Recently I read about a case where the judges of the Supreme Court severely reprimanded a rapist while sentencing him to prison because he happened to be sharing his name with Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of our country and one of the founding fathers of this nation. The judges were outraged by his name because according to them, he didn’t deserve to have a name like that on account of the heinous crime he committed.
Well, the situation was both ludicrous and irritating, at least, I found it to be so. On the one hand, we have a democracy where our constitution has doled out to us a variety of freedoms but here again, learned men from an institution as exalted as the Supreme Court questions the right of another man to be called by a particular name. There is no copyright attaching the names of the national leader and great men that have been born in India. But then, it seems that we have bizarre ways of trying to preserve the honour and dignity of out national icons.
What we see time and again, are the lengths that some people would go in order to present themselves as the guardians and custodians of the memories and stateliness of these long-gone leaders and public figures. I would consider all that publicity gimmick, or worse, ideas cropping in the mind of misdirectioned illogical people who are incapable of distinguishing loyalty and respect for our leaders from blind worshipping…the kind of worshipping that is not based on reality or facts but just mis-informed twisted thinking.
We all know what great service people like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Mahatma Gandhi have done for this country. We would be forever indebted to them for the change and development that they brought about. But do their works entail us to not look at the truths of their lives while only celebrating their qualities? Why can’t we (or many of us) not look at them as demi-gods and learn to accept not only the part of them that has been much publicized and talked about, but also the dark sides of their lives….the short-comings, the pitfalls, the not-ethically-correct decisions or the wrong choices that they might have made? Is there a need for the people who proclaim to care about and preserve the life-stories of these great personalities, to cringe and wince with distaste every time anyone says anything that might not really be flattering? Honestly, how does it matter as long as those critics have got their facts right? But they are gagged, harassed and finally left to retreat with their tails between their legs.
An example of this blind hero-worshipping was when Salman Rushdie’s book Midnight’s Children was banned in our country, the sole reason being that it contained a couple of lines about Mrs. Indira Gandhi which she found offensive. And of course, there are innumerable cases in public memory where biographies of imminent writers on Indian personalities were banned in our country only because such-and-such influential political leader found the materials in them offensive. The fact that the ‘offensive part’ might have been the truth is conveniently ignored. These political leaders would of course look at our leaders as some elevated beings, blessed souls who walked the earth and didn’t have a single shade of black or grey in their character.
Of course, a lot of people would say that all that are just juicy details of the lives of public figures, which we really don’t need to bother about. But I am raising this point because of the unjustified intolerance that a majority of people show towards views that might disturb or go against the accepted notions or the conventional line of thinking. There seems no maturity in the way that a lot of people handle differences…the way people handle facts which might be a bit hard to swallow. If a person is telling the truth, there should be no government on earth that can stop her from voicing the facts out loud, specially a government that is democratic.
We hear people representing our politicians and even actors as gods and goddesses, building temples for them and worshipping them; we hear about fans breaking in into media houses and vandalising them for publishing ‘offensive’ writings about their heroes; we hear each day about innumerable cases where our right to free speech is violated and gagged without any substantial reason. And this leads me to conclude that unless we learn to not ignore facts and in fact look at them with an open mind, the right to free speech cannot really be said to be a power to reckon with. Why the need of this blatant hero-worshipping? Why the need this of ridiculous defensiveness or mindless intrusion? Why the need to paint facts as lies or as fiction? Our political leaders have to realize that the we do not honour the contribution of our national leaders by preventing criminals from being named after them or by trying to canonize them in public eye but by upholding and cherishing the values that led them to give up their lives for the cause of this nation, by working towards the goals that they seeked to achieve and by learning to accept difference, criticism and variety of opinion gracefully…not turning into over-zealous jingoists.
[Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/essgee/15163504/]