Thursday, May 21, 2015

Should writers and poets have freedom to use dirty words?

Supreme Court passed a verdict stating that obscene language cannot be used against Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, because he is a historically respectable figure. The case pertained to a Marathi poem Gandhi Mala Bhetla Hota (I met Gandhi) written in 1984 by Devidas Ramachandra Tuljapurkar. The poem became controversial because of the use of cuss words. A member of Patit Pawan Sangathan filed a police compliant under Sections 153A and 153B of the IPC (causing disharmony between classes) and Section 292 (obscenity) against the poet and the publisher. The accused were discharged under 153A and 153B but not under 292. The high court upheld the verdict and also the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court said, “When the name of Mahatma Gandhi is alluded or used as a symbol, speaking or using obscene words, the concept of “degree” comes in. To elaborate, the “contemporary community standards test” becomes applicable with more vigour, in a greater degree and in an accentuated manner. What can otherwise pass of the contemporary community standards test for use of the same language, it would not be so, if the name of Mahatma Gandhi is used as a symbol or allusion or surrealistic voice to put words or to show him doing such acts which are obscene.”

The judgment has received varied reactions. But those who are advocates of absolute freedom of expression are very saddened with the verdict. They are of the viewpoint that there should not be any restriction against the use of cuss/profane/abusive/obscene words. In fact they assert that an artist should have the license and protection to portray their work of art or literature the way they deem fit. In a nutshell they bat for complete freedom to abuse or insult anybody.
If the freedom for obscenity is guaranteed then we would create a society where every individual will unresistingly try to shame the other person as per their whims.  We will have a scenario where a child without any hesitation will abuse his mother, a student without any fear will shame his teacher, and an employee use his freedom of expression to desecrate the image of his boss. Are we ready to be part of such a society?
Indecency needs to be condemned and not condoned. Disagreement, debate and discussions have been part of Indian society since eons. Learned scholars used to organize debates and challenge others opinion. The discussions were always civilized. In fact the Indian epics like Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam is entirely based on debates, discussions and questions and answers. The opinions of others were not throttled but they were given opportunity to express it in a decent way. This is why we find that in India we have plethora of rich literatures – the 4 Vedas, the 18 Puranans, Upanisads, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Chaitanya Charitamrta and many more. Mahabharata is the longest epic poem consisting of 100,000 shloka (verses); it has about 1.8 million words in total. The Vedic books are considered to be oldest books in the history of mankind.

Later during India’s freedom movement, the freedom fighters extensively wrote revolutionary poetries and thought provoking articles and essays to arouse nationalistic fervour inspiring thousands to join the freedom movement to overthrow the mighty British Empire. But in their work obscenity and indecency had no place.

So at present the clamour for the right for obscenity does not augur well for Indian art and literature. Liberals question what does obscene mean. The Oxford dictionary defines obscene as “offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency.”

So should one have the right to use their artistic freedom for character assassination? As per the Supreme Court of India, for respectable historical personalities like Mahatma Gandhi this is forbidden. But what about others and also who would decide and define “respectable historical personality”? Marxist historians in India have liberally chosen only those as respectable who adhere to their ideological principles and they have belittled the image of others especially those with Hindutva ideology. So, if we stick to this criterion then we will continue to have paintings insulting Hindu Gods and Goddesses, the way late M F Hussain did, and authors like Wendy Doniger who used repugnant language while writing about Hinduism will feel emboldened. 
The best way is to not allow anyone to cross the border of decency while expressing their opinions.  The freedom guaranteed by the constitution should be utilized judiciously to build a just and righteous society. It should not be used as a tool to demonize and sully other people’s image.  

It seems that as a society we have been able to surround our senses with gadgets and gizmos but still our heart is dry and dirty. And so we take pleasure in throwing muck on others. As humans our humanity does not just depend on how much we have advanced materially but it primarily depends on how we deal with others and also with our ancestors. A person is not just judged by how smartly he dresses but how politely and honestly he expresses his opinion. Crow and cuckoo can’t be distinguished by the colour of their skin but by the difference of their voice.

So, while using the might of pen we should be very cautious and careful. Words are mightier than the most powerful weapon of this world, it has the ability to revolutionize and transform the society. Gita acknowledge its potential and advises us to use it very careful and intelligently. “Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others.” (Bhagavad Gita 17.15).

Let us stop promoting, publishing and patronizing cheap literature and cheap form of art in the name of freedom of expression. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Should Nepal earthquake shake our faith in God?

Published in India Opines:

According to a report in Times of India, one of the victims of the Nepal’s earthquake now no longer believes in God because many of his family members died in the earthquake. While another person is extremely grateful to the almighty because in the building where he was living all died but he and his family members miraculously survived.

The affected people are reacting differently to the natural disaster – some are thankful to the Lord, some are complaining, some are declaring God to be unkind and some started believing that God does not exist. Based on our personal experiences we define and redefine our relationship with the Lord. In most of the cases – we demand & expect God to supply.
We ask many things from the superior Lord – house, health, wealth, protection & pleasure. When our wishes are fulfilled we move ahead in life occasionally expressing our gratitude to God because we believe that it is his duty to give us what we want. Butwhen our demands are not met and we get some unfavourable results then we fret and complain and accuse God of being unjust.
Before being judgemental about the Lord why don’t we ponder over the plethora of information which he has made available in the vedic literature about this world and its nature. God has never said that this world is a bed of roses. Nor does he promise imparting immortality to anyone here. Let us just glance over few such information:
* In Bhagavad Gita 8.15, Krishna calls this world as duḥkhalayam asasvatam, an abode of misery.

