Homeless in Own Homeland

Political Culture

HOMELESS IN OWN HOMELAND

homeless

By Sujit Thakur

Introduction Of Madhesi Problems
The total land area of Madhes today is 16,000 sq. miles and it is home to about 16 million people. The southern part of today’s Nepal bordering Indian union’s states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand, West Bengal and Bihar has a long history. Madhya Desh (In Sanskrit) has got a mention in ancient Vedas, scriptures. Lord Rama, Sita and Gautama Buddha were born in this land. Today, though the name madhes is specifically given to the southern plain of Nepal, the present day Hindi land of India also is a part of Madhya Desh. It is a matter of fact that the residents of these parts of India do not recognize themselves as madhesis; the ancient identity of madhesis (Residents of madhes) is kept intact in Nepal. If we see the life-style, culture, languages across the indo-Nepal border, there is a dead similarity amongst the residents of either side of the border.

Our Motherland Madhes has been victimized since the day of its transfer by the British to Nepal. The present Nepal-ruled Madhes stretching from Mechi (A River in the eastern part of Nepal) to Mahakali (A River in the western part of Nepal) had never been annexed by any King of the Shah Dynasty or any other Nepali and it was handed over to Nepal by the Memorandum of 1816 and Agreement of 1860 due to the self-serving policies of the British.

Article 8 of the “Peace and Friendship Treaty” signed between India and Nepal on July 31, 1950 at Kathmandu states; “So far as the subjects mentioned in this agreement are concerned, it makes all earlier treaties and agreements between British government on behalf of India and Nepal government null and void. As per the article, the memorandum of 1816 and agreement of 1860 pertaining to the transfer of Madhes automatically becomes null and void and thereafter the hegemony of Nepal over Madhes stands totally unauthorized and illegal.

Madhes: A Brief History
Prithvi Narayan Shah, a king of Gorkha, a small state then, is credited to have unified present day Nepal started to extend the Gorkha state by bloody army campaign. Step by step, he attacked and captured various historical republics of indigenous people. In 1768 AD, he attacked Nepal (earlier Kathmandu valley was called Nepal); Jay Prakash Malla was then the king of Nepal. In the army of Malla king, there were 12000 Tirhutia armies. Tirhutia armies sharply defended against the organized army of Prithvi Narayan Shah. After defeating Jay Prakash Malla, Prithvi Narayan Shah terminated the Tirhutias from army force. Having establishing Shah Regime in Nepal, in 1774 AD, King Prithvi Narayan Shah defeated and dismissed army ruler of Makawanpur by pretence, fraud and conspiracy. The Sen rulers of Makwanpur used to pay taxes to Mughal Empire to get benefit from Eastern Madhes’s agricultural products. After Prithvi Narayan Shah got hold of Makwanpur, he   had also committed to pay tax to the Muslim emperor. Though the land of Madhes was used to fulfill their food requirements and other lavish expenses, the people of madhes were being treated inhumanly. Madhes became a colony for Nepal and the residents of Madhes were like their slaves .This attitude got continuity for over 250 years and to larger extent, it is still in practice. Prithvi Narayan shah and his clan had an undeclared policy of excluding madhesis from security forces, police, bureaucratic positions .The hatred might have come because of the fact that Prithvi Narayan shah had faced a strong opposition by Tirhutia army who in fact were madhesis.

