Sunday, July 15, 2007

Artistic Freedom: No right to offend

A cross hanging on the wall with human palms hanging out dead on the upper ends and the toes emerging from the lower end giving the impression that someone – presumably Jesus Christ – is buried within the body of the cross though the head is not visible suggesting a complete cross-burial. The cross is a solid whole with several human figures painted on it in vibrant colours. A toilet commode is kept underneath the cross. Now, that’s really offensive. The description in words here is far less offending that what one sees. I am not a Christian, and if this creation by Chandramohan could offend me, it definitely would be far more offending to the Christians. The vandalism unleashed on Chandramohan and his art is certainly indefensible, but then it is an emotional reaction to provocation by those who are less tolerant of art and its ends. Chandramohan was, later, arrested by the police for hurting religious feelings. The champions of artistic freedoms like Nandita Das have called it a case of ‘moral policing’, which it clearly is not. Moral policing would be when a group of people or policemen themselves take upon themselves to enforce what they consider to be morally right. For instance, they might start using brute force against couples sitting in parks. That would be ‘moral policing’, while the Chandramohan instance is simply a case of freedom of speech and expression in headlong collision with the freedom of religion. And both of these are inviolable fundamental rights. Both of these rights have to be given harmonious construction as well as harmonious enforcement. At the same time, they also have to be prevented from encroaching upon the domains of each other. While right to freedom of speech and expression with regard to artistic freedom happens to be individual, right to religion is collective in nature. Therefore, if the religious feelings of a great number of people are hurt by the creative expression of one person, the right to expression has to necessarily yield to the right to religion, but only, and only when the two cannot be reconciled by any means.
In case of Chandramohan, it is Hindu and Christian mythological imagery that the fellow used to put his point across, whatever that may be. Now, if he intended to hurt religious feelings, his right to freedom has to give way to the right to religion. He made the painting that he intended to make, and he should have known that his depiction of the Hindu gods and goddesses in their questionably naked form was very much likely to offend the Hindus. So, this knowledge makes him guilty unless it could be shown that he indulged in high artistic pursuit that did not leave him with any other option but to portray the gods the way he did. In short, the point he wished to make could not have been as effectively made otherwise. When, say, Hindu mythological figures are used, the intention quite clearly is to communicate to the people belonging to that particular community primarily. And art not only entertains and amuses but also provokes, questions and initiates debates. That is permissible even if the debates relate to religious practices or notions. What is not permissible is offending the religious feelings and taking the defence of ‘art for art’s sake’. The defence is not available when it comes to someone’s religious feelings because it is permitted for art to anger, sadden and provoke thought but not to hurt one’s deeply held religious beliefs because that would be stretching the artistic license a bit too far.
Time and again, the ancient Indian erotic writings and sculptures – like Kamasutra and Khajuraho – are pressed in defence of art and we are told that our forefathers did not mind it, why are we taking offence of such things? Well, our forefathers walked around in their birthday suits, too. They wore leaves and may be some of them lived on trees and survived on bananas. So, shall we, too? The neo-liberals, so to speak, argue that nudity and eroticism has been a part of Indian culture. So, it is prudish for us to feel offended now. Societies change and so do their values, and that’s perfectly all right. What was acceptable then may not be acceptable now, and this position is perfectly acceptable. Even if we as a society have become more conservative now, we have every right to be that way. We were conservative then in many respects, and if we are conservative regarding other things now, it is the way civilization evolves. The values prevalent then governed the society then, our values of the day govern things today. There cannot be a selective application of past value system and attitudes. The argument that we are more conservative now is, therefore, absolutely pointless. If we are, so be it.
Now, if Chandramohan’s intention was to express in order to communicate, he should have taken a non-offensive approach, and if he wished only to offend, he is clearly guilty of deliberately hurting the religious feelings of at least two communities. There is no morality involved here.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Saddam’s Execution: International Law is no Law

Everyone has to die one day; Saddam, too, had to, and did. There are few whose lives left a mark on those who lived after them, but fewer are the ones whose life and death were equally significant. Saddam was one such fellow. Perhaps, he did not deserve such a glorious death as he was given by those who hated him the most. He lived a king’s life in palaces that had its bathroom fitted with gold taps, and, more significantly, by dying with unflinching defiance, he also managed to embrace death like a brave king. Those who took away his thrown and his crown in life gave him the undeniable crown of martyrdom. If he were such a monster as the US would have us believe he was, he certainly did not deserve such a grand death. This, too, was the result of yet another of Mr. Bush’s expensive miscalculations. How expensive it is really going to be is still out of sight. However, what is clearly visible is the absence of any Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and the fact that Saddam had no link whatsoever with Osama or Al Quaida. The fact was known to Bush administration much before the trial even began. So, the very reasons Bush said he had to attack Iraq were found baseless. Once it was found, the right thing to do was pack the bags and get out of the country. But Bush did not do so. Why? Isn’t it so obvious? He had his agenda clearly laid out much before he actually invaded Iraq.

