When The Satanic Verses went about kicking up more dust and storm than a (commercial) publication could afford to, Salman Rushdie, the author, wrote many an article about freedom of expression. In one such article he argued that the freedom of expression necessarily implies the freedom to hurt feelings. Otherwise it wouldn’t be freedom. And he’s right. More or less at the same time he wrote another article titled “Is nothing sacred?” For him, said the article, only bread and books are sacred: food for the body as well as the mind.
Sanctity is almost always an attribute; it is attributed by us human beings to certain entities. There are 330 million gods in India. Apart from them we have rivers, mountains, caves, trees, and umpteen other things which are supposed to be sacred.
Is India sacred? If it is, which India is it? Is it the India represented by the Parliament (the elected leaders)? Is it the Constitution of the country? Is it the national symbols? Or is it the people of India that should be considered sacred first and foremost?
When our leaders and their parties indulge in corrupt practices endlessly, why doesn’t our sense of sanctity revolt? Why does that sacred sense get agitated when a cartoonist portrays that corruption? Does his use of the national symbols for the purpose of caricaturing the corrupt leaders of the country insult the symbols? Or do they insult the leaders?
It is not because gods are insulted that people like Salman Rushdie and M F Husain had to go into hiding. It is the believers of the gods who feel insulted and that’s why artists have to flee. Gods won’t hound artists.
The arrest of Aseem Trivedi is also motivated by the insult that stung the breasts of certain political leaders. And the charge of sedition imposed on the cartoonist is like trying to kill a wasp with a nuclear bomb.
We live in a funny country. In this country, our leaders can steal lakhs or crores of rupees from the public exchequer; but a cartoonist cannot make use of a national symbol to portray that corruption!
Yes, the national symbols are sacred. But using them in a work of art does not desecrate them. It is the wicked politicians who desecrate those symbols by using them for mean political purposes.
Interestingly, Mr Trivedi himself is being converted into a totem by certain political parties!