Thursday, February 2, 2012

C'mon Brand India, why can't we take a joke?

Popular TV show host, Jeremy Clarkson, well known for his role on the BBC TV show, Top Gear, left India fuming at his jokes, when he chided India for its scarce public toilet facilities. So hard did India react, that government officials filed a legal case against the television anchor for making an offending remark that supposedly hurt people’s sentiments. Leaving all crucial developmental work at hand, government officials approached the court for legal intervention and also demanded an apology from the anchor for making that unpalatable racist remark. Only if our officials had used the same energy to improve sanitary conditions in India and focussed on issues that are worth debating, a remark like this would have never been made in the first place.

Recently, the Government sued another prominent American television Anchor, Jay Leno, for portraying the holy shrine of the Sikhs, The Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple), as Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney’s vacation home. My question is, was this gag by Jay Leno offensive at all? In fact Jay Leno’s remark was a joke at the $250 million worth Mitt Romney, and it should be Mitt waging a war against Jay Leno, not India. And why are we taking these remarks so close to the heart. Just like India’s Constitution gives each one of us the freedom of speech and expression, America and the United Kingdom enjoy uniform Constitutional freedom. Why would a country which permits people to freely criticize their President left-right-and-centre, be any different to the rest of the world? In fact, in matters of freedom of speech, America walks the talk in the true sense. The freedom of speech and expression is fearlessly exercised by the people of the country, and as long as it does not threaten the national security of the country, public order, and morality, nobody really has the right to criminalise you in a democratic country.

Moreover, as made out to be, it is not the common man in India who is concerned or offended with remarks by these so-called eminent foreign celebrities. About 70% of India’s population is so busy making ends meet – both economically and socially - that they have no time to analyse what the rest of the world says or thinks about them. Rather, people who show deep disappointment and come knocking at the government’s door are Indians living overseas. Maybe the fear of being treated as outcast is what creates the anxiety. Additionally, extremists groups and fundamentalist in India wait for a chance to create brouhaha in the country, using occasions like these to get more visibility.

The recent Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF), the largest literary festival in Asia-Pacific, and the most prestigious celebration of national and international literature, banned eminent award winning author Salman Rushdie from attending this festival. One of Rushdie’s controversial books, The Satanic Verses, may have faced a ban in India since 1988, but that doesn’t allow authorities to prevent Salman from participating in events held in India. Ban the book, not the man! Protests outside the venue to stop Rushdie from visiting the fest or speaking through a video-conference is no reason for the oragnisers to cancel appointments with Salman Rushdie. In fact, looking at the fiasco at the JLF, the government should have intervened and taken control of the law and order situation, assuring the organisers of a safe and smooth program.

C’mon India, let’s not sit down grumpy and take things so seriously. Let’s learn to laugh at ourselves. And if there is someone poking a (not-so-funny) critical joke at us, we need to work towards that issue and try to resolve it. Of course, we might be battered with uncouth critics trying their best to pull us down. But who cares. Believe me it’s really-really tough to earn jealousy. So why waste our time trying to tape people’s mouth shut then.
Post script
As I’m writing, the Supreme Court of India ordered cancellations of 122 telecom licences in view of the corruption case against Telecom Minister, A. Raja, in the 2G spectrum legal inquiry. Well this has certainly left India no face to show in the global Telecom market. The verdict proclaiming the government responsible for corruption has stirred in the international market like fire. So much so that, a friend working in a telecom company overseas texted asking me what's really happening in India. So if tomorrow, someone somewhere mocks to highlight the corruption menace in India, we surely can't sue the person for poking fun at us right? Rather, we need to work on this issue of corruption, and try to resolve it before we the self-proclaimed largest democratic styled nation gets lost in the wilderness.

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