Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rushdie unwelcome, Why?

Salman Rushdie
The headline was pretty much the first thing I saw when I woke up this morning. The news on Rushdie being eased out of the Jaipur literature festival, that got my goat for sure.... my thoughts took me to Balbir Krishan who was in news a few days back, displaying our growing intolerance and the extent to which the extreme views with their violent actions are holding freethinking and expression to gun point.... this whole thought process lead to the raising up of so many of the older happenings.. M F Hussain, Taslima and so on..... as I continued to wake up, clarity  dawned. To write about all of them in one piece would muddy the waters with too much to say and each point having different shades and hues....

Taslima Nasreen
The current Rushide affair is sad on many counts, each being disturbing in itself. The one that bothers me today is the level  to which debates and resolutions of conflict have come to. The moment there is mention of Rushdie, you have one bunch saying if you could take up the potential ban of Gita in Russia, then you should ban him from entering. The other is if M F Hussain was hounded of the country for hurting Hindu sentiments why not Rushdie for hurting Muslim sentiments.... this is the trend that bothers me no end... Never has two wrongs made one right. Public debate, speeches, debates in parliament, on electronic media every where one sees this trend (not just in religion based issues, same was seen during 2G spectrum scam and almost at every issue). If I am criticised or a flaw in me pointed out, my defense is never to put my point of view forward, or to introspect, or to take a corrective course. We just pull our shutters down, get defensive and go about pointing/ citing five other flaws of the other... well from there on it is a wonderful mudslinging match. We mire our selves with so much mud that by the end of it all we have forgotten where we started and the issue so distorted and eventually dismissed. No better case of a lose-lose situation. Every debate on electronic media and in many of our living rooms follows this sad pattern.

Only defense that one can think of on behalf of this distinguished gents and ladies we watch on tube, in parliament and else where, is that you and me in our personal life are no better. If a flaw in me is pointed out, my first inherent reaction is to shut you up rather than listen you out. We are not always very verbal, depending on the proximity and power equations of the "I" and "You" the expression of the resentment vary. I could turn indifferent, I could call out five of your flaws for every one of mine, I could discredit you, I could belittle you, I could do all of this and more. All of it playing out in my head, or by letting it all flow out with expletives and insults or with sugar and honey...Does that absolve and justify leaders, opinion makers of our societies behaving the way they do.I Think not, they as leaders ought not do what I want them to do, but what will nurture a society that values freethinking, free expression.

M F Hussain
In the very short term on this issue the congress got completely knotted up, their past history does not help their cause. Ideal world it will have been good to see them back Rushdie to come in and participate at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) and then go about managing the political fall out with a spin produced by one among the many brilliant spin doctors. Second best will have been for them to come out in the open and say we will have liked him here, given the election and the partisan politics of the time we can not afford so and we are grateful to Rushdie and JLF for having understood our compulsions and obliged. This will have clearly said as a policy what we are doing is wrong, yet we are having to do it due to practical compulsions - the more I think of it, that is a spin that could have gone some distance. 

From a political standpoint I have maintained for some time now what we need, is a system that is consistent and firm across groups "a" and "b"  and how many ever that exists. The yard stick of measurement can not keep changing. Being fair might be less important (as that is by far going to be relative at best of times), as long as one is consistent and firm, over time in interpretation and action, we will do fine and to a great extent rob the tools essential to the extremist on both sides of the spectrum.

Balbir Krishan
If only we had leadership* which held the country's well-being as paramount and valued freethinking and truly saw diversity of thought as a strength, this piece will never have been written....

*A lot of this intolerance, divisive politics and attitude will have to rest at the feet of the grand old party that led us from the early 1900s and then ruled Independent India for largest chunks of time

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