Freedom of expression (FOE) has been a highly debated topic in our country. And why shouldn’t it be, especially in a country with population on the better side of a billion, where people from diverse social, cultural and religious backgrounds co-exist. What might be construed as an offensive remark by people from the northern part of the country might be common parlance for the people hailing from the southernmost parts and vice-versa. The one thing which India and Indians forgive unanimously is humour. Pranksters, comedians and artists adept at making people laugh and entertaining them are usually appreciated across India. They enjoy the liberty of mocking the silly behaviours of ordinary people as well as VIPs alike, sparing no one in their bid to add laughs to our mundane routine life.
In a very surprising occurrence, Moodbidri Returning officer V. Prasanna has issued a notice to the Shri Kateel Durgaparameshwari Prasadita Yakshagana Mandali (group) of Yakshagana artists over a performance held in Kerala. The artist named Poornesh Acharya had used a dialogue imitating Rahul Gandhi, and allegedly the slogan of the Karnataka state government, in the act performed on the 1st of April in Padamannooru, Kerala. A video clip of the aforementioned act became viral on Facebook and Whatsapp following which the Returning officer took cognizance and issued a notice to the troupe. The artist was suspended by the troupe on Tuesday after the surprising notice was received. Shri Kateel Durgaparameshwari Temple comes under the administration of the state government of Karnataka’s endowment department. The Election Commission officers used this point to bring Poornesh under the extended net of government employees. Their stand is correct according to the rules prescribed by the Election Commission related to Code of Conduct to be followed prior to the elections. But is it an ethical one?
Yakshagana is a traditional theatre form of Karnataka combining dance and music to present stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata and other epics from Hindu and Jain traditions. It does not deal in political and social content related acts. Even the part played by P. Acharya, the part of a doota (messenger) was of comical nature. While appreciating the alertness of the EC officials in this matter, the question we should ask is whether there was any need to issue a notice against a performer who is paid to make people laugh. The meagre salaries and the non-existent benefits which these artists receive are hardly enough.
While we do not refute the claims of the EC officials, we however, would like to stand in solidarity with the artist who was performing his job. He probably went a bit far in trying to entertain the audience but was he aware of the existence of any such rules beforehand? Did he know that the Code of Conduct comes into force as soon as the election dates are announced? The best possible solution could have been a simple warning or a reminder to the group, a gentle rebuke instead of an official notice. While the governments of other states might have gone out of their way to support the artist, it would be too much to expect from the Siddaramaiah led Congress government of Karnataka today.
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