Pure or Profane? Roddur Roy’s arrest may be watershed moment for Bengal’s social grammar

Kolkata: “They don’t understand art!” I’m not a terrorist, I’m an artist!” Roddur Roy shouted as the Government vehicle carrying him left the premises of Bankshall Court on Tuesday June 14.

YouTuber Roddur Roy has been charged under 12 sections of the Indian Penal Codeincluding “promoting enmity” and “causing riots”, in a case registered at Hare Street Police Station in Kolkata for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

But Roy had a surprise waiting for him when he appeared in court on Tuesday after six days in police custody. He learned that a new case against him had been brought to another court in the same complex.

The latest case relates to a complaint that was filed against him by a private guardian at the Burtolla police station in June 2020 based on comments he made during a Facebook live stream in May 2020. In it, Roy is said to have insulted the Amit Shah, Home Minister of the Indian and Union Army. While the court hearing the case lodged at Hare Street Police Station remanded him into custody, the court hearing the case from Burtolla Police Station remanded him into custody until June 20.

The arrest sparked intense debate among Bengalis on social media, with human rights organizations like the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) condemning it and demanding Roy’s unconditional release, while d Others have expressed the wish to see him rot in prison.

Malay Roychoudhury. Photo: Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Malay Roy Choudhury, who was a key member of the Hungry Generation literary movement and faced an ‘obscenity trial’ for his infamous poem Stark Electric Jesus, knows a little about this experience. He was imprisoned for a month in 1964.

“I think that after his release (from prison), Roddur Roy should stand on a table in the Coffee House and proudly speak the language of the uncivilized. It is not enough to hurt (conservative) feelings in West Bengal. Everyone who has ruined Indian politics must also be gravely hurt…I don’t regret the obscenity trial I faced. That’s why I can live proudly even as an octogenarian. I wrote what I felt then, and I still write that way now. My writings are my weapons,” says Roy Choudhury.

The Indian Coffee House in College Street is famous as one of Kolkata’s most popular cultural hubs and was once known for attracting luminaries.

Roy is a soft-spoken, marijuana-smoking and guitar-playing vlogger with 3.28 lakh subscribers on YouTube and 4.91 lakh subscribers on Facebook. His image is that of a dystopian prophet – he founded his own religion, Moxa, and his growing fanbase loves his expletive rants and off-key chants. They call him “true free speech” and thank him for being “the kid who points out to the emperor that he’s not wearing clothes.”

Hours before Roddur Roy was arrested at his Goa residence on June 7 for allegedly using indecent remarks to describe Banerjee, and his nephew Abhishek Banerjee, a Lok Sabha MP from Trinamool Congress, he visited YouTube to casually address the issue.

“This language is not intended to insult you. It’s completely apolitical – I’m not part of your dirty politics,” he said, passionately defending his use of profanity.

“Obscenity is everywhere, it’s part of humanity – there’s nothing abnormal about it. Am I raising community violence or threatening to kill someone? So first understand my motive! The motivation is the commoner’s right to peace. Can’t I speak for peace?… What’s so offensive in my language? And who are you to correct my language? Is it a grammar lesson?…Is your language perfect? Is the perfect language spoken in this state? Do you know that there are spelling mistakes in government advertisements? »

The use of words deemed “obscene” to express frustration against the socio-political scene is not new.

Bengal had a torrid affair with blasphemy when the hungeralist movement burst onto its horizon in the 1960s. A true corollary of the Beats in America, this movement focused on creating a new idiom of expression against -cultural intended to disrupt oppressive social hegemony.

In 1964, Kolkata police made a series of arrests, rounding up 11 starving writers, including Pradip Chaudhuri, Saileshwar Ghosh, Subhash Ghose, Samir Roy Chowdhury, Malay Roy Choudhury and Haradhon Dhara (aka Debi Roy).

Some writers from the Hungry generation. From top left, clockwise: Saileswar Ghose, Malay Roy Choudhury and Subhas Ghose Basudeb Dasgupta, David Garcia and Subimal Basak. Photo: Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Filmmaker Q – who directed Gandou, a film perceived as obscene – and generously uses profane expressions to attack the status quo, believes that Roy has become “the art of blasphemy” or the “character himself”, and thus has lost the need to be the “civilized artist” with social responsibilities.

Referring to Bengal’s dates with obscenity, Q said, “If I draw a line from Nabarun (Bhattacharya) to me, then to Roddur, then he bECOMES character and loses the need to appear civil to be taken seriously. And that’s huge progress, that he in the age of social media can fully embrace the character and become a Gopal Bhand or Birbal type of character (famous court jesters in Indian literature) who is a constant nuisance but that the king must pay for there to be a continuous stream of consciousness on the other side.

However, as one might expect, not all Bengali intellectuals agree with Roddur’s liberal use of profanity.

Roddur Roy’s antics thrust him into the controversial spotlight in 2019, when he punctuated a famous Tagore song with expletives. What annoyed Bengali bhadralok the most company was when students from Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata sang Roy’s version of the song during Basanta Utsav or the Spring Festival in March 2020.

Speaking about Roddur Roy’s reckless use of profanity, film and literary critic Sanjay Mukhopadhyay said: “Roddur Roy’s problem is that he doesn’t philosophize about his language. Forbidden poems in Charles Baudelaire The evil flowers returned in full glory in the post-war period as treasures of French literature. Same with DH Lawrence Lady Chatterley’s Lover or that of Henry Miller Tropic of Capricorn – once banned and now considered literary gems. It’s only because we’ve been able to place them in a larger philosophical context in the present day, and so they’re successful subversions.

DH Lawrence, Rabindranath Tagore, Henry Miller and Charles Baudelaire. Photos: public domain.

However, he also casts the debate in an alternative light when he cites an example of Tagore who, in a romanticism song request, ‘Why didn’t you wake me before dawn? My day was spent in shame”. The song is heard in almost every Bengali household. However, the sidewalks of Chitpur area in North Kolkata full of volumes of erotic literature have this song under the collection titled Beshya Geeti (songs of prostitutes).

“Even the eminent poet and playwright Dwijendralal Ray accused Tagore of writing obscene music. He wondered how Bengalis would protect their civility if these songs were sung in a civilized society. know how to determine what is obscene and what is not?” says Mukhopadhyay.

Q thinks that seeking philosophy or higher meaning is a standard “upper” class reaction.

“In the 1920s in Calcutta, the common language that was used was quite secular, which today is considered an extremely downgraded language. This happened due to enormous pressure from the Tagore family and other Brahmo Samaj members who wanted to clean up the language so that they could appear civilized and belong to the genteel society. And what happened as a result was that we completely lost how much different layers of society could use language at that time,” the filmmaker said.

Howard McCord, a renowned American scholar, poet and pedagogue, came to India on a Fulbright scholarship and worked closely with Hungry Generation writers while pursuing passionate studies of 1960s Indian literature. about the use of profanity in literature, he said, “Although I swear in my private speech, I do not swear at work (in class or in the office, or in my lectures). My writing is largely poetry, or responses to literature.

While Bengal is divided over his personality and language, Roy himself seemed to ignore it in the latest video he uploaded just before police arrested him from his residence in Goa: “You can get caught, you can put me in jail. But that won’t make a positive story with your name.

Speaking to Banerjee, he added: “If the people have elected you chief minister, then it is your duty to let the common man do the talking, choose what is positive and use it to make a change. .”

Sreemanti Sengupta is a Kolkata-based freelance writer, poet and media studies lecturer.

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