Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Nidhi Mahesh | The News Minute | January 14, 2015 | 4.334 pm IST In the past couple of days, all of us would agree (which will definitely not be the case if we are in a studio discussion) the buzz wors doing the rounds in media – broadcast, print or social have been Satire, Blasphemy, Politics, Religion and of course… Tolerance. This time not the nation, but perhaps the nation, even (maybe) universe wants to know is there something called absolute freedom? Satire Let’s begin with Satire. The dictionary meaning of the word goes like this “the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.” What is important to note is this further elaboration – “Satire, the general term, often emphasizes the weakness more than the weak person and usually implies moral judgment and corrective purpose”. However what passes as Satire in our everyday routine is neither the expose of folly or vice nor it is the weakness that is emphasized – quite the opposite actually! It is more often than not a person, or an institution or an establishment which is ridiculed than the inherent weakness – there is no exposing of folly with an intent at corrective purpose but rather to have a good laugh and fun at someone else’s cost! So all those who have been vociferously defending the right to expression and therefore right to offend, must take a pause, simply Google out the meaning of the word and then argue if freedom of expression and right to offend are one and same. When I think of satire, I think of satirical poetry : such as, Kabir’s Dohe – “Pathar puje Hari Mile, To main Pujoon Pahar!” (If one can find God in worshipping a stone, let me worship a mountain!) or “Kankar pathar jor ke maszid liyo banaye/ ta chhari mulla baang de, kya behra bhayo khuday?” (You cobble up a mosque with stones etc. and then a Maulavi shouts atop it for prayers, do you think the God is deaf?) or even Ghalib when he says – “Ghalib sharab peene de maszid mein baith kar, ya wohjagah bata de jahan per khuda nah ho!” (Let me drink in mosque or tell me a place where God is not present!). Even in those days taking the satire to public was not easy – take the example of P. B. Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy, that could not be published in his lifetime because the publishers "thought that the public at large had not become sufficiently discerning to do justice to the sincerity and kind-heartedness of the spirit that walked in this flaming robe of verse." The trouble today is while the public is yet to be discerning of a good satire, the level of satire has fallen much below the pretence of decency. Abuse, mud-slinging cock fights and derision of person than his / her follies is what goes as satire. No, wait…. before you bring out your daggers at me for saying this – let me humbly request you to leave France to its mercy now, and focus closer home to our news debates, media articles and if you still have the appetite – social media updates of our so called public figures. Look at the language used and how everyone sits on judgement and passes decrees against the “fundamentalists” who oppose freedom of speech. I learnt in the very first classes of Civics in school my freedom stops where yours begin and that freedom and duty are two sides of the same coin. Maybe, my teachers were not as enlightened or the meaning of these expressions has changed today! Tolerance Now, let’s decipher Tolerance before we discuss the volatile expressions of Politics and Religion. Tolerance, as per dictionary means:a) a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions, beliefs,and practices that differ from one's own. b) interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one's own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint. c) the act or capacity of enduring; endurance: My tolerance of noise is limited. Interestingly, of all these meanings the one that we see most commonly in practice is the last one – the capacity of endurance. And I must say, our capacity of endurance is certainly far below permissible endurance limits! Have you seen Facebook posts or comments on blogs / articles that are on contentious issues such as religious practices, political affiliations, cultural freedom etc? Have you noticed the abusive language used? Many a time I have reported quite a few comments as abusive (yes, some sites give you that option!) Leave aside these big ticket issues, even the issue of civic rights such as demand for better roads or streetlights from the local representatives is dragged down to a fight between locals and migrants (a term very loosely used – I am even finding it difficult to explain the term because the boundaries are so confined – anyone today can be a migrant – even if you move from one locality to another, forget about a state or a country!). Recently I was reading an article in Bangalore Mirror about demands of residents of Whitefield (a bustling locality in Bengaluru, home to large blue chip and IT companies) to improve facilities, which if not met, they would prefer managing their own affairs than staying within the civic authority of BBMP. Now this simple straight forward issue was hijacked by commentators to the article by making it a slugfest between Kannadigas and so called Migrants (hindi wallahs!) The language was so cheap and derogatory that it would not get past the censor for even a C grade masala movie! This was just one example of intolerance (err… tolerance). There are many more around us – pick up any post which debates Modi Vs. Kejriwal on Facebook, barring a few sane comments you would find everyone trying to abuse the other in the filthiest possible language. The issues are never discussed, we do not have patience for issue based discussions. I think “A” is right and if you do not agree then you are wrong – there is no tolerance of each other’s viewpoints. I am wondering if we were always as abusive and intolerant a race or is it this thing called social media which provides an unabashed platform for slugfest – that brings out the best (read worst) in us! Politics and Religion Now let’s jump right into the fire with the discussion on Politics and Religion. As a student of political theory I understand this has been a contentious issue right from the date the state came into being. Political philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato or Jean-Jacques Rousseau went on debating the role of politics in religion and vice versa, but for all I remember of my three year course – till the last chapters were taught, the issues – let’s say – remained complicated. All I could understand that both religion and politics are married for the reasons of forming and running the state and almost always this is a marriage of convenience with its fair share of misgivings and mutual animosities. But the trouble is this marriage till date has not been brought in a divorce court. Interestingly, Rousseau had mentioned three kinds of religion in his celebrated work of Social Contract theory – “a personal religion linking the individual to God but suggests that by itself, it will hurt the state. Second, he says there is the "religion of the citizen," which is the official religion of the state, complete with dogmas and ceremonies, which also corrupts religion, by replacing true, sincere worship with official, dogmatic ceremony. Third, there is the kind of religion that in trying to set up two competing sets of laws--one civil and one religious--creates all sorts of contradictions that prevent the proper exercise of any kind of law.” And it is the third kind of religion that we see in practice today – which is neither personal nor of state but one of subjugation and intolerance! The kind of religious fanaticism that we see today is probably born of the belief that the blind faith in a particular sect can only be safeguarded if it is tyrannically imposed. Just as Aristotle said “[the tyrant] must be seen always to be exceptionally zealous as regards religious observances (for people are less afraid of suffering any illegal treatment from men of this sort, if they think that their ruler has religious scruples and pays regard to the gods, and also they plot against him less, thinking that he has even the gods as allies),” [Aristotle, Politics Book 5, chapter 11, 1314b-1315a] Seen through these classical lenses the relationship between religion and politics is clearly one that is defined by state power, which holds true even today. The difference however is the unscrupulousness with which this power is exercised. There is pride in use of religion for political goals and goading hooliganism in the name of A god or B god is more a political turf war. It is like humans are pawns in the fight for political power with the king being politics and wazir being religion. Doesn’t matter who checkmates whom, its common people like you and me who become collateral damage. However, if you listen to discussions on politics and religion in media, social or otherwise, all the buzz words that we discussed earlier will come right back, with a vengeance. Studio anchors will be shouting their lungs out (maybe, they are not quite sure of the quality of their microphones) and guests… err, the panellists will keep fighting for their 10 seconds of glory – getting snubbed, even abused and insulted in the process – in all this cacophony we will only hear the words being flung at each other and of course at us, the hapless viewer. But from the beginning till the next and the next and the next and the next episodes, we will be clueless of the discourse, for those debating tolerance, forgot to carry the substance to the studios (or discussion boards, or tweets or wherever…) Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same. Tweet

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