Madhes people had made the land of madhes fertile by using their blood and sweat, and also fighting against terrible diseases like malaria and other wild animals such as tiger, bear, snakes etc. But those occupied land was snatched from the real owners of the land, who were madhes people and was captured and distributed to royal family members, relatives, armies, officers and other employees as gifts, Birta, Math, Jagir etc and madhes people, who were the real owners of the land, were compelled to work as land tillers. Like Prithvi Narayan Shah, after his regime, his successors continued the same policy to treat madhes people. After the downfall of Mughal regime and rise of British power, Shahbanshi rulers used to gift elephants to British rulers every year as tax which was commutated by article 7 of the treaty of 1801. Madhes was the major financial source to bear the cost of Nepali Shah Rulers. The fund was supplied from madhes to maintain the cost of war in the time of extension of Nepali territory, cost for enjoyment and joy of the Shah rulers and other necessary administrative costs. Madhes land tillers had been suffering from cruelty, injustice and inhumane behaviour of Shah Rulers and subjected to monetary exploitation in fulfilling rulers’ interests. In 1814, British East India Company attacked Nepal from four posts of madhes. At that time, madhesi people, who were victim of exploitation, were preparing to revolt against the medieval cruelty and injustice behaviour of Nepalese rulers. By following the general principle of people’s inalienable right to revolt against injustice and exploitation, groups of unorganized people of east madhes helped the East India Company in the war against Shah Rulers in the name of revolution. Shahbansi rulers of Nepal lost that war against East India Company and surrendered. After the end of war, Nepali ruler requested the British East India Company to support the living cost of their employees. Company government agreed to pay two hundred thousand rupees per year to Shah Ruler.  Both the party signed in Sugauli treaty on December 2, 1815 and declared the end of war that had been running from 1814. Through Sugauli Treaty, king of Nepal handed over the land east to Koshi and west to Mahakali. He handed over not only his territory but also delivered all his power of foreign affairs to Company government. After that, madhesi people also got relief from Shah Ruler’s tyranny.

Shah King of Nepal accepted the semi-colonial administration of British East India Company but after some time, in the name of acceptance or approval of Sugauli treaty, Company government issued a memorandum on December 8, 1816 without any consent of the people of madhes, who were open supporter of Company Government in the war. By the deceiving memorandum, Company Government divided the madhes and provided some part to Nepal such as east to Rapti River, West to Koshi River and north to present Indo-Nepal border. After providing that land, Company government stopped to pay two hundreds thousands rupees to Nepal. To satisfy madhes people, Shah King agreed to add one clause in article 7 of the memorandum. According to the clause, “No legal action will be taken after extradition against the people of madhes, who were supporters of the British India Company, in the period of war”. Those people, who were involved in revolution, had always expressed their dissatisfaction and disagreement with the decision of British India Company, which was against the spirit of madhes people. After getting the territory of madhes, Nepali government started to treat the madhes people as enemies. In this way, land of madhes divided into two parts. Major parts of madhes became the colony of British India Company and some part came under the semi colonial state Nepal. In the madhes land under the British rule, the ruler and people were from different society. Rulers were English and people were local madhes people. The rulers and the people had different social and economic activities. Therefore, there were big practical gaps between rulers and people. The situation was similar in extradited part of madhes in semi-colonial state Nepal. The rulers were from different economic and social background of Nepal and people were from different background. Therefore, they also had big practical, social and economic gaps between rulers and people and this problem still exists.

The King of Nepal agreed to appoint British residential representative in Kathmandu offered by the British Government. However, the strong objection of majority of royalist had raised tension in that issue. In June 21, 1840, the Queen made an endeavour to murder the British representative but she could not succeed to carry out the conspiracy. That incident displeased the British Government. After that incident, British representatives had been trying to end the power of the royal palace in Nepal. In September 16, 1846, by inspiration and support of British Government, Jung Bahadur Kunwor murdered a number of senior officers of the royal palace and army who were invited in the occasion of Baved Parba by the Queen. Moreover, he declared himself as the Prime Minister and chief of the army. After that, he captured every part of governance in his grip, and compelled the King to work only as the rubber stamp, and started his arbitrary rule of his family. In 1850 AD, British Government invited to Jung Bahadur in foreign country and was awarded by the Queen Victoria. After the incident, all Rana rulers became the puppet of British Government. Jung Bahadur had gone to India leading his army of three thousand to suppress to Indian people, who were starting their first independent movement, the Sepoy mutiny, which occurred from 1857 to 1859 AD. After the success of the movement, East India Company ended its rule over the Indian Territory. After passing the Indian Administrative Act, 1858, British Queen Victoria started direct rule over the Indian Territory. British government presented some land to Nepal government of western madhes such as west to Rapti River, east to Mahakali River and north to present Indo-Nepal border. This land was provided as an award for the support of Ranas to the British Government to suppress the fighters for independence of India. That army created violence by rape, murder, looting, firing and other cruel and inhuman behaviour towards the madhes people from Gorakhpur to Lucknow to restore the British colony. Nepal Government called that region Naya Muluk (New region). According to the memorandum of 1816 and treaty of 1860 AD, British India Company divided the land of madhes from the land to west to Mechi, east to Mahakali and north of present Indo-Nepal broader provided to semi-colonial state Nepal.

