No debate. No questions asked

Rahul da CunhaHe wondered where the art of ‘debate’ stood in modern India — well, at least regarding certain topics. Some issues seem to have come down to a one-sided argument. To even question, was considered ‘politically incorrect’. Any view to the contrary was just ‘taboo’.

Like, dare he utter the word ‘rape’. Mass rape, molestation, manhandling, even mutual consent (gone wrong) seem to recently all be clubbed together. Under the heinous heading of ‘MALE ABUSE’.

And yet there were so many debatable cases. A matter of opinion, a maybe yes, maybe no situation. Rape was rape, no questions allowed.

A young director friend had wanted to make his first indie film. Several auditions later, he’d found his heroine. They went to Madh Island to ‘discuss’ the script as consenting adults. But behind his back the producer decided he wanted his own niece to play the lead. Boom, suddenly his young friend was forced to drop the girl — who went from aspiring starlet to angry, ‘spurned’ lover in a matter of minutes. Deciding to wreak vengeance she filed a police complaint: “He raped me in Madh Island” were the words filled into the register at Oshiwara police station. Cops landed at his doorstep and in one fell swoop he was a rape accused. In people’s eyes he was suddenly no different from any of the Shakti Mills monsters. A man with a black mark against his name and a thousand fingers pointing at him. An angry India had branded the man a molester.

Illustration / Amit Bandre
Illustration / Amit Bandre

He decided to ask some theoretical questions on Twitter. Not to deride, just debate. Was it just possible that the girl had manipulated the situation? Could a man be considered a ‘victim’ in such circumstances? Could it be that we as a nation, so incensed by Nirbhaya, were possibly overreacting? He was torn apart, limb from limb. The fat cat critics, the feminists, bared their fangs “How can you be so cruel?” “Typical male. Blaming it on the women.” “Misogynist, male chauvinist”. “Casting couch supporter.”

Nope, he realised, rape was above conversation. There were no two sides to it. No such thing as ‘female manipulation’. No such thing as innocent until proven guilty. Rape was rape, no counter argument accepted.

And then came that other phrase, no one dared question — ‘freedom of expression’. The Charlie Hebdo massacre. And while the world mourned the death of the 12 cartoonists, he did ask some questions — Does irreverence have boundaries? Was there a fine line dividing ‘freedom of expression’ from a ‘free for all’. When you know that your object of satire are sadistic murderers, should you be so brazen as to poke fun at their Prophet?

He was torn apart. Accused of not respecting the dead. Of insulting the very concept of ‘freedom of expression’.

And then he remembered the phrase — Speak now or forever hold your peace.

He decided to forever hold his peace.

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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