Even if we don’t agree with what a writer writes or a filmmaker makes, we are here to defend their right to express it, MA Baby proclaims loudly and clearly at a protest gathering organised to support writer S Hareesh, who had to withdraw his novel Meesha, which was being published as a series in a magazine, following threats from Hinduvta groups.
Baby, a politburo member of the CPI(M), speaks at the venue of the ongoing International Documentary and Short Film Festival in Thiruvananthapuram on a stage that hosts many known faces – renowned documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, filmmaker Kavitha Lankesh, director and chairman of the Kerala Chalachitra Academy Kamal, vice chairman of the academy Bina Paul, director Dr Biju, director Sibi Malayil, actor Sajitha Madathil and poet Anwar Ali, among others.
"We know that the revolver that took away the life of Gandhi is still in your hands...and the revolver came from the land of Mussolini," Baby says.
He recalls Nirmalyam, a film made by veteran writer MT Vasudevan Nair, where the main character spits on an idol of god.
"What would have happened if MT was compelled to make that film today?" Baby asks.
(MA Baby addresses the protest gathering)
We have to rescreen those films today, he says and goes on recall another work of art – the poem Chinthavishtayaya Sita (Thinking Sita). "They" would not like that, he says, because women are not expected to think, only to obey.
As if on cue, Kavitha Lankesh, Gauri Lankesh’s sister, speaks next. When her dad P Lankesh or UR Ananthamurthy wrote anti-Brahmanical writings, there were of course differences of opinion but no one protested or threatened to kill the writers.
For that matter, writers like MT Vasudevan Nair or Kamala Das, too, wrote freely. "But the last few years the intolerance levels have simply gone up. Even Pansare's daughter and my good friend Prakash Raj who began speaking against the Hindutva are now on the hit list. They said it is fringe elements that killed Gauri. But that's no longer true. It's become the majority," she says.
If it was Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri yesterday and if it is Hareesh, Agnivesh and Prabha Varma today, Baby says: it could be "you or me tomorrow".
Anand Patwardhan reiterates Baby's words on right to expression.
The true test of freedom of expression does not come when you approve a work of art that you agree with, he feels. It comes when you approve one that you don't agree with. He appeals to Hareesh to not stop writing.
"If the right wing is attacking you, you are doing something right," Anand says. But the Left government should fight every such attack on those who criticise religion. "We should have fought for Taslima Nasrin too."
(Protest gathering at the IDSFFK venue)
Kamal says that everyone here has the same thoughts of solidarity for Hareesh. And Anwar Ali reads out a poem called Kaattu.
The meeting ends with a shouting of slogans of 'Down with fascism'.
After the meeting is over, a few people gather to speak about the ongoing controversy over the reinstatement of Dileep, an actor accused of rape of a woman actor, into the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA). There are words of solidarity for the assaulted actor and placards of 'Avalkoppam' or 'With Her' are raised high.