Today, we have every reason to suspect that Bush knew it all the while that Iraq had no WMDs, neither did it have any links with Al Quaeda or Osama. He attacked Iraq because he wanted to effect a regime change there. The reasons for such an action could be entirely political or entirely economical or a mix of the two. It appears more likely now that Bush hoodwinked the world on Iraq issue and pursued his own agenda. The attack on Iraq was illegal and so was Saddam’s trial and execution. Isn’t Bush guilty of the same war crimes that Saddam Hussein has been executed for? Quite clearly, he is. The biggest question is, who is going to put Mr. Bush on trial?

Now those professors of law who argue that International Law is ‘law’ in the real sense must either concede that it is not or should answer why, and, more importantly, how would Bush be put on trial. Well, International Law may or may not be law, but it goes without saying that it has no viable backing and a law without a stick backing it, is left wanting in one fundamental respect – legitimate coercion. Any powerful nation can take the International Law for a ride and there is no viable machinery to check it. United States’ illegitimate occupation of Iraq proves it beyond question. It is high time the world sat up, took note of the situation and did something worthwhile about it. Having said that, I do not see a glimmer of hope that this could be done in a long time to come.

Saddam Dead, US Guilty of First-Degree Murder

So, the Americans’ monster has been buried for good, and his monstrosity has been brought to a ‘just’ end. Now, the Americans can wrap themselves up in the cozy blanket of Saddam’s execution and ‘live happily ever after’. That’s how they wanted it to be, but, sadly, it’s not going to be that way. The US has persistently refused to learn from the past mistakes, and has never paid heed to what others had to say. It has had the tendency to lean on its own rather questionable wisdom despite an overwhelming load of contrary opinions. Drunk on power and ambitious to build its influence to unprecedented heights, the US pursued its unwise foreign policy to dangerous limits, and paid for it with a September 11.

Saddam’s execution is another feather in the blood-red American cap. This might not make Bush perspire, but would certainly make things uncomfortable for the US. Saddam’s execution has ensured that the future of the world’s most powerful nation is deep crimson. The dictator’s execution was entirely illegal and was in brazen contravention of the international law. The right to punish the dictator, if at all, was the prerogative of the Iraqis, and the Iraqis alone, no other authority was legally punished the fellow. And if he was to be punished by an international court, it was to be done following the procedure established by the international law. In this case, it was a sham procedure followed by an illegitimate court, whose judges were arbitrarily removed to suit the fancy of the occupants, and the verdict was a rush to a prearranged conclusion. This means that the entire process was devoid of legitimacy at all stages.

No matter how grave the dictator’s crimes, he deserved a fair trial. A fair trial is not actually in the interest of the one tried but the one who tried because if the trial is not fair, the legitimacy of the trial itself is eroded, which makes the tried a martyr and the court a monster. Fair trial, therefore, not as much a prisoner’s defence as that of the prosecutor and the court. The court that sentenced Saddam lacked legitimacy on all counts. The US, therefore, is guilty of first-degree murder.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Saddam Hussein’s Execution: Gross Miscarriage of Justice

Saddam Hussein has finally been sentenced to death. Quite surely that was the way it was meant to be right from the inception of his trial. He had everything that made him a convincing villain. He was dictator, who was looked upon as someone who shed the blood of his own countrymen with impunity. And there was no one to stop him. Then, what happened? Well, the US found an excuse to bomb Iraq, to put it as simply as it actually is. Ask the US, why it went on with its onslaught against this little nation? Not so long ago, the reply would come right away -- Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The Americans were fooled into believing that Iraq actually housed such deadly weapons and was connected -- howsoever remotely -- to the WTC bombing. As it turned out to be, Iraq had nothing to do with the WTC attack, neither were any WMDs found in the country. So, what was the war about? Was it about the US on WTC-vendetta?

And then came the trial of the dictator. Saddam Hussein was tried not by any independent court of law, but by a puppet body that played in the hands of the US. Judges were changed at will, defense lawyers were slain and the entire proceeding was seen as a mockery of law and justice. At the end of the day, Saddam was handed down a much expected death sentence.

Countries have reacted to the verdict with caution. However, none other than the close allies of the US has expressed satisfaction at the way the trial was conducted.

The trial lacked the faith of the people. Ends of justice were surely not served. The whole exercise was illegal right from the beginning because the US had no right to conduct such a trial. Only and impartial international law court, like International Criminal Court (ICC), could have legally tried Saddam on the charges pressed against him. So, the trial was invalid and if Saddam is executed, it would be gross miscarriage of justice because every accused has an inviolable right to a fair trial. And since the trial was illegal, the execution would be plain murder.

The US must wake up before it is too late.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sealing Drive and Shameless Government

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been assuring time and again -- the latest being on November 16, 2006 -- that all possible measure will be taken to bring 'relief' to the traders. The assurance was given to a delegation led by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit herself. It is no hidden secret that Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has been up in arms with the traders on the issue of ongoing sealing of illegal commercial premises.

Interestingly, the government is with the traders who are all out to defend the structures that are indefensibly illegal. First the government let the traders violate the law and now it is swearing allegiance with the violators. Those entrusted with law enforcement are defending the violation of the law even in face of the highest court of the land having pronounced the structures illegal.

These people do not perform their jobs and when the judiciary goes out to correct their mistakes, they try their best to throw the spanner in the works. Can there be anything more shameful than that?