‘Can you burn down a building if seven people are offended By it?’

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Ram Rahman, 56, a renowned photographer and the director of SAHMAT, filed an FIR against the vandals who attacked the exhibition in 2008 and got some of them arrested. In a conversation with Janani Ganesan, he explains why the artist is often at the receiving end of the right to freedom of expression.

Ram Rahman, Photographer
Ram Rahman, Photographer, Photo: Vijay Pandey

EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

Should Article 19(2) be rewritten?
The law, as it is written, leaves it open to the interpretation of the magistrate or the judge. The problem arises not only when the case goes to court, but also when you file a complaint with the magistrate, he accepts it under 19(2), without applying his mind. One gets stuck in the process of law. The laws need to be debated. The cases are lodged all over the country. What this means is that the accused is supposed to appear in the courts all over the country. It is a way of harassing the artist.

What is incitement to violence? Can a painting or a book lead to it?
Incitement to violence is obviously a call for violence. The notion of interpretation comes in when you write or draw something, which somebody claims will cause violence. It is very dangerous because [it depends on] who is going to interpret it.

Then how should the State react when a group of people claim that a work of art has offended them?
In a State like ours, there is no huge group of people that will take offence at one go. How would you define it if seven people say that they have been offended, therefore, you have to shut down an institution or burn a building. In any of these cases, you have democratic rights to protest peacefully. You have a right to not buy the book, you have the right to not go to an exhibition, you even have the right to protest at exhibition venues, as long as you are not breaking any other law.

Janani Ganesan is a Correspondent with Tehelka 
janani@tehelka.com

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