Newspapers afraid to criticise a multi-crore plan for a monument no one needs. Writers afraid to let their imaginations wander. Filmmakers faced with the threat of endless court cases and violent protests if they don’t toe the line.
In a state famous for its liberalism, free thinkers and social reformers, local political outfits scrambling for a little attention are having a more severe impact on the artistic and literary world than even they may think.
Take Anand Yadav.
In March, members of the Warkari sect of Hinduism (followers of Hindu seers Tukaram and Dnyaneshwar) slammed the renowned author for his Marathi book on Tukaram.
They were upset over an admittedly fictional account of the seer’s life because it included a few paragraphs of him fantasising about a woman.
As the howls of protest grew louder — backed, some say, by the Nationalist Congress Party, which has a large votebank within the community — a worried Yadav rushed to the 18th century Tukaram temple at Dehu, near Pune, where the sect has its headquarters.
As he tried to apologise, he was booed and jeered. A few days later, he withdrew the book from publication and stepped down as president of the prestigious annual Marathi Sahitya Sammelan (Literary Meet).
No political party intervened or offered any support, for fear of alienating the mainstream Maharashtrian voter.
Just two months later, the Warkaris followed this up with widespread and frequently violent protests against a politically themed Marathi film — Gallit Gondhal, Dillit Mujra (Chaos in Your own Lane, a Salute in Delhi) — that they claimed insulted Lord Vithoba by showing him with a cap on his head.
The protests were started by a little-known political outfit, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, which had in November 2008 spearheaded protests against Hollywood film Slumdog Millionaire, claiming that the term ‘slumdog’ was an insult to all of Mumbai’s slumdwellers.
“The liberal space in Maharashtra is being erased — not through state intervention, but because the state is not doing enough to protect it,” said editor Kumar Ketkar, editor of Marathi daily Loksatta and a victim of mob violence himself.
In his case, it was the then-unknown pro-Maratha outfit Shiv Sangram that kicked up a fuss, smashing windowpanes and smearing tar on the front door of Ketkar’s Thane home.
The editor’s crime: Writing an editorial (in June 2008) criticising a multi-crore plan by the state government to build a statue of Maratha warrior-king Shivaji off the coast of Mumbai.
These act of vandalism have in fact often became tools of political mobilisation, used often and effectively to get communities riled up, preferably just ahead of an election.
“Politicians who want to polarise and protect their votebank often begin or back such protests,” said Datta Desai of Pune’s Academy of Politics and Social Studies. “Such incidents seem to be seen as an effective way of building an identity in the politics.”