Thursday, February 12, 2015

Protect Freedom of Expression, No Matter How Repulsive

The comedy show, AIB roast, has created furore, recently, among moral police. The show was hosted by Karan Johan a noted director / producer. Roast victims were  two young film actors – Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh. They were subjected to verbal abuse by a group of ten people that included a film critic, a TV show host and several standup comedians, in addition to Karan Johar. The show was explicitly abusive in its content. Audience had paid 4000 rupees to buy ticket and watch the show. The proceeds of the show went go to charity. 

Not many people knew about the show, till it was hosted on the YouTube. Since then, it had 8 million hits. Right wing groups Brahman Ekta Seva Sanstha had lodged FIR about obscene content. Catholic groups had also complained to the government about hurt sentiment. Groups like Maharashtra Navanirman Sena have threatened of enforcing ban on Arjun and Ranveer starred movies, unless the duo apologised. 

Coming close on the heels of killing of assassination of editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine by right wing Islamic fanatics, the AIB roast raises a many a questions.  Should India grow up and laugh at itself? Or should we respect sentiments of diverse groups and ban the show? Naturally, a lot of arguments have emerged in favor and against the show. The a rguments against the show include the following:

1. Unlike France and for that matter many countries in Europe, India is much more heterogenous. We have a large population, that is illiterate and not exposed to liberal thought. Many such people get swayed by propaganda and perceived threat to their faith, and resort to violence.
2. Our police force is stretched thin. Many a times they cannot take strong action against perpetrators of violence. Politicians control police. After orchestrating violence, police is asked to go slow. This results in loss of life and property.
3. Do we necessarily have to copy everything from the west. What about our thinking and heritage. Even many affluent Western democracies did not allow publication of Charle Hedbod cartoon on prophet, in anticipation of trouble.
4. The show uses vulgar language. This may affect age and gender sensibilities in our country. We have large population of young people, who may use the show as a basis to insult and/or assault women. Women are treated poorly in the country anyway.
5. The show should not be put on the internet for public viewing. Like pornography, one should subscribe by paying a fee.

The following arguments have been made for the show:

1. Show was an affair between consenting adults.
a. Unlike cartoon of prophet in Charlie Hebdo magazine, both Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor had consented to be part of the show. 
b. Audience had bought ticket to watch the show.
2. Purpose of the show was explained explicitly. So viewers were using their discretion. If viewere were unhappy or disgusted, they could have left the show.
3. Money collected went to charity. So it was for a good cause. 
4. As a nation we must lighten up and laugh at ourselves, laugh at our icons. Some had said laughter is the best medicine.
5. Who decides what is offensive. If some people starts to ban art, literature, films, books, where do we stop? Those who do not like a book or film or show, have the liberty to avoid them.

I had watched the  three part video of “AIB Roast Knock Out” on YouTube.  Though there were many clean and brutal one lines, in general I found the content extremely vulgar. It is not fit for viewing with family, in the social strata where I grew up. There was generous use of “F---“ word many a times without any rhyme and reason. Last scene where  Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor had a chance to give it back to their tormentors, was totally filthy. May be it was intentional and planned to shock the audience. In the US, such a show is broadcast only after midnight and rated “R”. The AIB roast video should not have been available on YouTube for communal viewing. Question comes does this mean we should ban such kind of show?  I think not. I think we should restrict access to paying members, but get out of culture of banning anything..

India has a poor track record on freedom of speech. Our governments have taken easy way out in defending freedom of speech. Be it Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie or Lajja by Taslima Nasreen. We have hounded out Maqbool Fida Hussain for painting goddesses in nude. Recently, a writer in Tamil Nadu, decided to quit writing after fringe groups started protesting against his writing. The list goes on. Modi government has stated clearly, that government will not get involved in banning movies, no matter how controversial, as long as it does not become a law and order issue. So government did not ban PK a movie made by Amir Khan and Messenger of God, another movie made be Baba Ram Rahim. I hope government will stay away from interfering in artistic freedom and protect artists from being attacked by fringe groups.

http://occassionalmusings.blogspot.com/2015/01/speak-or-not-to-speak.html

Tags: AIB Roast, Arjun Kapoor, Brahmin Ekta Seva Sanstha, Charlie Hebdo, Freedom of Expression,Karan Johar, Lajja, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, Maqbool Fida Hussain, Ranveer Singh, Salman Rushdie, Satanic Verses, Tasleema Nasreen,

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