* In Gita 8.16, Krishna says, “From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place.”
* In Gita 8.19, Krishna says, “Again and again, when Brahma’s day arrives, all living entities come into being, and with the arrival of Brahma’s night they are helplessly annihilated.” * King Prahlad says, padam padam yad vipadam (Srimad Bhagavatam10.14.58), there is danger at every step in this world.
God has made it very clear that – this world is temporary, our existence is temporary, in this world there are miseries and here death in inevitable.
Sometimes government puts a sign on the road – Danger ahead or accident prone zone. But in spite of these warnings if someone become careless or driven with an adventurous spirit venture into that area then he is surely risking his life and he cannot blame the authority for it because he was informed beforehand about it. Similarly, Lord has foretold about the dangers of this world so we can’t be upset with him upon experiencing distressful situations.
However, it is not that all is lost for us and we have to be mired in misery forever. God not just tell about the funereal nature of this world but he also informs us about a world where no one dies and no one cries.
* Yet there is another unmanifest nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is: Bhagavad Gita 8.20
* After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection: Bhagavad Gita 8.15
* But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again: Bhagavad Gita 8.16
* That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world: Bhagavad Gita 15.6
We need to understand that in this world all who are born are sure to die. And death can come in any form, at any time, at any age. So the Nepal earthquake should not shake our faith in God’s divinity. In fact, we should neither get angry with the Lord and nor we should turn our back towards him but we should instead intelligently seek a solution to migrate from this mortal world to the eternal spiritual world. We can attain that kingdom of God by practicing pure devotion and by constantly meditating upon him: Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me. (Bhagavad Gita 9.34). If we do not adhere to this path then we will
If we do not adhere to this path then we will continue to fit in fear and anxiety in this deadly world.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Knock of an uninvited guest

Saturday (25th April, 2015) was any other day and being a weekend people were either relaxing in their homes or had frequented to malls, restaurants, theatres and other places of enjoyment. Little did they know that within few minutes their lives will change for worse? A strong earthquake just before noon ruined people’s lives in Nepal and India. Panic striken people ran frantically for their lives – crying and screaming. Buildings were falling apart like pack of cards devouring people in scores. Many got buried under the debris, many escaped but were seriously injured and many succeeded in escaping unhurt physically but emotionally were devastated. People are still afraid to go inside their homes for fear of aftershocks. They spent their nights in the open under make shift tents struggling for food and water. Their sufferings got compounded when along with quake they also had to brave heavy rain and cold weather in the night. The disaster was massive in Nepal killing around 4000 people as per the current available reports, the numbers are surely going to swell. In India around 72 people lost their lives as per the available reports.

While praying for the departed souls and for those who are injured and who lost their near and dear ones, it is also time to ask a pertinent question -Is life so uncertain that within a moment pleasure can turn into pain, happiness into sorrow and life into death? Death comes always uninvited and in different forms – as natural calamities, as disease, as old age, as accidents, as plane crash and in so many different ways. So, when people find death knocking at their doors they panic and asks him to come later but the pleas are never entertained and the person is forcibly dragged out of their body. The inescapability of death is widely known, all of us have to die a day, but none of us are ready to accept this truth. While seeing others making their final journey to the graveyard we assume that it will never happen to us and so we continue with our day to day life thinking and believing that we are here to live for eternity and we continue with our mission for material possessions and positions.

The devastating earthquake did not differentiate among the palatial bungalows, the humble houses and the iconic buildings – all were razed to dust. In life too death does not differentiate between rich and poor, men and women, young and old and famous and ordinary people. Death takes away everything from us. We are not allowed to take even a farthing of this world. This is why the books of wisdom constantly remind us not to waste our time and life running after the material mirage. The temporary pleasures of this world are never going to solve the most important problem of our life – the problem of birth and death. Vedas inform us that as souls we are eternal, we never die (Bhagavad Gita 2.20). At the time of death we just change our body and based on our accumulated karma we are given a new body. And the new body can be of any species – of animals, plants, reptiles, insects, cockroaches and also of humans. In the non-human form of life we are bound to suffer terribly. As humans too we are subjected to trials and tribulations of life. The three forms of sufferings which constantly punish us are:

  • Adhibhautika klesha: Miseries caused by people who are inimical to us. They can be our foes or even our family members and relatives.
  • Adhidaivika klesha: Miseries caused due to natural calamities like earthquake, tsunami, floods, heavy rain, famine etc.
  • Adhyatmika klesha: Miseries caused by our own mind, senses and body. Mind and senses can ruin our life if they are not properly controlled.

However the silver lining is that as humans we have been gifted with the ability and opportunity to not just get rid of all types of sufferings but also have the chance to put an end to the cycle of birth and death forever. And the process to do this has been explained in Vedic books. In Gita 8.15 & 8.16 Krishna says that this world is full of sufferings so he asks us to return back to him to the spiritual abode from where we will never return again to this mortal world.

This mammoth natural calamity which underlined the uncertainty of life should be a wake up call for us. We have no other choice but to become serious and sincere in our practice of devotion to Krishna so that when death knocks at our door we don’t panic but in fact use it as an opportunity to enter to the spiritual world where life is eternal and every moment is full of bliss and not of uncertainty and fear.