After 1861 AD, with Jung Bahadur’s order, people were made to pay money instead of grain as tax. Rana rulers made one rule for people of Nepalese origin and other for people of Madhes origin. for example in article (section) 152 of concerning murder, Nepalese from Hills could get bail for Rs.10-25 whereas Madhes residents had to pay Rs.100.Moreover, Madhes residents had to get permission letter(visa) to visit Kathmandu as if they were some foreigners. Only on Mahashivaratri, Madhes residents along with Indians were allowed without permit. On contrary, Nepalese and Madhes residents did not require permission to enter then British colony. Thousands and thousands acres of Madhes land were controlled by Nepalese people in the name of Birta (tax free land), salaries, trust and others. To strengthen the power further, Rana rules appointed locals from Madhes as land recorders who acted as Rana’s social representations.

After the independence of India in 1947, Nepal and India signed in “Peace and friendship Treaty 1950″, which nullified all the prior treaties that Nepal made with British rulers. India registered the treaty in UN office with registration number 1302. Also, “Nepal British treaty 1950″ ‘s articles  states that all treats made between Nepal and Britain prior to 21 December, 1923 were nullified. That means the treaties of 1816 AD (After Anglo Nepal war) and 1860AD were considered void. After the treaty of 1950, on the basis of UN charter’s section 73, Madhes became an (autonomous) region.

However, in 1951, Nepalese rulers conspired to displace Madhes residents to control Madhes land in the name of population distribution. After East India Company returned Madhes to Nepal, Nepalese rulers wanted their control over madhes. So, they settled Nepalese people in Madhes in the name of (Birta, guthi….) but the population of Nepalese before 1951 was minimal as there was epidemic of Malaria. Every year, 2 million people suffered from Malaria of which, around 10% of victims died. Nepalese from hills feared Malaria .So, Nepalese immigrants were less in number.

Nepal became a member of United Nations, on February 24, 1956, UN secretary General (Doug Hemmer Shold) asked Nepalese Government about any land under Nepal that was under section 73 of UN charter. Nepalese representative stayed mum on this matter. When the matter was asked again, Nepalese representative crossed all moral grounds and answered “No”. Nepalese Government sent a letter to UN to confirm. (See: UN publication ST/DPI/SERA/73/Rev.1, page 8, 1 April, 1957). So, it is clear from above that Madhes is an autonomous region. Nepal has occupied Madhes under baseless facts.

Present Condition of Madhesis in Nepal
In 1952 AD, Nepalese government brought new citizenship act to further discriminate madhesi people. If one has to believe, madhes is a part of Nepal then the residents of madhes automatically become citizen of Nepal. But in this new policy, only those people were eligible to get citizenship, who could speak and understand Nepali language. Majority of Madhesis didn’t speak or understand Nepali hence denied citizenship. Under the new policy, one without a citizenship cannot have land or properties; this rendered millions of Madhesis landless and they were forced to work as bounded labourers.

If knowledge of Hindi would be made compulsory in India to get Indian Citizenship, will it be acceptable to South India, Punjab, Assam, and Bengal? But Nepalese rulers in sheer madness made policy like “One King, One State, one language, and only one look”. These kinds of policies made madhesis non-citizens, their languages suppressed, their culture suppressed. Under this suppression of many years, madhesis have lost their pride and glorified history.

