Opinion » Lead

Updated: March 4, 2012 14:01 IST

The Republic of Hurt Sentiments

Mukund Padmanabhan
Comment (55)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

The protest-readings from Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses must force a rethink of our religious hate speech laws and what they mean for freedom of expression.

As the controversy over the protest-readings from Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses raged, I found myself pitched in the middle of more than one discussion of a legal nature at the Jaipur Literature Festival. A sample of the questions debated. Is it illegal to read from a proscribed book? Is it prohibited to read even the inoffensive portions? Since Mr. Rushdie's novel was banned under customs law, doesn't any proscription apply only to the import of the book? And surely, by implication, not the mere printing and downloading of a few pages from it?

Such questions presume there exists a specific law or some legal precedent that can conclusively settle the legality or otherwise of the readings by four writers, who sought to express solidarity with Mr. Rushdie and protest against those who prevented, and colluded in preventing, his visit to the Festival. The truth is that no such thing exists. Those who were looking for such clear cut answers were asking — in the Indian context — the wrong kind of question.

It isn't what the four ‘Rushdie readers' did that was germane. It was what could be done unto them, thanks to our much misused hate speech laws. The two Jaipur city courts that initiated proceedings earlier this week against a JLF organiser and the four writers (Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi) are not going to be dealing with the kind of questions raised above. The complaints before them, and three other courts in Rajasthan's capital, are based on the claim that Muslim sentiments have been hurt by the readings from The Satanic Verses.

Umbrella term

Hate speech is an umbrella term that covers any form of expression that disparages people on the basis of social characteristics such as race, community, religion, gender and sexual orientation. The intentions behind laws governing such expression (for example, protecting minorities from abhorrent diatribes) are generally blameless. The problem, however, is that the laws are inherently vague and subjective. There is no objective way of distinguishing between unacceptable hate speech and an acceptable rant. There is no way of determining what will outrage the sentiments of someone. In this respect, hate speech laws bear a close resemblance to the law on criminal contempt — as the media have learnt over the years, it's impossible to tell what will scandalise a judge.

The laws operate in a manner that allows those who claim to be offended or insulted to lay down what constitutes hate speech. It is an insidious form of censorship and control. And in India, it assumes truly sinister proportions because of a dangerous cocktail of circumstances — a citizenry that takes offence much too easily; governments and political parties that prefer to collude with the malcontents rather than stand up for free expression; and courts that are willing to entertain what are clearly frivolous petitions. The controversy over the ‘Rushdie readings' has all three ingredients in the brew.

That some forms of harmful speech (defamation, plagiarism, etc.) must be prohibited is universally accepted. But should mere offensiveness be a ground for proscription? John Stuart Mill didn't think so. In his classic defence of free speech in On Liberty, Mill maintained that the only justification for silencing a person against his will (or restraining him from living the way he chooses to) is to prevent him from causing harm to others. His so-called ‘harm principle' has found expression in the widely accepted principle that explicit and unequivocal incitements to violence are a valid ground for curbing free speech and expression.

Hate speech laws require no such stringent condition. The United States, where the First Amendment trumps restrictions on hate speech, is unique. But most other countries and their legal systems accord a much greater play for people's sentiments and sensitivities.

Predictably, the complaints against those who read The Satanic Verses have sought registration of FIRs under two familiar and overused Sections 153 A and 295 A of the Indian Penal Code. The former makes it an offence to say anything that “promotes disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes and communities.” The latter singles out religious sentiment and punishes those who intentionally outrage religious feelings or insult any religion or religious belief held by Indian citizens. Introduced in 1927, Section 295 A protects all religions equally — a kind of egalitarian and abridged blasphemy law.

‘Marketplace for outrage'

The law takes the feelings of offended groups — religious fundamentalists, language chauvinists, caste formations — very seriously. It has helped to feed what Monica Ali described in another context as a “marketplace for outrage” — a new economy that thrives on emotion, one in which “if the feelings run (or are seen to run) high and deep enough, a good price will be fetched.”

The most common source of such outrage is of course religion. Section 295 A of the IPC is intended to apply only when there is a “deliberate or malicious act” to outrage religious feelings. But it has become a handy tool to harass all manner of people, including writers, artists and filmmakers.

