Growing Intolerance

By: Imran Qureshi

US police action against a non-English speaking Indian visitor has, yet again, exposed the vulnerability of a society that claims to be fair. As do the moral police in India whose reactions are more offensive than the action they protest. So, who’s offending whom?

That patience pays is something a young Alabama police official is, perhaps, beginning to learn the hard way. He has faced arrest and suspension for the third degree assault of a 57 year old Indian when all that the latter was doing was taking a quiet stroll around the neighbourhood. The action of the police official has left none in doubt that anyone with a fair skin would not have been given the judo treatment, leaving the victim in hospital with a broken neck.

The story of Sureshbhai Patel has left Indians dumb-founded, particularly those who dream of going to the great land of opportunity called the US. From all accounts, including the video shot from the dashboard of the police vehicle, Patel was obviously admiring the locality where his son lives. He had been seen walking around for two consecutive days by a neighbour who called the police to complain. When confronted, the victim allegedly pointed to his son’s house and uttered something which the police official did not understand. Patel did not speak English.

The police official, it is clear, took offence at a skinny, dark complexioned guy not responding to his questions. Thankfully, Patel did not try to run away. If he had, he would have been perhaps shot at or shot dead, like in the case of the Blacks which have led to the declaration of a national emergency in several states in that country.

In this case, as it appears for now, there were two very different sets of social sensibilities that clashed. To the complainant, Patel’s innocuous stroll was, possibly, an intrusion into his or her privacy. To Patel, aimlessly walking around people’s homes was probably the way to get to know the area where his son lives. To the police official, it was simply flooring the suspect – a cultural alien – on a concrete pavement without any kind of provocation.

Patel has become a classic case of what construes offence, to what extent is a sense of outrage valid and what should be the remedial action. Answers to some of these lie in the socio-cultural context in which such incidents happen. Needless to say that this is as relevant for the US as elsewhere in the world.

Of course, the Charlie Hebdo killings, ostensibly a result of feeling offended by somebody else’s freedom of expression, is an extreme reaction. But intolerance is manifesting itself even in more innocuous platforms. Take, for instance, the current sense of outrage being articulated in India over a comedy show called AIB Roast, a clone of the American one called The Roast. It has landed the organisers and the celebrity participants in serious trouble with all and sundry pulling punches at them for being gross and in bad taste. By the way, the show’s host is being targeted, especially on social media, for his personal sexual preferences!

The show had two Bollywood actors doing a stand up comic act with a well known filmmaker as the host. The jokes were of all kinds – some funny, some not so and some rank bad. But the reactions to it have been equally bizarre and hypocritical. The controversy led to the organisers having to apologise to the Archbishop of Mumbai. All footage was taken off the net. The worst piece of this story is that those who were part of the audience and laughed at the jokes, including well known actors, have complaints against them filed with the police.

Still, more peculiar was that the complainant discriminated between one actor and another because the latter happened to be the daughter of an actor-turned politician of the ruling party.

It’s strange really that the same society that takes offence at a comedy show, does not feel the need to file a complaint against a sitting member of parliament of the BJP who termed all non-followers of Lord Ram as illegitimate and asked them to leave the country. Or for that matter, it does not raise its voice when the Censor Board for Film Certification (CBFC) audaciously drafts a list of words that Bollywood films can’t use, including, the name Bombay. Why does this not hurt anybody’s creative liberty?

Simply put, a lot of inherent social biases, be it based on skin, gender, language, religion or whatever, is being couched in the garb of social protection, both physical and cultural. All that it requires is a little patience to understand what it is that is needed for the collective good of all. What is there on the other side and why? This is as true for the police officer in the US to the ‘moral police’ in India.

However, as Twinkle Khanna, daughter of the legendary Rajesh Khanna and Dimple Kapadia and wife of action hero Akshay Kumar, has written in her blog, ‘Freedom of choice is also about choosing which battles are worth fighting for, after all’.

Un-suitable

A suit is turning out to be a rather costly affair for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is the suit he wore when he and US President Barack Obama chatted and walked on the lawns of the Hyderabad House during the latter’s visit. And, Modi served tea to ‘Barack’, as he referred to the US President publicly, only to get pilloried later for calling him by his first name. That suit had ‘Narendra Damodardas Modi’ written as the pinstripe. It certainly reinforced his narcissism among his detractors but also possibly impacted his party’s fortunes in the election to the Delhi assembly.

Now, the latest we get to read on the social media is that the next step is to auction the suit– one estimate puts its cost at R1mn (RO6,191 approx) – and contribute the proceeds for the development of the girl child as he had done during his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat. The purpose of such a proposal is to turn an embarrassing negative into a positive. It looks like none of his advisors have thought of letting the subject die a natural death.

Tailpiece

Indian politicians are, usually, wary of letting their wives accompany them on even social occasions like weddings. The only exception to the rule, three decades ago, was late Ramakrishna Hegde, chief minister of the southern state of Karnataka, who ensured his apolitical wife shared the dais at a political rally.

So, when Arvind Kejriwal came out to wave at the crowds before his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) office last week after the people gave him a landslide victory, he surprised everyone in more ways than one. He turned around to his civil servant-wife, Sunita, thanked her and hugged her. To many it would have been blasphemous for a Chief Minister to publicly hug his wife, but to the young followers of his party, it was something to cheer about. After all, Kejriwal had broken another glass ceiling of showing affection to his wife and saying that he would not have been what he is but for his wife.

SOURCE: MUSCAT DAILY