“While it is true that writers and thinkers in India enjoyed more freedom than in totalitarian regimes like China and Russia, they find their space curtailed compared to vibrant democracies like Sweden,” city-based historian Ramachandra Guha said at the Bangalore Literature Festival on Saturday, as he discussed the eight systemic threats to freedom of expression.
Mr. Guha said that while retention of archaic colonial laws such as sedition, gave latitude to governments and courts to restrict freedom of artists, lower courts in our judiciary tended to be eager to entertain petitions seeking bans.
“Dinanath Batra, the dogged litigant who got the book by Wendy Doniger withdrawn, files most of his cases in Dera Bassi, a small kasaba in Punjab. M.F. Hussein died in exile as he was harassed by 12 cases in various courts across the country,” he said.
Mr. Guha attributed the rise in taking offence by groups and communities to the rise of identity politics. “Every icon of a particular group has become flawless suddenly… I have stated it is difficult for me to write a biography on Ambedkar as I am neither a Dalit nor a Maharashtrian,” he said.
What only adds to the woes of a writer is that the police and the political establishment only support the bullies who take offence and never the writer, he pointed out. He also argued that the dependence of media organisations on government as well as commercial advertisements, only stifled debate and critical opinions of government and corporates.