We have allowed hurt sentiment in this country to become a cover for aggressive moral vigilantism, an excuse to take the law into one's own hands, and to perpetrate violence in the name of emotional victimhood. Our artistic and cultural freedoms are threatened routinely by violence and vandalism — as during the controversies over M.F. Husain's paintings, Taslima Nasreen's novels and articles, Deepa Mehta's Fire and Water, Jaswant's Singh's book on Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and Pakistan's cricketers playing in India. The colossal irony here is that these belligerent vigilantes usually belong to organisations that make a living out of promoting enmity between different communities and religious groups — the very thing they accuse artists, filmmakers, writers and journalists of doing.

We have become so used to being offended in the name of religion that we rarely stop and ask the philosophical question: why should religious belief or sentiment receive special protection under the law? Is there any rational ground for not extending this privilege to atheists or agnostics? Do we refuse to extend this for merely pragmatic reasons — namely, that non-believers are less likely to get inflamed and turn violent when offended? Is there any basis for maintaining that religious beliefs or religious figures should not be exposed to scorn or ridicule in the manner that secular opinions or worldly figures are?

Such questions may end in only a typically inconclusive philosophical debate. But they draw attention to an important truth. If we must have laws that prohibit offences against religious sentiment, then the very least we must do is to ensure that they apply only in cases of deliberate provocation, where the form of expression — whether words or visuals — is principally designed to humiliate or debase believers. This applies to all hate speech laws, including those that apply to causing offence on the basis of class, race, gender or sexual orientation.

The mere criticism of a religion — that is, its religious tenets — can hardly be the basis for taking offence. If no one else, surely the devout should understand this. Whether we like it or not, many of the world's religions do not portray — to understate the point — non-believers in a kindly light. Implicit in the very nature of some religions are the criticism of certain others that find expression in a variety of terms such as infidels, idolaters, pagans, mleccha and so on. So isn't it somewhat hypocritical to be deeply religious — at least in a conservative sense — and at the same time take offence very easily at criticism against your own religion?

Petitions should be thrown out

If good sense prevails, the courts will throw out the petitions relating to the ‘Rushdie readings' — and quickly. Offensive speech must satisfy at least two conditions to qualify as hate speech — it must be a “deliberate and malicious act” and it must pose a clear and present danger to society (as opposed to something “remote, conjectural and far-fetched”, in the Supreme Court of India's words). Using this standard, the four writers who read from The Satanic Verses are not guilty at all. Neither are the JLF organisers, who have been drawn into a murky legal web because of where the readings were staged.

Opinions vary on whether it was appropriate for Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi to have used the JLF platform for the protest-readings, an act which risked bringing the festival to a halt. But there is a more important issue here. If the ‘Rushdie readings' trigger a much larger rethink about our religious hate speech laws and what they mean for freedom of expression, then the controversy would have been well worth the making.

More In: Lead | Opinion

@ Raamganesh:

Lack of analytic consensus among modern atheists hardly helps their
case for an existence without a Prime-Mover, a First Cause. For e.g.,
to Dennett, evolution by natural selection is an algorithmic process
although he admits that algorithms incorporate much randomness, and
randomness or chance is never part of a rational solution. Dennett's
ideas clashed with the philosophy of another Darwinist, Stephen Gould,
who stressed the dependence of evolution on many crucial factors, of
which natural selection is but one. Then again, the American
philosopher, Feser, holds that science & religion have never been at
war; instead it's a conflict of two philosophical conceptions of the
natural order: the classical teleological view versus the modern
mechanical one. That Dennett saw himself as a 'teleofunctionalist'
brings matters to a head, even as true religion logically insists on
another dimension where a killer of one & a killer of a hundred can
face proportionate retribution.

from:  Biju
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 20:14 IST

The issue is not whether anything is to be gained by reading of Mr. Rushdie's work; it is an
individual's right to read it for whatever purpose a person chooses as long as that purpose is
not to incite violence against an identifiable group. I have read Mr. Rushdie's "Satanic
Verses", never does it advocate violence against Muslims. Literature is suppoosed to inspire
us, irk us, inflame us, invigorate us, offend each one her or his due. Nothing more,
nothing less. As an atheist, I get deeply offended when I read religious scripture or script of
any sort that hurls me into some sort of hell fire or causes me to return to this world as a
monster. I do not advocate banning of these books neither do I hate these. In fact, I enjoy
reading opinions contrary to mine. It's tragic that secular democracy like India has chosen to
enact and execute what the learned writer of the essay has correctly described as the
"egalitarian blasphemy laws".

from:  Zahid Makhdoom
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 02:46 IST

A country can prosper only when, free thinking is a necessary doctrine
that social and political conduct in that country underlines. It is
the common man who has to realize the venomous interests of crooked
'vote bank' politicians who hail sectarian sentiments and morality
concepts in a way that contradicts itself. It is more clear from the
resignation of three BJP ministers in Karnataka over the 'porn clip'
controversy. It was the same party that justified anti-valentines day
agitations and publicly assaulted women in a pub. Only the sect that
is being 'protected' differs, the interests of the perpetrators remain
the same.

