There is a common pattern here, one which is rooted in our gross misunderstanding of society, law and the role of the state.

Protest against Simbu and Vijayakanth but police complaints are farcical
news Opinion Tuesday, December 29, 2015 - 13:33

On December 12, as Chennai was recovering from its deluge, another storm hit the city in the form of actor Silambarasan’s controversial (and leaked) ‘beep song’. The song was, to put it mildly, crass. The controversial words were beeped-out but one would need little imagination to guess what those words were, which further pointed out a strong undercurrent of misogyny in it. 

Activists, journalists and women groups protested strongly. Effigies were burnt, posters were torn and opinion pieces written condemning the cheap lyrics. Following this, police complaints were filed against Simbu. The police summoned him and by then, a fearful and paranoid Simbu who had been defending himself by saying that the song was actually leak and not meant for public consumption, decided to abscond. The police have sounded out alerts at airports to make sure he does not escape for his heinous crime. The controversy even boiled over in to Nadigar Sangam politics, with Radhika and Vishal fighting each other in the open.

Cut to December 27. When a TV news reporter asked an agitated Vijayakanth a simple political questions, Captain responded with a resonating “thoo”, accusing the media of bias against Jayalalithaa. Media outrage followed, with senior editors condemning this act of Vijayakanth and for disrespecting media. Journalists’ associations protested and issued press releases. And now, a police complaint has been filed by journalists and political opponents from the AIADMK against Vijayakanth. The Chennai police have since registered a case and it is now a matter of time before he is issued summons.

There is a common pattern here, one which is rooted in our gross misunderstanding of society, law and the role of the state. Add to it the proclivity of Tamil Nadu’s activists groups and political parties to file police cases for even the most mundane of blunders.

Every time an individual or group says or does something which is not acceptable to someone else, people are out on the streets holding banners and shouting slogans. A customary police complaint is filed, which makes for great media theatrics. Media sensationalises the issue, and primetime debates are held. Depending on the political atmosphere in the state, the police will decide on whether it will act on the complaint. If the target is lucky, he or she would get away with an enquiry. If not, as they would say in common Tamil parlance to refer to jail time – kanji daan.

Why do we think that it is right to use the state to target someone with who we have (valid) disagreements? It is correct to state that Simbu’s song was crass, misogynistic and undesirable. Vijaykanth thoo-ing a reporter on camera cannot be justified in any way. But was it illegal? Should it be illegal? And what makes us think that police action is required in such issues? Should we not be instead protesting the state’s intervention in such issues?

The reason why a women’s group or a journalists’ association immediately files police complaints is because of two underlying beliefs – that the state’s intervention is required in every public issue, and that it is the state which will make people fearful and give them the deserved ‘treatment’. The former is an ideological issue, and the latter is an illustration of our mindset for vengeance. This not only betrays a mindset of over-dependence on the state, but the lack of faith in society to reform itself.

As much we protest Simbu and Vijayakanth, we should know that there is a strong line between acts which are wrong and those that are illegal. What Vijayakanth and Simbu said firmly fall into the ambit of freedom of speech, and all those who rightly protested them must protest the state’s aggression too.  As the famous quote goes, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.”

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