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A Dirty, Dirty Trick


Dear Richard,

The arrest warrant issued against you for violation of India’s obscenity law is so bizarre that it’s difficult to even try and understand the rationale behind the warrant, after some cranky self-appointed guardian of India culture pressed a nuisance suit against you and actress Shilpa Shetty. But what is encouraging, if one can say that, is that most Indians, like me, realize that this episode has gone completely out of hand are extremely indignant about the judgment.

It takes all sorts to make this world, and unfortunately, the ones who complain the loudest – or who can find the idle television camera – are the ones heard first. As you rightly told Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” (video here), the whole incident – a simple kiss on the cheek – was blown out of proportion by “a very small right-wing, very conservative political party”, who are “the moral police in India and they do this kind of thing quite often.” Clearly, you understand that these people do not form the majority.

What you probably also know, is that though this ridiculous verdict was handed out by a lower court, it has been condemned by prominent lawyers across India who say that the “case,” and the ruling in favor of letting it go forward, was nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt bordering on judicial indecency. Soli Sorabjee, the former attorney general of India had a typical but harsh reaction: India “magistrates should not behave like the Taliban moral police.”

In your apology you’ve said that the media storm has taken you by surprise. I do agree with you because, in my opinion, the media contributed to making this into a bigger issue than it really was. True, there were a bunch of people who, for reasons best known to them, were offended and made a big deal about it. But had the media not splashed the images across different platforms then maybe this would’ve passed. Which, of course, seems so odd since so many of those very broadcasters and television personalities would disagree – vehemently – with the charged placed against you and Shilpa.

But you are an actor and actors live and die by publicity, don’t they? So I guess you had little choice – despite your instincts to the contrary – in the matter. It’s unfortunate but, I believe, standing up to harassment like this is one of the first steps India needs to take in seeing that all its residents – men and women – can live free and equal lives.

But it didn’t, and sadly, the detractors succeeded in making this into front-page news and even respected television channels – the BBC! – devoted precious minutes of their prime time to airing the footage and discussing the issue ad nauseam. The way I see it, this only gave them a wider platform to rally their ludicrous cause, which eventually convinced a lower court magistrate that this was “an obscene act.”

By that measure, most Bollywood film songs should be immediately banned. And if the kissing really was so revolting then how come the television channels aired it with such enthusiasm and leading dailies chose it as headline news? Do they stand to be tried too?

Neither you nor Shilpa did anything wrong and all this hubbub must end soon because such hounding, unfortunately, is not new and must not be encouraged. Shilpa is being targeted by people who have a misguided sense of morality and who, more than fighting for their “cause”, are hungry for quick publicity. The fact that she is a woman and a celebrity is what makes it all the more unbearable for them. I doubt if a male star would’ve been summoned to court had he been in a similar situation. No, probably not, which is what makes this even more unfortunate.

Shilpa, as you’d know, has been ordered to appear in court on the 5th of May. If history is a precedent then it looks like she’ll have to pay a fine and apologize, at worst, and not be jailed. In fact, I have no doubt that the ruling will be thrown out the window in the higher courts, and like you, I too hope that the media leave the issue alone and move on to real and serious issues that need to be addressed: India that has the largest HIV – AIDS population in the world and, like Africa, it is mostly women and children who are the most at risk and suffer the most.

Share  Posted by Gopika Kaul at 2:47 PM | Permalink

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