It is for the people to realize that each time a person is denied the
freedom of speech, in the interest of narrow minded extremists, we are
losing a non redeemable share of the much hailed constitutional values
and the democratic, secular culture of our nation. We are providing a
precedent for the extremists to justify their future atrocities.

from:  Suneeth Sekhar
Posted on: Feb 11, 2012 at 02:27 IST

Well,An interesting trivia,Religion is something personal and should not be given a political flavour.It diddn't happen and today we have a country where any small spark leads to a mass slaughter.In the case of Rushdie,although he was a controversial man,but this is India.India with one of its rights of Expression of speech.Although the talks might have hurted an extremist group,but this incident was a mere recitation of some of the lines of the book.Truly said by the author that there is no index to measure the intensity of any incendiary talk.So,the question is how the Government and even the Judiciary body has come up with this partial decision?Just to encourage the extremist...........This has left muchto mull over.

from:  rahulan
Posted on: Feb 10, 2012 at 23:41 IST

@Davis - "Once the democracy matures there is no need for the hate laws and the existing hate laws become defunct. When does democracy mature?" Democracy will mature when the government takes chances like these to inform people why the constitution contains the things it does and why it is worth protecting. Instead, if the government uses opportunities like these to pander to the whims of the extremists then democracy will stay immature. For example, during key moments in the civil rights movement in the USA, when the government was faced with either taking a principled stand on the issue of voting rights and civil liberties or appeasing the extremist white segregationists, it chose the rule of law, it chose to protect it's constitution. That's how they made progress.
That's how we'll make progress. Not just by throwing our hands up citing the prevailing attitudes of people. But by doing what's right by our constitution so that those attitudes change.

from:  Raamganesh
Posted on: Feb 10, 2012 at 22:44 IST

@Biju - "The difficulty for the atheist, however, is that this is an entirely moral proposition
which necessitates an 'irrational' belief in a higher plane of existence at some level. "
Moral philosophy has made considerable headway during the 150 years since Comte.
Contemporary philosophers such as AC Grayling, Daniel Dennett have no problem building a
moral framework without the need to posit anything 'sacred' or 'lying in a higher plane'. The
religious believe that they get their morality from God, which they hold to be objective. But
read any holy book and you'll find terrible passages right next to the good bits. Try to think of
one moral principle which would logically require a 'higher plane' and which would confound
contemporary philosophers.

from:  Raamganesh
Posted on: Feb 10, 2012 at 22:33 IST

The constitution is just words on paper if it is not strictly enforced
and pointless when groups threaten with violence when they don't get
what they want. If we can't find solutions for these problems articles
like these are pointless like our constitution is right now.

from:  xian
Posted on: Feb 10, 2012 at 16:01 IST

@Karthik: Kudos to your arguments. Makes perfect sense. The quest for the truth and clarity of thought should overpower some innate unjustified fears. We have been brainwashed and hypnotised on certain aspects in life, religion and God being the fore-runners, and it takes a lot of courage, determination and self-control to rise above the deep rooted conditioning and question them. This is a sentiment which the numerous Godmen and religious organizations are cashing upon. The psychic fear related to blasphemy is a tweak which the institutions have incorporated in order that they keep thriving by crushing and hushing up any doubts that might arise against the commodity which they are selling, here God and religion. Just because we don't question the conditioning, we are loosing a lot of time, fortune and energy over something we are not really sure of. It's high time we rise high and start questioning without the fear of being punished by some fictious superpower and clear the cobwebs.

