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Ban: A threat to democracy, diversity

Deccan Herald

Banning as an instrument has acquired great importance in recent times. A regime like Narendra Modi’s likes to resolve issues not through debates and intellectual discussions, but through enforcing a ban. In that sense, banning becomes a ritual which curtails the freedom that state promised and portrays to promise, to its people. Banning today is seen as an act that disciplines society.

Bans are a threat to the voices of the dissent, minorities, deviants and eccentrics whose idea of life, lifestyle, livelihood and lifecycle epistemologically lie in ‘different’ knowledge paradigms. Anything that is different or alternate to the logic of the ruling regime is banned. 

Banning at times becomes a state tool to give direction to the society. Extremism and genocide are cruel acts, but bans are much more subtle, where you legally enforce through power that ‘different’ epistemologies and ways of life are illegitimate. Banning, thus, is a violence that a state performs with a licence from the law. 

Banning is not only a ritual of today’s regime. Congressmen were in a streak of banning movies. Social scientist Prof Shiv Visvanathan says, “frequent calls to ban films are part of a broader malaise in a country where a lot of people have made their careers in sensitivities.” Banning, with time, has become inter- disciplinary. Banning books and movies are old style, banning life style and livelihoods is the current trend. 

Most of the tribal languages are oral. A legal system which enforces literacy or textual documents as a binding proof violates the systems of orality. 

Illiteracy is a knowledge system in itself, a knowledge system which we perceive as ‘different’. Since the majority of our learning centres, particularly mainstream knowledge industry, revolves around literate surroundings, we have abandoned oral knowledge in our education systems. This way, banning becomes a structural adjustment tool which gains legitimacy to illegitimise ‘different’ epistemics. It is not only the state which bans, it’s also us, who in a way, are being the perpetrators, through hegemonising textual learning.

Banning as a tool plays a master stroke, shrouded in legality, for regimes like the BJP, trying to violate the fundamentals of our constitutions right to life, information, speech and religious practices. The lack of understanding in the idea of diversity and democracy shows up every now and then in the BJP’s rule. Beef has been banned in several BJP- states and Minister Sushma Swaraj announces that Bhagawad Gita is India’s national book. 

I have a question to ask here to Swaraj: what is your reply to thousands of adivasis who are saying that their understanding of the eternal comes from mountains, rivers and trees. Still, regimes like yours perform cultural genocide in the name of development and banning. 

By declaring Gita as our national text book, aren’t you banning other forms of beliefs and knowledge systems that co-exist in this country? Yet, our prime minister boastfully represents our country globally saying that India is a diverse nation.

Banning livelihoods 

Banning has also become a way in which you destroy a community’s livelihood, displace them and acquire resources. The case of Katputli colony, near Shadipur depot in Delhi is a perfect example. The colony which once had colourful artisans who once represented our country abroad are deprived of their traditional livelihood system. The magicians, madaris, saperas and the bhaat’s have been reduced to mere beggary. The state today sees them as vagabonds and criminals. 

It’s in fact, called a slum today by the DDA and the colony is being threatened to be displaced. One feels like asking, animal activists like Menaka Gandhi that if putting animals in zoos, which musemises and treats them as some alien species, is not seen by you as a crime, then why is it a crime when communities like these make monkeys and snakes dance to the tunes. 

At least, there is a sense of companionship and value for their lives. Banning as an instrument is not only curtailing one’s idea of companionship and value, but also is pushing him/her into the evil or the lesser known side of development.     

The displacement of people through development projects and bans are due to the increasing desires of the majority of the population which is a result of the vote bank promises of the political regimes. The destination of these desires seems to be in the making of cities smarter than humans. 

As more people are forced to take up urban jobs due to perpetuation of bans and developmental projects, smarter cities are going to be nothing less than a homogenous mixture of categorised people living in a class based society.

What we confront today as common people is not only the power of regimes like the BJP’s who carry a legal weapon called the ban, but also what it dictates over the fundamental ethics of democracy and diversity that the country represents. This is the greatest irony of the 21st century’s republican democracy.