Saturday, January 20, 2007

Dont Shh Shh Me

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.".

Article 19 of the Constitution of India guarantees to every citizen the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. And one would assume an Indian could speak his mind throughout the country without fear of reprisal. The above would hold true certainly for the mass media. You only need to see the issues they focus on to realize that they certainly dont believe in any restrictions on their freedom. In addition to this, our judiciary zealously guards this right. But what about the Common Man - you and me , included.

If we were to judge the freedom available in India against the 'Sharansky Town Square Test' , we would rightly come to the conclusion that India is a 'fear society'. For the test states:"If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society."

Could you freely go to any public place in India and voice your opinion freely and expect to go unpunished? The answer is No. There is a rising trend in this country to gag voices which may be voicing opinions unpalatable to any group of people. The Government usually takes the lead by banning the offending piece. In such cases where this does not happen, the self proclaimed moral police takes it upon itself to put the perperator in his place. Two recent episodes would serve to highlight this.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board ( AIMPLB ) has asked for Taslima Nasreen to be expelled from India. An article she wrote in the Outlook has offended the sensibilities of some moulavis it seems. I would advise the moulavis , that this is India, not Pakistan or China. If something is written that offends you, I have a simple advice - Dont read it.

Another case that shocked me was the self imposed exile by artist MF Husain. Arguably India's best modern painter , he has been hounded by the saffron brigade out of his own country because of his paintings of Hindu Godesses. I do not find some of his paintings very tasteful. But that is beside the point. A true test of democracy is how tolerant you are of criticism. If you take the line that nothing that is unpalatable to anyone should be printed, soon you will have newspapers coming out with only advertisements and classifieds in them.

Truly a long way to go before India attains the dream Tagore had for this country.
"Where the mind is without fear
And the head is held high,
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,
let my country awake."


Anonymous said...

It is not the case of anybody finding anything unpalatable.M.F Husain had been found guilty by Justice J.D Kapoor of Delhi High Court in 1998 but could not be convicted on technical grounds due to lack of sanctions.Does the author consider himslef to be more knowledgeable than the courts?

Sachin R K said...

Hi anon,
The author ( I quite like the sound of this ), does not wish to enter into any confronation with the courts. My point is simply this. If he has broken the law of the land , let him be tried accordingly. It is the moral policing by extra judicial groups that I object to. I would like to believe there is some difference between India and Iran and Saudi Arabia.

As for the legal status, there were 4 separate cases pending against the artist, which have now been clubbed together by the Supreme Court in a recent order.

Have a read of this HT editorial.It reveals an increasingly disturbing trend of pressure groups abrogating to themselves the right to decide what is good for the rest of us.


Anurag said...

mf hussain has the right to express himself....but that expression shld not hurt the sentiments of others....especially religious sentiments
we are still a long way from being a society which accepts religious desecration as part of freedom of expression
other than the above incident...i totally agree with u that we are a fearin society.....guess we need someone like V (from the movie V for vendetta) to end the fear within us

redwaterstew said...

The censorship also needs to be looked into a more personal type like when your are in crowd that has predominant allegiance we involuntarily tend to mould our communication to their tastes. this probably is not due to any fear of consequence but a fear that they might form an opinion or it might hurt. nevertheless a fear of "something" . maybe we tend to give a disproportionately high weightage to one's identity. I was wondering if Anjali Ela Menon ( assuming she has done some works of similar nature) would have got the same response as Hussian. we might have to white wash our entire art heritage otherwise

Anonymous said...

I am wondering whether this free society that u or tagore dream of is existing anywhere in the world?