Monday, 29 December 2014

The Interview: India can learn from Obama

A still from the movie The Interview
It might not have hit a theatre near you but the Christmas release of Sony pictures’ The Interview is good news for everyone who upholds democratic values and wishes to stand up against cyber bullies.
After hackers (believed to be from North Korea) attacked Sony’s servers in November, leaked sensitive documents and threatened movie theatres that screened The Interview — a satire about an assassination attempt on North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco — Sony cancelled its release.
United States President Barack Obama criticised the production company’s decision as a “mistake”, following which Sony decided to have a limited release of the movie. Sony, by releasing the movie, and Mr Obama, by voicing his support, have showed that no matter how big the threat is, bullies must not be entertained.
Shelving The Interview would have set a wrong precedent. As rightly put by Mr Obama, “imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone whose sensibilities probably need to be offended”. Unfortunately, we, in India, are not alien to such self-censorships.
Be it the release of a book by Wendy Doniger (The Hindus: An Alternative History), or the screening of a war documentary by Callum Macrae (No Fire Zone) or a joint art exhibition by Indian and Pakistani artists in Ahmedabad, the organisers and government have caved in at the slightest hint of protest from fringe groups. Rather than protecting the enshrined right to freedom of expression, the government has often taken the easy — and lazy — option of banning works of art, academia or literature.
There is a lesson New Delhi can learn from the ‘Interview’ saga — when the rights of an organisation or a person are  threatened, it is the duty of the State to step in and ensure that they are protected. It is not enough if Mr Obama is invited as the chief guest for the Republic Day or more H1B visas are granted to Indian techies in the US.
Along with pushing for greater economic ties, New Delhi should also imbibe Washington’s zeal, as seen in this case, to protect free speech. Often India and the US are compared as great democracies, but it is the State’s approach towards these principles that defines the character and depth of a democracy.