Subverting the Censor’s Regime

“Read the alternative press, for Arnab Goswami is never going to tell you what you really need to know. Be subversive, oh please, be subversive.”

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In the first few days after I came to London, postcards saying Britain is not an island were still hanging around, here and there. It was a blue and red drawing, more like a child’s scrawl. It wasn’t everywhere, like the Leave pamphlets were, for, the people here tell me that they never thought they would need to flood the country with Stay literature. It was so obvious what was good for the country, they thought. How wrong we are about everything sometimes.


We think that we are free. That you can be who you want to be. That you can write what you want. Even though the Constitution says so, who cares for that old book these days? Not our governments, apparently.


In the state of Kerala, it must be the Karkidakam month already. In our parts we call it Kakkada masa, at the end of which we eat a sweet kheer made with the Aati leaves which bleed a light purple into the dish. Last year around this time, a previously unknown fringe outfit called Hanuman Sene forced a well-known writer called Dr M M Basheer to stop writing a column in Malayalam for Mathrubhumi, one of the highest read dailies in Kerala. Karkidakamis also called the Ramayana month, and several newspapers were getting writers to comment on various aspects of the epic, Dr Basheer being one of them. He apparently got several threatening calls, asking him what authority he had to write on Rama, being a Muslim himself. He had already written five out of the six installments the newspaper had asked him to write. The fact that Dr Basheer is a well-respected critic and has previously written on Ramayana seems obvious, and thus irrelevant here.


The last time I did a friend check, he had stopped answering all calls. This incident was then the latest in a series of attacks on free speech and those who exercised their Constitutional right to freedom of expression. The Kannada writer Dr M M Kalburgi had been murdered a few days ago then.

Unable to withstand the political vendetta against him, the Tamil writer Perumal Murugan had vowed that he would never write again and declared the writer in him as dead. Since then, I have lost count of the number of incidents where this fundamental right has been snatched away from the citizens of my country.


I sit in a distant land and hope to build a bubble that insulates me from the happenings of the world. We like to fool ourselves on the best of days. Last week though, when there were three terror attacks in three days in neighbouring Germany, another in Kabul, the ‘coup’ in Turkey, Kashmir, the official announcement of Trump as the Republican Party candidate for US presidency and so much more, it was impossible here not to be depressed. The bunch of us here, in this place I am living in-a jolly bunch who usually share food and swap stories from our homelands, we were quiet that day. One talked about how she had to hold back from giving her son an old frat scarf of the Palestine symbol, when he went to university, because with his ethnic background, he would be all more of a target than usual. Children in Texas are legally allowed to bring guns to university. Read that sentence again. Legally allowed. We in India aren’t allowed to eat when a class is underway. Another friend wondered what it would be like when his three year old son grew older. He wondered if he should never leave the remote northern European country he lives in. We wondered if we should have children at all. We wondered where this was heading. We wondered if we should just retreat to the villages we all grew up in, isolate ourselves, build our bubbles and hope the bombers don’t find it worthwhile to obliterate our little homes. It was a selfish thought that quiet evening. We weren’t sure what to say or do or think.


Are there any answers? I desperately hope so, at least for the sake of the beautiful children I know and love, for the sake of the child I might one day have, or not. But right this minute, for all the troubles of the world, the terrorism, the mindless ‘lone wolf’ attacks, the quiet attacks by our governments to prevent us from speaking, writing, creating, hoping, there seem to be no answers. Allow me to apologize for this grimness, for being so without hope. We all try, desperately to be cheery and hopeful and grateful for the privileges we have and those that read and write here in these pages have.

For we have the power of the word, at least to write somewhere, anywhere. Most times it doesn’t seem enough. You do your best but it just gets worse – this world.


The other day, the Madras High Court squashed all the criminal charges against Perumal Murugan. In desperate times, I stop to notice little things, that it is still called Madras. That city is a firm favourite, and will always only be Madras for me. Murugan is free to write whatever he wants, I don’t know if he still is though. Udta Punjab, a movie we were supposed to see just before I left, but didn’t, released too, with just one cut. In times like these, like a drowning man holding on to a few stalks of grass, I hold on to these things. These are by no measure small judgements in the face of the crisis the present government is hoisting upon its people.


Here is what you can do. Buy every banned book. Watch every movie that is controversial. Write, even if just on a Whatsapp group, how much you hate what is going on. Read the alternative press, for Arnab Goswami is never going to tell you what you really need to know. Watch videos that small groups are making, about mining or something else. Be subversive, oh please, be subversive. Being an activist is not really a career choice you make anymore. Hashtag the hell out of these things. Every drop counts. For if you are not free, especially intellectually free, there really is no point to anything.


#insolidarity #foe #everyotherfoerelatedhashtag

​Deepa Bhasthi ​was recently introduced to someone as a hippie. In other descriptions, she has been a journalist​, translator​​ and worked in the development sector briefly. ​She is now a full time writer living and working in Bengaluru. ​Her works have appeared in several publications including Himal Southasian, Indian Quarterly, The New Indian Express, OPEN magazine, The Hindu Business Line's BLInk, The Hindu, Art India and elsewhere on the web. ​She is the editor of The Forager magazine, an online quarterly journal of food politics, available at​ Through her column 'Filter Coffee', she will take you through the states that lie below the mighty Vindhyas; tell stories from that land, of those people. This column will carry features, interviews, commentary, travelogues and much more, everything infused with a healthy dose of South Indian flavour.

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