Under the garb of free speech, people want to say or write anything they want with their supporters going all out to support “artistic freedom.” What is wrong if a Hindu defends Hinduism when he feels it is under attack? Have any of the people supporting American Indologist Wendy Doniger studied the petition to the publisher? There was no attack except a listing of all the factual errors in her book. The author has distorted history.
The article on free speech by Kenan Malik is premised on wrong assumptions regarding current realities. Freedom of speech is one of the basic liberties in liberal thinking. This freedom in its historical evolution was never an absolute right. Contrary to the author’s contention, there are no rights to offend; only rights to equal respect. There is a need to have a deep understanding of what it entails to have a peaceful multicultural society.
It is disheartening that in a country as diverse as ours, expressing views that represent dissent from the widely accepted theories is still not tolerated. The need of the day is not to check radical thoughts but to encourage debate and discussion for a thriving Indian culture. Questioning established norms, criticising traditional principles, promoting novel thoughts and accepting divergent opinions should mark the way forward.
We live in a nation where people are under constant scrutiny, so much so that even a slightly obtuse comment connected to politics made on a social networking site can land a person behind the bars. On the one hand we talk about a uniform civil code and the violation of human rights, and on the other we become blind to issues like these. We seem to like being led by powerful people who want us to think the way they do. People should be given resources so that they can develop multiple dimensions of thinking.
The fundamental point missed in the editorial (Feb.13) and Mr. Malik’s article is whether The Satanic Verses and The Hindus: An Alternative History,have twisted religious or sacred texts. If the answer is in the negative, they cannot be subjected to the charge of blasphemy, because it will apply to the original text.
I have a feeling that Penguin Books India has agreed to recall, pulp and destroy all copies of Professor Doniger’s book in India purely on the principle that discretion is always the better part of valour. Here is another case. The form of worship at the annual Bharani festival at the Kodungalloor Bhagavathi temple in Kerala, is purely ‘tamasic,’ a celebration of raw and untamed energy, an expression of the repressed. The ritual at the temple shows the diversity of Kerala’s culture and the dialectical nature of our philosophy. Frenzied worshippers, most of them from the marginalised sections, sing in chorus to the rhythm of the folk mnemonic ‘thanaro thannaro’ ballads in praise of the Bhagawati, the lyrics of which are unprintable and downright vulgar. If an enthusiastic publisher brings out an edition of this extremely popular ‘Bharani Paattu,’ he will not just perish, but would also spend considerable time in jail for purveying obscenity. Freedom of speech is by no means absolute.
Keywords: Wendy Doniger