Subversion of the right to freedom of speech

Indians, anyone will tell you, are talkative people. They can talk about mustard oil and about United Nations Law of the Seas, about what the Char Log will think and about IQ scores, about Barack Obama and about Putin, about Modi’s suit and about the half naked Fakir. Indians can talk tirelessly. They can do so eloquently, and with zest and purpose. Few, though, can claim to have given their life or life’s work to the Right to the Freedom of Speech and Expression.

The Right to Freedom of Speech and expression is a fundamental right, that is available to every citizen of India, and is protected dearly by the judiciary. The judiciary, in India, is said to be the second most trusted institution of the country, closely following the Election Commission.

In the Keshavnanda Bharti case, the Supreme Court of India held that the parliament cannot amend the constitution in such a manner that the basic structure is in any way affected. What is the basic structure? Suffice it to know, for now, that it includes all the fundamental rights in the constitution. The Supreme Court thus drew a line that the legislature had to toe, when it came to the right of the citizens to their freedom of speech.

The executive’s overtures with respect to their attempts to subvert our freedom of speech has also been checked by the judiciary, or sometimes by the sheer volume of the speech itself. Censuring free speech on the internet? The SC quashed the Section 66A of the IT Act, that allowed the police to arrest people on arbitrary grounds for whatever they’d written on the internet. Porn ban? Joke; it simply can’t be done. Digital blocks imposed by the union, that too on an entire industry, are but a joke.

The only time when the legislature or executive can make a law or take action against speech is when the speech seeks to adversely affect interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

So, if you want to carve out a country in your backyard (like a maoist), you could be arrested. And, if you say that all politicians loot people and bleed people of their sanity and dignity, you can be penalized. If you write a book that makes a case for creating a new country out of India, you can well be thrown into jail. If you propound lies about someone or something, be it in academic papers or through the media, you can be penalized.

Sadly, and factually, there’s another class of people who have been shut up, literally, by the people they tried to talk to, for speaking the truth. Imagine being gagged and strangulated for observing casually in a crowd of people that the earth is revolving around the sun. You were gagged because the people you were surrounded by disagreed with you. They would really like the earth to revolve around a cupcake. You were forsaken because you spoke of the sun. The sun does not exist, they say. The sun is an illusion you have created to corrupt minds and dirty the history of the people of the cupcake. The glowing blurb in the sky is the caramel oozing out of the cupcake, they say. How dare you say things like Hydrogen and Helium. Be gone! Off with your head!

Thus begot what happened to men like Kalburgi, Dhabolkar, Pansare and, I might add, Perumal Murugan too. Kalburgi, Dhabolkar and Pansare were killed by people who disagreed with them because they were rationalists, that is, they spoke sense. Perumal Murugan was gagged out of his village for writing a fictional story based on true events of a century ago, about a custom which the locals would rather not be reminded.

Here, the exercise of curtailment or restriction on free speech and expression was assumed by the proletariat, not the legislature or executive.The proletariat was given the rights to freedom of speech and expression, not the right to take it away! There’s a right to freedom of speech. There is NO corollary to it, and there is NO right to be offended.

What has the state done, in response, though? It was shocked at the reactions of the public to these men, and it hasn’t recovered from the shock yet, more than a year since these incidents began occurring.

Does the state, the protector of our rights, need a jolt to be woken up from its pretend-slumber? For, I find it hard to believe that they could be oblivious to the need to address such subversion of fundamental rights. There are more than enough men among them who have been able to amass wealth enough to make a Somalian mafia don blush. Such acumen need only be expressed in its very minimal amount to find the perpetrators of crimes against the basic structure of our constitution. The will needed, of course, has to be dug up from the reserves that lie deep in their minds which is mostly dominated by vote-bank calculations and efficiency methods in amassing more wealth.

If the state is going to continue its hibernation and ostrich-like behaviour, maybe it’s time the rare utterances of brave ideas and stories should be made more common.

Maybe it’s time that the rationalists unite, to say loud and clear, that eliminating those awe inspiring men was futile. That the intellectual and creative fire in our bellies cannot be extinguished by the most lowly and disgusting expressions of disagreement, even through gun powder and violent picketing.

So, here I am. I dare you, to say people like me are wrong to stand by the men whose lives have been wasted because of you.

I dare you, I double dare you, to fight me with words, with ideas, with an instrument known as debate, or discussion. If this is war, I can tell you that you’re going down, for I’d rather be dead that live a life looking over my shoulder! I’m willing to fight, tooth and nail, sir. My right to freedom of speech is sacrosanct, more so than the infinite inane beliefs you hold.

Indians sure can talk, but now, I don’t see them voicing enough concern about the butchering of the intellect in their national fabric. The silence is loud, and is driving lunatics to suppress the few with a voice. This should not be, it must not be, it shall not be. This is my minuscule contribution towards ending the silence of the masses. My shout out to the miscreants who have killed and maimed free speech in India: please, stop.


I’d written this a long time back. However, most of it is true today too. I was inspired to post this (with some edits) after an argument I had with an otherwise sensible friend, on the need to respect everyone’s rights (specifically, the fundamental rights of freedoms). He said ‘your freedom to carry an umbrella ends at the edge of my nose’ – apparently, expressing views that contradict the majority’s views should be done with “sensitivity”, or not be done at all (the latter is preferred). I thought that was a lot of cow refuse. Majoritarianism (be it religious or cultural) is being given greater preference over constitutional correctness, and that is absolutely reprehensible. It is time, I thought, rational and liberal voices also speak up, and refute the apparent justifications given by narrow minded men. Hence, the post.

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2 comments

  1. Well, We lost Rushdie and Hussain to the thug logic of following the majoritarian view and little outrage was shown then. Doniger’s book was withdrawn and little outrage was there but be it something related with beef, everyone gets excited enough to find the nearest sword! Ku Klux Klan has always been distant history for us, something we only heard through stories but with open eyes many different versions of it and even better avatars could be easily seen around.

    On the other note, i loved the cupcake analogy. Will be copying it in near future!

    Like

    1. Outrage against subversion of freedom of speech and expression is soft and far between, while the attack on free speech continues, largely unchecked. This stomping down of people has not gone fully unnoticed, but it has not been addressed enough.

      You’re right in observing that there are many versions of extremism that the country sees. Such right wing extremism is deeply fracturing the idea of a plural India. Rationalism and creativity is caught in the fray and silently suffering through it. It needs to stop. It can be stopped.

      I’m glad you found the analogy quotable! Please mention our blog if you do use it! 🙂

      Like

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