? If we don’t want to be a democracy, let’s find a new name for our system.

Some accounts say that during the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai, some Hindu cops forced Muslims in bastis to say Jai Sri Ram before they shot them dead. Today, army men in the North East reportedly force people to sing the national anthem. A democracy is judged by how we allow marginal opinions to thrive. And we don’t seem to like that.

Arundhati Roy said what she thinks about the state of the nation — hardly staggeringly new or radical. She’s just another citizen, like you. If you don’t like where she’s coming from or how she’s saying it, jump right in — into debate and critique, not a welter of abuse. On your blog, in a letter to the editor, in a Facebook note, in any language. Prove her wrong. But don’t throw a tantrum, yaar.

Most of all, don’t embarrass yourself by invoking colonial laws and the attitudes of the darkest period of Indian democracy. Strengthen the things you believe in, address what you think she’s getting wrong as a writer, activist or public figure, through counter-documents and works of art and cultural and political spaces. If you believe in a democracy, why shut people up and stamp out dissent? They’re using their rights —  use yours well.

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