The Hindu Lit for Life 2018

Dissent and street power: A discussion on on the modern-day attacks on the freedom to dissent in India

Discussing disagreement (Left to right): Chandan Gowda, Hyeonseo Lee, Sadaf Saaz, N.Ravi, T.M.Krishna, and Teesta Setalvad.   | Photo Credit: K. Pichumani

India will be “heading the way of North Korea” when its people start to think it was okay for the government to be oppressive and dictatorial and that they need to be controlled, said musician and Ramon Magsaysay award winner T.M. Krishna, during a session titled 'Freedom to Dissent'.

The discussion, moderated by N. Ravi, Publisher of The Hindu Group of Newspapers, cast an uncompromising gaze upon modern-day attacks on the freedom to dissent in India and overseas.

There appeared to be broad consensus across the panel comprising Krishna, activist Teesta Setalvad, professor and editor of The Way I See It: A Gauri Lankesh Reader Chandan Gowda, human rights activist from North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee, and women’s rights campaigner from Bangladesh, Sadaf Saaz, that the threat of repression by majoritarian and authoritarian regimes had steadily increased in recent years.

Framing the discussion in terms of the meaning of ‘dissent,’ Ravi noted that in its mildest version of contrary opinion, every regime and every group would pay lip-service to the practice of allowing dissent. “It becomes problematic,” he said, “as it moves to its more extreme form of challenging the legitimacy of the regime or its core narrative, or the mainstream accounts of any religious, caste or other groups, and extends even to mild criticism of religious, social or regional icons.”

Expounding his observation that dissent in such contexts was being repressed by the street power of organised mobs, Teesta noted that 63 people had been lynched in India in the past four years or so.

She also asked whether we were reading certain laws of the Indian Penal Code correctly, including the ‘blasphemy law’ enshrined in Section 295(A) and Section 153 (A and B) on fostering enmity between different religious groups, for their original intent was only to penalise incitement to violence and no more.

Gowda sought to unpack the related concept of fascism, which he identified as both grounded in religion and driven by consumerism, and asked whether certain kinds of activism could help mitigate this phenomenon by addressing people at the level of the individual. India enjoyed a moral tradition that has taken the individual sense of self seriously, and asked for setting aside of the ego, he noted.

Both Hyeonseo and Sadaf brought a personal dimension to the discussion from their countries’ experience with brutal authoritarianism and Islamic fundamentalism, respectively.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2021 6:59:38 AM |

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