The Indecency of Decency

Ravi Shanker Kapoor That intolerance has become the defining feature of the governance becomes evident, if any more evidence was needed, from the so-called advisory the Information & Broadcasting Ministry recently issued to TV channels regarding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Independence Day speech this year. It may be the first ‘advisory’ in history that is accompanied with the threat of “penal provisions.” The ‘advisory’ said that “it had come to the notice of Ministry of Information & Broadcasting that certain TV channels attempted to denigrate the Office of the Prime Minister of India by constantly trying to compare the speech of the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India with the speech of other political leaders on 15th August, 2013.” The charge is based on two assumptions. First, “the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India” is a heavenly figure whose utterances need to be grasped in a state of reverence, while other political leaders are lesser mortals. Second, comparison is denigration. While the first assumption is anti-democratic, the second one is outright arbitrary. The prime minister is not a celestial creature with a divine right to rule. Therefore, the Ministry’s contention militates against even the suppositions of the government. And it surely is an affront to basic principles of democracy: the prime minister is one of us and is elected by us; he enjoys the high office so long as we, the people of India, deem him fit to rule the country; he derives his powers from our consent, and not from gods as many kings claimed to do in the past. As for the second postulate, equating comparison with denigration is as idiotic as it is arbitrary. In fact, it is nothing but an abuse of language, just as calling a threat an ‘advisory.’ The operative part of the Ministry’s advisory was in the third paragraph: “…as per Section 5 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, read with Rule 6(1 Xa) & (i) of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, as amended from time to time, no programme can be transmitted/re-transmitted on any Cable Service which contains anything [that] offends against good taste or decency; and criticizes, maligns or slanders any individual in person or...

Swaminathan Aiyar is insensitive – Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Swaminathan Aiyar is insensitive – Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar is considered a champion of open economy, which—as a natural corollary—also implies great concern for respect for individual liberty. And since liberty is inextricably linked with individual self-esteem and the rule of law, one expects Aiyar to promote these concepts. He has, however, done quite the opposite in a recent article with self-explanatory title, ‘Slums are hubs of hope, progress and dignity’ (The Times Of India, March 31). “Yes, slums are dirty, but they are also entrepreneurial hubs where India’s poor are climbing up the ladder of opportunity and income,” he wrote. “The census report shows that 16.7% of slum households are factories, shops and offices. These are humming commercial centres, not dead-ends.” He derives a specious conclusion: “filthy slums” are the “entry-points of the poor into the land of urban opportunity. See them as havens of dignity for dalits and shudras. See them as hubs of rising income and asset ownership, which have already generated several rupee millionaires.”He goes on to show how conditions in slums are better than those in villages: “No less than 70% of slum households have TVs, against only 47% of total Indian households. The ratio is just 14.5% in Bihar and 33.2% in UP. Even Narendra Modi’s shining Gujarat (51.2%) and Pawar’s Maharashtra (58.8%) have a far lower rate of TV ownership than our slums!” That somebody should see squalid habitats as the havens of dignity for the poor is not just in bad taste; it also smacks of egregious insensitivity. In slums, men and women live like cattle, bereft of the basic civic amenities. Privacy is practically non-existent. There is scarcely any plumbing; toilets are either very dirty or in the open. The smell of garbage and excreta is all-pervading. Children have no place to play; many of them are forced to earn a livelihood; a large number of them are abused. It is a tribute to the fortitude and enterprise of slum-dwellers that many of them become rupee millionaires. But this is in spite of living in slums, not because these dwellings are entrepreneurial hubs. Slums numb human sensibilities, degrade all feelings, and create an ecosystem in which all but animal instincts are...

Nitish visits ruins of socialist shibboleths – Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Nitish visits ruins of socialist shibboleths – Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar tried to achieve many goals at the recent rally in Delhi, but the portrait of the ambitious leader that emerges is not very flattering. As we shall see, his objectives, statements, and demands lack any novelty; any chief minister of any state could have said similar things 10, 20, or 30 years ago. It is an open secret that Kumar aspires for the office of Prime Minister, something that is being viewed with expectation by ‘secular’ parties, including the Congress. There were enough hints of Kumar’s ‘secularism’—many Muslim supporters sitting in the front row, an Urdu prayer, a placard thanking the Bihar government for providing land to the Aligarh Muslim University, and so on. The dominant theme, however, was his reiteration of the demand for the special status for Bihar. Unsurprisingly, histrionics were the hallmark of his address: “We are not begging for special status. It is our right.” In a bid to elicit support from Chhattisgarh, Goa, Jharkhand, Orissa and Rajasthan—the states which have earlier sought special status—Kumar said, “We are happy that UPA government has agreed in-principle to grant our demand. But now we want it to be implemented soon. Do it now or it will be inevitable after 2014 elections. Only he who holds the hands of backward states will sit in Delhi.” Kumar’s bombast and symbolism emanate from his dirigiste ideology. The basic premise of this ideology is that only a few divinely ordained Wise Men and Women in New Delhi know what is good for the country and the people. They are in-charge of all the resources; in their wisdom, they distribute or redistribute these resources to states which, in turn, have their own Wise Men and Women. Growth, development, progress—everything is a function of the wisdom of these divinely ordained beings. Problems do arise because of the differences among Wise Men and Women, despite their divinity. But these problems, according to the dirigiste canon, can be resolved by fine-tuning the terms of engagement. The fundamental flaw of this ideology is that the supposedly Wise Men and Women happen to be politicians, bureaucrats, and hangers-on; and one has to be gullible to expect wisdom...

Cultural Emergency of India – Akshay Mehta

Cultural Emergency of India – Akshay Mehta

In the last month, the nation, driven by the ever increasing shrillness of 24-hour news channels, aided by the ever more intransigent nature of protesters, lurched from outrage to outrage. It began with outrage on Yoyo Honey Singh’s concert – making him a household name. The protests had an effect of getting his New Year concert cancelled, but as compensation he became so known, that he was on national television as a featured performer in the finals of a music talent show. Then this was followed by outrage on misogynist statements by relatively obscure political personalities, giving them the kind of publicity that money cannot buy. But the price of this was public haranguing on TV till they apologised. Then there were protests on Ashish Nandy’s statements, followed up by a FIR under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989; outrage on Shah Rukh Khan’s article(“Being a Khan”, on how he was treated by politicians; asking him to return to his native land) followed by a lengthy explanation; right wing protests on Pakistani authors visiting the Jaipur Literature Festival, forcing the authors to cancel the show; potential rage on Salman Rushdie visiting Kolkata that led the Mamata Banerjee Government to prevent him. And finally protests by some Muslim organisations in Tamil Nadu against Kamal Hassan’s new Tamil Film Vishwaroopam – which has taken a life of its own. Just as a cycle of protest and outrage dies out, a new cycle of protest and outrage begins, the previous outrage is forgotten. It is almost as though this has become the Republic of Outragistan. Ask those protesting about what they are protesting about – and they will tell you in all earnestness – against an insult to xyz (where xyz could be muslim religious intolerance, language, culture, nation, hero, sentiments, feelings). Most have not even interacted with the objects of their outrage. People have begun to identify themselves by the things they hate rather than those they love. “There is nothing more frightening than active ignorance.” It is a quote that comes to mind every time there are protests about books, authors, paintings, films, music – in short ideas and concepts....

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