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Perhaps this post comes at a time when the Vadodara art attack controversy seems to be in the letting-off-steam stages. However, it is imperative that we address the larger, more significant question that has been churned out from the incident.
The uninitiated may read about the issue in question at “NDTV.com: Art Held Hostage in Vadodara , http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/story.aspx?id=NEWEN20070011802″
Incidents of such nature are not too uncommon in present day Indian society; be it the ruckus created over the Richard Gere-Shilpa Shetty incident or the commotion made over M.F Hussain’s works depicting Hindu Goddesses in the nude, or for that matter the attack made on the Tamil Daily Dinakaran‘s office in Madras over a controversial opinion poll. At the onset, it is stated that I do not wish to delve into the premise of merits/demerits of moral policing and media-gagging; nor am I speaking from the standpoint of the urban, educated and liberal citizen. There are always two sides to a moral/ethical debate (irrespective of which weighs more) and to enter it would be futile.
What then am I broaching on? To reiterate, the larger perspective simply must focus on the question of human rights. We are, vis-a-vis the context of discussion, talking about the freedom of speech and expression; one that has been recognized, respected and documented since time immemorial. To quote a learned man;
“I may not agree with what you say, but I shall defend to death your right to say it” – Voltaire
Society has been stirred, revolutions have occurred and autocracies have been thrown in the fight for this mighty and noble right. Fundamental in today’s society, in both layperson and legalese terms, the Indian Constitution recognizes it under Article 19 (1) (a). However, many would surely be aware of the fact that a right in paper cannot be equated to a right in actuality. Hence, what we are all concerned with here, is the way/attitude that has been adopted towards the exercise and restraints pertaining to rights fundamental in nature. Whether the ‘saffron brigade’ decided to vandalize the art exhibition at Vadodara is of no concern to me at this juncture. What is disappointing however, is the towing of a similar line by the police, very much a State appendage. A lower Court in Rajasthan decides that a display of antics by Gere and Shetty amount to gross obscenity; are we witnessing a gradual recession in freedom within the freedom given to us? perhaps, a signal to society from State machinery and guardian institutions like the Judiciary that our rights, far from being absolute, are subject to the whims and fancies of morality of those vested with power?
Questions such as these need to be raised, answered and sensitized to the populace. Only then are we realizing our ideal of political participation in the world’s largest democracy.