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View PointOpinion: Rising conservatism, dying creativity

Opinion: Rising conservatism, dying creativity

Published: 10th Nov 2021 12:39 am

By Samudrala VK

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The recent furore over a few ads or TV commercials is a testimony to the orthodox atmosphere that is prevailing in the country. Does ultra-conservatism kill creativity? Does it hamper the innate or creative potential of an individual? Will it become a regressive element in the longer run? Will it lead to a state of censorship? Will it get in the way of free thinking and obstruct progressive nature in an individual and society? Will it affect diversity and co-existence? Before figuring out the answers, let us discuss the factors that breed and multiply conservatism in society.

Individual as Cultural Being

Every society embodies certain cultural values. These values depend on geography or the natural environment in which that society has evolved and the interactions of the inhabitants with it, historical aspects, social and economic elements, and so forth. While the core cultural values in any society remain rigid and deep-rooted, values that lie at the periphery are mobile and tend to change when they interact with external forces. The longevity of any culture rests upon its ability to adapt to new conditions. To make it relevant or to withstand the challenges posed by the modern world, it is necessary to reform irrational elements or practices, in some cases, a complete replacement, if such practices get in the way of the progress of a society.

It is this accommodative nature of a culture that makes it distinct and long-lasting. Cross-cultural interactions are necessary for any society. They act as a source of knowledge and wisdom. The all-round development of an individual and society as a whole is linked to diversity and the level of tolerance. It is important to note that no culture is supreme nor bad. It depends on localised factors in which it has evolved. It undergoes several corrections, sometimes unnoticed, during its journey. Draconian imposition of one’s culture on others is nothing less than a pogrom.

Cultural links empower an individual with a sense of belonging and give him/her an identity. They bestow an individual with a rich heritage like language and art forms to feel proud of in which s/he was born. As an individual grows up, these are the things that act upon an individual and make him/her a social animal. They imbibe in an individual the collective spirit thereby bringing him/her into the fold of community.

Sign of Maturity

On the other hand, ultra-conservatism obstructs the forward march of society. It opposes the blending or assimilation of different cultures and values. The support of a conservative state (political authority) acts as oxygen for ultra-conservatism to survive and exercise its dominance. Religious leaders become as powerful as judicial officers. Moral policing becomes the order of the day. Secularism and harmony become bad words. Criticism is considered sedition or unpardonable sin. Every aspect of life is screened and judged.

Being the crucial forces in any society, education and art forms, like cinema, music, literature, would be scrutinised. They undergo a tremendous amount of distortion in the age of ultra-conservatism. Society becomes fragmented. Divisions come to the fore. Free thinkers are seen as anarchists. Ultra-conservatism is a sign of insecurity and immaturity that breed in the minds of conservative people.

Land of Reforms

Historically, nowhere in the world did the reformist or rationalist movements start as early as in India. Challenging the then existing notions or beliefs around life, politics and society, several schools of thought like Lokayata-Charvaka, Buddhism and Jainism got neck and neck with the pre-dominant Vedic culture. After a long lull in this domain, the 19th century corrective movements against sati and child marriages brought new vigour to Indian society. This period could be seen as a golden era in the history of India. It is this dissent that makes a culture more vibrant and accommodative to the needs of changing times. Unfortunately, these movements lost their tempo at subsequent times.

In contrast to the axiomatic belief of conservative forces, India has never been a homogenous society nor its culture. In fact, the idea or abstract form of India hadn’t crystallised until the arrival of the Englishmen. To be precise, it was only in the midst of the freedom movement that the imagination or idea of India began to take off. It solidified after independence. No one understood this fact better than the founding fathers of the nation and is one of the reasons why they framed the Constitution with an accommodative spirit.

Unlike its peers in the sub-continent, India has a long history of keeping fundamentalist forces in check. Secularism, diversity, harmony and co-existence are its strengths.

Label of Anti-national

Cinemas or ads are visual art forms of expression. They convey the feelings or thoughts of makers through the characters. Due to their ability to reach out to a large number of people, movies or ads play a crucial role in the dynamics of society. For quite some time, these mediums have been becoming the target of fringe elements, thanks to the era of social-media hashtags and hyper-sensationalist tendency of news channels.

Members who don’t conform with the views of the ruling dispensation are being framed as “anti-nationals” or “seditionists”. Going by the existing trend of moral policing, it seems that a state of undeclared emergency is persisting in the country. If this situation continues unabated, a day will arrive wherein filmmakers or advertisement teams would have to get ratification from the government prior to the public display of their products which is nothing less than censorship. It has become an impossible task for filmmakers who aspire to make historical films or social films based on facts.

The choice of watching or assessing a film or a soap opera should be left to the viewers rather than restricting the freedom of expression of artists or makers. One doesn’t need intermediary forces to judge. If a spectator feels their sentiments were presented in a negative light in a movie or an ad, do they encourage that product or film? They have every right to trash it. The viewers are mature enough to understand what is acceptable and what is not.

(The author is Director, Samudrala VK IAS Academy)

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