Looking beyond the immediate consequences of the Vishwaroopam ban A social commentary
Before we go any further, let us understand one thing and it is that the excuse being used to ban Vishwaroopam is that the movie will influence the public perception of Muslims.
This could not be any further from the truth as the public's perception of Muslims is already well established. Good or bad, people have very strong opinions about the Muslim community based on actual and frequent enough events from the recent past.
A movie about an Afghani Muslim terrorist is not going to change the public's perception one bit. This is a fact that is probably well understood by most if not all Muslim leaders despite their denial orrefusal to accept the same.
The strong arming of the Tamil Nadu Government by the TMMK to ban Vishwaroopam, essentially destroying its box office potential in its home market, raises some serious concerns about the state of political pandering and its implications on the social fabric of our country.
What we have recently witnessed is a demonstration of extremist, and as Kamal Hassan succinctly put it, "cultural terrorists", touting their emboldened stand on things they consider anti Islam. Also, this is not an isolated incident and follows the recent American consulate mobbing and the Thuppaki film controversy, both in Tamil Nadu.
The reaction of the Tamil Nadu government and the immediate repercussions in Andhra, and Karnataka send out a clear message to other extremist factions, that Muslims in Tamil Nadu (at least) are beneficiaries of the 'strong horse' effect by virtue of the pandering.
They are entitled to special privileges and legal immunities that no other community enjoys and are therefore fully incentivised both socially and materiallyto continue pursuing their rhetoric.
The real issue here is the fact that this entire episode could be considered a big win for the proponents of such blackmail (that is exactly what this is) and will now embolden them to preach their gospel of threats.
If their influence spreads further, we will soon be hearing about bans on books covering anything perceived as offensive, and possibly even the news. News channels and even newspapers, while recovering the entire Owaisi hate speech scandal, steered clear of actually mentioning the name of the communities he was speaking against.
Self-censorship has already begun whether it is fear or timidity and political correctness, there are very serious consequences to this.
While such actions may stop the public from making any comments or art that may offend Muslim sensibilities, it will certainly not stop them from further avoiding Muslims, however moderate they may be.
A very real evidence of the fact is that several major cities now have fully developed 'ghettos', or segregated areas where the Muslim population lives in and are essentially 'stay away' zones for the general public. There are various studies that are already showing clear signs of the strengthening of existing social stereotypes and the erosion of cross-cultural interaction.
A measurable consequence of this unfortunate reality is the fact that over 37 percent of the Indian populace believe that Muslims need to be disenfranchised (this is a 2001 number and I suspect that it is probably worse today). Modi'sparty did not field a single Muslim candidate this year despite them being the largest minority in the state, constituting one-tenth of its population and his success at the polls may soon result in other parties following suit with a similar elimination of Muslim representation.
India is still a democracy and therein lays the greatest threat to extremists and moderates alike. In a democracy, popular opinion needs to be considered the right opinion. If there comes a day when enough people demand this disenfranchisement, it will happen.
The government's pandering to these votes while not actually trying to reintegrate them into mainstream society will only result in further social isolation that would directly result in the further reduction of economic and educational opportunities that the Muslim community should be entitled to.
A community that will suddenly sprout various breeding grounds for extremists offering promises of power and domination through violence and force.Every new unpleasant incident is taking us closer to the tipping point of what could become a major breakdown of social unity and the irreversible isolation of Muslims in India.
We need a strong government that understands the consequences of its short term vote bank politics and works genuinely towards unity amongst the diverse religions. Idol bashers and extremists need to ignored or ridiculed if not legally persecuted.
Moderates need to be given a voice and minorities should be educated that while they are critical to the development of the nation and their interests will be protected, religion cannot be the reason for their entitlement or persecution. We need to remind ourselves and everyone else that all Indians are our brothers and sisters and we need the message to resonate amongst both the public and political circles.