Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Intolerance rears its ugly head

I keep hoping these stories will become less frequent, but they just don't: certain parties of the Indian polity appear preternaturally threatened by any divergence from what they presume is the norm, and they're willing to become violent to express their discontent.

Exhibit A: At a high-profile event to raise money for AIDS awareness, Richard Gere hammily kisses Shilpa Shetty on the cheek. News outlets, high on the scent of Bollywood/Hollywood celebrity, print the picture and replay the event ad infinitum.

Rather innocuous; he's not kissing her on the mouth, he's clearly showboating, and it's exactly the sort of overdramatic, I'm-a-hero blockbuster crap that should go unnoticed, or, at worst, ridiculed for being unnecessarily cheesy.

Not so in the delightful subconty; no, Gere is being harangued to tender an apology, people in Mumbai are burning effigies of Shetty (and, apparently in some cases, screaming "Death to Shilpa!"), the BJP insists that "Such a public display is not part of Indian tradition" (what about kisses in Bollywood movies, though?), and the Shiv Sena describes the event as "an attack on India's cultural ethos," and the involved parties are explaining that it was just, you know, a thing that happened, certainly not obscene or meant to harm anyone's sensibilities (on target, misguided, or otherwise)

Exhibit B: Members of the Hindu Rashtra Sena in Mumbai attacked the offices of Star News in protest over their coverage of a Muslim and Hindu girl eloping. An executive editor is injured; the property is damaged, and more than 40 cars are smashed with hammers and iron rods. While the news channel certainly may have "glorified the love story" (what channel doesn't exploit ANY story they see as capable of driving ratings?), I fail to see how this can be construed as "anti-national," as the Hindu Rashtra Sena claims.

There are certainly many people who think these reactions are insane, overwrought, and completely unnecessary, but the fact that the BJP is once again gaining political power (e.g., regaining a simple majority following the Municipal Corporation of Delhi elections earlier this year) is a bit unnerving when they appear to be tacitly (or explicitly) promoting a sort of close-minded provincialism.

I suppose what it comes down to for me is how flummoxingly protectionist people can be about a culture that is persistent, resilient, and vibrant as India's, while at the same time boasting about how strong India is, how it will become the world's next superpower, &c. It seems like simple logic that if India is to influence hundreds of countries across the globe, it will have to witness some things that are a bit "foreign" to its storied history, as well. It happens in the U.S. as well, lest we overlook examples such as (successful) attempts to legislate about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. Am I being too optimistic, assuming that eventually people will come to their senses and acknowledge that, although it might not be the path one individual might choose, another individual still has the right to live his or her life as he or she chooses, sloppy kisses and all?

1 comment:

John34 said...

I agree that it is "Much Ado About Nothing"! Although I am wondering if from the the reaction of the BJP if it is not a bit racist on their part. It certainly is Nationalistic! Would the reaction be the same if Richard Gere were Indian?