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The dictionary defines the word culture (kul´cher) as:

"1. development, improvement, refinement of the mind, manners, taste etc. b) the result of this

2.the ideas, customs, skills arts etc. of a given people in a given period; civilization."
The others meanings of the word do not have any relevance in this context.

Let's examine the meanings on by one. First a look at the 'culture of an individual'. A cultured individual is one who has, by practice and learning, refined his manners and taste. Thus the 'culture' of an individual is the improvement of preexisting attributes in him. As an example, if we take the attribute of art in relation to an individual, the cultured individual is one who makes a conscious and consistent choice of works of art which appeal to his aesthetic senses. Note the use of the word-consistent. An inconsistently developed artistic aesthetics points to a lack of culture, no one can like the works of Bach and yet like Aqua in any real sense.

A cultured individual is also obvious to us in another sense — manners. Manners not only mean the positive aspects of a man's behavior but also important negative aspects. A well-mannered individual will not only speak courteously to a lady, but will also refrain from passing innuendoes behind her back. A cultured individual behaves in a certain manner not because he wants to 'put up a front' or 'create an image' but because he attaches value to such behavior. In other words, he understands the nature of such behavior and manners, its context and identifies men and women worthy of such behavior and manners of his, and therefore its value. A man using a high-pitched "Thank you" with a low bow to every woman he meets in a party, exaggerating the very act of expressing gratitude sounds phony. It only points to the culture(or the absence of it) of an individual.

The culture of a civilization

Now to the question of the culture of a civilization, a nation or a group of individuals. The culture of a group of people is decided solely by the culture of the individuals who compose the group. And the nature of the ideas of a group of people is decided by the predominant philosophy (or the absence of it) in that particular period. The ideas need not be held, always, by the majority of the people of that group to determine its cultural values. The majority may be a silent one, and the vocal ideas may come to dominate by intellectual default.

I read a 'Letters-to-the-Editor' letter in the Times of India wherein I came across this comment — "adopting strongarm tactics is against Indian culture". Numerous such comments abound today. The motion picture Fire is against Indian culture. Western Culture is against Indian culture. Words like "Indian ethos", "cultural ethos" are used indiscriminately, to serve just one end — the expropriation of freedom of speech and expression.

Examine the sentence-"...adopting strongarm tactics is against Indian culture". "Strongarm tactics" refers to the use of force and /or political pull to settle issues. The use of violence cannot be against or for any culture. Culture, by definition, applies to a civilization and a civilization alone. A civilization is composed of civilized people and civilized people will not resort to violence, irrespective of the culture they 'follow'. Use of violence, for any purpose other than retaliation is a moral issue, not a cultural one. In other words, the use of violence is against all cultures, let alone Indian culture, at any point of time.

The word culture is being increasingly used as a weapon of suppression and oppression of many ideas and events by small sets of people. These people, masquerading as champions of Indian culture seek to disrupt, meetings, film screenings, concerts. They seek bans on books, paintings and other works of art. But is the 'protection' of culture their true motive? Is culture the real issue here?


A cultured society is one where people are free to express their ideas and thoughts to others. The philosophical idea behind such freedom is individual rights. A society which advocates such a policy is a cultured one, one that takes away rights from individuals is an uncultured one. Thus America is known to all to be a country which advocates free speech, and that it its culture.

Indian Culture

What is our culture? What is Indian Culture? Let's take the Fire example. The real issue about culture in this case is not whether lesbianism is acceptable or not. It is about whether Deepa Mehta can make a movie and get it screened. It is about her freedom of expression. Lesbianism, per se is not a cultural issue. The nature and mode of response to lesbianism, from the intellectuals of a society is a pointer to their culture. A free society will not 'object' to lesbians in their midst because sexual preferences are a personal matter.

Most of the people who saw Fire talked about whether the movie was good or bad, and about the way it dealt with lesbianism. This was the true face of Indian culture. And but for the interference of the Shiv Sena, whether the movie ran to packed houses or went away silently would have then been decided based on the movie's merits and demerits.

But the Shiv Sena, a political party in Bombay interfered. It picketed theaters and stoned them, disrupted screenings. Today the film is back with the censors for a 'review'. What excuses does the Sena have? Indian culture. Exposure of Indian women to hitherto unknown ideas of lesbianism. Serious objections to the use of the names Radha and Sita in the movie.

Which only means that the use of force is warranted in their culture. Which means that Deepa Mehta dragged out all the women of Bombay and forced them to watch Fire. Which means the Shiv Sena has a copyright on the names Radha and Sita.

Note that Mr. Pramod Mahajan is issuing statements like

"...[Fire] has been sent for re-examination...in view of considerable public resentment all over the country ".
to sheild the Shiv Sena. Where was the "considerable public resentment" he is speaking about? In Bombay. Who is being blamed for that? The whole nation. That whole nation of men and women who saw the movie like any other, and commented whether the movie was a good one or a bad one. That whole nation who did not confirm to a culture of violence and obscene naked-body protests in front of those who defended Deepa Mehta.

Nobody needs the Sena prancing around naked on the streets, defending Indian culture. Nobody wants the opinions of Mr. Bal Thackeray about movies. Nobody wants to be chased out of a movie theatre because some lout in a street corner who hasn't seen the movie decides to defend 'Indian culture'.

Yet, such is the culture of the Bombayites. Because they have voted the BJP and Shiv Sena to power. Because they failed to take it upon themselves to find out the real nature of Indian culture. And were willing to listen to the Sena's stories about culture.

1. Culture
2. Environment
3. Religion
4. Secularism
5. Society
6. Technology
7. Tradition

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