This is a tough confession to be making in public, but here it is for whatever it’s worth—I’m scared, ladies and gentlemen, well and truly scared. I’m talking about fear, cold and spine-chilling fear, not just about insecurities and anxieties. And why shouldn’t I be scared? Give me one good reason to believe that there isn’t any cause for artistes in this country to feel threatened after witnessing what is happening to the biggest and best-known among them.
Artistes now will have to keep looking over their shoulders as they sing, paint, act, sculpt and create, because you never know who could be watching or listening. Who’s to stop some self-appointed vigilante from baying for your blood, declaring you an anti-national or sick in the head, or filing a string of cases with the express purpose of making you run for your life without a minute to spare for anything but answering summons and meeting lawyers.
If an artist like M.F. Husain can be forced to live in exile and to have to petition the Supreme Court to stop his properties from being attached, then what is to become of artistes who do not make the headlines or earn the mega bucks that Husain sahab does. And let’s not try and turn a blind eye to the issue by saying that it is only celebrity artistes who have to pay the ugly price of being in the pubic eye. It could happen to just about anyone, if a report in The Indian Express on 5 May 2007 is to be believed.
It seems in Madhya Pradesh, the wrath of our morality brigade is now coming down heavily on the Rai Nritya performed by women of the Bedia community at a mass marriage ceremony in Sagar district. As a hundred and one ‘poor girls’ married their partners at a government function where cooperative minister Gopal Bhargava was the chief guest, women dancers of the Bedia community performed the Rai Nritya as part of the celebrations.
As per the newspaper report, the chief guest threw decorum to the winds in response to the so-called ‘suggestive’ movements of the dance and even expressed his appreciation by offering wads of notes to the performers. In the hot debate on vulgarity and indecency that followed, with political parties vying with each other to assert their concern for the moral welfare of the nation, guess what is happening to Rai, the dance form? Some politicians, including Uma Bharti and her Bharatiya Janshakti Party, are going to demand that the dance be banned. And if politicians lead the protest, how can social activists be far behind?
So, we have social activist Champa ben, who has in fact been awarded by the state government for her work with the Bedia community, threatening to return her medal in protest against the exploitation of women. Oh yes, she too believes that dances like the Rai Nritya “glorify prostitution”.
And what of Gopal Bhargava, who held out wads of notes to the performers? Will he face a ban too for behaving badly? Rakhi, Rakhi, do something please or he’ll just Mika his way out of this one.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org