The weapons on display in the Capital on January 26 may have shown how strong the country is in military terms but the day also offered a glimpse into the increasingly fragile nature of cultural life in the Republic as it enters its 64th year.
The Vishwaroopam controversy continues to simmer with Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh audiences joining moviegoers in Tamil Nadu in being prevented from seeing Kamal Haasan’s new film. In the north, a new storm arose at the Jaipur Literary Festival with politicians demanding the arrest of one of India’s most famous academicians for a sweeping statement he made about the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Backward Classes. Elsewhere in the south, leading singer S. Janaki rejected the Padma Bhushan she had just been awarded in protest at southern artists not getting due recognition.
The censor-certified Vishwaroopam has already been banned in Tamil Nadu for two weeks amid allegations by some Muslim groups that it shows the Muslim community in a negative light. Kamal Haasan has denied the charge. In response to the actor-producer-director’s plea for a stay on the ban, Justice K. Venkataraman of Madras High Court watched the film at a special screening on Saturday.
His decision is expected on Monday, but the film has run into trouble in other States, where it was released as scheduled. Screenings in Karnataka were disrupted in parts of Mysore, Bangalore and Shimoga districts following protests, and a theatre in Mysore was vandalised by protesters. Shows of the Telugu version of the spy thriller were suspended in Hyderabad city, following police orders. In Kerala, however, the film continued its run for the second day, despite protests from Muslim organisations which disrupted screenings in parts of Ernakulam, Idukki and Palakkad districts.
Overseas, the film, which opened in Malaysia on Thursday to full houses, has been removed from theatres, following a directive from the Home Ministry. Sri Lanka too has ordered a delay in the release, pending a review by censors.
Meanwhile, veteran playback singer S Janaki, winner of four National Awards, stirred a new controversy when she rejected the Padma Bhushan conferred on her this year, describing it as “too late.” Talking to mediapersons at a marriage ceremony at Srikrishnapuram, near Palakkad, the singer said that she deserved the Bharat Ratna for having sung thousands of songs in various languages. She added that the government “should show some more consideration to artists from south India in recognising their talents and contributions.”
Finally, political critic and sociologist Ashis Nandy stirred a hornet’s nest at a panel discussion at the JLF when he alleged that the people belonging to the SC, ST and OBC categories are more corrupt. Later, Mr. Nandy clarified that he meant that most of the people being slapped with corruption charges belong to marginalised sections, as they don’t have the means to save themselves like people from upper castes. But it was too little, too late. Anchor and journalist Ashutosh, who was among the panellists, called this a “bizarre statement.”
Lokjanshakti Party President Ramvilas Paswan said that the statement reflected the author’s “mental bankruptcy” and demanded his immediate arrest. BSP chief Mayawati, too, demanded Mr. Nandy’s immediate arrest, adding that he should apologise to the sections of the population he hurt through his words. The Congress, BJP, JD(U), CPI as also the SC Commission Chairman P.L. Punia also condemned the remarks.
Mr. Nandy later issued a statement that he had made the observations in the context of “corruption as an equalising force,” and “as long as the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBCs participate in it, corruption would not be a one-sided affair where the rich, prosperous and powerful protect themselves and hide their wrongdoings.” By evening, however, an FIR had been lodged with the Jaipur police accusing Mr. Nandy of criminal intimidation and of violating the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.