‘Sedition has become the new Padma Shri’: filmmaker Rakesh Sharma

Celebrated filmmaker delivered the John Abraham Memorial Lecture on Saturday


Kochi, Oct 1: Noting that the political climate in the country today was as dark as – if not darker than – that during the Emergency in 1975, award-winning filmmaker Rakesh Sharma said existing societal fault lines had become even deeper.

Delivering the John Abraham Memorial Lecture today at the ongoing tenth edition of the SiGNS festival at Ernakulam Town Hall, Sharma – the director of the hard-hitting 2002 Gujarat riots documentary Final Solution – bemoaned the mainstreaming of intolerance and an increasingly divisive discourse and polity.

“In the past, many of the extreme views I now hear were considered the loony fringe. Such views now dominate our living room discussions and our TV debates,” he said, noting the roles played by rising inequity post-liberalisation and the prioritising of identity politics in lieu of welfare politics.

Narrating an personal incident where he was banned from his housing society’s Whatsapp group for offering alternate perspectives on the use of pellets in Kashmir, Sharma said, “The mirage of free speech has run into a reality check. Social media today is at once a potent tool of resistance as well as a dangerous medium used by the other side to spread misinformation, propaganda and to promote bigotry and hatred through doctored videos and bogus facts.”

“While speech might seem freer, mindspaces appear to be shrinking and becoming shallower. A more visibly intolerant India – with identity markers as differentiators – is our new reality,” he added, acknowledging that this was a global trend.

Praising Kerala for responding sharply to BJP President Amit Shah’s Onam greetings tweet, which transposed Vishnu’s avatar Vamana into the celebration of Mahabali’s rule, Sharma said more such reactions were needed to counter the political formulations and vigilante groups threatening basic freedoms.

“Sedition has become the new Padma Shri award, freely handed out by the state to those it finds disagreeable. The rightwing is a grave threat, challenging the very nature of our Democracy, unleashing gently a series of ground-level changes that I consider to be transformational: Food fascism, Love Jihad, a greater degree of ‘othering’,” Sharma said.

“A recent survey of Indian dietary habits, conducted by the Registrar General of India, found that there were 29 per cent vegetarians in the country. How does this minority hold a 71 per cent majority to ransom?” Sharma asked.

To counter this phenomenon – which he liked to the German experience with Nazism, Sharma called for the oppressed classes to come together in solidarity against everyday acts of legitimising intolerance and hate.

“The time to speak up is now. Silence is not an option. Silence means support,” he said.

The lecture also featured clips from Sharma’s follow-up to Final Solution. Titled Final Solution: Revisited, the upcoming documentary features ground-level updates from Gujarat. A question and answer session followed the screening.

SiGNS 2016 Artistic Director Dr C.S. Venkateswaran delivered the welcome address.

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