PADMAVATI, The Satanic Verses and Inda’s Struggle with What It Means to be Democratic

I bought Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses 3 years ago (Hardcover). I bought it partly because of its historical significance not because I had researched Rushdie and loved his work. As a Muslim, I knew the hullabaloo surrounding the book and it’s author because I can vividly remember my local Imam in Tamale in Northern Ghana bringing him up and praising the Ayatollah for placing a bounty on Mr Rushdie’s head.

Now, I bought this book knowing its history because I have always believed that knowledge is important in anything one does or thinks to do. I tried reading Satanic Verses but found it mediocre and unreadable after about a 100 pages (of the 546 in total). Now, it is very possible my Muslim background had a lot to do with my unflattering appraisal and impatience with the prose. I can remember clear and uncanny parallels between Mr Rushdie’s characters and the Prophet Muhammad. And given the kind of divinity Muslims attach to the Prophet, I can see why I may have been impatient with his notsonice portrayal in Satanic Verses (having been raised in a Muslim household). So I left it on my shelves catching dust. I’ll probably try to read it sometime this Christmas break. Hopefully I can make it to the end because if I remember right, Mr Rushdie’s prose and character development isn’t the most alluring.

Now, I am writing this to say that reading the Satanic Verses didn’t turn me into a non-believer or heretic (at least I think and hope so). So I find that what the Ayatollah did issuing Fatwas against Mr Rushdie that led to the death and injuries to a lot of people is criminal. It is criminal precisely because neither the Ayatollah nor any Muslim has the right to call for the death of the author of a fictional book. A work of art is a work of art. If you don’t like it, don’t read or watch it. If you do try to read or watch it like myself and find it unreadable, put it down and move forward to better things.

The urge to take offense and to attempt to harm or kill another in the name of hurt feelings is an absurd and backward way of thinking. Barring a personal physical and psychological abuse, you have no right to attempt to injure another because of your hurt feelings. I have watched the film that birthed modern cinema in America “Birth of a Nation” and it is the most vile thing I have ever witnessed on TV and it has helped and perpetuated American and the world seeing people like myself (a black man) as sexually ravenous and animalistic. I have never once thought about or wished for an opportunity to kill the filmmakers and the writer of that story. I haven’t done it because I need not to. The way I have lived my life has born out my humanity despite eons of years of global indoctrination by white supremacy to tell the world otherwise.

Hurt feelings and sentiments are not grounds for killing. What is happening in India now is a terrible thing. Deepika Padukone now has a bounty on her head because a ruling party top dawg has offered to pay anyone who’d cut off her nose, and threatened to cut off the legs of her co-star Ranveer Singh simply for acting in the film. This uncouth individual has yet to be arrested. Movie sets worth millions of dollars (because Sanjay Leela Bhansali always have the best and most extravagant set designs) have been destroyed and cinema houses that have shown trailers of the movie have been attacked and threats have been issued to far off cinema halls in Britain. Those doing this have done it without seeing the film or its contents. They simply feel they can ban a film they have not seen based on the possibility of it hurting their feelings. In what absurd world is this okay? What logic is in this absolute madness? India’s film certification board often blocks films or recommends cuts so that communities won’t be hurt. The director denies all the unfounded accusations and has submitted the film to the board. The board refused to even deliberate on the film because of some obscure bureaucratic rule. So, no one has seen the film but multiple states have already banned it. How the fuck does this make sense at all?

Mr Bhansali is one of the best directors in the world. And he’s always tried to pump out great Hindi movies with great stories and great costumes. As a non-Indian, one of my favorite pastimes is watching Indian movies and films by Mr Bhansali are some of the most memorable including my all-time favorite Devdas. It made me want to visit India to see the rich culture that produced such a director and film. Now if these regressives kill Mr Bhansali, imagine the other countless people who might not be lucky enough to see his genius and possibly get lured to come to India to give it tourist dollars. Meanwhile these regressives don’t have anything to help the poor Indians living and thriving off the massive tourism industry partly helped by the massive film industry and brilliant directors like Mr Bhansali.

I’ll like to end by saying this: the Indian government has failed to uphold the law and protect the rights of Mr Bhansali and all the actors in the movie PADMAVATI. Quick to remind us that India is the largest Democracy in the world, Indians must live that boast. Democracy isn’t free. It comes with responsibilities to fellow citizens whom you disagree with. Your duty to them is to allow them to say what they want even if it offends you. You can boycott the film. You can ask others not to see the film. You can write bad reviews of the film. Those are your rights, which I’ll defend to the death for you to do because that’s my obligation to you as fellow citizen. What you don’t have the right to do is vandalism and beating up and offers to kill or maim fellow citizens because you disagree with them. That is what Democracy entails. Hurt sentiments aren’t grounds to kill anyone. Whether done by the Ayatollah or some Mullahs or some Hindu Rightwing nut, it a despicable act for which such a person needs be prosecuted for inciting terror.

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