Is India facing a 'cultural emergency'?

 
Salman Rushdie Sir Salman Rushdie's 1988 book The Satanic Verses remains banned in India

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Is India facing what author Salman Rushdie calls a "cultural emergency" with writers, painters and filmmakers being targeted by the mob? (The Emergency in the 1970s was the darkest hour in Independent India's history when civil liberties were suspended.)

Consider the events that have made the front pages this week.

Leading academic Ashis Nandy is threatened with arrest after he makes controversial remarks about corruption and disadvantaged groups at the popular Jaipur literary festival. Sir Salman himself is asked to stay away from a film promotion and a literary festival in Calcutta, supposedly one of India's more liberal cities, because authorities fear protests from fringe Muslim groups. Similar groups have demanded a ban on actor-director Kamal Haasan's new film Vishwaroopam, prompting the star to complain about "cultural terrorism".

The outsize controversy over the remarks made by Prof Nandy, who was once voted one of the world's top 100 public intellectuals by Foreign Policy magazine, demonstrates how fringe groups can threaten free speech with impunity.

At a panel discussion ironically called the Republic of Ideas, the scholar said "most of the corrupt" in India came from its most disadvantaged groups, but he also said that corruption among the rich was less conspicuous.

Ashis Nandy Ashis Nandy is one of India's top academics

All hell broke loose: there was a tsunami of media-generated outrage, a police complaint was lodged against Prof Nandy, and prominent Dalit leader Mayawati said he should be sent to prison. Very few people seemed to be listening to Prof Nandy's patient clarifications. Dalit scholar Kancha Ilaiah said Prof Nandy had made "a bad statement with good intentions". But the harassment of the good professor is likely to continue.

Sir Salman, who's no stranger to controversy in India, was asked to stay away from promoting Midnight's Children, the film based on his novel, and a book fair in Calcutta on Wednesday following fears of fringe Muslim groups protesting against his presence. "Rushdie banished from Calcutta," said a shocked Telegraph newspaper.

And in Chennai (Madras) in southern India, Kamal Haasan, according to reports, has agreed to personally cut parts of his big budget film Vishwaroopam because some Muslims groups don't like the way the community has been portrayed in the film.

This after the film has been cleared by official censors, and the high court has thrown out moves to ban the film from being screened. A tired Kamal Haasan said he was fed up with the controversy and contemplating leaving the country. There's a grim precedent: one of India's greatest painters, MF Husain, was literally hounded into exile for drawing a Hindu goddess naked.

Last year cartoonist Sudhir Tailang told me that a "new intolerance" was gripping India. He was dismayed by the arrest of anti-corruption cartoonist Aseem Trivedi after a lawyer complained that his cartoons mocked the country and its constitution.

The new intolerance, many believe, is also being fuelled by a section of India's sensation-seeking media, which "dumbs down" nuanced debates.

Others argue that politicians should share a large part of the blame. "When politicians abdicate the responsibility of standing up for the average citizen in the face of such action, when they become cheerleaders for intimidation in fact, the republic is in trouble indeed," says The Indian Express newspaper. The question is, why are most Indian politicians and the government silent about such attacks on free speech?

 
Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 133.

    For the record again: China massacred 60 + million people, including 800000 + Tibetans (probably 25 % of the population of Tibet, ranking proportionately a worse genocide than that perpetrated on the Jews by Nazis) during the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.Tiananmen not included. Pakistan killed off 5 + million Shiites, Bengalis, Ahmadiyaas, Hindus and yes Sikhs.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 132.

    And now China is surrounding India by controlling the Gwadar port of Pakistan. The China-Pakistan collusion is on. Indian intellectuals, western liberals, Indian politicians and media cannot think of anything else but criticizing Indian democracy and the Hindu caste system, forgetting the genocidal systems in Pakistan and China, and the mortal danger to India's national and territorial integrity

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 131.

    Describing India as being not united and ruled by invaders through the last 1000 years, and therefore not meriting a respectful analysis of a nation state is hypocritical and vicious. Does that mean that groups or people who amass land by genocide should be considered as nations ? China captured Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Eastern Turkestan by force, fully 70 % of its land area.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 130.

    Churchill was my least favorite leader, Yet couple of things he said, I have found meaningful.. “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried" and "The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter". It is tough line to be in. I am thankful to no end Indian leaders continue to work within it.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 129.

    After some more research I understood that such corruption, nepotism is the norm. Almost all such students & "scientists" who get such "prestigious" foreign bound fellowships/scholarship, selected by Indian selectors follow a specific pattern & full of corruption. Of course they will succeed & many will come back to occupy high positions.

    But no sane person can expect them to fight corruption.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 128.

