A fragmented nation

When a woman is groped, molested, harassed, raped or killed, it takes forever to file a FIR, to have the suspect arrested, tried in between long bail periods and then convicted. Ashis Nandy made a provocative observation about the prevalence of corruption in our society. He contrasted the ease with which upper castes escape punishment but SC/STs get noticed. He was being ironic. He did this in a public place and no one controverted him at the Jaipur Literary Festival.

Yet the alacrity with which an FIR was filed, Sanjoy Roy, one of the JLF organisers, was detained and Ashis called back to Jaipur tells you something about the way in which politics has divided and fragmented the citizenry of India. The most minor incidence of an imagined insult by any group leads to FIR and worse. Real crimes go unnoticed. It is a legacy of Mandal. Identities based on jati have proliferated and become vote banks. Minorities outside the Mandal net have been encouraged by this phenomenon to sharpen their own identities and seek redress for real or imagined insults.

Police know the clout of vote banks because their masters tell them to tread carefully when such identities galvanise themselves. Recall the Mumbai demo and the ensuing troubles last August in Azad Maidan. They were about the Kokrajhar riots where Bodos and Muslims fought each other for complex reasons. But at Azad Maidan, police women were assaulted by rioters, but as they are a solid vote bank, nothing was done. A police woman expressing her anger by writing a poem had to apologise. Violence against police women went unpunished. Freedom of expression was suppressed.

Kamal Hassan's new film Vishwaroopam was cleared by the censors but banned in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh merely on the threat of disruption from Muslim groups, many of whom would not have seen the film. The Chennai High Court approved of the film but then changed its mind. Kamal Hassan will have to recensor his film to please his detractors. Is this to happen in each State? Are we telling artists that the mob dictates what is allowed?

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