Thanks to a side show of the blessed ‘second freedom struggle’, the 12-day Annalila in Delhi powered by the indomitable middle classes, aptly staged on historic Ram Lila Ground, that the corruption-hit populace is for the first time going to enjoy ‘freedom of speech’ in its truest sense. All along Indians were told that civility demanded discretion in public utterances and respect for the virtue of exercising restraint even if the urge to use ‘un-parliamentary’ language was irresistible.
Rejoice! The shackles on the ‘freedom’ of speech seem to have been broken. A man from the show world, of all places, has pronounced before cheering crowds of thousands (or is it millions?) that our MPs and MLAs are ‘ganwar’ and ‘unpadh’. When parliament threatened to move a privilege motion against him, a lot of ‘suppressed’ people, including some fellow denizens of the tinsel town, came to his rescue, asserting their right to speak with ‘freedom’. If what Om Puri said was held un-parliamentary, ‘freedom’ of speech will have to be redefined as the silence of the lambs or some such thing!
The hero in establishing the supremacy of ‘freedom’ of speech at all cost is undoubtedly that Mumbai film star, who, one understands, began his career as a screen villain. He was ably supported on stage by a ‘heroine’, a former ‘super cop’ given to dressing fancily on stage and displaying her endearing theatrical skills by publicly disclosing the secret that our ‘Netas’ have forked tongues. Even the greatly revered Maharashtrian evangelist for probity in public life had restricted himself to saying something that was no stronger than ‘prime minister is a liar’.
Om Puri might have been a villain at one time but after his performance—historic or heroic, decide for yourself–on the stage of Ramlila Ground on that particular day late in August 2011, he deserves to be hailed as the next great Indian hero after Anna Hazare, closely followed by Kiran Bedi, whose histrionic talents were first displayed on Doordarshan decades ago during a colourful New Year’s eve programme.
Her brief cameo at Ramlila Ground only confirmed the assumption in some unfriendly quarters that she would have gone very far in her profession if only she had made the right choice and not fallen for the fame of being the first female police officer of India.
Many former city reporters who might not have been born at that time of Doordarshan’s New Year eve programme would still acknowledge her penchant for the drama, recalling their interactions with her and the hollering they must have received from her on the telephone. Why, even the populace of a North-eastern state should be able to recall that in the spirit of true grit she braved protest by an entire state when she was accused of abusing her status to challenge the admission rules of a professional college. It was a tussle between her right to ‘freedom’ and theirs, the people of the particular state.
The revolutionary that Annaji is—and the second Mahatma Gandhi to boot—the climax of his fight against omnipresent corruption, unfortunately, still looks some distance away. The words that Om Puri used to describe our elected representatives did raise the hackles in some puritanical quarters but it also, for the first time as far as one can recall, found equally prominent people springing to his defence to assert that the right to ‘free speech’, enshrined in the Constitution of India that is Bharat, is inalienable. Many said there was nothing abusive or derogatory in Om Puri’s assertions.
The political class that has ganged up against the film star, one understands, has found little support in the virtual world of Twitter, Facebook and all that. However, if they are to press ahead for action against Om Puri, they should be ready to run a permanent battle against people, who believe in exercising their right to complete and total freedom of speech.
Breathes there a man who does not know that words like ‘Ganwar’ and ‘Unpadh’ are, in fact, considered rather mildly abusive in Hindi! They do provoke anger when said during an animated conversation, or heated exchange, as we call it in journalese. The point cannot be elaborated further to show how ‘mild’ these two words are compared to the words in the street lexicon that really sting and target absent family members.
Alas, the stronger Hindi words of abuse are not allowed to be printed in newspapers. Here again, Om Puri alone can be a Messiah taking the lead to break the barrier that fetters freedom to say whatever one wishes. It will require that he assume the mantle of editor of a paper at least for a day with the print line specifying that he is the editor who alone is eligible for a jail term in the event of abuse of the law of libel by the publication.
No need to see him as a threat to any incumbent editor because he is likely to discover very quickly that even journalists speak with forked tongues because they restrict the use of the superlatives that go beyond ‘ganwar’ and ‘unpadh’ to oral limits and lack the stomach to put them in black and white.
So hail Om Puri! All those, who have lived under the yoke of restrictions on freedom of speech, despite the constitutional assurance in support of freedom of speech, have found a new icon, a trail blazer, who will show to the world that India is not only going to be corruption-free but the first country in the world where the citizens will have total freedom to utter whatever they like, whenever they like and whoever they choose to target.