Column: Why not ban the RSS?

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Published: March 6, 2015 12:53:28 AM

Wrong to ban India’s Daughter, wrong to extend the ambit of the cow-slaughter ban, and wrong to ban the RSS

The Modi government has lived up to its promise of being the best formation to set the economy right. Even RBI has applauded the economic thrust of Budget FY16 by cutting the repo rate by 25 basis points. But on several social issues, the government has faltered, and according to several experts, this was one of the major reasons why the BJP got thrashed in the Delhi elections.

However, on one important social issue—women’s empowerment—Modi’s record has been outstanding. His appointment of several women in the Union Cabinet has been noteworthy, though one can, and one should, complain about the incompetence of some of these ministers —just as one should complain about the incompetence of some of the male ministers. Most remarkable, however, was Modi’s frank assessment of India’s record in killing unborn girls. In his Independence Day speech, Modi announced to India, and the whole world, our shameful record of female foeticide, and our shocking discrimination against women. His goal was to revolutionise and change the feudal mind-set of  the Indian public, and especially that of the Indian male.

Given this background, it has been nothing short of pathetic to watch the BJP spokespersons writhe and contort under the yoke of defending the indefensible. The BBC made a documentary, India’s Daughter, on the December 16 (2012) rape—one that shocked the world with its brutality. The BBC received permission from all the authorities involved to film interviews with one of those who was convicted of the rape. The documentary is about the sick mentality prevalent among males in all societies. From one’s understanding (along with the BJP’s ban brigade, I haven’t yet seen the documentary), the documentary is an honest look at the mind and mind-set of one of the convicted rapists—Mukesh Singh.

How can anyone, least of all a responsible government, object to the screening of the documentary?

Once home minister Rajnath Singh made the decision to ban its screening in India, the BJP posted its women (Shaina NC and Meenakshi Lekhi) to defend the ban. Curious, just asking: Did the BJP think that their male representatives were incompetent to advocate and defend the ban on the documentary? However, it is highly unlikely that the males could have done worse. Here are the arguments presented by the BJP women defending the ban:

Shaina NC: “We should respect the wishes of the parents of the rape victim”. If she had got her facts right, she would have known that both parents of the victim were strenuously arguing for the documentary to be shown. Indeed, an “illegal” peek at the documentary shown last night by the BBC makes it clear that the very first acknowledgement is to the parents of the victim.

Meenakshi Lekhi: She, thankfully, avoided the erroneous assumption that the “parents will be upset”, but fell into several other traps, many of her own making. For example, she argued that all the BJP was doing was conveying the “sense” of Parliament. Even though Parliament might have shouted out its approval of the ban, Lekhi should have reminded herself, and the viewers, that Parliament is not above making mistakes—unless the BJP now thinks that the Emergency was right, because it was approved by Parliament.

But Lekhi dug herself deeper into the mess of illogic and factual errors—mistakes first made by Rajnath Singh. She claimed that the filmmakers had violated the law by filming without permission—they had these. She claimed that they had not shown the uncut film to the Tihar jail authorities—they had done this, too. And, somewhat shockingly, she argued that the screening of the film would affect tourism and, therefore, should be banned. Some might legitimately argue that the RSS thinking affects tourism; so, should the RSS be banned as well?

The simple conclusion is that the BJP jumped into the ban advocacy, without looking at both the facts, or more importantly, the merits of the case. There are three major things wrong with this ban. First, if you are concerned about male violence against women, as you should be, you should make sure the film is shown, regardless of legal technicalities. [If the government still wants to ban the film, it should re-read Modi’s Independence Day speech.]  Second, it is legally wrong to oppose the screening of the film after giving it legal approval, and after the documentary-makers fulfilled all legal commitments. Third, in this day and age, by arguing for a ban on a film which can easily be streamed and watched on YouTube, you are revealing to the world that you just don’t get it. Worse, you are stating, in a very public fashion, that you care more about false and fake national honour than the well-being and respect of women. How difficult is it to understand or appreciate that respect for women in all dimensions (cracking down on foeticide, rape, domestic violence, etc)  will do much more to preserve and elevate national honour than crude attempts to ban the screening of unfortunate reality?

Unfortunately, and this is worrisome, the instinctive urge to ban (rather than think) is most prevalent in the newly-minted BJP government of Maharashtra. This state has a young chief minister, from whose youth we expected some modernity, if not progressiveness. The kind of regressive policies followed by Fadnavis’s government: banning of comedy shows and extending the existing ban on cow-slaughter to the slaughter of bulls as well. What is it with young chief ministers in India, regardless of political persuasion (e.g. Akhilesh Yadav, Fadnavis and Arvind Kejriwal), that they are so backward? Uff! Bring back the old, ring out the new.

Regarding the extension of the cow-slaughter ban to bulls (male cows), can someone please explain to me why cow-slaughter is banned, but not the slaughter of buffaloes? Both give milk, and in that sense, both are “holy” or “mother-like”. Is there an implicit “racist” bias here. given that the buffaloes are mostly black and cows are mostly white? Or, is it the case that the cow is socialist and, therefore, fits in with the preamble of our modified Constitution, and the buffalo is part of a capitalist disorder?

There is a larger disease at work in India—it is the urge to ban anything that the “powerful” do not like. It is wrong to ban the screening of India’s Daughter, just as it is wrong to ban cow slaughter. And just as equally wrong to ban extremist political organisations like the RSS, unless they violate the law.

Bhalla is co-author, with Ankur Choudhary, of the recently-released book Criconomics—Everything you wanted to know about ODI cricket and More. For World Cup match updates (and forecasts), follow

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