Right to Ridicule

Our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter.

– Martin Luther King Jr

In the current Indian political activist scenario – “Right-to” is the buzzword. Right to Information has been realized in some measure. Right to education has been awarded to all children of India. (Somebody should tell that to those kids carrying tea in canteens of our courts.)

I believe one of the very fundamental rights in a democracy is Freedom of speech. My right to express my ideas, my views, my opinions without restriction is at the core of a democratic society. Our constitution awards us this right under Right of Freedom-

Right to freedom includes speech and expression, assembly, association or union or cooperatives, movement, residence, and right to practice any profession or occupation (some of these rights are subject to security of the State, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, decency or morality), right to life and liberty, right to education, protection in respect to conviction in offences and protection against arrest and detention in certain cases.

The underlined part unfortunately leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Constitutionally, your right to speech and expression has a limitation that is up for subjective view.

The biggest danger against this right is culture of “feeling offended”. Salman Rushdie has said that today a person is defined by what offends him/her. Hindus are offended by beef-fest in a hostel. Muslims are offended by pictures of prophet. Mochi-caste was offended by a film-song. Who are you if nothing offends you?

Now there is nothing wrong with being offended. Get offended all you want. Engage in a fruitful debate – that’s even better. But these are not the responses my beloved offended country-men (and women) are resorting to. They are marshaling their offended-ness in to an offensive. They use these (potential, perceived or real) offenses to throttle creative expression or contrarian thinking.

M F Hussain was forced to stay out of the country. Satanic Verses and Lajja are banned. Release of a foreign movie is delayed because Church wants an additional warning about the movie being a work of fiction. Movie-makers are forced to remove caste-references from their songs. All in the name of appeasing the offended.

The part we have to understand about the right of freedom is this – the people who think similar to the mob or are mellow in their opinions are always allowed the right of expression. Even in dictatorships or autocracies. It is the expression of difference and dissonance that is (or at least should be) protected by Freedom of Expression. Freedom of Expression means right to creating and publishing content that is offensive to a part of the population or even to the entire population.

This perverse practice of “getting-offended” is used to subvert the other person’s right to their beliefs and their expression of those beliefs.

My issue here is two-fold.

1)      As people, we have become less tolerant towards views of others. A country and culture that prided itself on plurality and vasudhaiv kutumbkam is suddenly unable to handle an FB comment. Either our insecurity in our beliefs is making us violent or we’re trying to outdo each other in zealotry. I know not what the reason is. But I believe this marks a zenith in cultural richness of India

2)      Our law that bends over backward in protecting corrupt politicians and their coteries is very quick in meting out punishments for thought-crimes and expression-crimes. We are aiming to throttle down information flow on internet. Our law seems to believe that vehicle of Indian democratic expression needs child-lock on every window of expression. Books, TV shows, movies, websites, blogs everything goes under 1984-sque lenses at the drop of a complaint.

I am saddened that even in 21st century my country is doing what Church did to Galileo Galilei in 17th century.

A voice of slight dissent is so corrosive to feelings and sentimentalities of my countrymen that they end up burning a clinic for an FB comment. I shudder to think what they would have done to Galileo.

“Strange that the creatures without backbones have the hardest shells”

-Kahlil Gibran

 

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About bforbihag
Poochhate hai wo ki Ghaalib kaun hai, Koi batlao ke hum batalaaye kya?

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