Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sanctity and Cartoons


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!

10 comments:

  1. Well said. I agree whole-heartedly! It is tragic-comical the way our politicans and judges get upset about their honours because something written or illustrated on a piece of paper, and yet dishonest and corrupt politicians and judges are not just acceptable, but are invited as honoured guests!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Funny and tragic, indeed, Sunil ji. That's what India is, in fact. Has been for centuries. We are a nation that is destined to miss the woods for the trees.

      Delete
  2. Correct! And why can't I read the Satanic Verses?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Umashankar, I happened to get a copy from a friend's foreign-returned friend a few months after the novel's publication. I wish I could get hold of a copy of my own and read it at greater leisure. Rushdie has something worthwhile to say in that book, something that deserves to be read. Unfortunately our politicians won't let us read it. Most Muslims haven't read it even outside India, I'm sure.

      Delete
    2. couldnt agree more sir. In the west, cartoons such as depiction of the capitol hill as a huge toilet is pretty common. I guess like everything else, the political mainstream would gain some sense, as regards to freedom of speech, eventually ...
      I have been following aseem for the past few months, in case you want to enjoy his complete range :D http://cartoonsagainstcorruption.blogspot.in/

      Delete
    3. Sid, understanding or at least being able to laugh over a cartoon requires a sense of humour which our fellow countrymen seem to be losing rapidly. Mostly due to the kind of politics we have in our country. I wish we had a good Messiah, someone more effective than Anna Hazare and his team.

      Delete
  3. Very relevant observations, and something most of us are struggling to adequately verbalize. The incident has seen some bright minds get into an indignant uproar on both sides of the argument too, which I find very puzzling. The person himself comes across as perhaps naive and even immature, but the forcefulness and pertinence of his artistic comment on our times cannot be denied by any. That is precisely what is making people uncomfortable. It has been the same with Anna, and his personal naivete has been used as a weapon to cull down the public outrage that the movement symbolized. I would like to believe that all these developments are waking up some part of the public psyche that will create the kind of leaders we hope for. Loved the post. Sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Subhorup. You're right in the analysis. Anna and Trivedi want to do something good but lack the vision or the skills required. That's a tragedy. But the worse tragedy is, as you have pointed out, other people using their weakness to beat them with instead of understanding the issues involved. Anna was naive enough to be used by certain sections for their selfish motives. Trivedi has to learn his art a little better...

      Delete
  4. An old joke:
    Ban Rushdie
    Ban Tasleema
    Ban Hussain
    Ban Mohammed cartoons
    Slowly but steadily, we are becoming Ban-chods

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jaidev, for the joke. Hope no one will demand a ban on you :)

      Delete

Historical Distortions

18 th century French naturalist the Comte de Buffon wrote that the people of America had small and feeble sex organs so much so the...