from:  Praveen Bandaru
Posted on: Feb 10, 2012 at 14:35 IST

THE ART AND THE STATE: The Jaipur Literary Festival has been successful in posing a number of stunning questions to the world at large.As it appears from the television programmes, many Indian pedants including news anchors have got opportunities to be the judges and hounded their opinions on others about Salman Rushdie and his controversial literary creation after such a long gap of almost 24 yrs. This is what is popularly known as media trial. How far have we progressed? While debating, it was blatantly ignored that art is the subjective expressions of ecstasy and agony. We ignorantly equate it with fantasy. Art is art—the expression of abstraction. Only artists can evaluate art, not other professionals who are ignorant of the substance of art and art forms. Art is the expression of highest elevation of sublime passion. It's to be understood with artistic spirit. Science strives for precision, accuracy. Art is based on impression and selects traits for emphasis or exaggeration. By selection, the artists destroy the objective reality which the scientists struggle to preserve. Selection and emphasis heighten the emotional response and are the basis of the artists’ insight and interpretation. On media trial, too many cooks spoil the broth. It’s pathetic. This can be the best example of glairing infringement of the right to freedom of speech.
Art. 19 (1/a) of the Constitution connotes two aspects of freedom— speech and expression. What is stated in Art. 19 (2) is a long list of "ifs" and "buts" for the practitioners of law to debate. The underlining understanding of freedom of speech and expression does suggest that one is entitled to say what s/he believes. The professionals of public morality can argue on the so-called "reasonable restrictions", but to artists, unfettered freedom is the canvass of art. Art is not for all; it's for the selective few who are born passionate and expressive. Going by the constitutional provisions or judicial fine print, one can be a law abiding citizen. Artists have nothing to do with being law abiding. Art can't grow in the constitutional / legal framework of any single nation state. The tragedy is that there is little space given to art and artists. Their creations immediately become commodities in the market economy. Then we start making hue and cry as the custodian of public morality. Alas! Art has nothing to do with public morality. Art is larger than life. The adamant Indian state tries to bungle art by imposing ban on the so-called controversial literary piece. Authors are not the order suppliers. They select the templates (literary forms) that offer them maximum liberty to create conflicts, draft the jurisprudence, and offer solutions in bloodless fashion. In an effort to solve our existing problems, we study literature. As other professionals read literature, they immediately equate '"x" as "y" and make hue and cry, alleging distortion of “this” or “that” and talk of being hurt. What a strange country is ours! Art is not to hurt anybody. It’s our own psychological disorder or inferiority complex to get hurt from art. The very book of Rushdie, the Ministry of Finance banned importing to India, is well read in other countries. Indians living in the UK can buy it, read it. If Rushdie is untouchable to Indian Muslims living in India, is it not going to be more embarrassing for the Indian Muslims living in the UK with Rushdie? Tolerance is the test of democracy. Media could have played a curative role in maturing the minds of pan Indians. Democracy demands everybody to be different with decency. There is no democracy without decency. Decency is our cultural identity. However, there is no point in understanding art and artists being decent or indecent. They do not come under the preview of decency. So long they are artists, they are above all. Rushdie is misconceived as a mere writer; he is an artist.Who suffers when a society is left without the freedom of art? Freedom can also to be understood with freedom. Our prejudice can stand on the way to freedom and become threat to art and artists realizing their freedom, but we suffer at the end without expressions of our sublime passions for ecstasy.It's up to the authority at large to allow art grow or die. But it can't be dictated and dedicated to the authority in return.

from:  Subhankar Basu
Posted on: Feb 10, 2012 at 13:50 IST

I guess we as a society should not let ourselves being taken to ransom by a few religious zealots is a little unfortunate. Only when a scenario develops whereby it's actually hurting the religious sentiments of a community then only a legal course should be taken. Whipping up passions just for the heck of it is I guess absurd and only serves the malicious interests of the politicians at the cost of the secular fabric of our society.

from:  Naveed Hussain Badroo
Posted on: Feb 10, 2012 at 11:43 IST

In my opinion, no religion is perfect. If someone speaks of religious practices or laws that are treat other fellow humans as lesser or degrade the value of the follower then this should not be called as hurting the religious sentiments.For instance, India's age old caste system, european witch hunt in middle ages (like practice of sati) and burkha system for muslim women. If muslim fundamentalists feel hurt that Ms. Taslima Nasreen has done wrong by writing about the issues of muslim women, then hindu fundamentalists would similarily feel hurt if someone protests against caste based discrimination and sati. If one social evil is ok then other becomes ok too.

from:  Nikhil K
Posted on: Feb 10, 2012 at 07:45 IST

Common man is confused as he/she have to follow two rules or laws in
one life, one laid down by country and one by self belief in one's
faith. Both will not go together, so restraint and common sense is
more important than what is right or wrong or bad or good in dealing
with conflicts? What we are going to achieve by reading Satanic
Verses? Is it going to improve one's knowledge? or give peace?, so-
called intellectuals or liberals are more confused with their aimless
goal and vision. One good thing I see among Muslim and Hindu
fundamentalists is that they don't denigrate the opposite religions.

