Date: 03/02/2013

Shobhaa De

03 February 2013, 05:26 AM IST

Ban this. Ban that. Intimidate. Scare. Browbeat. Disrupt. Destroy.

We are living in deeply troubling times. The Republic of Ideas... Dreams… Imagination … has been replaced by the Republic of Hate and Nightmares. Which is why it is important to address this missive directly to the individual who is hell bent on pushing the hate envelope still further.

Dear Mr Intolerant - Disrupter of Peace, I write this with anguish in my heart. It took just seven days and four nasty protests to establish your credentials as the ultimate cultural rogue. Sadly, the weakened (and wicked) State has meekly surrendered to your bullying and threats. You have picked your targets well. Ashis Nandy, Kamal Haasan , Salman Rushdie and Shah Rukh Khan. High profile… but soft and vulnerable. You decided to 'teach them a lesson' . You nearly succeeded. It happened because we let it. Because we went on the defensive. We explained ourselves strenuously… provided alibis and excuses. But mainly because we surrendered. Too easily. Too soon.

And allowed you to trample all over us. Yes - it has become an 'Us Vs. Them' siege, unfortunately. Why did we back down so fast? There lies the sad tale. It has to do with several factors - all of them valid. Age and frail health (Asish Nandy). Commerce and connected considerations (Kamal Haasan). Heightened sensitivity (SRK). Or plain fatigue (Salman Rushdie ). It has come to such a ludicrous point that soon creative communities across India will be forced to quietly shut shop. And worse - shut up. That is precisely what you want.

The irony of this ghastly situation isn't lost on anyone. Check this out - most times, the angry mobs ( led by people like you) are composed of people who do not read, write, draw, sing, act, paint… or even think. Books are judged by a bunch of illiterate goons who may never have held one in their hands. Movies are condemned by those who have not watched the film they are demanding a ban on. Art is dismissed by philistines who have never stepped into a gallery. Speeches are damned by those who don't know any language - except the language of abuse. In such a hostile atmosphere, artists, writers, painters, movie makers, musicians and thinkers are pushed into a pen…. threatened, gagged, brow beaten, intimidated. Their crime? They possess an independent mind.

Why is Kamal Haasan threatening to quit India and seek exile in a more tolerant environment? Why is he compelled to convince his "Muslim brothers'' that his film is pro-Muslim ? Why is Asish being dragged from one TVstudio to the next asserting, "I have always been a champion of the Dalits' ? Why should SRK have to play the martyr over and over again and wear his patriotism on his sleeve? Why is Rushdie still hunted and hounded? Mr Distrupter, you know the answer.

As of now, you are calling the shots in this ongoing battle for Freedom of the Mind. Your corrosive antipathy towards what is foolishly called the Liberal Threat, is winning the war so far. Intellectuals are crawling when they needn't even stoop. Soon public platforms will be effortlessly hijacked by your types - narrow minded, vicious people. "Religious thugs" indulging in "cultural terrorism" to borrow Rushdie's evocative words. You and your ilk, who are nothing but two paisa hirelings of local politicians , appear determined to exert control over carefully nurtured votebanks. That is precisely what has led to an outbreak of cultural goondagiri parading as moral policing.

People can see through such humbug . What do you want to hear? Hypocritical, gratuitous remarks? Would it make things any better if our intellectuals were to start every public discourse with salutations like : "My Muslim brothers …my Dalit sisters…. my tribal children?" Your recent 'triumphs' should not give you false confidence . In the prevailing chamcha culture that defines political life, you may have succeeded in terrorizing a few. But be warned - this is a fight that goes beyond personalities. Or even expeditious politics. It is not just about Asish, SRK, Rushdie or Kamal Haasan . This is a fight for freedom. Absolute freedom. Zero compromise freedom. Freedom of ideas… and the vibrant expression of all that is diverse in our complex society. As guaranteed by our Constitution. Lathis can stop crowds but not thoughts. Dissent is our birthright. And we shall have it. Just you watch!