Okay, first things first. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadres need to understand what ‘irony’ means. Seriously. A group of them ‘protested’ (read: screamed, burnt tyres, brandished stuff) on 16 July outside the offices of a TV channel, making Chhetria Patrakar wonder what the channel in question had done to earn the RSS’s ire. After digging past freeze-dried RSS slogans – a task that CP absolutely does not relish – it turned out that the channel had telecast a programme the previous day indicating that some RSS cadres might have played a role in ‘acts of reprisal terrorism against Muslims and their places of worship’.
There might be truth to the story – or there might not – but CP would like to know which genius(es) in the RSS thought pressuring a media house would be a good way to prove their innocence. Basic lesson, boys (and Chhetria feminist Patrakar has not noticed any non-boy in there; not that this is necessarily a bad thing in this case): using violence to show that you’re not violent does not work; there is no non-violent violence.
Speaking of organised religion, the Maldives seems to have regained its ‘100-percent Muslim’ tag after its sole declared atheist (re)converted to Islam while in police custody. In May, 37-year-old Mohamed Nazim stood up during a Q&A session with maverick televangelist Zakir Naik and declared his non-adherence to any religion. The reaction of the audience was not pretty, with many (including Naik) calling for his death. Nazim was taken into ‘protective custody’ by the police, and while in the lock-up was reportedly given a crash course on Islam.
Later, during a press conference sponsored by none other than Nazim’s official jailhouse tutors, the Ministry for Islamic Affairs, the man reconverted to Islam and apologised to the Maldivian people for his sinful, free-thinking ways. Another one bites the dust, CP says. But it looks as if Nazim was not alone. The atolls have apparently had another declared atheist, 25-year-old Ismail Mohamed Didi, who hanged himself to death in July because he felt he was victimised for his lack of faith, demonstrating just how … oh, well, enough said.
We’re not done with the Maldives, actually. President Mohamed Nasheed has apparently come up with a foolproof way to broadcast his speeches – at no expense to the government! The legerdemain involved in getting this done, however, has CP’s head spinning. The Parliament approved a law to establish a company, the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), to operate the state media, Television Maldives and Voice of Maldives. These two are, however, owned by none other than the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), which was established by the president.
We’re still not done. President Nasheed also ratified the law the established the MBC, an entity over which the government would have no editorial control (and unicorns would fly over rainbows and fetch pots of gold). During all this back and forth, however, someone somewhere apparently stumbled upon the fact that two companies couldn’t possibly own the same assets, especially if the companies in question are owned by separate arms of state, both of which are currently at loggerheads. So, the MNBC decided that it did not want to hand Television Maldives and Voice of Maldives over to the MBC. President Nasheed’s political advisor, Hassan Afeef, later claimed that since the MBC was established ‘by the Parliament and not the government’, the MNBC was ‘reluctant’ to hand its assets over to it. So what was the president thinking when he ratified the law establishing MBC? And just where do things stand at present? Go figure!
Pakistan and the Internet don’t seem to be hitting it off very well lately. After the banning shenanigans of May and June, the country shot to Internet infamy again in July. According to an Associated Press story, which was picked up by Fox News as well as a number of media outlets from Southasia, Internet users from Pakistan have comprehensively routed their counterparts in other parts of the world in the quest for ‘quirky porn’ on Google. And we’re not talking about the fringes of weird. Users from Pakistan topped the world in bestiality-, incest-, paedophilia- and rape-related searches on Google. Many have tried to dismiss this story as a ‘sensationalist concoction’, but these statistics aren’t really news for people in Pakistan, are they? Everyone knew about them and laughed about them in private. CP is puzzled, however, at this mass consumption of weird porn, and wonders whether the seekers actually found what they were looking for. Do porn sites have ‘cattle’ as an option under sexual preference now?
While the powers-that-be in Pakistan deem paedophilia and rape-related searches suitable for public consumption, Abhishek Sharma’s tongue-in-cheek new film Tere Bin Laden has not received the same leniency. The movie stars Pakistani heartthrob Ali Zafar in the lead role – but this is not the only reason CP is looking forward to watching it, nor is it the reason why the Pakistani censor board chucked it out. According to the latter, the movie was banned because it would ‘instigate attacks’ on cinema houses where it was screened. Wait, let’s get this straight: so the Pakistan censor board thinks that since extremists might not find the movie amusing, officials should bow down and deprive cinemagoers of much-needed laughter? Humour the fringe and not the majority, eh? In India, meanwhile, Tere Bin Laden has been doing brisk business, grossing over INR 500 million in its opening weekend alone.
The Indian Censor Board, however, was not as gracious with Flames of the Snow, a 125-minute documentary on the Nepali Maoists by Anand Swaroop Verma, an Indian journalist. From the sounds of it, the screening certificate for the documentary was won after a long, hard battle that left many a scar. Displaying their ignorance of the genre, the Censor Board wanted Verma to add a disclaimer, telling the audience that, among other things, the views expressed in the film were those of the author and the producer. ‘But these aren’t my views! These are interviews!’ Verma insisted. The board finally relented – a little. The new disclaimer explains that the substance of the documentary has been compiled from various media publications; that the views expressed are those of the individuals interviewed; and that the documentary does not intend to ‘offend the sensibilities or sentiments of any country or individual’. CP wonders if Southasian sensibilities are really that fragile, and if documentaries are really meant to placate egos instead of raise questions…
While Verma’s documentary went relatively unscathed in India (except for a redundant disclaimer, stating the obvious), the Nepal Censor Board ostensibly had diplomatic sensibilities in mind when it axed a scene in ‘Flames of the Snow’ in which Palestinians burn Israeli and American flags. Diplomacy: 1, Freedom of expression: 0.
Bans seem to be the flavour of the month (for the second month running!) for Southasian governments. Politicos in Maharashtra were up in arms over the recent Supreme Court decision to un-ban James Laine’s book on Shivaji, the purported ‘symbol of Maratha pride’. The book was banned in 2004 after the Bhandarkar Institute of Oriental Research (where Laine researched his book) was attacked, and the recent reversal by the Supreme Court has led to an outpouring of protests from across the political spectrum, with politicos scurrying to protect imaginary vote-banks. The claim that the book denigrates Shivaji doesn’t really convince CP – the ‘contentious’ line being cited by naysayers is actually a common Shivaji joke cracked by Brahmins. Are the Sambhaji Brigades and the Thackerays going to ban Brahmins and jokes too now, or are they content with merely shooting the messenger?
In other news, an English-language magazine has been making the rounds online. Inspire, allegedly floated by al-Qaeda, promises a transcribed message from Osama bin Laden on ways to save the Earth (not bombing it could do the trick), an article titled ‘O martyr, you have illuminated!’ (they probably meant ‘eliminated’); and another titled ‘Hear the world’. It also seems to take ‘Yo mamma’ jokes to a whole new level, with a feature by ‘The AQ Chef’ titled ‘How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom’. Very poetic. Now CP may be living in denial, but this really does sound like a spoof. Hats off to whoever put this together (unless it turns out to be real, in which case CP has a packed suitcase ready).
~ Chhetria Patrakar
Chhetria Patrakar is Himal's roving media critic.