MUMBAI: Kannada actress-politician Ramya, in the eye of a storm after a sedition case was slapped against her for stating that Pakistan is not hell, is unfazed.
The actress says she won't apologise "come what may" and not allow herself to be "bullied into submission". The former Congress MP says she is in fact keen to go back to Pakistan to foster peace and engage in dialogue.
The sedition case after against Ramya seemingly disagreed with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's comment that going to Pakistan is like going to hell. She said that Pakistan is certainly not hell and the people there are very hospitable.
Excerpts of a conversation with Subhash K. Jha
Q: By accusing you of sedition for saying Pakistan is not hell, are we displaying new levels of intolerance?
A: Yes, all 'hell' has broken loose (laughs). A lawyer has filed a complaint and he cited Section 124 A which is the section on sedition. It remains to be seen if the court accepts his complaint. But yes, you are right this is a new level of intolerance. This is a gross misuse of an old, outdated law that is completely not required in a democratic country in the first place.
Q: Do you think this case should be a cause to relook at sedition laws?
A: I think we seriously need to look at the sedition law. Either we should seriously modify it or do away with it. Otherwise I will not be the last person to be harassed in this way, let me tell you that.
Q: Do you think there is a political conspiracy behind this?
A: It seems like it. Because a copy of the complaint went to the media first. How did that happen? The lawyer wanted the media to first know about how anti-national I am (laughs). The BJP has been up in arms against all those who are opposed to their ideology. Right-wing extremists are the only section supporting the sedition allegation against me.
By and large, off and online people have supported me. Even individuals from the BJP have supported me. But the good thing is, this is what democracy is about -- discussion, dissension. Hopefully there will be an amendment in some of the archaic laws that allow individuals to slap outrageous charges. That is the positive takeaway from this controversy.
Q: But it can't be so positive for you and your family?
A: I was coming to that. For the person at the receiving end, there is no positive takeaway. This is the price of freedom in a country like India. I think we should be just happy that we have the freedom to say anything about anybody and get away with it. Our national leaders fought to get us freedom and this is how we are misusing it. This is not how you uphold the principles that our founding fathers laid down their lives for. Luckily, most people have been very supportive.
Q: And the media?
A: The local Karnataka television channels have been unnecessarily sensationalising the issue and putting out headlines like 'Ramya Supports Pakistan'. We can't blame them. There are 20 competitive news channels in Karnataka. I am better off than Kanhaiya Kumar. They put out an entire morphed video against him to prove he was seditious.
Q: Do you think celebrities get targeted for being celebrities?
A: I think so. During earlier days film actors were not supposed to be taken seriously. And they never spoke about, let alone take a stance on, political issues. Now when actors like us do participate in politics some people can't handle it. We've very politically active actors. So many female actors like Jayalalithaa, Nagma, Khushboo, Radhika from the South have made a mark in politics. And I love Jaya Bachchan. She is so vocal and passionate in Parliament.
Q: To digress a bit what got got you interested in politics?
A: I was always interested in working for the betterment of our country. I grew up caring about our country. I do care. Is it okay to do that? Today, in 2016, we have Dalits being oppressed, people getting killed for eating beef. Even a girl drinking a beer in a pub is reason for violence. Homosexuals are illegal in our country. There is a so much that needs to change. If I keep quiet just because it's convenient then I negate all that my parents stand for.
Q: We've our Defence Minister saying Pakistan is akin to hell...
A: Is this a responsible statement to make for a man appointed to protect and defend our country at a time when hostility with our neighbours is at an all-time high?
Q: What took you to Pakistan?
A: It was a SAARC young parliamentarians' conference in Islamabad. And I found Pakistanis are just like us. We look like siblings.
Q: Are we supposed to say all Pakistanis are monsters?
A: It seems like it. But I won't. And I won't apologise, come what may. I've the freedom to talk peace with our neighbours. I don't think I should allow myself to be bullied into submission. The ranters probably think it's easy to bully me since I am a woman. But I won't succumb. If I allow these voices to smother me I'll be doing disservice to other fearless voices in politics.
It takes courage to not be shouted down. It's just so much easier to say what people want to hear. That's what politicians do during elections. And they continue to do it for five years. In a subverted way it is a compliment to be called seditious if you talk of cross-border peace. Gandhiji, Nehruji, Bal Gangadhar Tilak they were all slapped with sedition. So I am in august company.
Q: Will you go back to Pakistan?
A: To foster peace and engage in dialogue? Yes. Definitely.