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Lift A Finger Against Cultural Fascism!

By K.P. Sasi

02 December, 2013

Who decides what should be spoken and what should not be spoken? Who decides what should be written and what should not be written? Who decides what should be performed and what should not be performed? Who decides what should be painted and what should not be painted? Who decides what should be screened and what should not be screened as cinema?

The artists and art lovers may feel that the participants of this decision making is entirely among themselves. But no! There are several players involved in this decision making process. If a work of art represents a culture, it also means that the tradition of that culture has done some fine tuning on that work of art and that tradition has obviously been part of this decision making process. Whether this decision making power of an `unknown and unseen’ entity called `cultural tradition’ is right or wrong may be subjected to debate. In fact, many discussions in film festivals throughout the world have penetrated to such questions. Apart from the participation of `cultural traditions’ in the decision making process of a work of art, the State has always played a role to see to it that art is finally used for its own interests.

However, during the recent times in India, we have been witnessing more drastic changes in the outside intervention on the decision making process of a work of art. It was not a direct pressure from the cultural tradition or the Indian State which forced the most well known, successful painter of our times, M.F. Hussain to flee from India. What was the charge? He had produced a work of art on a Goddess with shades of nudity. The work of art was neither erotic nor vulgur. It was just an aesthetic expression of a creative mind. I have seen a number of erotic and vulgur depictions of Godesses in our television serials, mainstream cinema and mainstream paintings, calenders and so on, even with dresses chosen by the artists or directors. In any case, does anyone really know what Gods and Goddesses wear? And if they are really Gods and Goddesses, do they really need a tailor to stitch clothes for them? Or do they buy the clothes from ready made shops? Are there such show rooms in the heaven? I do not know. As a child, I used to see the images of naked and sexually explicit Gods and Goddesses as sculptures on the walls of the inside shrine of Guruvayoor temple. Some of them were also images of Gay and Lesbian sexual images. Who removed these sculptures? Did the artists who created those works of art flee from the country? They died before that, enjoying their piece of creative freedom. But Hussain had no option but to flee. They did not allow him to stay on this soil. He left his homeland with much pain and sorrow and now he has reached where he can personally find out the answers to these heavenly questions on the dress codes of the Gods and Goddesses. He died with deep trauma of not having the freedom to return to his own country. Colourless tears of the most well known painter of modern India has fallen on the most celebrated work of art called The Constitution of India, blurring the printed word `Secular India’. The architect of this art, Babasaheb Ambedkar must be wondering whether his own work of art was deserved by us as `Indian People’.

Then there is another pillar as the foundation Independent India. His name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, what Narendra Modi in one of his speeches spelt wrongly as Mohanlal. Modi might have seen him as a Malayalam film hero in his subconscious mind, but there was also an ancestral filmi villain in his own organization of RSS called Godse who pressed three bullets on Gandhi. Godse might have been shocked when he heard the response of the dying Gandhi with a whisper:`Hey Ram!’. But the political ownership of Ram was transferred from that moment to a different force. The rest is history.

Gandhi had written quite a bit against consumerism and perhaps that motivated the Reserve Bank of India to print his picture on every currency note printed in India, so that every business deal, every deal of corruption and every policeman in this country cannot escape the habit of rubbing their fingers on the face of Gandhi when they count their earnings. Every serious political intellectual knows the limitations of Gandhi as far as the issues of Dalits and Gender issues are concerned. When the film Papillon Buddha brought out these limitations from the angle of the director, the censor board clamped on the work of art heavily. The Indian State still needs Gandhi on the currency notes.
In recent times, the Indian State has targeted on media professionals like KK Shahina, Seema Azad, Syed Mohammed Ahmed Kazmi, Muthi-ur-Rehman Siddiqui and many others, violating the very basic principles of Freedom of Expression. The one thing in common among these journalists was that they were all Muslims. I do not know whether these journalists knew that they were targeted right from their birth. They also did not have the freedom of choice to dictate from which parenthood they should be born into this world – from Hindu origins, Muslim origins, Christian origins or atheist origins. None of us have the luxury of that option and therefore we have to live up to the expectations and burdens of our genes to a certain extent. There was one more thing that was common among them: They lifted a finger against what was wrong in this country. And not through bullets, but through their writings!

The screenings of our own documentary film `Fabricated’ on the fabricated cases on human rights activists, focusing on Abdul Nasar Maudany, were threatened to be stopped when a Hindu fundamentalist group called Hindu Makkal Katchi placed a complaint with the Police Commissioner in Chennai. When the police visited the screenings, they could not find much to do such an action, perhaps due to the active support of the activists, intelligentsia and a section of the Press. More serious were the cases of screenings of Jai Bhim of Anand Patwardhan and Sanjay Kak’s film on the issues in Kashmir when the Sangh Parivar physically attacked the screenings in Pune and Hyderabad. At VIBGYOR international Film Festival a few years back, the same fundamentalist forces tried to stop Amudhan’s film called `Shit’ on the issue of manual scavengers in Tamil Nadu. While the activists, film makers and the press were united to condemn such violations on the freedom of expression, defeating the purpose of the Sangh Parivar, one thing is clear: The tendency of attacks on the secular film makers is growing and a communal fascist block is out there trying to stop such expressions of creativity, though they are not able to succeed now. The politics behind this is based on a feeling that it is not just the State, but also a group of fundamentalists who have assumed an extra judicial power to decide what should be communicated and what should not be communicated.

Draconian laws like UAPA, Sedition Law, AFSPA and others are also useful to deal with media, writers, film makers, artists and other cultural personalities who rarely speak against the interest of Indian State. The Sri Lankan State in recent times killed many journalists before the war and during the war, so that they do not write against the interest of the Government. That is the state of State in South Asia in general. But interestingly, the State does not have the sole authority to curb freedom of expression in the current political scenario. Today, the freedom of expression is being dictated by the communal fascists in a bigger way. The time has come for stronger unity of all those involved with cultural expressions to stand united against such cultural fascism.

Hussain might have had Muslim genes which can explain a lot on the emotional torture on the artist. But the Gyanpeeth Award winner, U.R. Ananthamurthy has Brahminical origins. Ananthamurthy knew that the critical spaces in cultural and political discourse in this country will be over very soon, if people like him did not react. Perhaps that was why he said that if Modi is elected, he would leave India. This statement has several meanings. Even though he is from Brahminical origins, he is still a `writer’ and the growing cultural fascism in this country will not allow any`critical space’ for `writers’ in future. At that level, the threat to a Muslim painter and a Brahmin writer are the same, so long as they are using `critical cultural spaces’. At another level, both have been economically in a position to leave the country if needed. What about our economically poor critical writers, journalists, film makers, poets, singers, painters and other artists? Either they will be forced to keep mum and crawl or…….! Ab thera kya hoga Kaalia?
Fascism is at your doorstep! If the calling bell rings, for heaven’s sake, please do not open the door. And if you are brave enough to open the door, lift a finger against cultural fascism!

K.P Sasi is an award winning film director and a political activist. He is also an Associate Editor of Countercurrents.org. He can be reached at [email protected]


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