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'I won't apologise, come what may'

By Subhash K Jha
August 25, 2016 14:14 IST
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‘If I keep quiet just because it’s convenient then I negate all that my parents stand for.’

‘If I allow these voices to smother me I’ll be doing disservice to other fearless voices in politics.’

IMAGE: The case against Ramya will be heard on Saturday. Photograph:  Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for IRC

On Tuesday, Kannada actress-turned-politician Ramya was in the eye of a storm after a lawyer filed a complaint in a court seeking action on sedition and other charges against her for “insulting” Indian patriots by her remark that “Pakistan is not hell”.

Two days later, the young politician seems unfazed about the complaint and tells Subhash K Jha that she would return to the neighbouring country to foster peace.

You have been accused of sedition for saying Pakistan is not hell’. Aren’t we displaying new levels of intolerance?

Yes, all ‘hell’ has broken loose (laughs). A lawyer has filed a complaint and he cited Section 124 A which is the section that deals with sedition. It remains to be seen if the court accepts his complaint. But yes, you are right this is a new level of intolerance. This is a gross misuse of an old outdated law that is completely not required in a democratic country.

Do you think this case should be a cause to look at sedition laws?

I think we seriously need to look at the sedition law. Either we should seriously modify it or do away with it. Otherwise I won’t be the last person to be harassed in this way, let me tell you that.

Do you think there is a political conspiracy behind this?

It seems so, because a copy of the complaint went to the media first. How did that happen? The lawyer wanted the media to know about how anti-national I am (laughs). The Bharatiya Janata Party has been up in arms against all those who are opposed to their ideology.

Right-wing extremists are the only section supporting the sedition allegation against me. By and large, people -- online and offline -- have supported me. Even individuals from the BJP have supported me.

But the good thing is, this is what democracy is about…discussion, dissension…  Hopefully there will be an amendment in some of the archaic laws that allow individuals to slap outrageous charges. That is the positive takeaway from this controversy.

But it can’t be so positive for you and your family?

I was coming to that.  For the person at the receiving end, there is no positive takeaway. This is the price of freedom in a country like India. I think we should be just happy that we have the freedom to say anything about anybody and get away with it.

Our national leaders fought to get us freedom and this is how we are misusing it. This is not how you uphold the principles that our founding fathers laid their lives for.

Luckily most people have been very supportive.

And the media?

The local Karnataka television channels have been unnecessarily sensationalising the issue and putting out headlines like ‘Ramya Supports Pakistan’. We can’t blame them. There are 20 competitive news channels in Karnataka. I am better off than Kanhaiya Kumar. They put out an entire morphed video against him to prove he was seditious.

Do you think celebrities are targeted for being celebrities?

I think so. Earlier, film actors were not supposed to be taken seriously. And they never spoke out, let alone take a stance on political issues. Now when actors like us do participate in politics some people can’t handle it. We’ve very politically active actors.

So many female actors like Jayalalithaa, Nagma, Khushboo, Radhika from the south have made a mark in politics. And I love Jaya Bachchan. She is so vocal and passionate in Parliament.

To digress a bit, what got you interested in politics?

I was always interested in working for the betterment of our country.

But most politicians are not interested in the betterment of our country?

(Laughs) Then maybe I am not a politician. We should look for another way to describe people like me and my mother (Congress member Ranjitha).

My father (entrepreneur R T Narayan) was not a part of politics but he had friends from every political party. I saw politicians and politics from close quarters. My dad would make me read newspaper articles on the welfare of the nation when I was a child. I grew up caring about out country. I do care. Is it okay to do that?

Today in 2016, we have Dalits being oppressed, people getting killed for eating beef. Even a girl drinking beer in a pub is reason for violence. Homosexuals are illegal in our country. There is a so much that needs to change. If I keep quiet just because it’s convenient then I negate all that my parents stand for.

How did you join the Congress?

I never asked for a party position. The Congress asked me to join them. I remain a happy and faithful soldier of the party.

Even when the Congress is at its lowest ebb? Are you not tempted to join other parties?

Not at all! The only party that brings the country together is the pluralistic and inclusive ideology of the Congress. After the low, will come the high. This is not the end. People in India are emotional but intelligent. They will bring the Congress back.

Our defence minister saying Pakistan is akin to hell.

Is this a responsible statement to make for a man appointed to protect and defend our country at a time when hostility with our neighbours is at an all-time high?

What took you to Pakistan?

The SAARC young parliamentarians’ conference was held in Islamabad. And that’s when I found Pakistanis are just like us. We look like siblings.

Are we supposed to say all Pakistanis are monsters?

It seems like it. But I won’t. And I won’t apologise, come what may. I’ve the freedom to talk peace with our neighbours. I don’t think I should allow myself to be bullied into submission. The ranters probably think it’s easy to bully me since I am a woman. But I won’t succumb. If I allow these voices to smother me I’ll be doing disservice to other fearless voices in politics.

But sedition?

It takes courage to not be shouted down. It’s just so much easier to say what people want to hear. That’s what politicians do during elections. And they continue to do it for five years. In a subverted way it is a compliment to be called seditious if you talk of cross-border peace. (Mahatma) Gandhiji, (Jawaharlal) Nehruji, Bal Gangadhar Tilak they were all slapped with sedition. So I am in august company.

Are you still single?

Yes, and I am so happy. And before you ask, I am not doing any films right now. I’ve a release coming up in September which I completed two years ago.

Will you go back to Pakistan?

To foster peace and engaged in dialogues? Yes. Definitely.

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