Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Hurt Syndrome

The news came from a Japanese friend. She had forwarded a message from a common friend in the US and the message said:

... I am asking that each of you send an email to Nick Park and Aardman Annimations to object to the manner in which persons affected by leprosy are being portrayed in the soon to be released movie titled, "The Pirates! Band of Misfits." In the event you have not seen the trailer, the characters board a "pirate leper ship" and a body part falls off one of the sailors. This is a cruel portrait of the millions of persons affected by leprosy and negatively creates a lasting image on the minds of the young viewers from throughout the world who will see this movie ...
For past couple of decades I have been working in the field of leprosy. One of the key issues that continues to trouble the finding of new cases with leprosy and then ensuring their treatment and rehabilitation is the common image of this disease in public perceptions all over the world. Afraid of the social stigma and virtual social banishment that the disease can cause, people with leprosy often try to hide as long as possible.

However, over the past three decades, the actual situation of leprosy has changed drammatically. Today it is possible to get free treatment all over the world and the persons can get cured easily and completely. Therefore, it should no longer be seen as a disease that causes fear and is seen as "curse of the God".

I can understand the anguish of my friends because when we talk of this disease today, it is about thousands of persons who still get it today and have to face the social consequences of having a "dreaded disease" that are unjustified. Though most persons feel that leprosy is a kind of relic of the past, the reality is that every year there are about 250,000 new cases of leprosy every year. India and Brazil are the two most important countries in terms of number of new cases of leprosy today.

However, I do not believe in banning of films or insisting that they cut the scenes that are wrong in our view. This is what all the groups seem to be asking for when they feel that their depiction in the media is inappropriate. They make protests and ask for changes.

Here are a few examples of fights of other "misrepresented" groups from recent past asking for censorship or banning:

(1) In India, such protests are common place with persons of different religious, caste and social groups getting angry is a person of their community is shown in a negative way or in humour. The protestors frequently threaten violence and often end up destroying public property. Most the the time Indian Government gives in easily to such demands refusing to protect the writers, actors, directors and producers, and hides behind the bogey of "law and order situations".

Similar protests in relation to Islamic symbols/ideas in other parts of the world also has had many violent episodes.

(2) Persons with mental illnesses and persons with disabilities in many parts of the world have been fighting for not using their sterotypes in the different media including TV and films all over the world.

(3) Using caricatures of jews as being nasty moneylenders, and of arabs or Muslims as being terrorists are some other common examples from Hollywood.

I believe that if we go on like this, artists, writers and film makers will always be forced to express their ideas in narrower spaces and the world will be a poorer place for all of us.

I do not believe that banning films or censoring them to cut certain scenes is correct, whatever their provocation unless it is explicity asking for violence or expressing hate about some group.

We all have a right to criticise and if we find depictions in a film to be wrong or derogatory or stereotypes, we have the right to express our opinions, to debate and to discuss, to write about it on our blogs, to organise forums and if we feel very strongly, to promote calls for boycotting. If you don't agree with something don't go to see it, don't watch it, don't read it, and tell all your friends to do the same.

If you feel that it may not be understood by children, ask that it should be only for those above a certain age.

But I believe that no one should be asking for banning of people or their books, art or films or websites just because you feel that it gives a negative view of your religion/caste/community/gods. And no government should give in to such demands.

The only exception  to this, in my opinion, is those expressions that ask for killing, violence and hate against specific group of persons.

PS 6 February 2012: I have heard that producers of the film "Pirates the band of misfits", following the protests, have decided to review and modify the parts related to persons affected with leprosy.


  1. I fully agree. If we have to be careful not to hurt any of the thousand groups in the world and be careful not to violate intellectual propetry rights of millions of individuals, there will be nothing left to write.

    1. Thanks TF. But is it possible to change India from being so terrible in respecting the right of people to express and other persons to watch/read/listen?

    2. You have raised some serious issues regarding stereotypes. You are right- banning is a sort of denial about certain view points existing. I do not know much about leprosy except ofcourse its biblical connotations but I do know that it is curable. But we see beggars on the streets who like to perpetuate the myth that they are maimed by it. Some of my friends working on leprosy issues tell me that these are often not real wounds but dressed up in bandages just to arouse the sympathies of ignorant people. I have often been disturbed by the way mental illness has been portrayed in our films- it is all so dramatic. But as you say banning such films and books is not the answer. When will be begin to read and accept truth as it exists?

    3. In India approximately 1.5 to 2 million persons cured from leprosy have disabilities and wounds caused by the disease. Different studies from India also talk of widespread fear and marginalization of persons who have the disease even if they get cured without any disabilities. People lose their jobs, are thrown out of their homes and schools if other know that they had leprosy. Thus for some of them begging is the only way to survive. Some times, there are other options but people are using to begging and they do not wish to change! Some say that income with begging is much better.

  2. Many with leprosy are forced to beg by these agencies who takes advantages of disabled people. It's revolting, but this is a part of our society. There's a lot we can do to irradicate this problem -- firstly, changing our mindset about "chaste system" created by us.

    Kiran @

    1. Thanks Kiran. I think the begging groups among people with leprosy disabilities are sometimes controlled by elders among them. Ordinary mafia dons keep away from them because of fear of getting the disease.


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