Sadda Haq

If you have ever visited a Tibetan household, you will know that its most important room is the chausham or prayer room. Even a Tibetan nomad whose house comprises of nothing more than a tent and a few utensils, its best corner will always be reserved for the gods.

So when my grandparents decided to undertake that dangerous journey from Tibet into India and could only carry so many things, they knew what was most important. Setting aside material possessions they had with great difficulty accrued over their lifetime, they took what they needed -- food that would last them the journey, and the statues of their gods that would stay with them and their generations forever. During this arduous journey, I am told, they often asked these gods for forgiveness -- for making them undergo such hardships.

My chausham, however, was not just composed of these statues. It also had pictures of Lord Krishna, Guru Nanak and Lord Shiva, and we were made to bow to each one of them. This was not because my father possessed a greatly secular mind. It was because for a Tibetan living in India, this was how it was. We were as much Indian as we were Tibetan. Our Diwali was often brighter than our Losar (the Tibetan New Year), our knowledge about the Indian freedom struggle and its history far more detailed than that of Tibet's, and our grasp over Hindi, more firm than Tibetan.

The Tibetan exile in India has assimilated in its host country's culture to a much greater degree than Tibetans in any other country, or for that matter -- given the fact that they settled in India only after 1959 -- as well if not more than any refugee community in the world. And this is chiefly because of the manner in which India has opened its arms to the community. Here, in India's warm embrace, Tibetans have, abiding by the host country's laws, created their own parliament, their own courts of law, their own schools, and saved themselves from dying out.

One thing has to be remembered, we Tibetans came to India, not just to escape Chinese persecution. We came here, also because India allowed us to create a home away from home, where we could follow our way of life, and proudly say Tibet was ours, and we want it free.

But today when we watch Rockstar, like many others will, what we see in a few fleeting seconds is a blurred banner that should have otherwise read Free Tibet. So what makes this so objectionable, as objectionable as the words 'ba*****' and 'ch*****'? (Those words have been muted.)

Is the phrase immoral? Will it be of corrupting influence to youngsters? Will it cause violence and riots? Is it untrue? Or is it not the truth?

And anyway, is it not the filmmaker's prerogative to take a stand? But what the censor board has effectively done in blurring out the phrase is that it has taken a stand, which in the first place, is not its to take. And the stand, sadly, is in anti-Tibetan. All of this completely contrary to how India and its people have treated its refugee brethren.

So what really happened? No one, neither the censor board, nor the filmmaker has bothered with an explanation. According to some Free Tibet activists who met the CEO of the censor board Pankaja Thakur, in complete contrivance of the freedom of expression and harbouring on the ridiculous, the censor board reportedly asked Imtiaz Ali about the 'relevance of the banner in the film'. Ali is supposed to have offered to blur it.

Certainly, this ruling needs to be challenged. Today Free Tibet is inappropriate; tomorrow, if and when Bollywood makes a film with a political standpoint which is not to the government's liking, the censor board will clamp down on that too.

I suppose China is an important trade ally, or at least potentially. But should the voices of those who have been wronged, be muted? And why this constant fear of rubbing them the wrong way. China cares two hoots about trade relations when showing large tracts of India as Chinese, the whole of Arunachal Pradesh for that matter?

Can foreign policies really be about shopkeeping, one that offers discounts (Please trade here, no Free Tibet banners will be shown)?

Ali cannot possibly be grudged. He's made a commercial film and there's a lot of money riding on it. But by intentionally positioning the banner in the song, however fleetingly, he has made those moments in the film larger than the film itself. The fact that he did not even speak about the 'heavy handedness' of the censor board, considering he claims to be sympathetic to the Tibetan cause, is hurtful. He did not have to jeopardize his film, he could have accepted the blurs, but at least acknowledged that he was forced to. Now, the banner and its message seem nothing more than mere 'props' that outlasted its utility.

Till just a few months back, before the Rockstar promos made it to TV, you could have sworn there was excitement among Tibetan youths. They had taken pictures of Ranbir Kapoor waving the Tibetan flag in Dharamsala and posted it on their Facebook profiles. Just like Indians in Mumbai or Delhi, these Tibetans had grown up watching Bollywood films, its heroes becoming theirs. So you can understand why they were thrilled. This was a never before moment for them -- their hero was raising their issue.

But sadly, today these youngsters, who will in the future lead the Free Tibet movement, have had to settle for a blurred image of Free Tibet, as though who they are or what they stand for has no meaning or significance. And their lives can as simply be blurred.

Tibetans have a cause to be agitated with the turn of events. But so does everyone else. After all, the Jews were persecuted not just because Adolf Hitler did so. It was also because he was allowed to do so.
This writer is an Indian of Tibetan origin.

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