In a TV channel interview last week, Tamil actor Kamal Haasan was sharing his views on the Indian society and how a society, that’s based on a book that glorifies the pawning of a woman in the game of Chaduranga, is expected to treat its women badly. I wasn’t surprised at his views. Frankly, it’s a view held by many, and quite fairly. In fact, I recently was hearing the same argument in a song from the Kannada film Urvi!

Well, India has indeed become intolerant in 21st century. More intolerant than ever in history. The power that people have gained through electronic media and now social media is immense. It has given a voice to every Tom, Dick, Harry (and me??).

I’m a fan of most of Kamal’s works. I even like the fact that weaves his communist ideologues so well into his stories. But, being an ‘intellectual’, there’s little value addition to the society when people like him, directly or indirectly, fan the flames of radical Hinduism (and only that) through their (mis)directed comments on Hindu ideologues.

No, I don’t have an iota of problem in him saying any thing against the Hindu society, Hinduism or even the Mahabharata. But, people like him can be more rational and weigh their words before they come out of their guts!

There’s another channel called ‘Epic’ which used to air this show called “Dharmakshetra”, a courtroom drama where the events of Mahabharata are dissected and debated on by Mahabharata’s own characters. It’s a beautiful show which can be cited as one of the many examples of how the Hindu society (yeah, there are such types and they are the majority) is tolerant and is not all “Modi, modi” or “Holy Cow!”.
There are those who may disagree with you and debate, but they won’t beat you up for saying something against their Gods or Holy Texts. But, thanks to Modi and his haters ( mostly the latter), the fringes who have now entered mainstream. The latter has helped polarize the society by making statements that are veiled in the guise of rationality, yet are actually bigotry.

Frankly, I don’t think even 10% of our society knows the Mahabharata or even Indian history that well. Our value systems have changed to a large extent. We, the generations in their 20s, 30s and 40s are people who watched Ranjit and Shakti Kapoor raping women on the silver screen. But again, can we hold them responsible? Or the directors and producers and script-writers of such tasteless movies that glorified manhood and ‘izzat’? The movies surely had a role to play somewhere in influencing the minds of the people. But, why is it that we always want to fix the blame elsewhere when the fault is in our stars!! Oops!

Mahabharata is a beautiful treatise on politics and life. The Indian society (yeah the Hindu majority society), reveres the book not because Draupadi was used as a pawn or because she was stripped off her sari in the King’s courtroom. Mahabharata is a commentary on rights and wrongs, how right and wrong can change based on where you stand. Nowhere does it even closely ask its readers to rape, molest or demean a woman! Yes, it has described many incidents that can be construed as a crime in the modern society. Some of those would be treated as a crime even in 2nd millennium century BCE. But, it also talks about what’s right and wrong in a war, talks about friendship. Frankly, Mahabharata also gives a voice to Draupadi who sarcastically laughs at all the men and their manhood, men who were present in the court during her disrobing. She shouts out loud and accuses them of being imbeciles. So, shouldn’t the Indian society also take a leaf from that incident and stand up for women’s rights?

Mahabharata is like truth. Truth, if you know, has multiple layers to it. India is a progressive nation, that’s truth. All’s not well with Indian society, that’s truth too. Mahabharata too has multiple layers and it’s for the one who reads it to realize the truth hidden in each of its layers. It gives you the choice to grasp what you can and what you want.

Even Ranjit’s and Shakti Kapoor’s movies used to give that choice to you. By bringing in a brother or a heartbroken lover who would stand up to them and fight them, even punish them for their crime. So, would it be wrong to say that our society made the choice of following Ranjit and Shakti Kapoor’s onscreen roles (sad that I keep taking their name) instead of making an Amitabh Bachchan or even Mithun Chakraborty their role models?

The movies too offered us a choice. It’s like Morpheus offering you a blue pill and a red pill. It’s your choice as an individual what to make of it. Like, Mr. Kamal Haasan made a choice to single out a small but significant event from an epic that has 18 mega-volumes. That was his choice! And, it’s a perfectly right choice from where he stands. But, like Mahabharata didn’t preach, if such people don’t resort to preaching their version of the truth, our not-so-educated masses will be saved from feeling disoriented yet again. Otherwise, they will start worrying which God to pray to instead of turning atheists. Oh, if they get really inspired, they can turn even Kamal into a God and start to worship him!