    During 1999-2000, I could get lists of students who got the so-called 'prestigious' scholarship & fellowship bound to UK univ, Oxbridge included, after 2 of my very talented students were not selected by its Indian selectors. More that 80% were frm rich, influential, politically connected families- many r kids of bureaucrats (planning commission members included) & had nothing to do with talent.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 127.

    @ Ram (122)- Indian politician have myriad problems to allocate its resources.
    ##
    U r wrong again, as usual.
    India has 2nd largest infrastructure in higher education. Do u know its output?
    India is among the largest arms importers. It's among the worst so far public safety & national security is concerned.

    India politicians, mainly CONGRESS, got its priorities totally WRONG & ruined the country.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 126.

    @ Ram (124). Majority of our "educated, intellectual, well off class" r opportunist at best. They succeeded mainly because of the culture of corruption & worship of mediocrity in Indian society. Why on earth such people will participate to reform the system that made them so successful, UNLESS they can see the consequences that extend far beyond their personal interest & present generation?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 125.

    @ Ram. NONE of Indian politicians, INCLUDING NEHRU & GANDHI were able to think, "If I must choose between righteousness and peace, I choose righteousness"- Roosevelt.

    Political correctness was & still is THE most important issue that influence even the most decent politician in India.

    Minority appeasement is THE main reason for utter backwardness of Indian minorities, Muslim & women included.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 124.

    The biggest need of the hour in India is the participation of the educated, intellectual, well off classes. They need to organize, collect money/resources and allocate resources to generate, debate and propose polices/programs and figure out how to get political support for their causes to make India a modern society. They need to stop blaming rural India for their inaction.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 123.

    Please dont equate MF Hussain with Rushdie and others. I think he took the idea of freedom a bit too far and was grossly insensitive to the feelings of the majority. If the whole of England can be outraged when topless pics of the dutchess were published, you cant blame Indians for being angered when an idiotic artist draws nude portraits of their gods.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 122.

    India ranks near the bottom for its expenditures on police. It also ranks at the bottom for expenditures on the machinery delivering Justice. The numbers are far lower than most countries. Indian politician have had myriad problems to allocate its resources. But today India's economy is much improved and allocations need to be improved to make India a modern society.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 121.

    The Indian Express newspaper is off base. Irresponsible attacks specially on the Congress leadership have strengthened the hands of regional/breakaway parties. And they in turn are trying to curry favors and expanding their reach by paying out of proportion attention to sensation-seeking issues. And asserting out of proportion influence on the Central Government.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 120.

    For the past many years senior politicians have been under attack for real and imagined reasons. Many blown way out of proportion, many lacking intellectual honesty. Rumors are considered truth and vigorously backed as truths even by educated intellectual class. And yes, also being fuelled by India's media, which "dumb down" debate.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 119.

    @116 Singh is right Indian politicians have their hands full with numerous issues- Lack of toilets, girls getting groped/raped, untouchables punished,chronic cronyism,corruption, nepotism, class, caste, discrimination, crop of middlemen to Gods having sway on people. They have put effort and advanced all these causes while dealing with major issues like poverty, defense, education, food.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 118.

    Indian politician have always tried to avoid divisive issues because of their possible economic cost/impact. But today India's economy is much improved, mostly driven by educated intellectual class. This class needs to figure out how to get political support for their causes. Political class is willing and standing by, It needs support in consensus building. Politicians cannot deliver in vacuum

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 117.

    If the fanatic Muslims, the largest vote-block that almost all political parties in India try to appease, ever become majority (as they dream) will these parties & its moron leaders think that they will remain in power?
    What message these parties r sending to few moderate Muslims and more importantly, to majority peace loving Hindus?

    Any sane Indian, irrespective of religion, will be worried.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 116.

    This ranks low on the radar for criticality. This does not affect anyone's livelihood except of a handful of intellectuals. 49% of India does not toilets, girls get groped ad raped in public places, untouchables are punished for taking water from common wells, cronic cronyism (chamchagiri), corruption, nepotism, class, caste etc discrimination, crop of middlemen to Gods who tell people what to do.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 115.

    "Mamata Banerjee ordered police to block my arrival at Kolkata, Rushdie says"- http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Mamata-Banerjee-ordered-police-to-block-my-arrival-at-Kolkata-Salman-Rushdie-says/articleshow/18287187.cms
    It's not only Mamata, the most naive & idiot among West Bengal CMs, but also other political parties that fail to understand the long term consequences of such appeasement.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 114.

    This all trivial and like the common symtoms of common cold. India was invaded many times and was ruled by the invaders all of its 1,000 year history. What we have now is really united states of India (although not united people). The culture wars will continue for another 1,000 years. These skirmishes will continue and we have to treat them like symtoms. The disease cannot be cured.

 

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