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Culture's Guard Dogs

Culture's Guard Dogs

July 14, 2011

Who the hell are you to tell me what I can watch and read!

What scares the pants off you?

For me it’s Indians who are fanatical about what they like or dislike and then try to push that down other people’s throats.

It’s scary.

They don’t like a book; they will go on the street screaming that we should ban it. Perhaps kill a couple of people along the way and burn some shops. It’s apparently a walk in the park.

They don’t like a movie; they will go out there to ensure nobody else should watch it.

Screw everyone else's freedom, let them succumb to mine.

It’s kind of scary.

This is what I don’t understand. I am a bit slow, so explain it to me simply.

You don’t like a book, you can put it down. Hell you can burn it or rip it to pieces. That’s the perk of owning it. Let’s say you are pissed off because you felt that your money wasn’t well spent. Then write the author a letter, tell him what you felt. It is called criticism. It’s civil, and for a creative person that is an occupational hazard they are required to live with. But when you talk about banning the book or wanting the author killed or having all his work banned, because you feel offended, you are acting like, hmmm, how do I put this delicately? Well like a dickhead.

Same goes for movies, paintings or any form of creative endeavors.

We, I believe, do have the provision to discard what we do not like or enjoy. It’s called exercising your right. You can choose not to buy that book, or not to go for that movie. If you already did the opposite, then you can throw away the book and pick up something else you like or walk out of that movie. You can choose to not buy that painting. But the day you tell me that I don’t have the choice to read or watch a movie because it affected your precious sentimentality, you get to read what I have to say about that.

Or if you are face to face with me, you will get to hear it. Why? Because you have made the error of overlapping your choice with mine. You in short crossed the line.

I am all for a point of view. I think it’s healthy. I can even handle opinions. It’s like having your say.

What you are reading, if you haven’t already skipped this article, is an opinion. You can agree with it, you can disagree with it or ignore it. You can even write in and call me an arsehole. That’s fine too. It’s your opinion. You have the right to exercise it. But what you do not have is making the opinions on behalf of other people.

What is this Indian culture that we think is so delicate like the coral ecosystems that a creative expression can destroy?

What kind of culture is so important that we need to preserve it by resorting to censorship, threats, expulsion or possible violence?

Please feel free to correct me, but I have always felt that Indian culture is the result of myriads of different cultures that have passed through or stayed in this ancient land. The traditions or culture that we see around us were not the result of stagnant thoughts, rather it’s an ongoing dynamic process.

Truth is, culture will change. It has been changing all this while. Sati, child marriage, caste system, untouchability, banishing of widows, etc were also part of our culture. We will reject some and accept others. Where our traditions or culture cause personal harm to one another, or degrade one to upgrade another, we perhaps will one day take notice and do something about it, like we seem to have done in the past. Of course it takes someone to point it out to us.

But beating up youngsters in Kerala because they wear their pants too low, or assaulting girls in Mangalore because girls drinking will erode our fragile culture, or burn a theatre because some find a movie offensive, or harassing young couples in the name of our so called moral traditions (this is a joke right?), or chase away a painter because his paintings affected some of our religious sensibilities, or ban a book for the same reasons, is downright terrifying.

It means that some of you are deciding for a whole lot of us.

Now if that ain’t scary, I don’t know what is? 


  • tys
    23.07.11 02:03 AM
    @alfred : i dont know...thats the truth...iam not much into society until it starts encroaching my space...i live in it, therefore i appreciate it...i also contribute to it and so iam , i think, a part of matter how grudgingly...there are so many things i dont agree with the society iam part of..but being rather, unworldly wise, i tend to see things as it effects me , personally...

    u r rite...iam a creation of experience, birth and influences..therefore my reactions are bound to be coloured..but iam talking abt a basic right as the privilage of being a citizen in a country that has a mission and vision of being secular, democratic country...if that is so...then wheres my right to make up my own mind when we seem to placating discords on religious basis?...where do i fit in? where does my want count?

    iam secular...i have no religion...what abt me? why do i have to fit into a segment to be accepted? for my need to be addressed?

    all i want is to make my own country apparently gives me that right...then why is a book i want to read ( satanic rites) banned or a painting i want to see ( M.F.Hussain's Saraswaiti) not available to me? can they tell me whats good or bad for me?

    of course i have read the book and seen the painting but rather like a errant teenager smoking in the bathroom...why shud i have to do that?...wheres my right?....

    the country i had the fortune to be born into say it guarentees these freedoms...then it does things that are personally intimidating...the country is only as good as its citizens..and now iam to fear my own people..

    iam an NRI me thats like being a house guest..years of experience has taught me to be a great guest...and i behave like a good guest...i eat the food u serve, i dont question how u run ur household unless u directly offend me, i dont question ur beliefs even if it conflicts mine...i still have a choice...if the day comes where i find it unbearable or conflicts with my own personal beliefs, i can always leave and come back home...

    but to what?

    this? its my home...i will always return to it..but i will not take it in my stride to be told what iam supposed to read, see or appreciate...

    if that conflicts with being an indian...then screw everyones take on what being an indian means..

    in regards to ur last paragraph, i think we shud become vocal about it...let it be known that a few cannot dictate terms on a majority...write abt it, sing abt it, paint abt it, make movies abt it...the power of creative expression is unbelievable, hell , it is the cause of the said problem..stand up against it...

    we have a legal system...file petitions...reclaim the right...use the system to fite against it...but not like this...this one upness will not solve anything...we are forgetting humanity in the name of concepts...

    i know , alfred, u r going to ask me, wht am i not doing that?...but hey , what makes u think i havent started..

