13/04/2015 8:08 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Why Every Right Thinking Indian Must Stand By Shobhaa De

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'A male face with a taped mouth and a red cross on it symbolizing censorship.Censorship is all around.Freedom of speech is the political right to communicate one's opinions and ideas via speech. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, as with libel, slander, obscenity, copyright violation and incitement to commit a crime.'

In their ongoing efforts to take the state of Maharashtra back to the Ice Ages, Fadnavis & Co. issued yet another diktat: Multiplexes must compulsorily screen one Marathi film during the primetime slots.

Shobhaa De responded to this fascist decree in her usual jocular style, well known to those who follow her online commentary on social issues:


If the State's attempt to foist their dictatorial whims on businesses seems undemocratic (and at odds with free market economics), its high-handed manner in dealing with dissent and any form of criticism has become outright Stalinist. A legislature has now called for a privilege motion against De in the State Assembly. While I type this, hooligans ("party workers") from the Shiv Sena (part of the state's coalition government) have gathered outside De's home. The Mumbai Police has set up barricades around the house, anticipating the morcha to take a violent turn as it often does when the Sena is out on the streets.

So vernacular movies and street food are now on the long list of "sentimental items" that have been granted State protection from jest and caricature. The vada pav is now as sacrosanct as our gods and dead shamans. Its fragile flavour must be protected from insults. Thank heavens the draconian 66A was repealed just in time. Or else some overzealous culture warrior would have dragged De to court already.

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The right to criticise our lawmakers on public forums is the keystone of democracy. Take that away and the whole institution of freedom shall crumble to the ground. We are increasingly becoming a society wherein criticism of the establishment is almost being treated as an act of treason. That's a very dangerous trend. Not long ago this same political party hounded a couple of teenagers for their innocuous Facebook comments.

If mocking the establishment's infantile gimmick provokes such repercussions, imagine what will happen to dissenters who criticise its policies on more serious issues such as net-neutrality, spectrum allotment and offshore drilling rights; all of which involve Goliath corporates and no less than a few hundred crores in grease payments. If our lawmakers react so strongly to a socialite's tweet, what prayer do whistle-blowers and critics of sensitive national issues have?

Whether you agree with De's views or not is immaterial. You may be a proud ethnocentric Maharashtrian who believes vernacular culture ought to be promoted, or you may be a yuppie multi-cultural all-embracing hippy. If you value your freedom and the principles on which the largest democracy in the world was founded, today is the day you must speak up for De and stand by her.

In the words of Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me-- and there was no one left to speak for me.

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