Intolerance: Excessive morality?

By | May 6, 2007

In a country where watching films without vulgar dances is incomplete, we are quick to take offense at public figures. Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty in the recent limelight are an example.

What happens to caring about the AIDS and HIV campaign they were pushing? Well, a kiss happened. Right on stage, in the middle of the public eye, Richard Gere did a move similar to one from his film “Shall we Dance”? Ok, so the Indian crowds may not have seen the film, and thought it was all real. They got offended – of course! Being offended comes easy to our public and its easy.

Its easier than spending brain time and effort about the subject of why Gere and Shetty were on stage in the first place. In a country threatened by HIV, where the government is coming out of its own modesty to encourage frankness and promoting condoms openly, the real sum total of this particular effort went down the drain with all focus shifted to one impulsive action.

They both apologized. Shilpa Shetty herself was taken aback. Gere went to the extent of saying that she was not to blame and he did it impulsively. An apology is an apology. He apologized to the public for exposing them to something that hurt their sentiments. What is the country still harping about?

Gere is not an Indian. What he did, to him was a simple impulsive action. It was on stage and it was a copy of an action he had done in a film of his. I can see our stars doing all sorts of things on stage, publicly, and so on in public shows. Does he have to take part in a Bollywood film for him to get away with this?

Suddenly all these righteous people whose most notable achievement seems to be criticism, forget the good he is doing. The man is a regular visitor to India for years. A follower of the Dalai Lama. He is interested not only in his enjoyment in our country as a tourist, but is taking part in initiatives to help our society for the better in many ways. He donates to charities working here. Even when he got this severe reaction for his action, he was working to create awareness about HIV and AIDS among the citizens of this very country that is yelling for him to be arrested.

The tolerance we Indians claim to be so proud of is just parrot talk. We yell at the Liz Hurley wedding, we make a noise about an inter-religious love marriage, we have an issue with Mandira Bedi having a religious symbol tatoo…… where is our tolerance for people simply living their lives and not harming another person? How does it matter to us what ceremony a person marries with, if that is what s/he wants? How does it matter to us if two people are in love and want to marry but are not from the same religion? How does it matter to us if someone finds a religious symbol beautiful and worthy of a place on her body? And how does it matter at all to a country bred on regular vulgarity in films, if one star kisses another on stage? What IS the harm coming to us or the society from this?

Where are the morality guys, when tiny kids regularly perform dances loaded with sexual innuendo (like the originals) on dance shows? Or is it ok if its kids doing it? Or is it just about kisses? Or is it just about a foreigner kissing an Indian woman publicly? I have no issue with those either. I only find it strange that we expect a foreigner to be aware of and follow our morality even in impulsive actions, when we are otherwise completely ok with it. This reminds me of the fatwa against Pakistani Tourism Minister for hugging her sky diving instructor. Is that the route we want to go as a country?

Both Shilpa Shetty and Gere are naturally upset with this turn of events. It is rather scary to stick your neck out hoping to create some useful awareness in the viewers, and another to get pulled to bits by the same people over some impulsive mistake.

In any case, it makes no sense to be more offended by displays of affection than violence – something the moral zealots usually are fine with.

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