The reality of bans and bandhs: Fanaa

Now that “Aamir Khan, Fanaa and Gujarat” controversy has died down, let me tell you about the rudest reminder we got from this whole episode.

Even though we live in a free country, political hooligans who use fear as the weapon, are easily capable of curbing our freedom of expression and choice. Break down the whole incident into episodes, what exactly happened? BJP, the ruling party, said they don’t want Fanaa screened in Gujarat. Everyone interpreted that as “Gujarat government banned Fanaa”. But the state government had never ‘officially’ banned the movie. Producers of Fanaa however knew a ban existed on the ground, and knocked at the Supreme Court to seek protection for theaters that wanted to screen the movie. SC said sorry, there is no ban, theater owners are free to exercise their choice, so why should you request any protection!

Would the Gujarat theaters screen Fanaa? No! Who wants his business damaged and vandalized for no reason! [Note: some ‘brave’ theaters did screen the movie.]

So, here was Fanaa, caught in the middle of nowhere, thanks to this “virtual ban”! The problem is this. A ban or bandh call by a political party is seen as a mere “call” by the judiciary. The assumption is that people can ignore these calls and exercise their freedom of expression and choice.

However, in reality, there is no such freedom, unless you want to be a real brave guy. If you ever lived in semi-urban India, you would know that really well.

When a political group declares a bandh, it uses real muscles to enforce it. They use paid vandals, and the “mob can always get away” reality to enforce their diktat. I remember seeing it all while growing up. Jeeps full of hooligans would drive around the town to force down shutters of all the businesses. A journalist would usually follow with a camera. Once the drama was done, many shops would return to business as usual. And next day, we would have reports in the news papers – “XYZ party’s bandh peaceful and successful” – followed by pictures of shops that were forced shut!

Things used to be this blatant perhaps only in Bihar, but the “sponsored” bandh culture exists in every other state now. And I hardly ever read about people getting punished for using violent means to enforce these. Mobs can take the law in their hands and just get away. So go “buy” a mob, and you too can organize a successful and peaceful “bandh”!

Summing it up, the lesson from Fanaa controversy is: if a political group with muscles protests against you, just give up!

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