The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Moral policing is a typical weakness of all enemies of freedom. Examples abound of despotic governments as well as jingoistic movements trying to dictate what is good for public morality and what is not. To the United Liberation Front of Asom and nine other militant groups in the Northeast, which have pronounced a ban on Hindi movies in the region from November 15, the ban is part of their fight against the “hegemony” of the Indian state. Bollywood, in their strange logic, is not only a destroyer of local culture but, worse still, also a tool of “cultural expansionism”. This is not the first time that northeastern rebels have sought to impose their will on popular taste and public morality. Militants in Manipur have routinely banned Hindi films, the drinking of liquor and even certain clothes for women, which they judged unsuitable for Meitei culture. Some rebel groups in Tripura are known to have issued fatwas on tribals not to join religious and other festivals of the non-tribals. Such diktats only expose the real face of militancy in the region — the rebels want to force the people to do things at gunpoint. That these attempts at coercion rarely succeed is proof of the people’s refusal to buy the rebels’ absurd ways.

Actually, the failure of the militancies intermittently drives the rebels to such absurdities. Failing to garner public sympathy for their extremist politics, they end up intimidating the common people. They seem unable or unwilling to face the fact that Hindi movies are as popular in the region as in other parts of India . Obviously, the people are not convinced that their love of Hindi films takes anything away from their love of their own culture. Nor do they take seriously the spurious argument of Bollywood’s hidden agenda of cultural “hegemony”. In fact, it is the rebels who seem to have an agenda for promoting some kind of cultural insularity to aid and abet ethnic jingoism. Alienated long from the rest of the country, the Northeast needs more — and not less — interaction with other social and cultural mores. The rebels may succeed in enforcing the ban in some isolated pockets of their strength. But there is little doubt that for the majority of the people, it will remain a laughable idea.

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