from:  prasbad
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 23:34 IST

Very well written and well formulated article. Good work.

from:  Manoj
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 21:27 IST

The resurrection of religious fundamentalism demands that criticism be suspended and State also sides with them.The casualty is the writer's freedom of expression and his or her security. The religious people can answer criticism with criticism and not with threats of violence.

from:  J.Ravindranath
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 21:23 IST

Hate laws in India is a necessary evil. The above laws are needed at present because the religiously fanatic people are not mature enough to hear, honor or respect other religions resulting in hate crimes and riots, killing several people and loss of property. Politicians use media to vituperate about religion for political purposes. In mature democracies it is hard to hear politicians talking about religion and religious authorities talking about politics. Media is at fault for publishing the hate statements of politicians and religious authorities. The political parties are religious and caste oriented. Religions and castes are poltitically oriented. Even the so called secular government promote religion. The vicious cycle of religious fanaticism, politics, government, media and lack of education are intertwined making religion an incindiary subject. Once the democracy matures there is no need for the hate laws and the existing hate laws become defunct. When does democracy mature?

from:  Davis K. Thanjan
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 20:53 IST

Karthik Sir, It is prejudice and also a fact that has come out in
"Sachhar" committee report that makes you feel what you wrote.

In the reasons that you asked Mr.Najeeb, you forgot to include
something that is so very basic. "Love" ! Isn't it simple that we
become protective (don't read overtly/unreasonably et al) about
something that we love? Do some analogies friend.

By the way, there is another "cliché clue" that one gets over here,
which most substandard writers employ (not meaning Mr. Najeeb here),
just write/do/express against the tide, even if for the sake of it and
become a best seller or at least the spotlight.

from:  Farzan Ahmad
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 20:10 IST

I love reading articles like this in 'The Hindu'. Another brilliant article pointing out
the abuse of power in India to curb free speech against religion.

from:  Satya G Meka
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 20:01 IST

Is it not a paradox that as we discuss about freedom of expression and
all that, this newspaper itself does some "anti freedom of expression",
by censoring some (read most) of the comments ! And thankfully so ! Lest
you may see some other leading dailies where it is abhorrent for most of
us writing here to even give a glance at the comments that follow.

So any filth, in terms of at least language, (I know filth of thought is
the bone of contention here) should be filtered out.

from:  Farzan Ahmad
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 19:47 IST

A perspective without much novelty but never the less appreciative.

One cannot go on defend something just for the sake of it.
Nothing should be taken up blindly, I am all for dialogue but it
should have a protocol, let it be decided mutually. But one has to
understand what is at stake, what is the purpose behind it. You cannot
just shrug it off in the name of freedom ! Nothing, however good can
justify if it does not meet a purpose.
One has to hold responsibility, if something goes wrong, just as
he/she would lap up any appreciation that comes.

As far as Salman Rushdie is concerned, he uses filth in his language,
(I am not talking about the content at all here) & one should stand up
(read be intolerant)against it.

Another important aspect is this, that one has to know something
properly before being judgemental about it. Blanket branding and thus
prejudice is unwarranted. Wonder how many know about ISLAM or for that
reason anything that they talk about.

from:  Farzan Ahmad
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 19:38 IST

@Raju Varghese: Secular applies only to the government in that they cannot favor or oppress one religion with respect to others, or governance must not be prejudiced by religion. It does not prevent any individual or private organization from peaceful following of their religion. Whatever the outrage, when a group resorts to violence or threatens violence, the matter enters the area of criminal law and must be dealt with accordingly. One group's right to a belief does not and cannot imply everyone else's respect for it.

from:  Thomas George
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 19:33 IST

"Why should religious belief or sentiment receive special protection under the law? Is there any basis for maintaining that religious beliefs or religious figures should not be exposed to scorn or ridicule in the manner that secular opinions or worldly figures are?". Bravo!

from:  Yashwanth P
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 19:25 IST

The government or any other body does not have the time to think about
making changes in the constitution that was written keeping in mind
the circumstances of post-independence India. These laws need proper
revisal and proper application , they just cannot be used to benefit a
particular group. These laws are for proper growth of an Indian
Citizen and to practice his right for freedom of expression. Indian
Citizens are not fool enough to know what they are reading or
listening is right or wrong,let them decide what they find offensive
not some group. Who gave them the right?

from:  Shobhit Agarwal
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 19:11 IST

The Nobel-Prize winning poet Wole Soyinka recently lectured on a similar theme,
calling these people "religious refuseniks", essentially individuals whose fanatical
beliefs take precedence over everything else - the law of the land, the interests
and sensitivities of others, their own duties which they callously neglect, all in the
name of religion. Such fanaticism is nothing new. What is new is the mass
appeasement of such fringe groups by mainstream politicians. Evidently, the
majority of the population does not interest them, ostensibly as these either do
not vote or do not exercise their rights seriously enough.