  • Jimnophobia
    22.07.11 11:57 PM
    Right said Tys... great article...

    Cultures evolve... about time people realize that it is futile to resist the changes brought about by technology and globalization...
  • Alfred Jones
    Alfred Jones
    21.07.11 09:42 AM
    @Tys: I agree that the template you've laid out for how an Indian *ought* to express his displeasure at a work of art is civil and respectful. How did you come by it? Probably a mix of things you were taught, observed behaviour of people you respected, a wee bit of introspection and so on - in other words, that template was the result of a combination of influences you experienced growing up. Now, given the geographical, social and economic diversity of India, isn't it possible that a vast swathe of Indians experience a completely different set of influences producing a completely different set of ideas of what constitutes permissible forms of protest? Isn't India really a country of several cultures, often oppositional, playing out in parallel?

    What I pick up from the first part of your piece is a sense of bafflement and incomprehension, i.e. "How can any Indian *not* realize that you can't impinge on any one else's choice just because you are super ticked off at a book/painting/movie etc.?" Is the more civil and respectful mode of protest you're advocating really that axiomatic? Axiomatic like gravity, for instance, i.e. so axiomatic that every Indian ought to just know it because we've all seen what happens when we throw shit up? (Hint: Said shit might land on your head.) Acceptable behaviour is a function of very subjective influence and interpretation no? How we view each other as individuals, what inalienable rights we think we each have, what boundaries we allow ourselves to cross versus respect, are all outcomes governed by influences that are anything but homogenous across India's mindboggling array of ethnic, religious, linguistic and socio-economic classes.

    You are quite right in the second half of your piece. Viewing Indian culture as a static set of attributes that are inviolate is an appallingly dumb way to look at it. So yes, Indians who mount violent protests in response to works of art that ostensibly insult Indianness and/or "Indian culture" don't really have a leg to stand on. But they do weild power nonetheless, i.e. the power of numbers and the culture of fear and intimidation their protest tactics create. We can't lecture or just wish it away though can we? We can't show these guys just how irrational their thinking is and expect that to do the trick. Which leads to the age old question, how do you steer a culture toward more desirable outcomes? I won't pretend to know the answers to that one.

    @Susmita: Interesting comment. I didn't think Tys was suggesting that extreme (and unacceptable) forms of protest were a monopoly of Hindus. I know they aren't because I've lived through, first hand, similar protests by Indian muslims and christians. But you felt the need to assert that the core tenets of Hinduism shouldn't be confused with the very real actions of (some) Hindus? The idea that Hinduism is a set of ideas that is completely separate from what (some) Hindus actually do and say is a very familiar argument. I've heard it used to frame problems such as our caste system, untouchability and similar ills. Leaders of other religions too use it to explain away similar problems, for instance, the scourge of violent Islamic extremism, the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests (in the US) and so on and so forth. Incredibly, it seems like the goal is to cast problems stemming from (poor?) interpretations of religious tenets as *secular* problems that shouldn't be associated, in any way, with the respective religion's texts or dogma. Isn't that a bit of a cop out?
  • tys
    17.07.11 09:48 PM
    @susmita sen : moral policing was never a hindu tenant...i think rite now, it is arising due to insecurity..this fear that what we are comfortable with is slowly slipping...fear of anything that is different ... but i wasnt only addressing hindus...i also do not like it when what i have to see or read is dictated by it hindu, muslim , christian or the so called secular take is if you dont like it dont partake of it but nobody has the right to ban a creative expression...sentiments, in my book , is an overrated emotion...there is no requirement for everyone to walk on egg shells just becoz someone out there is overtly sensitive...thats their i want to be able to make up my own mind...

    @varsha : thats precisely what iam scared of...i do not want to look over my shoulder , i do not want to watch what comes out of my mouth lest it may hurt someones feeling...i dont want to watch what i wear , what i eat, who i pray to or how i express my opinion or who i sleep with ...i dont think anyone has a right to tell me how iam to live my life as long as iam not harming anyone...and having the choice to read, write, or see and making up our own mind about things seems somehow a basic right we need to expect...

    @nandita : i dont think u shud live ur life in such a fear...please publish it...noone can turn anyone who isnt already turned...its just that people who hasnt turned are many but rarely loud...which is kinda sad.
  • Nandita prakash
    Nandita prakash
    15.07.11 03:38 PM
    this is wht really scares the hell out of me...i hav been writing short stories for yrs but shy away from publishing thenm...wht if it ofends sum asshole who turn the whole country against me? i m no MF HUssain to hide away in some strange nation
  • varsha
    14.07.11 09:38 AM
    Unfortunately, ours is a culture that has become increasingly intolerant of the possibility of multiple truths, and grown to resent any form of dissent or difference that is perceived as questioning the status quo or the so-called standards of normality and morality.
  • Susmita Sen
    Susmita Sen
    14.07.11 08:17 AM
    I am with you here...
    Moral policing was never part of the Indian ethos, or of the philosophy called 'Hinduism'(which,till date, is not an organised religion).One of the major tenets of the Bhagwad Gita is the right to dissent, embodied in the whole text, which is a prolonged debate on issues covering several, if not all, aspects of life.
    The modern day 'Governors' of civil liberty are anything but steeped in Indian culture.

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