Biggest threat to democracy now

Biggest threat to democracy now

It is not the first time that films have come under attack from caste organisations, social groups, politicians and parties for what is perceived as objectionable content or depiction of characters and issues. Last week’s attacks in Tamil Nadu on the film Sarkar were very much part of the pattern, with unruly elements belonging to the AIADMK vandalising theatres, tearing up posters and unleashing violence in public places. The AIADMK government in the state justified the party workers’ actions and incited them. The government also threatened the film-makers with legal action under charges no less than sedition. Ministers issued public warnings and threats. The film became a target because it contained some scenes critical of some populist schemes of the erstwhile Jayalalithaa government and had a negative character whose name Komalavalli was Jayalalithaa’s original name. It showed images of freebies like mixers and grinders being thrown into the fire by people.

Read also: AIADMK attacks Rajini for supporting 'Sarkar'

Under threats and pressure, the producers had to cut some scenes and mute the name Komalavalli, but the AIADMK leaders are still continuing to attack those who had supported the film. It is shameful that freedom of expression, which is a vital democratic right, is being unabashedly suppressed by governments which are oath-bound to protect it. Authorities whose duty it is to curb lawlessness actually encourage mobs taking the law into their hands. Not only Tamil Nadu but other states also have seen many cases of attacks on films, novels and other works of art in the past. The arguments which are often cited are that some sections of society are selectively criticised, issues and events are misrepresented or sentiments are hurt. None of these is sufficient reason to hit the streets and resort to violence. Artists, in fact all citizens, have the right to criticise society and its mores and customs, the conduct and actions of individuals, groups and parties and their leaders and governments. Such criticism, made through writings, plays and other performances, has been an important part of social reform movements and is necessary for the health of society. It has also helped to raise and strengthen political awareness. 

After a film is cleared by the censor board there is no reason and justification to demand changes in it. Courts have made this clear, and the Supreme Court in the recent Padmaavat case specifically ordered governments to extend protection to films that come under attack. When a work of art is attacked, it is the right to dissent that is being throttled. This rising and spreading wave of intolerance, with governments also riding it, is the biggest threat to democracy in the country now. 

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