Film critic Mahesh Kathi has been banned from entering Hyderabad for the next six months. The action was taken following his comments about the Ramayana in a television debate show, wherein he said, “For me, Ramayana is just another story… I believe Rama is as much a cheater (dagulbhaji) as he is ideal in that story. And I think perhaps Sita would have been better, might have gotten justice if she had stayed with Ravana... (sic)”
The official statement released by the police regarding the temporary banishment argued that Mahesh’s statements had the capacity to hurt religious sentiments and disrupt communal harmony.
When journalist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down at her home in Bengaluru last year for her rationalist views, it came as a rude shock to the intellectual community.
But it was not the first wake up call. Before Lankesh, scholars and academicians, who had similar radical viewpoints like M.M. Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, were assassinated. Keeping these instances in mind, the Telangana police also took action against Swami Paripoornananda, the head of the Kakinada Sri Peetham, by placing him under house arrest when he planned to take out a Dharmagraha Yatra against Mahesh Kathi. Under Section 3 of Telangana Prevention of Anti-Social and Hazardous Activities, Act 1980, the swami has also been externed from Hyderabad for six months.
Hyderabad’s very own Akbaruddin Owaisi had set the beehive abuzz with his inflammatory statement about wiping out a substantial number of Hindus under 15 minutes if the police did not interfere. Despite multiple charge sheets, the politico still roams scott-free. Meanwhile, another MLA from the city, Raja Singh, described Hyderabad’s old city as ‘mini Pakistan’ and requested the Chief Minister to conduct search operations in the area, claiming that bombs and other explosives would be found in a number of houses.
Being pro-government, pays
G. Kishan Reddy, Telangana BJP MLA, is of the opinion that this selective behaviour against politicos depends primarily on who is in power at that point of time, “It’s not like politicians are not at all held accountable. If a politician who is on friendly terms or is in support of the ruling party makes an offensive statement, the government lets it slide. Akbaruddin Owaisi has been making inflammatory statements for a long time now, but he is also on friendly terms with the Telangana government. He has that cushion to fall back on.”
Karthik Navayan, a scholar and human rights activist, explains how powerful connections, public backing and social capital play an important role in such cases. “We need to understand in the case of Mahesh Kathi, that people in vulnerable positions are attacked first and vehemently, in case of such radical statements. Social capital plays an important role in shielding you. For example, when Telugu writer, Ranganayakamma, wrote Ramayana Vishavruksham (meaning Ramayana: The Poisonous Tree, a Marxist feminist version of the Ramayana), she was regarded as a liberal intellectual. I have not seen any member of the Communist Party speaking up against the punishment meted out to Mahesh. Even in the case of Akbaruddin Owaisi, the government hesitates to take action against his comments because he has a huge mass of people standing behind him. Mahesh, on the other hand, is from the Madiga community, with no social capital or public backing. His banishment is a modern day manifestation of the age-old caste system.” K. Babu Rao, president of Human Rights Forum (Telangana), tries to make sense of the situation and says, “I am surprised at the action taken against Mahesh. NTR had also glorified Ravana in his films, which neither politicians nor the public had a problem with.”
But Anantha Nag K., Chairman of Human Rights Protection Council of India (Telangana), is of the view that this legal action was necessary to instil the correct idea of freedom of speech, “One cannot speak whatever one wants using ‘Freedom of Speech’ as a fundamental right. Mahesh’s statements have hurt the sentiment of Hindus. He is misleading Dalits by using statements like Hindus never owned Dalits. No religious sentiment should be hurt in the garb of ‘Freedom of Speech’.”