Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. These days, he makes his living playing poker as he works on his second novel.
My first book, My Friend Sancho, was published in May 2009, and went on to become the biggest selling debut novel released that year in India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and had earlier been longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.
If you're interested, do join the Facebook group for My Friend Sancho
Click here for more about my publisher, Hachette India.
My posts on India Uncut about My Friend Sancho can be found here.
I have a word of advice for the readers of this column: Do not make fun of pasta. My religious sensibilities will be offended, and I shall compel the government to take action against you.
You see, I belong to a religion called Pastafarianism, and we worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). We follow a religious text called the Loose Canon. If we stay true to its principles, we shall get to Heaven, where there are beer volcanoes and stripper factories. What’s more… wait, why are you snickering? Are you making fun of the FSM? Do you not realise that I am protected by Indian law against being offended?
Section 295 (a) of the Indian Penal Code is on my side: it protects me against “Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” It states: “Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [citizens of India], [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both.”
Section 295 (a), let me inform you with pride in our penal system, is a non-bailable offence. Sure, like other Gods, my FSM is capable of taking care of itself, and may well choke you with its meatballs. On the other hand, why should I not act as its tool, and choke you with mine? (I am speaking metaphorically, of course, as devout people often do.) Pastafarians have been rather tolerant in India so far – not to mention sparse – but members of other religions have used 295 (a) with immense relish.
For example, when the Indian cricket team was touring South Africa, a kind gentlemen had filed a case under 295 (a) against Ravi Shastri. No, it was not incited by his cliché-ridden commentary, which is offensive for other reasons. It was because he said that he enjoyed eating beef, conveniently forgetting the exalted status Cow has in our country: Being his Mother is just one of Her responsibilities.
Just a month ago, a gentleman named Ranjit Parande was arrested by the Mumbai police under 295 (a) for publishing The Santa and Banta Joke Book. I can imagine how offensive the Sikh community must have found it: I shiver with disquiet when I think of pasta cookbooks. And a few days ago, a gentleman named Vishnu Khandelwal, described as “a devout Hindu” by reliable news sources, filed a case under 295 (a) against Arun Nayar and Liz Hurley. His religious sensibilities were offended because the couple did not adhere to all the Hindu customs required at the wedding. Look, forget the wedding: to begin with, Nayar is rich, and I am offended by that alone. On top of that he gets to apply his lips to Hurley’s, and FSM knows where else. Just the thought offends me! Ban sex!
Sorry, I admit I got a bit carried away there. We certainly shouldn’t ban all sex – but if it is found to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities, we should rethink our laissez faire attitude towards it. We must not follow the West in these matters. They are promiscuous, and look what they have ended up with: hip hop!
I know you can argue that India is a free country, and people should be allowed to say what they want. But that is a misconception. Our great leaders, in their infinite wisdom, merely got political freedom for our country. They understood the consequences of allowing personal freedoms, and put many restrictions on it. For example, while Article 19 (1) (a) of the constitution seems to allow you free speech, Article 19 (2) allows limits to it on behalf of concepts such as “public order” and “decency and morality.” These terms are at the discretion of our presumably devout judges, and can be interpreted liberally – we are a liberal nation.
The most widespread religion in our country, of course, is faith in our system of governance. In an earlier column, I had blasphemously dared to criticize our government. A kind reader instantly set me on the correct path by pointing out Section 124 (a) to me: “Sedition: anyone who by words or expression of any kind brings or attempts to bring or provoke a feeling of hatred, contempt or disaffection towards government established by law shall be punished with life imprisonment.” An editor in Surat was arrested last year under this law, and I am grateful that I have been shown the light.
You might now argue that anything one says can offend someone or the other, and if giving offence is a crime, free speech becomes impossible. Yes it does, and I find that delightful: No more cracks about meatballs. You just have to learn to deal with it, though I sincerely hope it does not offend you. That could be a problem.