That is the real challenge facing free society everywhere. It's time to get tough with
these hoodlums because appeasement will only whet their appetite.

from:  Vivek
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 18:28 IST

The practice of a particular religion will definitely hurt the sentiments of all other religions. If hurting the sentiments is a crime , each and every one is a criminal

from:  Thirunavukarasan
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 18:26 IST

It was the French philosopher, André Comte-Sponville, the author of
“Little Book of Atheist Spirituality” who said it best for moral
atheists when he said that society needs a set of bonds that might be
considered “sacred,” at least in the sense of something “that would
justify, if necessary, the sacrifice of our lives.” The difficulty for
the atheist, however, is that this is an entirely moral proposition
which necessitates an 'irrational' belief in a higher plane of
existence at some level. Indeed, Scandinavian countries like Norway
and Sweden are more non-religious than anti-religious, with only 26%
declared atheists. Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist who teaches at Pitzer
College in Claremont, Calif., who once asked a 68-year-old non-
believer, about the sources of Denmark’s very ethical culture was
bluntly told: “We are Lutherans in our souls — I’m an atheist, but
still have the Lutheran perceptions of many: to help your neighbor.
Yeah. It’s an old, good, moral thought.”

from:  Biju
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 18:13 IST

//Why should religious belief or sentiment receive special protection
under the law? Is there any rational ground for not extending this
privilege to atheists or agnostics? Do we refuse to extend this for
merely pragmatic reasons — namely, that non-believers are less likely to
get inflamed and turn violent when offended?//

A well-thought argument. Great article. Thanks to The Hindu.

from:  GK
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 17:23 IST

Best cause for all the problems is to read comment from Mr. Syed Najeeb Ashraf here. We don't give way to reasoning when dealing with religion. Finally what one believes ends "hurting" someone who cannot stand his ground in an open debate... Especially those who are out to prove there is god.. end up losing or getting violent.
So sir, can you say why one should follow a religion? And why relgious folks can't stand a question on their gods.. Is it because of insecurity or is it because you can't understand why you are loosing a good reasonable debate even though almighty is there to protect you or is it because you are afraid that you will loose your religion the moment you start questioning it and being honest to yourself about the answers to those questions?

from:  Karthik
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 16:07 IST

Excellent article, and I like that you have done at least basic Wikipedia research on John Stewart Mill and the different forms of
administering freedom of speech.

I was wondering if Hindu could post it's references at the end of each
article? This is not usual journalistic practice, but a lot of the
readers who are impacted by your articles would love to read more on the

from:  Hari
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 15:40 IST

@Syed Najeeb Ashraf - When the author asks, "Why should religious
belief or sentiment receive special protection under the law?", he
is only asking it rhetorically. The answer that is a quite clear NO,
there is no worldly reason why religion must be treated with any
more respect than what we give to other people who hold deeply-held
beliefs about politics or economics or any other topic. The
religious have a certain view of the cosmos and about humanity. Each
religion has a different set of beliefs and every religion
contradicts the other. Atheists such as myself believe that all
religions are equal, more specifically equally WRONG. And we find
that it is well within the our right to express this position with
all the norms of free speech - including satire, mockery etc - which
is granted to us if we were to criticize any other aspect of
society. The religious will have to learn to channel their offence
better and within the lawful norms of a secular society.

from:  Raamganesh
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 15:39 IST

@Biju - Our times show that atheism leads to unbridled materialism:
more the bane than a boon for all ages.
That's empirically wrong. Many studies show that the scandinavian
countries tend to be the most atheistic and nowhere in the world are
they more socialistic, nowhere in the world does the state take care
of the healthcare and education of all its people than in those
countries. In survey after survey these atheistic scandinavian
countries come out on top as the best places in the world to live.

from:  Raamganesh
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 15:18 IST

