Don't hurt religious sentiments

Don't hurt religious sentiments

in perspective: Hold up a mirror to society. But know that people love their gods, however absurd it is to the rational mind.

When the 19th century British novelist Emily Bronte wrote her one and only enduring novel, the reading public felt it was a threat to civilised society and wanted to burn the book! This was not surprising in a country that damned even Shakespeare.

But, England was not unique in stifling writers. In a free thinking country like America, novelists like Ernest Hemingway (who won the Nobel Prize for literature) had their books condemned. As did many Pulitzer Prize winners.

In more recent times, a writer was cast away from his homeland for publishing a book. And another for painting pictures of gods and goddesses. Salman Rushdie and M F Hussain paid a heavy price for their artistic creations.

And, now, in the liberated 21st century, journalists are gunned down for publishing cartoons. What is the common thread in all these?

Whether it is a book or a painting or a film or – a mere cartoon – the subject matter that inspired the creator was religion. A theme that lends

itself to poetry, music, literature – and satire. Religious beliefs lend themselves more to satire because of their very irrationality. It is easy to mock and laugh at them. But, what the writer, painter, film maker or cartoonist forgets is that those beliefs are very real to the believer

and need to be respected. Freedom of expression does not mean freedom to insult, belittle or sneer.

Just as creative expression should not be stifled, religious beliefs cannot be trashed just because a more rational mind sees the absurdity of it all. Faith is an inexplicable sentiment that will not tolerate mockery and disdain. Unfortunately, it retaliates through any means available, including violence.

This is not to support intolerance and retaliation. Nor, to condemn artistic freedom. Artists need space for expressing their thoughts freely. At the same time, their readers/viewers must enjoy the same freedom to express their disapproval. Violence should be condemned, but honest criticism must be welcomed.

If artistic endeavours can be justified as creative pieces, their creators must accept both positive and negative reactions to those works of art. Unfortunately, this does not happen. Artistic egos get hurt easily.

The artist or writer who feels free to hurt others is not ready to face a backlash.The recent outburst by journalists in India against their critics is an example of such one-sided freedom of expression. How come great artists like R K Laxman did not ignite fury and violence through their cartoons? Laxman spared no one.

Yet, his sketches – like the delightful stories of his famous brother – merely brought a smile on the faces of those whom they targeted. It was social satire at its best. Their cartoons did not spark anger and bloodshed. A genuine concern to improve society rather than demean it wins admiration and no rancour.

Humour vs satirical wit

There is a world of difference between gentle humour which is well intentioned and satirical wit that is meant to hurt.

The hurt could be aimed at individuals or communities or nations. Their authors must expect reaction from those whom they have hurt. And, if it is religious sentiment that is hurt, the authors must also have the courage to face its repercussions.

Did Hussain expect empathy from those whose gods he denigrated? Did the French satirical magazine think its targets would commend its versatility? Instead of saying “Je suis desolé” (I am sorry) it added insult to injury by reacting with another offensive cartoon against their Prophet. And, the “enlightened” world applauded!

While our hearts go out to the journalists who were killed, the tragic consequences of such wit and satire should make artists think again before they pick up a pen or a brush. Laugh at the foibles of human nature.

Make fun of social aberrations. Hold up a mirror to society as great writers like Jane Austen or, our own T P Kailasam, did. But think twice before offending religious sentiments. People love their gods, however absurd it may appear to the rational mind. Century after century, great visionaries have created masterpieces through enduring works of art.

Whether it is the immortal frescoes of a Michaelangelo or the timeless sculptures of a Khajuraho, the creators of such art never intended to insult or profane.

They depicted life in the raw, but with dignity and sensitivity. They related stories of creation and the gods with reverence and awe. Even the eroticism they conveyed through their sculptures and paintings had nothing obscene about it.

Like the oft quoted sublime verses from Jayadeva’s Ashtapadi which celebrates sensual love of the devotee for the divine with reverence rather than ridicule.

To speak of them in the same breath as the modern day artist denigrating religion in the name of art is laughable.

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