Present condition is not very encouraging but I will take it anyways .I know, the present breed of madhes is knowledgeable, they know their roots, they know their right to freedom. They have started to understand why there is only about 15-20% people of madhesi origin in civil services although their population is above 50%.In Nepal, there are 75 districts altogether, out of  75 chief district officers , only 4 are madhesis , their representation in army and police is negligible, they do not have any say in judicial system. Judiciary and all other bureaucratic apparatuses of state are highly biased against madhesis. Still, the Nepalese rulers are infested with colonial mindset, they think it is their birthright to rule and madhesis are made to serve them.

Scores of Madhesi youths have been extra-judicially killed or detained illegally in name of special security arrangement. Madhes has been made like forte by Nepalese police and army, their arrogance is increasing day by day. Madhes is still keeping its cool but cannot be said till when? If it breaks the limit, a bigger conflict than Maoists’ people war cannot be denied.

A Way Out
In present scenario, staying together with Nepal is not possible. If Delhi and Kathmandu try to dictate terms for madhes or they try to force their deal on people of madhes, it can be catastrophic .There are every possibility that people of madhes and people of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar can unite together if Delhi and Kathmandu together try to suppress the voices of madhes.

I still pray to god to provide us strength to keep ourselves cool. We know the importance of a human life, we definitely do not want violence spread over our society, and we want to see our society prospering, developing in a peaceful environment. We never can find a solution through violent means but when we are left with only two options to choose from, we must chose one. At present we have only two options I guess, “Submit to their atrocities” or “stand to fight them”, we are peace loving but not coward. We are committed to remain committed towards our freedom!

Artistically Yours

Artistically Yours

 Vector-Background-YellowPink-StarAre the artists really artistically free? Can they be freely artistic? We have been witness to what happened recently in context of the planned visit of Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year. The fate of M.F. Hussain is not hidden from anyone. The name of Taslima Nasreen has always been marred by one or the other controversy. One might say these faces have in their pockets a lot of fame so it is but natural for them to be in the limelight for one or the other reason. But this is not so. We have lesser known and even hitherto unknown artists, who have been attacked for their artistic expression in the name of obscenity. India’s freedom of expression has been curbed increasingly with the Hindu religious groups accusing the artists of hurting religious sentiments in being obscene. I would like to remind you here of an incident that took place in the year 2007, when Chandramohan Srilamantulaa, a post-graduate student of Fine Arts at MS University in Vadodara. The group of members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, led by BJP leader Niraj Jain barged into the university. The Dean Shivji Panikkar was suspended from the university because he protested the arrest of the student. The protestors had claimed that the works of Chandramohan offended the religious sentiments by painting nude men.
That is not all. Among numerous other cases, we have a more recent incident of violence against Balbir Krishan. The artist was attacked on the last day of his exhibition at the Lalit Kala Akademi. Balbir Krishnan had said that a group of people had been threatening him since many days before they attacked him on the last day. Krishnan’s latest exhibited works are based on the theme of homosexuality and depict male figures in erotic positions.

Editor

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TWITTER-FEED OF A LAW-BREAKER

By Amitava Kumar

Amitava Kumar, author of the book “A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb.”

Writer Amitava Kumar was advised to leave the recently held Jaipur Literature Festival after he had read, along with Hari Kunzru, extracts from Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses.” The novel has been banned in India since its publication in 1988 because the government held that the book would hurt the sentiments of Muslims. The following is a stream of messages that, like Gibreel Farishta in The Satanic Verses, Mr. Kumar dreamed he had written.

Just landed at Newark. Before leaving saw on TV at Delhi airport that complaints have been filed against us in Jaipur and elsewhere. #JLF

I was not a protester at Tahrir; I only read from a banned book. #JLF

Friends in media, forgive me for my silence. It was on legal advice. Also, I don’t trust you. #JLF

I had to leave India to be safe. A realization filled with surpassing loss. #JLF

But did I need to leave India to be brave? The truth was that I was afraid. #JLF

As in countless films, when the man pleads with his killer, “I have small children.” #JLF

First moment of fear: Hindi TV reporter pushing camera in my face to ask, “Are you not guilty of provoking religious violence?” #JLF