@Syed Najeeb Ashraf: One of the fundamental duty of an Indian citizen is to develop
scientific temperament. No religion is perfect. Which is why people adopt other
religions all the time. And certainly, no religion is perfectly understood by anyone.
Which is why we are seeing things like terrorism and fanaticism among religious
followers. Blind faith in religions are creating huge problems for the world. If one has
such high faith in the perfection of his religious beliefs, he should be ready to argue.
Else, he should be open to listen. Isn't that simple enough?

from:  XYZ
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 15:06 IST

Very brilliantly written article. I agree with this. What about sedition laws and the people who were charged against it ? May be freedom of expression to be looked at from end to end perspective .

from:  Giri
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 14:15 IST

Hate speech laws, if they must exist, shouldn't be about feelings. Their purpose is to prevent conflict.

from:  KB
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 13:23 IST

Why should religious belief or sentiment receive special protection under the law?" , Its very simple question and don't need sich long articles to explains.. Religion is followed by human like us and they are so much emotionally attached to the religion, so hurting religious belief will hurt followers of that particular religion.. Its very simple logic, don't know why it need such a long article to explain this... Salman rushdie is a good writer ( even if I assume that ), He can try his skills for some good cause of society.. Merely hurting religious belief will not work good for any one..

from:  Syed Najeeb Ashraf
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 13:01 IST

The perversity reaches a pinnacle when many actions that are universally offensive to humanity go unchallenged by the State, while speech what offends a particular person or group is criminalized and trampled. The "marketplace for outrage" rewards the "outraged" and leads to more outrage by more actors, and ends up in mass hysteria. That is what we have now. Further, it is seeping out of our national borders and threatening to warp the global communication platform, the internet which should now play by our warped rules! Adapting to the confines of the "hate speech" laws of 1927 has stunted our collective mind so much that we don't even know how to think about these matters. There is outrage against all kinds of "offensive" speech, but no outrage against loss of liberties. This can only spiral downwards !

from:  Kumar
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 12:56 IST

Alas, Brand Rushdie has acquired a patina of its own over the years,
where now even if he says " A for Apple ", there will be people who find something in it deeply objectionable.

from:  G Krishnan
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 12:41 IST

I agree to everything except the last part where you pronounced then not guilty. It is not for you to say that and its the court to decide. I would definitely consider this misuse of free speech and mind you not a hate speech. Misuse of power of free speech by declaring a judgement in a case which is in the court. Isn't it wrong ? Couldn't you find a better way to put it?

from:  Anoop
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 12:29 IST

There are more than 20 million cases are pending in our courts. Some of these pending cases are more critical than the cases which are discussed in this article. People misuse a law and put an extra burden on our courts to entertain clearly frivolous petitions.

from:  Anil Kumar
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 12:22 IST

A very well written article indeed! I am really enlightened by reading this.

from:  Ajay
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 12:18 IST

Insightful article. As rightly expressed by the author of the implicit nature of intolerance expressed in the diction of every religion, it shall be naive to expect advocates of religious fanaticism, fundamentalism and rigidness to understand the subtle difference between critical view and profane & outrageous provocation, moreover if they do, their belief's conceitedness won't let it percolate in their system. Thus, in a country like ours, lawsuits will be filed but a responsible judiciary can tackle these matters with utmost sincerity. This is a point where judiciary is at a crossroads between secularism and sprawling of fundamentalism. May the 'real' justice prevail.

from:  Arjun Sharma
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 12:16 IST

Too many rational,logical and thought provoking statements in your article.My sentiments are hurt!!

from:  Saravanan
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 12:10 IST

Granted the prevalent materialistic trend today, the author's pragmatic effort to effect a common minimum consensus - if not for anything else, then at least for law & order in society - is commendable. His parameters for defining the point when offensive speech - not good in itself - transforms into hate speech makes for an interesting yardstick that offers a valid point of departure for civilized discourse on this topic.
However, the author's decrying of moral vigilantism/ religion seems a not very well reasoned response, owing, perhaps, to the overwhelming force of current trends. For the concept of law and order in society - a prime requirement of even an atheistic utopia - flows from an innate, undeniable, moral sense begotten only of true & absolute religious values. As Izzetbegovic, former President of Bosnia, wrote: 'There may be moral atheists but there is no moral atheism.' Our times show that atheism leads to unbridled materialism: more the bane than a boon for all ages.

from:  Biju
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 12:06 IST

an excellent article. these issues need to be debated in as many forums as is possible. Our laws need to be reviewd regularly and a debate must begin on the basis of banning an artist, author or performer or their work. for the record there are 7 complaints filed in jaipur and ajmer against the organisers and the authors.

