What constitutes news to our secular English-language press? When the police in Chennai behave like rowdies, it hardly makes news. Think of this: French journalist Francois Gautier'sFoundation Against Continuing Terrorism (FACT) had painstakingly put together a collection of 40 miniatures that told the story of Aurangzeb'srule. The collection was called Aurangzeb As He Was According to Mughal Records. Among the 40 miniatures were two that seemed to have enraged the bogus Nawab of Arcot in Chennai. Of the two, one depicted Aurangzeb'sarmy destroying the Somnath Temple and another the destruction of the Keshava Rai temple in Mathura, also by Aurangzeb'sgangsters.
The collection was first exhibited to critical acclaim at the Habitat Centre in New Delhi. It next travelled to Pune where one lakh people visited the show. It was equally well received in Bangalore where the popular Gallery G hosted the exhibition. But when it was taken to Chennai, under the auspices of the Lalit Kala Akademi and shown there, it elicited objection, by the so-called Nawab of Arcot who managed to get Karunanidhi'sgovernment to stop the exhibition and had the cooperation of the Assistant Commissioner of Police, one K.N. Murali. Murali even had one of the miniatures taken off the wall and thrown on the ground. Nobody covered the event. Gautier wrote an article which, fortunately, was published by The Indian Express on its edit page and must have attracted the attention of a large number of readers. The only other paper to publish the news was Sunday Pioneer (March 9). The Pioneer used the news as front-page lead.
One doesn'texpect justice from Karunanidhi'sgovernment. It was Karunanidhi who called Sri Ram ?a drunkard?. The miniatures were not anti-Islam. They merely showed the strong anti-Hindu sentiment of Aurangzeb and were factually accurate. But there was not a word in the majority of the English language papers. One doesn'teven know whether the desecration of the Chennai exhibition was covered by the news agencies. What are they afraid of? What sort of sickness prevails in the English media? Or take the murderous behaviour of CPM goons in Kannur, a district in North Kerala where in just the first week of March, CPM goons ?hacked? to death five RSS workers. Isn'tthat news? Such was the ghastly killing that the Kerala High Court was moved to criticise the Leftist-led state government for its failure to protect life and property in Kannur district. Justice Ramkumar had specifically asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe a political murder in which a CPM activist is an accused. That news, too, was suppressed by most papers. The Free Press Journal (March 13) was the only paper to publish it.
George Fernandes, often addressed as the stormy petrel of Indian politics, is back again in the news for reason other than politics. Years ago he had started a monthly journal called The Other Side which propagated his party'sviews. Publishing a monthly magazine is not a joke. It calls for a lot of financial investment. To the best of one's knowledge it had to close down at two different times. It has now been resurrected and is presently edited by Jaya Jaitley. Priced at Rs 25, it describes itself as ?Journal of Socialist Thought and Action?. Socialism in India is dead as a dodo but George is not one to easily give in. A strong Lohiaite, his resurrected journal provides some excellent fare. The January issue, incidentally, carries the text of His Holiness the Dalai Lama'saddress during the Congressional Gold Medal Award ceremony held in Washington on October 17, 2007. It is most relevant in the context of recent events in Lhasa. India, as can well be expected, has maintained its distance from events in Tibet, no doubt on the grounds of political propriety. The Chinese Ambassador in Delhi is quoted as saying at a press conference that Tibet is an internal matter for China and other nations should keep their hands off. Some one should tell Beijing that Arunachal Pradesh is an internal matter for India and China is well advised to keep its hands off what is plainly Indian territory. Whether it was wise on the part of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to use Indian territory to criticise China is another matter. It would have been wise on the part of American diplomat to keep her mouth shut and let the spokesman of the State Department in Washington announce US policy in the matter of the recent disturbances, in Lhasa where the Chinese have let loose an orgy of violence against the Tibetan people. Using Indian territory to ciriticise another country is just not permissible. One may agree with her thoughts, but there is such a thing as protocol.
Then there is the case of Taslima Nasreen who has left Indian shores to go to Scandinavia to take up refugee residence there. According to Deccan Herald (March 22) Taslima'sexist from India ?has diminished India'sstature as a pluralist, secular democracy?. India, said the paper ?has had a long and proud tradition of providing sanctuary to those fleeing oppression? and that ?this tradition now lies in tatters?. According to the Herald ?Taslima'sexit is a serious blow to Indian secularism as it will embolden fundamentalists further? and that ?by failing to protect the individual'sright to freedom of speech and expression, the government has dealt a blow to democracy as well?. This issue can be discussed later. Meanwhile The Indian Express (March 21) spoke for Taslima when it wrote that ?she has been more then willing to retract a few lines? in her work that had offended Muslims and that ?one did expect better from India that has always valued free expression and has made common cause with those who were victims of authoritarian regimes and fanatical forces?.
The paper said that the Left Front government in West Bengal should have stood up for her, and that ?the persons issuing threats to her life should have been identified and arrested?. Big words. To expect decency from a communist government that killed its own people in Singur and Nandigram is to expect a miracle. As for the UPA government in Delhi, the less said the better. From the times of Rajiv Gandhi the Congress has sought Muslim fundamentalist support, instead of taking a firm stand. And what happened to Taslima is part of Congress tradition of gutlessness. But that apart, has anyone really made a study of the writings of Taslima? Is anyone aware of the kind of things she said about the Prophet that, with the best of intentions, cannot be repeated here? Freedom of expression does not mean that one can indulge in abuse of any individual. But more on this, some other time.