Picking your toes in Punjab
In the United States, disrespecting the flag will earn you social opprobrium, maybe even a sock in the nose. In India, disrespecting the flag can get you prosecuted.
Lawyer Raj Kumar Pandey says he has filed at least 200 court cases in the past 10 years accusing people of disrespecting the national flag — a crime in India.
Pandey is always on the watch for infractions and his latest target is top Indian tennis star Sania Mirza, whose feet were shown on a table near the flag at the Australian Open. The lawyer said this “insulted national honour.”
But Mirza is not the only one facing legal headaches, as an increasing amount of litigation and street protests have led to a flurry of bans on films and books and court cases against celebrities.
“There is increasing evidence that the pluralist foundations of this country… are being subverted by narrow-minded, sectarian zealots,” journalist Jug Suraiya wrote in a column for The Times of India.
For Mirza, who has been criticised for wearing short tennis skirts, shooting a TV commercial in a mosque and for remarks seen as endorsing premarital sex, the flag row was the last straw. She responded by refusing to play in India.
It isn’t just the flag that is at issue, and it isn’t only Islamic clerics issuing “fatwas.”
In addition, the country’s most celebrated artist, M.F Husain, has been in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London for two years following protests by hardline Hindu groups opposed to his paintings of nude goddesses.
In 2006, one extremist Hindu group offered an 11.5-million-dollar reward for the assassination of the 93-year-old painter.