Before I ask a certain question, I'm already on my guard, just in case a left hook from one of our rumbustious right-wingers gets to my jawbone. Is India—its legal framework, its civil and uncivil halves of society (we have both in good measure)—the right place for the arts to flourish? Can we make such a claim when we have laws like 295(a) and 153(a) in our penal code? Through these two laws, the Rahu and Ketu of our legal system, you could be jailed for hurting religious sentiments. Everything is grist to this mill—from Rushdie to Sacha Sauda, and rumours of beef to plastic cows. Take a hypothetical case. A doctor could write on the perils of diabetes, and next day Maharashtra’s sugar lobby could file a case against him for hurting its sugary sentiments. The doctor could wake up in the cooler.
Or get down to reality—Indian reality, do remember, has a metaphysical smear to it. Take poor Shaheen Dhada, barely 21 then, whom over-zealous cops arrested for questioning the total shutdown of Mumbai for Bal Thackeray’s funeral in an FB post in 2012. Nothing to do with religion. A friend of hers, Renu Srinivasan, liked the post. She too was whisked away. No one has ever touched the Sena guys for diatribes against south Indians, Muslims or those from UP/ Bihar.