Poets being hounded via police complaints for perceived slurs is only the latest attempt at stifling free speech in the world’s largest democracy. In West Bengal, the Hindu Samhati’s Arnab Sarkar has demanded the arrest of Bengali poet Srijato for his poem on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath’s problematic statements.
Why? Because the poem refers to the trishul being sheathed in a condom.
Now, the poet offers his side of the story in an exclusive interview conducted with the Bengali news channel 24 Ghanta, part of the Zee network. Calling the FIRs against artists a “worrying trend”, Srijato says he was initially surprised at the changes because “art is a space for reason, intellect, and debate, it is not a place for the law,” but now he is worried that people have come to think and act this way.
A fairly aggressive interviewer asked Srijato why he is surprised at the FIR filed against him, considering that large numbers of people believe in a religion and may well feel affronted at what he wrote in his poem. In reply, Srijato argued that there is a difference between faith and fundamentalism, and that the latter either insists on converting non-believers or considers them the enemy.
Asserting that his faith is literature, and that this faith will not be shaken by someone saying that a Tagore or a Shakespeare was no good as a writer. “If a faith is so fragile that it is shattered by what is written about it, I begin to wonder whether it’s faith or fundamentalism,’ Srijato said.
Questioned on whether he isn’t overstepping a line when it comes to freedom of expression, Srijato made his strongest statement of the interview. “If political leaders talking of raping the dead women of a particular community are not overstepping the line of freedom of expression, I would say my poem is in fact on the softer side.”
Accused of writing only against the majority community, Srijato said that he had protested through his poetry against fundamentalism in all religions. “Those who make these accusations have not read all of my poetry,” he said.
Asked if he was afraid, Srijato laughed off the idea. “Two World Wars have taken place, art has not been silenced.”
“It is not the poet’s job to be afraid,” he averred.