from:  sanjoy roy
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 12:05 IST

Freedom of expression is of paramount importance to the citizens
of this country.But,secularism is one of the fundamental principles
enshrined in our constitution.Secular means nonspiritual or
nonreligious,according to the Oxford dictionary.Every religion in
our country is based on mysticism and spirituality.The constitution
permits the practice and propagation of any religion.Can secularism exist side by side with spirituality? A contradiction is apparent there.If spirituality is only a hypothesis ,why should that belief get protection and promotion from the state?. Does it not contradict the principle of Scientific temper which is also enshrined in the constitution?.I strongly believe that the propagation of any belief that has no scientific or historic proof, but continued as traditional and mythological should not be encouraged by the state or the judicial institutions,as freedom of expression.Buddha is believed to have said"believe nothing,because it is traditional"

from:  Raju Varghese
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 11:42 IST

Thanks to The Hindu for keeping the spotlight on this issue. When I read the many comments that get posted each time an article on Rushdie and free speech gets written, I get the feeling that a vast majority of people do not know how to think about this issue, do not understand what is at stake and whose side to support. This is an important issue and it must be written about and debated widely. Perhaps The Hindu can organize a debate between both sides and let the public evaluate both sides of the argument.
In this article I liked this line from the author which I think summarizes the problem really well - "The laws operate in a manner that allows those who claim to be offended or insulted to lay down what constitutes hate speech. It is an insidious form of censorship and control"

from:  Raamganesh
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 11:09 IST

The current hate speech laws are nothing more than a tool for the
vigilantes to divide the country on the basis of religion.The biggest
example of this would be our so called politicians, who instead of
making development an agenda for their election campaign, use religion
to woo voters.The Rushdie Issue has already earned ignominy to our
nation and these court proceeding will do no good.

from:  Kalpana
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 10:57 IST

I would like to thank you for writing such an insightful and educated article. Your observation on the ones making hue and cry over hurt religious feelings being ones who thrive on particularly that exposes the hypocrisy of such groups. Keep up the good work.

from:  Nikhilesh Jha
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 10:56 IST

"Why should religious belief or sentiment receive special protection under the law?" - This sums up everything I had to say and want people to think. True, that it'll only invite vicious philosophical debate, but debates can be conclusive too. I don't know much about how litigation hearings work, but this is the kind of question which lawyers should be asking in courts to the religious fundamentalists, irrespective of any religion to which they belong.

from:  Archanendra
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 09:59 IST

"Implicit in the very nature of some religions are the criticism of certain others that find expression in a variety of terms such as infidels, idolaters, pagans, mleccha and so on." Bull's eye.

from:  Karthik
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 09:39 IST

“The law takes the feelings of offended groups — religious
fundamentalists, language chauvinists, caste formations — very
seriously.” This should come as surprise none. It is mystifying
that our secular society invariably bends back ward to offer
disproportionate and unwarranted privilege to religions. This
unparalleled presumption of respect is indeed is the cause of great
distortion in the age scientific reasoning.

from:  N.G. Krishnan
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 08:59 IST

I see no point in this article. Anyone who can understand this language would already be for free speech and will be sympathetic to Rushdie. The looney fringe opposing Rushdie won't understand this. The vote bank seeking politicians don't bother about such things... all they see is an opportunity that they can't pass on.

from:  jagadisan Shivakumar
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 08:40 IST

Can't agree with you more.

from:  roshan sharma
Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 06:23 IST

These thoughts are rather too sophisticated for the Salman Rushdie situation. The opponents of book are driven by unquestioning, unswerving obedience to authority. The nuanced questions and the shades of meanings of the legal verbiage and intentions thereof – as raised by this writer – mean zilch to the opponents. Further, the opponents are willing enforce the order of their superior, if necessary by harsh means. Under the circumstances the question descends to how much roughing up can the organizers can risk because the danger is real. Organizers (or observers such as this writer) can speculate all they want if the actions of the opponents make sense, is they are justified, if they are legal or they can have a civil discourse. All that is in vain once the order has been given from the high command.

Posted on: Feb 9, 2012 at 02:42 IST
Show all comments
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor



Recent Article in Lead

Naman P. Ahuja

Who appoints the keeper of memories?

The transfer of the Director General of the National Museum, Delhi, at a time when the museum has begun to show signs of a turnaround, shows that governments are still unable to grasp the rather specialised nature of such institutions. »