Are we free to write & draw on whatever we want?

08 Jan,2015


There has been outrage over what happened in the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Twelve people were killed including four of the most celebrated humorists in France.


Charlie Hebdo has been attacked in the past for poking fun at Islam. It may be noted that the magazine has also taken off on other religions in the past. We don’t know how other religious leaders and followers reacted when that happened, but we are sure the response to lampooning of Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist beliefs or leaders would be damned, if that were to happen.


Cartoonist Hemant Morparia, who has spent some quality time with Georges Wolinski, one of the 12 killed, writes in the Mumbai Mirror: “The French are different from the rest of us. They take their satire seriously, as seriously as they take their, well, wine,” and adds: “The world of today is getting increasingly censorious. The right to not get offended is not (just) yet a fundamental right. Political correctness rules.”


But what Dr Morparia (oh,yes, he doubles up as a doctor at Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital) says is a little worrying, though for many of us in the media a reality for over a few decades now: “We can think it but we can’t say it. Not even for fun. Not even among friends. Intolerance rules everywhere.”


There are many who believe Charlie Hebdo had taken its freedom too far. Especially since it was warned not just by the fundamentalists but even by former French President Jacques Chirac who asked media organisations to avoid provoking Muslims.


So are we saying Charlie Hebdo asked for this? “Yes, the magazine took things too far,” notes Dr Morparia, who has spent time in France a few times over as part of a cartoonists’ exchange programme.


Well, from the reports that we’ve read, they were indeed asking for trouble, but that this “trouble” would be such a vicious attack, one hadn’t imagined.


Various Indian political leaders have expressed shock at the incident. But, as we know, lumpen elements in India too take law in their hands.


Thankfully, this doesn’t mean them using guns. But, we’ve seen enough cases where our political parties damn journalists, ransack newspaper/ TV channel offices if the news entities have upset their sensitivities. The dispute is never really settled across the table.


There’s also fear in our country that the government could ban you using the anti-social handle. Since the 1993 Mumbai riots or possibly earlier, journalists tend to refer to Hindus and Muslims as majority and minority communities. While the objective is never to fuel a riot, there is an unwritten self-censorship employed by most publications.


After this incident, cartooning will never be the same again. Sad.


See also: NewsStand: How Indian newspapers covered the Incident


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