[Marxism] curtailment of public expression

Sudhir Devadas sudhirdin at gmail.com
Sat Oct 15 02:50:18 MDT 2005

kerala was the first state in world history to democratically vote to
power a communist government in 1957. since then the anti-left forces
have not forgiven the people their political 'impertinence'.

encroachment on vocal public expression, through demonising dissent as
a hurdle to progress, is a sinister ploy in preparing the ground for
the untrammelled charge of global corporations. the proposed entry of
wal-mart in four cities in the state is the latest example of such
undesirable guests seeking a toe hold that will ultimately
transmogrify into a stranglehold on society. the historic protest,
into its fourth year, by indigenous peoples against the plachimada
factory of coca-cola, has fired the imagination of victims of
corporate greed globally.

it is in this wider context that 'throttling society' from
'communalism combat' gains social resonance.

Communalism Combat
October  2005
Year 12    No.111

Cover Story

Throttling society
In Kerala the night time ban on loudspeakers is seen as an
attempt to silence the masses

Cultural Kerala has risen in protest against the July 18 verdict of
the Supreme Court banning the use of loudspeakers in residential areas
from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. except in case of "public emergency".

Jurist VR Krishna Iyer has vehemently decried the general nature of
the verdict. "Pleasurable sounds with aesthetic orientation" like
music and related artistic activities should not be stifled.
Remarkably prescient, he pointed out the distinct danger of the misuse
of this provision by authorities, especially the police. "Never should
constabulary control, often vulnerable to corruption, be entrusted
with police power."

This insight is relevant in the context of a recent incident. Dr.
Sukumar Azhikkode, well known as the social conscience of Kerala,
forsook the mike in protest against a police order restricting
permission to half an hour. This happened on September 13, when he
inaugurated the satyagraha against the ban on common salt organised by
Jana Arogya Prasthanam (JAP, People's Health Movement) outside the
district medical officer's office in Kochi. The police justified the
restriction on the grounds that the venue was a public place. The
licence mentioned that the decision was based on a government
notification. "I have never been so humiliated in my life. Freedom of
expression is guaranteed by our Constitution," said Dr. Azhikkode.
Chairman of JAP, Dr. Jacob Vadakkanchery has resolved to challenge the
verdict both by flouting the ban as well as contesting it legally with
the support of eminent political and social activists.

The Performing Artists Coordination Kerala (PACK), an apex body of
aggrieved artists with veteran stage personality Ahwan Sebastian as
general convenor, has already filed a review petition in the Kerala
high court. According to PK Sunil Kumar, state secretary of the
Musicians Welfare Association, one-and-a-half lakh families of
instrument players and singers would be affected. In all, three lakh
families of performing artists would be robbed of their livelihood.
This sentiment is echoed by KJ Thomas, joint secretary of Bankment's
Club, Kozhikode, a premier organisation with a vibrant cultural
calendar, who also fears dubious intent to promote only religious
functions, further fuelling religiosity. His opinion is shared by VS
Anilkumar, progressive writer and academician, who also sees in it a
conspiracy to broaden spaces of silence in society, which will
facilitate the unchallenged implementation of the globalisation agenda
of neo-liberal polity. He also equates this with the deliberate
American killing of an Al-Jazeera journalist in Iraq, thus silencing
uncomfortable voices of protest.

Doyen of Malayalam theatre, KT Mohammed views it as an assault on the
free exercise of the beauty and strength of sound, which is an
inalienable right of the people. Sara Joseph, Kendra Sahitya Academy
award winner and social activist, is of the opinion that the plight of
the five lakh odd families who would be affected by the ban, should be
addressed. While political and religious functions can be thus
restricted, artistic expression should be exempted. "In the present
dispensation the tendency seems to be to curb all essential rights
enjoyed by the masses, whether it is the right to strike or the right
to organise peaceful demonstrations. The present curb on the use of
loudspeakers is yet another glaring example of this wanton attempt,"
says Dr. TK Ramachandran, cultural critic and coordinator of Secular
Collective, Kozhikode.

Another stark human face of the ban is highlighted by PK Assainar,
Malappuram district president of the Sound Service Association, who
reveals that more than two lakh people directly and indirectly
employed by this sector would be affected. Already the ban on
advertising announcements by commercial establishments has rendered
people jobless. Lottery ticket-sellers are permitted on the grounds
that they operate at the low decibel level of hand-held megaphones.
Increasingly, people from the light and sound field are now hiring
themselves out to mobile displays of commercial establishments in
pick-up vans, which according to him, and in flagrant violation of the
law, are not even insured. The night cap on loudspeakers will
adversely affect their prospects, as most of the religious functions
and fairs are late night or even all night celebrations.

The consensus thus seems to be that this ban would lead to throttling
society, since it also prevents the vigorous and continued
articulation of dissent, which is the cornerstone of democracy.

(The writer is a Kozhikode-based freelance journalist and photographer)
akvarun at yahoo.com; akvarun at gmail.com

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