The organizers offered Scotch. “The festival will be shut down. We will have to appear at court hearings for years.” #JLF

En route to Delhi airport, stopped at Arundhati Roy’s home for a beer. She said, “You have to lose fear.” #JLF

I will be ashamed of you if your pulse rises when you show your papers in Delhi, she said. I said, My pulse rises only when facing you. #JLF

Imagination makes us shape better stories, sure, but it also allows us to multiply possibilities. Imagine a different end. #JLF

I read from “The Satanic Verses” because it was, in that time and place, a bold and imaginative act. #JLF

If I were honest, that would be the only claim I submit to the Indian authorities in my defense. #JLF

Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi repeated the same act of defiance at the festival as Mr. Kumar and Mr. Kunzru, reading from “The Satanic Verses.”

Mr. Rushdie, who was scheduled to appear at the Jaipur festival, was forced to stay away because of threats against his life; some reports say the threats, complete with fabricated names of gangsters, were concocted to keep Mr. Rushdie from coming to Jaipur. On Monday, six complaints were filed with the police against the four authors who read from “The Satanic Verses” for having provoked social disturbance. All four authors have been advised to submit a statement saying that they were not aware that it was a criminal offense to read from “The Satanic Verses.” The police are examining the complaints.

*Amitava Kumar is a professor of English on the Helen D. Lockwood Chair at Vassar College.

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Artistic Freedom- Is it Absolute?

By Jayasankar

 “I believe in absolute freedom of expression. Everyone has a right to offend and be offended. So I supported Hussain. In India, I see a division; some support Hussain, others support Rushdie.  Why can’t they support everybody’s freedom of expression? If they can’t support Rushdie, (Danish cartoonist Kurt) Westergaard, MF Hussain, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Asiya Bibi and me equally, then they don’t believe in the freedom of expression.” These were the words of Ms Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi writer, who had to leave her country, in the face of attacks from religious groups, in her interview published in the Times of India, dated 19 June 2011.

These words again brought up to the fore, certain confusions relating to the sad situation in which India’s one of the most commercially successful artists, MF Hussain, had to accept citizenship of another country and had to die outside his country of birth (when I say commercially successful, I am not qualifying the success of Hussain as an artist. The term is used for the simple reason that art and paintings are not my forte and, therefore, I do not want to pass judgements thereon).

Who is right and who is wrong? Are all parties wrong or right? My heart says artists must have the full freedom to express their creativity, thoughts and ideas.  I would not feel offended merely because someone has used his/her artistic freedom in some form or other.  But my mind says that no freedom can be absolute; one’s freedom must stop just before the nose of another and should not include the freedom to touch the nose itself!  Absolute freedom amounts to anarchy and therefore it is not advisable for any society that believes in rule of law and aspires for harmony.

I wouldn’t go into details of the situation involving MF Hussain for three reasons: (i) my concerns here are more conceptual in nature, (ii) I have not been able to make up my mind about culpability of Hussain in drawing nude paintings of certain figures that are worshipped by others, and (ii) I am already biased against the extreme right-wing elements among Hindus, who caused the whole episode.

According to the Constitution, no freedom is absolute in India. The Constitution itself makes fundamental rights enshrined therein, including right to life, subject to reasonable restrictions.  Therefore, when Ms Nasreen talks about the “absolute freedom of expression”, that has no sanction under Indian Constitution.

However, that does not solve our confusion. What amounts to reasonable restriction is something very subjective. At the most, it will help if a matter reaches the court and the court has to decide upon it.  However, these issues are not decided in courts, but often on the streets. Just like artists, there are elements in the society who think they too have the freedom of expression; only that their mode of expression is violence and not arts.

When Ms Nasreen says ‘everyone has right to offend’, isn’t she, inadvertently but ironically supporting the so called right to freedom of expression of her tormentors as well? When she was being harassed by these fanatics, weren’t they expressing their freedom of expression in a manner known to them?

Similarly, what if an artist or writer deliberately offends a group or community with the intention of either creating social tensions or merely to gain publicity for his/her works?  What if a radical group wanting to create riots, use one of the artists to publish some matter that can inflame any of the other groups? Can we allow such things to happen?

