“Satire is the enjoyable compensation for being forced to think.” The title of my probing write-up is derived from this famous quote by Edgar Johnson. Yes, Humour is a fodder and I do mean it!
Our ability to communicate and express in the best possible ways differentiates us from other living beings. In fact, its the foundation stone of what we basically are - Humans. But, isn't it unfortunate that humanity's biggest challenge has been to regulate this strength to good intent?!
1. Britain: A campaign named "Feel Free to Insult Me" supported by many Parliamentarians demanding reforms in a Law that bans "Insulting words or behaviour" in public in the name of Free Speech.
2. India: Another campaign sarcastically named "Help, We're Insulted" supported by nearly all the MPs demanding removal of a historic Cartoon from NCERT text books in the name of Free Speech Abuse.
While we in India were facing an ignominious cartoon controversy, our counterparts in Britain were demanding to remove the word "Insulting" from Section 5 of their 1986 Public Order Act deliberating that the law caused many arrests & penalties to people simply making jokes. The world, in general, is trying hard to draw the realms of free speech and India, in particular, languishes in intolerance and dirty politics.
What exactly differentiates Free speech & its abuse? Where should we draw the line? Do people genuinely get hurt or do they create a sham out of nothing? Are we a stagnant culture unable to handle wit & humour?
A Jadavpur University professor was jailed following a cartoon that left Mamata didi offended. Right wing groups are aggression personified the moment they can link an expression against "cultural nationalism". Islamic groups, led by parties claiming to be guardians of secularism and messiah of minorities, get black and blue at every so called "attack on faith".
A furore in Indian parliament may have resulted in the deplorable removal of all political & satirical cartoons from text books, but when Shankar got the cartoon first published, Nehru and Ambedkar had no reservations to it. In fact, leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia and Nehru were known for passing top notch witty remarks, even caustic at times. Whenever the duo faced each other in Parliament it was a treat for the listeners. They were self-confident leaders of men and understood the importance of artistic freedom. Nehru said in 1950, a year after Shankar drew the infamous cartoon: "Despite the dangers of press freedom being misused, I would rather live with that as opposed to a press under censorship."
Politicians today, are rather on a lookout for any element that can be sown to fruition. The culture of keeping a view-point with conviction, wit, humour and sarcasm is passé. Indian society, contrary to its glorious past, is growing averse to creative intellect, free thinking and a healthy discourse of ideas.
Society's road to evolution is a never-ending trip where regressive decisions like curtailing artistic freedom pull us a step back. We cannot at any cost let the politicians write text-books and design society's thought process as per their whims and fancies. Humour has more to do with spirit than letter or content and thus a code of conduct in place to regulate satire can never work. Malady lies in perception rather than the humour which most of us find caustic and intolerable.
We have the option to misconstrue any expression by projecting it nefarious or simply laugh it off. Power lies with us to revive the lost satire and save sarcasm from passing into oblivion because the nation needs much more than history and heritage to take pride in.
The stroke of Midnight is now over and India needs to find its freedom under the sunshine!