Saturday, October 15, 2005

Keep On Bloggin in the Free World

I disagree with what you said. Therefore, you should not exist

My ongoing dialogue with a Hindu activist (a doctor resident in the US), who is calling on Hindus to take action preventing the US release of the film Water by Deepa Mehta, reminds one of just how confused most laypersons are - in the US and elsewhere - about the relationship between free speech, defamation, libel, slander, ratings, censorship, boycott and the roles each of these play in democracy. If you don't like a film or book, and disagree with the way it depicts you or your people, boycott it, don't criminalize it. Next we'll have Hindu fatwas, like the Muslim call to assassinate Salman Rushdie for the sin of writing a novel.

I admit to not having seen the film, and I'm not necessarily defending its content. For all I know, it may be a fallacious misrepresentation of a culture, I don't know. But it is a feature film, not a newscast or even a documentary, and as such, is the cinematic equivalent of a novel. Its makers are entitled to artistic license and free expression, whether I like it or not. Further, a religion cannot be "defamed" in the legal sense - "defamation" applies only to individuals and corporate entities.

India claims to be the biggest democracy in the world. It may have the most people, for sure, but will never really be a democracy until 1) there is a uniform civil code(right now, various religious and ethnic groups have their own recognized legal systems. A Muslim can be legally polygamous, a Hindu cannot) and 2) the people understand the role media and representation in a democracy. Free expression is feeling a bit of a chilling effect there following the June bombing of Delhi cinemas that dared to show a feature film depicting Sikh characters in a way some Sikhs found objectionable.

India's traditional multiculturalism and tolerance of difference is the only reason minority religions can flourish there as they have. It is the mark of a strong, durable culture - or nation - to be able to tolerate and incorporate dissenting voices. With all the talk of defending Indian tradition, that, perhaps, is the greatest Indian tradition of all.

4 comments:

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Just testing the Comments function.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I like what you said here.

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Thanks anonymous! Next time leave an email or something....

Abhishek said...

I really agree with your views on the incompleteness of the Indian democracy.