To think of the other side of the coin, it is often seen that the misuse of freedom to create social tension is done not by artists but by communalists. They will do it on some or other pretext, even if artists keep their silence. Also, the issue remains as to who decides what is offensive and deliberately made to market one’s works? Should it be done by the communalists or journalists who have never evaluated a work of art, or by art critics?

Obviously, these are not black and white issues.  There are no clear answers to all these questions.  That is why we need to find a mid-path.

While respecting the artistic freedom of expression, the artists have to ensure that the freedom is not misused in a way that it results in creating social tensions. At the same time if a third party, whether it is moral police, government authorities, censorship bodies or even art critics are given the power to censor the art works that can stifle the genuine freedom of the artist.

Artists cannot compare themselves with militant groups that are fuelled by religious or other retrograde agendas.  Artists are part of the civil society and must feel more responsible for its well being. They must value their freedom and show a sense of responsibility in exercising it. Every artist must ensure that he or she is exercising self imposed reasonable restrictions on his/her freedom of expression, so that the social harmony is not disturbed by their works.  They can use the test of reasonableness, wherein they decide not to do something that a reasonable man would find offensive in a given situation. I am sure there are enough ways to create a work of art, without using offensive language or symbols.

First step towards this objective is for artists to realise and admit that no one has absolute freedom of expression and that the right is subject to reasonable restrictions and social responsibility. They must understand that they have more responsibility towards society than hooligans and violent groups.

Having said that, let us analyse in detail the three distinct approaches to the issue of freedom of expression.  No one can deny the fact that there are thousands and thousands of artistic expressions in all forms of arts that do not hurt any sentiments yet manage to be great works.   There are also certain artistic works that by their very nature and subject might cause some hurt to some people, not because of the work as such, but because these people are unduly possessive or sentimental about the subject itself.

It is not the above mentioned works but the third group of works where an artist causes hurt to the sentiments of a large section of normal population, whether deliberately or otherwise, that concerns us.  When I say normal population, I mean any population of rational beings excluding the fundamentalist or extremist elements.

Unfettered and absolute freedom

Proponents of this view do not believe in any kind of restrictions, self imposed or otherwise, on the freedom of artists.  They believe that artists should have complete freedom for expressing themselves in the artistic way they want to and should not be subjected to any form of restrictions.  If someone is offended by a work of art s/he should have the freedom not to see/read/hear that work.  This view corresponds to the view expressed by Ms Nasreen in her interview cited above.

As per this view of absolute freedom, if a person or a group of people is of the opinion that an artist is deliberately maligning their religion or culture they have the freedom to protest in a peaceful manner.  At the same time the Government has the duty to protect the artists’ freedom and the freedom of others to protest peacefully. But the Government or the Courts should never stop an artist from expressing himself as the aggrieved parties always have the choice not to see/read/listen to the work

I do not agree with the practicality of this view.  For example, if a university chooses offensive portions to be included in its syllabus, would it be possible to tell the students that if they are offended by the work they don’t have to study it?  Taking the artistic freedom little further, is it fine for an artist to deliberately carry out character assassination of a person by including a distorted version of the family history of that person in some artistic work?   Wouldn’t affected person have a right to sue the artist for defamation and wouldn’t it be improper for the State/Courts to punish the artist, if it is proved that the work amounted to defamation as per the laws of the land?  Or, should the Court merely tell that affected person to restrain from reading the artistic work containing defamatory matter?

Violence is not limited to physical form alone; even psychological and emotional violence is equally deplorable.  No matter what the mode of expression, every form of violence is to be condemned and stopped.  That includes a violent artistic work as well.

Further, this view pre-supposes a superior right to artists to express themselves, in whatever form and fashion they choose, while imposing a burden on all others to be apologetic about their sentiments and to be choosy about what they read, listen, view etc.  Artists can violate others’ sentiments through their work, but the affected people have to resort only to courts and peaceful protests to register their hurt feelings.  In the real world, this kind of a classification of rights may not be feasible or practical.

