People Can Be Killed, But Not Their Voices…!

BBC Documentary

This holds true for millions who have fallen victim in their quest for their rights and for peace. And also for thousands targeted – killed and raped- during Gujarat-carnage in 2002. What else is suggested by “news” linked with what happened in Gujarat during 2002 hitting headlines once again? Notwithstanding the measures taken to prevent public screening of BBC documentary about Gujarat-carnage, as reports suggest, those interested have viewed it individually or in groups. Interestingly, Indian media appears to be giving substantial importance to both aspects- measures to prevent screening as well as students moving ahead to view the movie banned in India. In 2002, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister. More than two decades have passed since that dark chapter, described as a blot on Indian Secularism. The very party heading the national government at present, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power then too with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister. It may be said, Gujarat-carnage, which witnessed communal violence targeting Muslims, was responsible for BJP’s defeat in 2004 parliamentary elections. The subsequent two governments were headed by Congress-led alliance with Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister.

Without elaborating on political developments that this country has witnessed since 2002, it may be noted, more than two decades have passed. The young, apparently eager to learn what BBC documentary has to say about Gujarat-carnage, were probably not even born then or were toddlers, too young to figure out what was happening in Gujarat. Besides, Modi was not a national leader then. BJP’s national image was linked with that of Vajpayee and a few party stalwarts, such as LK Advani. Had the documentary not been banned, their awareness about Gujarat-carnage would have probably been limited to what they have learned about it from select sources. In all probability, their interest to learn what the BBC documentary says about it would not have risen. Besides, if strict measures had not been taken to restrict/ban its public viewing in certain universities, no “news” about this would have circulated and students in other institutions would not have moved ahead to plan screening of this documentary.

Let us accept it, the present generation of this age cannot be subject to restrictions exercised by a few measures initiated by the government and/or propaganda deliberately spread to provoke them. And this trend is prevalent practically across the world. Reported protests in quite a few countries are just a mild indicator of this trend. Call for peace regarding Ukraine-crisis, support for Palestinians’ rights, nurses’ strike in UK, against Hijab in Iran and others are just a few of these. India has of course been home frequently to protests, rallies and demonstrations for various reasons – where even elderly have participated in great strength. They were present in great numbers during farmers’ protest – which lasted for more than a year from August 2020 and elderly Muslim women were in the forefront during Shaheen Bagh protest (Dec 2019 to March 2020).

The message is simple. When elderly cannot be restrained in India, including traditional women homemakers, the question of the young mutely adhering to whatever is laid down by so-called law-makers and/or even power holders lacks strength. This is probably also responsible for crowds attracted by and apparent success of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India March). His message has certainly been well received and also understood by people in general. Interestingly, Rahul’s decision to don T-shirt practically throughout his march was apparently a part of his strategy to identify himself with common Indians. The same holds out for his strategy to speak on grievances affecting them, including inflation and unemployment.

Not surprisingly, the march received substantial media coverage from the day it began on September 7 from Kanyakumari in South India. Covering a distance of more than 4,000 km, it’s conclusion on January 30 in Srinagar (North India) was preceded by unfurling of national flag in this city at Lal Chowk. In context of fear and apprehensions prevalent in other parts of country about terrorism here, this move of Rahul has probably made him emerge as a political “hero” for many Indians, young as well as old. This has further punctured and defeated strategies banked upon earlier by rival parties to propagate images of Rahul as a “weak” leader. Prospects of average Indians now viewing Rahul through a tainted lens- as his rivals would want them to- may be viewed as virtually dead. They’d rather form their own opinion about him. This further substantiates the point made earlier about chances of people in the present age, particularly the young generation, no longer being willing to silently abide by whatever dictates are spelled out by higher authorities.

This point has been further proved by the success of Indian movie “Pathaan.” Attempts made by certain right-winged sections to block its release have failed. Though a few odd elements are still trying to assert their stand by even indulging in violence, this has not restricted million others from going ahead and enjoying the movie in not just India, but other parts of world too. Right-winged elements have tried using “religious” reasons to block its release in India. This only indicates that any move made to use “religious-cards” here is least likely to excite frenzy and/or provoke wide-spread communalism, at least not at present.

Failure of attempts to ban screening of BBC documentary about Gujarat-carnage may be viewed from the same angle. Be it regarding this documentary, religious propaganda, movie Pathaan, leaders’ images, manufactured vs real “news” or any other issue, perhaps little more importance needs to be given to individuals’ desire, including Indians to be guided by their own perceptions. As mentioned earlier, this trend is visible in most parts of world, but apparently has yet to be totally comprehended and accepted. If it were, BBC documentary would not have been banned in India and genuine measures may have been initiated for peace in practically war-hit areas. Ukrainians have been suffering for around a year and Palestinians for decades.

Yes, questions in most parts of world have been raised about ban of BBC documentary in India and those opting for extremist measures against those choosing to view this movie. Indians have chosen not to be influenced by right-winged, extremist factions’ propaganda against this documentary, Rahul’s yatra as well as the movie Pathaan. The same may be said about those writing and speaking for Palestinians’ rights and for peace in Ukraine, but with a difference. Democratically tainted lens is used even by largest democracy to view former’s stand but not that of Ukrainians. Ironically, tainted lens was put to use even by second largest democracy to ban BBC documentary. Well, to say that this is suggestive of democracy being at stake in USA as well as India would be wrong. Democratic image of some leaders may, however, certainly be viewed as at stake. It has been proved time and again in India, Palestine and other parts, measures and weapons can kill people but certainly not silence/kill their voice!

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:– Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).

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