In her press conference, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa, made three interesting points.
1) “Protection of law and order is my first priority”
The law, for the record, is clearly on the side of freedom of expression. Case after case before various courts, including the Supreme Court, has seen ruling in favour of creative freedom.
It is precisely because cinema is a reflection of our society that good cinema is held in such universal esteem and even bad cinema is considered to be symbolic of some parts of our culture.
But inevitably when you comment on society, some parts will have objections.
This is why the law, and our Constitution, protects cinema from those who feel offended by it, so that their offence may not deny the rest of us our right.
Law in not made on the street by mobs and petrol bombs. Law is not made by whoever is willing to go on the largest riot. Law is also not made fearing reprisals.
The law does not stand behind banning a film because someone threatened to riot over it. The law says the Government must take responsibility to defend free expression against those trying to suppress it.
So much for the law, what about order?
The CM claimed that incidents took place all day when the ban on the film was briefly lifted. She said that she did not have the manpower to defend all 500 theatres in Tamil Nadu.
She implied that anarchy would break out in Tamil Nadu if the film were shown.
What does that mean?
Are all Muslims in Tamil Nadu anarchists and rioters, therefore any threat made by any Muslim organisation must be taken with the seriousness of a declaration of war?
Is the state machinery so shoddy that it can neither defend an artist’s freedom of expression nor uphold the people’s right to be entertained peacefully?
Are people in Tamil Nadu such children that they should only be allowed to watch things that have no connection to reality and require no thought what so ever? Should people henceforth only watch Disney cartoons?
Or is her government so weak that just a few groups can so easily pressure it into banning anything and everything?
This is only a sign of disorder. Only in a disordered country or a disordered state does mob rule work, where laws are enforced the sake of the few, instead of being used to protect the many.
2) “These are not fringe elements but represent around 7-8 lakh people.”
There are 7.21 crore people residing in the state of Tamil Nadu. 7 lakh is one percent.
On an all India scale this figure gets even more ridiculous. There are roughly 20 to 23 crore Muslims in India. 7 lakh amongst that boils the figure down to less than one percent.
A small section of the people will always be against something. So, do we ban it all?
No victorious party has ever won 99% of the votes cast in a state or national election. And yet successive governments always claim to be responsible for governing the state.
Why is the party that commands 1% of the electorate not calling the shots in the Legislature?
However finely you slice this cake, the truth is that the overwhelming majority of Indians, the majority of Muslims, the majority of cinema buffs, the majority of
Kamal Hassan fans and the majority of Tamils had no problem with this film.
Those who oppose it are practically the very definition of fringe.
3) “My government is not against freedom of expression”
In this entire issue the only state resource or law the government has used is its power to ban. That and the enforcement of section 144 – the thuggish curfew law. Both laws are specifically designed to curtail freedom of expression.
We need our governments to defend our rights and our freedoms. The state police is supposed to defend us, there are a host of laws that are supposed to defend us, the government we elect is supposed to be ‘our” government.
And yet at every stage, none of these have worked for “us”.
Freedom of expression – any freedom really – must be defended from those who seek to curtail it..
If you stand by silently or use state machinery to help those seeking to suppress it while actively denying the same help and support to those who are fighting for it – you don’t have to “be against freedom of expression”, you are merely helping it die.
All of which takes me back to my original point – whose laws are being enforced? What order is being imposed? Whose freedom is the state defending?
The truth is that none of this insanity was necessary. The state should never have gotten involved in the issue at all.
Are these groups such extremists that they film posed a threat to someone’s life? If they are then this sort of coddling that the state is doing will only increase their aggression, making them bolder the next time.
If they are peaceful protestors who just wanted a re-look at the final cut of the film, then they would have tried to reach an agreement with Kamal Haasan and state interference was unnecessary.
If they are people who had a problem with the film and Kamal Haasan refused to make any further cuts than the ones recommended by the Censor Board of India, then they should protest outside theatres if they want, boycott the film and Kamal Haasan and give speeches. THAT IS ALL.
Instead they went to the state government and complained. The state government, for whatever reason, not only paid them heed to them but used state machinery to enforce their will upon the rest of us.
And now we get press conferences filled with excuses and statements.
Yes, everything you do will become necessary when you create the situation where everything you do is necessary.
I am tired of this unending circle. First people protest. Then politicians use those protests to suppress my rights for their political games.
Then, like the thief who gives you back five rupees bus charge after robbing you; politicians give press conferences explaining why they had to suppress my right and why they will continue to do so forever and ever.
When will it end?