Artists have to be aware that for a State, maintaining social harmony is more important than allowing individual creative freedom.  Therefore, given the choice a State is likely to stifle freedom than allow anarchy by allowing every group to exercise their respective ‘absolute freedoms’. The concept of society and nation-states are based on giving up certain individual freedoms for the common good.

 Absolute control over the Freedom

The other end of the spectrum demands absolute control on an artist’s freedom of expression.  This is the view of the ‘offended’.  As per this view, there is a thin line between freedom and hurting someone’s feelings. Freedom of expression cannot intrude others’ sentiments. If an artist portrays someone in a way which may be hurting and indecent, to quote freedom of expression as an excuse would be arbitrary and unjustified.

Problem with this view is that who will decide where the thin line that separates freedom and hurt is?  Sentiments differ from person to person.  Can an artist realistically determine what the line is where he can be sure of not hurting anybody’s feelings?

Let us turn the argument on its head.  As much as there could be an artist who is deliberately out to destroy social harmony, isn’t there a possibility of some motivated individuals, wanting to instigate a large groups of people to indulge in violence,  accusing an artistic work of hurting their sentiments (real or imaginary)?  In fact, it is the so called ‘offended people’ who often resort to violence without even trying to find out the truth behind the allegations about offending their sentiments!  Most of the violence that occurred in the past against artistic works was precisely due to misguided reactions, at the behest of trouble makers and without actual reading, viewing or listening, as the case may be.

Case for Self Restraint

Between the two extreme views above, we have to find a line which has balance of convenience, even if not ideal, so that we can ensure maximum social harmony with minimum interference in artistic freedom.  It is towards this end that I suggest self-restraint as the method, wherein the artist himself acts as any prudent artist would act in the given situation.   I am sure there are thousands of ways to express one’s creativity and ideas without hurting other normal people’s sentiments.

Concept of ‘Swatantrata’ is found in Indian culture from ancient times. ‘Swa‘ means self;  ‘Tantra‘ means method, discipline, or rules. So, Swatantrata means acting according to our own methods or rules, which is the ideal type of ‘freedom’.  In other words, freedom is not absolute but subject to self discipline and self regulation.

This is not limited to artists alone. In fact, this principle of self regulation applies to all the members of a society.  I agree that each one of us have absolute right to hold a view, opinion or belief, howsoever extreme it may be.  But we do not have such an absolute right to manifest that view etc in public, without considering its impact on other members of the society.  That restraint is the little cost that we have to pay for enjoying the membership and associated benefits of a society.

Self restraint is the best form of censorship, as it gives the artist sufficient opportunity to express his ideas or art in a way that the essence of the work is not compromised.

First step towards this objective is for artists to realise and admit that no one has absolute freedom of expression and that the right is subject to reasonable restrictions and social responsibility. They must understand that they have more responsibility towards society than hooligans and violent groups.
Having said that, let us analyse in detail the three distinct approaches to the issue of freedom of expression.No one can deny the fact that there are thousands and thousands of artistic expressions in all forms of arts that do not hurt any sentiments yet manage to be great works.There are also certain artistic works that by their very nature and subject might cause some hurt to some people, not because of the work as such, but because these people are unduly possessive or sentimental about the subject itself.
It is not the above mentioned works but the third group of works where an artist causes hurt to the sentiments of a large section of normal population, whether deliberately or otherwise, that concerns us. When I say normal population, I mean any population of rational beings excluding the fundamentalist or extremist elements.

Unfettered and absolute freedom

Proponents of this view do not believe in any kind of restrictions, self imposed or otherwise, on the freedom of artists.They believe that artists should have complete freedom for expressing themselves in the artistic way they want to and should not be subjected to any form of restrictions. If someone is offended by a work of art s/he should have the freedom not to see/read/hear that work.This view corresponds to the view expressed by Ms Nasreen in her interview cited above.

