Updated: March 6, 2015 12:00:40 am
The Narendra Modi government has lived up to its promise of being the best formation to set the economy right. Even the RBI has applauded the economic thrust of the Union budget by cutting the repo rate by 25 basis points. But on several social issues, the government has faltered and, according to several experts, this was one of the major reasons why the BJP got thrashed in the Delhi elections.
However, on one important social issue — women’s empowerment — Modi’s record has been outstanding. His appointment of several women in the cabinet has been noteworthy, though one can, and one should, complain about the incompetence of some of these ministers — just as one should complain about the incompetence of some of the male ministers. Most remarkable, however, was Modi’s frank assessment of India’s record in killing unborn girls. In his Independence Day speech, Modi announced to India, and the whole world, our shameful record on female foeticide, and our shocking discrimination against women. His goal was to revolutionise and change the feudal mindset of the Indian public, and especially that of the Indian male.
Given this background, it has been nothing short of pathetic to watch BJP spokespersons writhe and contort under the yoke of defending the indefensible. The BBC made a documentary on the Delhi gang-rape of 2012 — the rape that shocked the world in its brutality. The BBC received permission from all the authorities involved to film an interviews with one of the rapists. The documentary is about the sick mentality prevalent among males in all societies. From one’s understanding (along with the BJP Ban Brigade, I haven’t yet seen the film), the documentary is an honest look at the mind and mindset of one of the convicted rapists of the young woman — Mukesh. How can anyone, least of all a responsible government, object to the screening of the interviews?
Once Home Minister Rajnath Singh made the decision to ban the film, the BJP posted its women leaders (Shaina N.C. and Meenakshi Lekhi) to defend the urge to ban. Curious — just asking — did the BJP think that their male representatives were incompetent to advocate and defend the ban on a movie about rape? However, it is highly unlikely that the men could have done worse. Here are the arguments presented by the BJP’s women leaders defending the ban.
Shaina NC: “We should respect the wishes of the parents of the rape victim.” If she had got her facts right, she would have known that both parents of the victim were strenuously arguing for the documentary to be shown. Indeed in an “illegal” (?) peek at the documentary shown last night by the BBC, the very first acknowledgement is to the victim’s parents.
Meenakshi Lekhi: She thankfully avoided the error of “parents will be upset”, but fell into several other traps, many of her own making. For example, she argued that all that the BJP was doing was conveying the “sense” of Parliament. Even though Parliament might have shouted approval of the ban, Lekhi should have reminded herself, and viewers, that Parliament is not above making mistakes — unless the BJP now thinks that the Emergency was all right because it was approved by Parliament.
But Lekhi dug herself deeper into the mess of illogical and factual errors — mistakes first made by Rajnath Singh. She claimed that the filmmakers had violated the law by filming without permission — they hadn’t. She claimed they had not shown the uncut film to the Tihar jail authorities — they had. And, somewhat shockingly, she argued that the screening of the film would affect tourism and should therefore be banned. Some might legitimately argue that the RSS’s thinking affects tourism — so should the RSS be banned?
The simple conclusion is that the BJP jumped into the ban advocacy without looking at either the facts or, more importantly, the merits of the case. There are three major things wrong with this ban. First, if you are concerned about male violence against women, as you should be, you should make sure the film is shown, regardless of legal technicalities. (If the government still wants to ban the film, it should re-read Modi’s Independence Day speech.) Second, it is legally wrong to oppose the screening of the film after giving it legal approval and after the documentary-makers have fulfilled all legal commitments. Third, in this day and age, by arguing for a ban on a film that can easily be shown and seen on YouTube (even if you try to police that space), you are revealing to the world that you just don’t get it. Worse, you are stating, in a very public fashion, that you care more about false and fake national honour than the wellbeing and respect of women. H ow difficult is it to understand or appreciate that respect for women in all dimensions (reduction of foeticide, rape, domestic violence, etc) will do much more to preserve and elevate national honour than crude attempts to ban the screening of an unfortunate reality?
Unfortunately, and this is worrisome, the instinctive urge to ban (rather than think) is most prevalent in the newly BJP minted state of Maharashtra. This state has a young chief minister from whose youth we expected some modernity, if not progressivity, not the kind of regressive policies followed by Devendra Fadnavis’s government in banning of comedy shows and extending the existing ban on cow slaughter to the slaughter of bulls as well. What is it with young chief ministers in India, regardless of political persuasion, that they are so backward — for example, Akhilesh Yadav, Fadnavis and Arvind Kejriwal? Oof, bring back the old, ring out the new.
Regarding the extension of the cow slaughter ban to bulls (male cows), can someone please explain to me why cow slaughter is banned, but not the slaughter of buffaloes? Both give milk and, in that sense, both are “holy” or mother-like. Is there an implicit “racist” bias here, given that the buffaloes are mostly black and cows mostly white? Or is it the case that the cow is socialist and therefore fits in with the Preamble of our modified Constitution, and the buffalo is part of a capitalist disorder?
There is a larger disease at work in India — it is the urge to ban anything that the “powerful” do not like. It is wrong to ban the screening of India’s Daughter, just as it is wrong to ban cow slaughter. And just as equally wrong to ban extremist political organisations like the RSS, unless they violate the law.
Bhalla is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory firm, and a senior advisor to Zyfin, a leading financial information company. Heis co-author, with Ankur Choudhary, of the book ‘Criconomics: Everything you wanted to know about ODI cricket and More’
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