By Ananya Pandey
Edited by Liz Maria Kuraikose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
A lot has been said about freedom of expression over decades, even so it remains the biggest farce of political philosophy. The discussion about the contours of the right to freedom of expression is futile. However, what seems essential is evaluating the ‘supposed’ victims, of an act which qualifies as “hurting someone’s sentiments”. One such case is that of an arrest warrant being issued against national cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni on 24th of June for allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus.
I am a Hindu. My sentiments weren’t hurt. Mr. Yerraguntla Shyam Sunder, a VHP leader from Anantapur town is a Hindu. His sentiments were hurt. He had filed the petition in March this year objecting to the picture in which Dhoni was portrayed as a deity holding various products, he endorses, in his hands. In April 2013, Business Today ran a cover story on Dhoni’s fabulous brand appeal, and how he was becoming the God of Big Deals. The magazine depicted Dhoni as Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, holding 8 endorsed products in his 8 hands. One of the products happened to be a shoe. The point of contention is how do we decide whose sentiments are representative of Hindus. The answer of this question is, neither. So a case from either side stands defeated.
Is this a result of obsession with religious symbolism or is it a case of negligence of others’ sentiments or more so a case of asserting identity? In order to get an answer to these questions we need to trace the string of events which resulted in an arrest warrant against M.S. Dhoni. The warrant against Dhoni is related to a petition first filed in a local court last November. The Court of District Principal Sessions Judge of Anantapur later issued the directive based on a complaint filed by Gopal Rao and Shyam, who are said to belong to a Hindu right-wing organization.
Under the Indian law, if an accused receives a bailable warrant and appears in court by the specified date, the court will cancel the arrest warrant. If the accused fails to appear by that date, the court may order his arrest. The court took up the matter recently again, and ordered arrest against the Indian captain as he had failed to reply to the summons.
So when did we really notice this? Now!
Why? It’s because the headlines exhibited the word “arrest warrant” against Dhoni. This well proves the triviality of the whole controversy.
It can be fairly assumed that there were many Hindus who used the slogan “Har Har Modi”, during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. They didn’t seem to have a problem with eulogizing Modi to Mahadev. It is the self imposed moral policing of some Hindu right-wing leaders, which brings in such trivial issues to public attention. Moreover, this is nothing new. Be it a book, be it women’s apparel, and be it Vishnu-ied Dhoni, the moral police remains alert and right on action.
If deification of living beings is so atrocious to the Hinduism, then what about the innumerable number of gurus existing in the present day and age? So, clearly the Line of Control almost doesn’t exist or is extremely porous, when it comes to freedom of expression.
Section 295 of The IPC holds against those who destroy, damage or defile any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons. It is rumored that the picture is actually morphed and that Dhoni didn’t pose for it. Secondly, was there any trace of an intention to hurt anyone’s sentiments? Highly improbable! Moreover, why isn’t the magazine been questioned instead of Dhoni? The obvious answer is that it would have never been that controversial, as it is today.
What really is astonishing is how Dhoni was summoned for being portrayed as Vishnu, but no such hue and cry was made when Modi was portrayed as Brahma in the Mumbai Mirror Cover story of May 17th. In the article, Narendra Modi has been referred to as the ‘God of all he surveys’. This is an example of sheer hypocrisy, which is in fact one of the most dangerous evils that is omnipresent in India.
This isn’t the classic case of curtailing someone’s freedom of expression; rather it is an apparent case of asserting one’s identity. This obsession with the Hindu Identity needs to be shredded; else we will be forever stagnant in our thought and action. If we respect our religion so much, it’s high time we start respecting the womenfolk of this country, because religion is much deeper than a morphed portrait of Vishnu.
Ananya is a graduate of history from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University. Her passion lies in history and politics. She will soon be pursuing her Masters in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is a true feminist at heart and loves reading about Marxism, though she never found herself inclined to any of the extremes ideologies. She is discovering herself each day and likes to extract the most out of every opportunity that comes her way.