As per this view of absolute freedom, if a person or a group of people is of the opinion that an artist is deliberately maligning their religion or culture they have the freedom to protest in a peaceful manner.At the same time the Government has the duty to protect the artists’ freedom and the freedom of others to protest peacefully. But the Government or the Courts should never stop an artist from expressing himself as the aggrieved parties always have the choice not to see/read/listen to the work

I do not agree with the practicality of this view.For example, if a university chooses offensive portions to be included in its syllabus, would it be possible to tell the students that if they are offended by the work they don’t have to study it?Taking the artistic freedom little further, is it fine for an artist to deliberately carry out character assassination of a person by including a distorted version of the family history of that person in some artistic work?Wouldn’t affected person have a right to sue the artist for defamation and wouldn’t it be improper for the State/Courts to punish the artist, if it is proved that the work amounted to defamation as per the laws of the land? Or, should the Court merely tell that affected person to restrain from reading the artistic work containing defamatory matter?

Violence is not limited to physical form alone; even psychological and emotional violence is equally deplorable.No matter what the mode of expression, every form of violence is to be condemned and stopped.That includes a violent artistic work as well.

Further, this view pre-supposes a superior right to artists to express themselves, in whatever form and fashion they choose, while imposing a burden on all others to be apologetic about their sentiments and to be choosy about what they read, listen, view etc. Artists can violate others’ sentiments through their work, but the affected people have to resort only to courts and peaceful protests to register their hurt feelings.In the real world, this kind of a classification of rights may not be feasible or practical.

Artists have to be aware that for a State, maintaining social harmony is more important than allowing individual creative freedom.Therefore, given the choice a State is likely to stifle freedom than allow anarchy by allowing every group to exercise their respective ‘absolute freedoms’. The concept of society and nation-states are based on giving up certain individual freedoms for the common good.

Absolute control over the Freedom

The other end of the spectrum demands absolute control on an artist’s freedom of expression.This is the view of the ‘offended’.As per this view, there is a thin line between freedom and hurting someone’s feelings. Freedom of expression cannot intrude others’ sentiments. If an artist portrays someone in a way which may be hurting and indecent, to quote freedom of expression as an excuse would be arbitrary and unjustified.

Problem with this view is that who will decide where the thin line that separates freedom and hurt is? Sentiments differ from person to person.Can an artist realistically determine what the line is where he can be sure of not hurting anybody’s feelings?
Let us turn the argument on its head. As much as there could be an artist who is deliberately out to destroy social harmony, isn’t there a possibility of some motivated individuals, wanting to instigate a large groups of people to indulge in violence,accusing an artistic work of hurting their sentiments (real or imaginary)?In fact, it is the so called ‘offended people’ who often resort to violence without even trying to find out the truth behind the allegations about offending their sentiments!Most of the violence that occurred in the past against artistic works was precisely due to misguided reactions, at the behest of trouble makers and without actual reading, viewing or listening, as the case may be.

Case for Self Restraint

Between the two extreme views above, we have to find a line which has balance of convenience, even if not ideal, so that we can ensure maximum social harmony with minimum interference in artistic freedom. It is towards this end that I suggest self-restraint as the method, wherein the artist himself acts as any prudent artist would act in the given situation.I am sure there are thousands of ways to express one’s creativity and ideas without hurting other normal people’s sentiments.

Concept of ‘Swatantrata’ is found in Indian culture from ancient times. ‘Swa‘ means self;‘Tantra‘ means method, discipline, or rules. So, Swatantrata means acting according to our own methods or rules, which is the ideal type of ‘freedom’.In other words, freedom is not absolute but subject to self discipline and self regulation.

This is not limited to artists alone. In fact, this principle of self regulation applies to all the members of a society.I agree that each one of us have absolute right to hold a view, opinion or belief, howsoever extreme it may be.But we do not have such an absolute right to manifest that view etc in public, without considering its impact on other members of the society.That restraint is the little cost that we have to pay for enjoying the membership and associated benefits of a society.

Self restraint is the best form of censorship, as it gives the artist sufficient opportunity to express his ideas or art in a way that the essence of the work is not compromised.