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The State is trying to create a monoculture: Anand Patwardhan 


English: Indian Documentary Film Director Anan...

English: Indian Documentary Film Director Anand Patwardhan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These are difficult times to be a rationalist. To be a writer. To be a dissenter. To be different from the mainstream narrative being played out across India.

ASAD ALI@asadali1989


Around the country, small but significant encroachments are being made on our public and private freedoms. The freedom to eat what we choose. Watch what we choose. Read what we choose.

Bans. Cancellations. Disruptions. They’ve become the norm in our public life. But in recent months, we’ve gone further.

Mohd Akhlaq lost his life over the suspicion that he had eaten beef. Kalburgi lost his life for his views on idol worship.

Today, we will kill because we are offended.

Two days ago, Nayantara Sahgal made a statement announcing her decision to return her Sahitya Akademi Award. She was protesting the brutal lynching of Mohd Akhlaq and the silence of the prime minister. Others, including writers Uday Prakash and Ashok Vajpeyi have done the same.

We reached out to a cross section of public figures to talk to them about freedom, dissent, and the ever-more urgent role of cultural icons in public life.

Anand Patwardhan is no stranger to controversy. A veteran documentary filmmaker and vocal critic of Hindutva politics, he has received the National Award for Ram Ke Naam, among others, and is no stranger to either censorship or the ire of political factions.

Edited transcripts from an interview:

AA: Do you think gestures like Nayantara’s and Uday Prakash’s hold any meaning or change the narrative in any way?
AP: This particular government is so shameless that no matter what people do, they won’t change course. Not only because they don’t want to but because they’re incapable of it.

They’re made up of strong fascist forces so I don’t expect them to change their stance anytime soon.

But the real battle is to win the hearts and minds of people. and there, for the Indian public, these actions do make a difference. When people of stature take a position and are willing to speak up, it’s good for society, and I’m glad this is happening.

AA: Perumal Murugan decided he would no longer publish his work, so disillusioned was he with the violent protests against his book. Do you feel that helps the cause of dissent or defeats it?

AP: I think he had a huge impact all over the world and certainly within the country. People understood what was going on, he’s a big voice against censorship. And he might say he’s dead as a writer but we don’t, the public won’t look at it like that. He’s very much alive and more people know about him now than before.

AA: Why does culture, and cultural conversation, so threaten governments and states around the world?

AP: Because the state is trying to create a monoculture. They believe in mono culture, they came to power based on that belief. you can see the effect it has had on everything, from the food you eat to what you read to the cinema you see. They’re constantly trying to impose their single chromatic vision. Which naturally makes them upset when they see colours other than theirs.

AA: In recent times, what has stood out for you as an important point of view that was unfairly suppressed?

AP: It’s happening all the time so it’s hard to pinpoint a single one.

It happened with Shubhradeep Chakravorty and his film En Dino Muzaffarnagar which he was trying to release. He applied to the Censor Board, which banned the film. He appealed to various authorities, fighting to get a release. He died last year, he wasn’t even 50, from the sheer trauma the Censor Board caused him.

His wife filed a case with the Delhi High Court which ordered the Censor Board to relook at the film. The Board subsequently asked for some minor changes that she complied with and re-submitted the film – but the Board hasn’t cleared it till date, they clearly don’t want to give it a certificate. She’s gone back to the Court now, to say their order hasn’t been followed. So it’s reached a stage when even the High Court order isn’t being followed by the Censor Board.

I took my film Jai Bheem Comrade, which won the National Award, to Doordarshan so it could be telelvised. After 2 years of sitting on it the previous government finally acquired the film.

But then the government changed and the Modi government came to power. Now they’re in a curious position where they’ve acquired the film and have paid me, but they aren’t showing it. So now I have to go back to court because they’re sitting on it and wasting public money!

My reason for going to DD was not to make money but to ensure the film is seen. But now I have to go to court to force the government to show a film they’ve already acquired but don’t want to show.

AA: How would you counter the growing, and vehement, opposition to dissent?

AP: By any means necessary. We have to fight in different ways. one way is by going to court. Sometimes you find good judges and the system works, but that’s not the only way. You can take to the streets to protest like many are doing now, more than ever before.

AA: Is there any fundamental difference between the oppressions of one regime from another?

AP: Yes I think there’s a big difference. The Congress did this during the emergency, 1975. It was very blatant and they cracked down on everything including, of course, the media. But people knew it was an official Emergency.

Now, though, a lot of people aren’t aware that censorship is happening on a major scale, and a large part of that censorship is done via free media – which really isn’t that free. Only a tiny spectrum of opinion filters through in mainstream media.

AA: Stand-up comedy, theatre, films, literature…. is there any aspect of culture you feel hasn’t been targeted yet?

AP: The only aspect that seems to be left untargeted is the terror activity of Hindutva and the saffron brigade. People are killed for their views, rationalists are murdered. and yet the media will focus for two months on a Sheena Bora, they won’t talk about a Kalburgi.

AA: Do you feel oppression of dissent can help the arts birth newer forms of protest – a forced improvisation of sorts?

AP: Yes, every form of oppression will be resisted, so there will always be other ways of expressing and disseminating dissent. Nobody can shut it off forever.

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