This phrase “Freedom of Expression is not absolute” is in news again. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, the “Pseudo Secular” media, intellectuals and activists in India are on an overdrive now to make us all believe that “Freedom of Expression is not absolute” and what happened with Charlie Hebdo was due to its crossing the line as it mocked the prophet and hurt the sentiments of Muslims. They have a point but there are loads of inconsistencies in their arguments and timing. I have two questions for all those “Pseudo Seculars”:- a) who decided the thin line between absolute and relative freedom of expression? And b) if no one's freedom of expression is absolute, then why should certain people be given the right to do so in select cases?
These “Pseudo Seculars” are not only just inconsistent, but it also makes me think that they don’t really care for the principles at stake. If they really always felt that “Freedom of Expression” is not absolute, where were they when PK controversy was on in our country just a fortnight back? I saw most of them either silent or taking up the case for PK and lambasting the Hindu activists and protestors. Or do they believe that :
अल्लाह का कार्टून बनाओ……डेथ फ्री
भगवान् का मजाक उड़ाओ…..टैक्स फ्री
I saw many films since my childhood with a sense of guilt as a Hindu when I saw that Hindu priests were mostly always greedy, lustful rotten people, who didn’t mind duping even poor people and raping a lady even in sacred temple precincts. I appreciated the angel incarnate Abdul Chachas and Father Thomas with a golden heart, who always came to the rescue of the little Vijay and his orphaned sister and felt deep inside my heart why our despicable priests couldn’t be like them. I am sure many of you also can identify these films and characters easily. So, for generations in India brought up on such depiction of our religious figures, PK fell into the same pattern and we were hurt but not agitated so much to call for the blood or head of the director, producer or the actors. So movies like “Fire” and ‘Water” or depiction of nude Goddesses by MF Hussain always disturbed me but I kept quiet as a ‘good modern’ Hindu. Where was the cry at that time from this pseudo secular brigade that “Freedom of Expression is not absolute? I saw the same pseudo seculars in TV debates for days together at that time frothing from their mouth, outraged over the curtailment of “freedom of Expression” by “fundamentalist Hindu groups”. But they never showed outpouring of such anguish when in India a film gets banned that shows a Catholic Priest lusting for a woman or a Bishop hungry for money. You can get a movie song removed or a large part of a movie cut because it hurts the sentiment of Muslim community due to perceived threat of violence. Movies like “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Da Vinci Code” were not allowed to be released in India by the Govt. as they hurt the sentiments of Christians and was a threat to social harmony. Very recently “Vishwaroopam” by Kamal Hassan was banned after objections were raised by Muslim groups regarding the portrayal of the Muslim community in a bad light and later allowed to be released only after 7 scenes were cut. One can get a TV serial banned just because the script was written by Taslima Nasreen. India earned the distinction of being the first county in the world to ban “Satanic Verses” of Salman Rushdie as it hurt the sentiments of Muslim community and even after decades he was not allowed to attend “Jaipur Literary fest” in 2013 as his presence would jeopardise social harmony. But surprisingly, our so called Pseudo secularists and torch bearers of “freedom of expression” never expressed their righteous indignation in those cases. These Hindu haters and their pimps in the media always stand for “Freedom of Expression” when some book or film or painting etc. depicts Hindus in poor light even if incorrectly. For these “Secular Saints”- deriding Hindu culture, faith and Gods through literature, art etc. are secular freedom of expression and then it’s absolute.
This is because we have been taught since our school days in even text books that there was something seriously rotten about Hindu religion which resulted in horrors of caste, superstition, sati, child marriage, dowry, poverty that finally resulted in slavery under the benign rule of Mughals and British. We have even been taught to call the “Poor performance of our economy” as “Hindu rate of growth” though it was Nehru’s visionless socialist rate of growth. Nehru’s half-baked knowledge of history written in good English as ‘Discovery of India’ was the beacon light for our historians, who taught us that Shivaji was just a Sardar of a community and Prithviraj Chauhan paid the price at the hands of Md.Ghori in association with Jaichandra for eloping with Sangjukta. The left secular’s hijacking of history under Indira Gandhi completed this sense of loathing for anything Hindu by depicting Akbars and Aurangzebs as role model rulers, Vir Savarkar was a fundamentalist and Bhagat Singh was a terrorist. If anything good like Yoga or Astronomy or Mathematics or Science was ‘discovered’ from any Hindu scriptures, it was to be dissociated from Hinduism and presented as something that sprung up inspite of anti-human, inequality based Hindu religion not because of its universal scientific philosophical system that encouraged open minded enquiry.
Is this because these Pseudo secularists know that except protests for a few days there is no real threat to their life and property, if they spread anything against Hindus? They don’t dare to do that with Christianity as they know that even if Christians protest peacefully but with strong lobbying they are capable of stopping their bread and butter. And with Islam, they dare not speak or they may be beheaded/shot or their families may be bombed.
Whatever PK wished to convey, could have been conveyed using various different religious practices. For example, if going to temple is out of fear, then so is going to Church or Mosque. Though it’s a different issue that ‘God fearing’ is an English term and Hindus have no such term. Hinduism teaches ‘Prabhu Prem” – God loving. If pilgrimage is superstition, it is so for all religions. Indian Govt. makes all the tax payers from even other religions pay taxes, so that Muslims can go for “Haj” at subsidised expense, which even Muslims countries don’t do. If so called Godmen are spreading superstitions and false beliefs, what are “Friday Prayers” of Islam or “Miracle Sessions” of evangelists?
I am for absolute freedom of Expression but it must be religion/custom/belief/nationality and above all God neutral. One can’t have the freedom to mock only Hindu God or religion or belief just because Hindus are more peaceful and not have the freedom to mock Islam as that might bring casualties like Charlie Hebdo. I strongly feel that there should not be “boundaries of freedom” but only “boundaries of reaction”. “Boundaries of reaction” should be decided by how much ones reactions are going to cause damage to others. If someone does not like what Rushdie or Taslima wrote or Hussain painted or Vishwaroopam or PK showed - he can oppose the book/painting/film, criticize it by writing an article or another book or by any other means of democratic protest in a peaceful manner. But if in any situation, the opposition takes upon a shape of call for beheading, killing, bombing or any such destruction of life and property, then those propagating such actions must be treated as criminals and their actions as terrorism.
I would have agreed with all thoughts on putting restriction on “freedom of Expression” had a reasonable boundary could have been drawn. But alas! That’s not possible as there is limit to human need but not for their greed. For example again, what about works of Taslima Nasreen - Lajja, is a book based on inside stories of exploitation of women in Islamic countries. But this was banned in the name of hurting sentiments of religious people. Now should these books be banned simply because that satisfies someone’s ego? Again, in the Hindi movie “Billu Barbar”, the name barber seemed offensive to some people and SRK had removed it from the title. How justified was that? Should we call barbers as hair-cutting specialists or hair-cutters? So, who sets the limits for “freedom of expression”? I think, if we start setting limits, everybody will push their agendas into the system and finally freedom will be only in the grave yard.
I would advocate disproportionate response towards the perpetrators as this nonsense of “Oh, you have hurt my faith and hence let me go and kill someone” has gone unchecked for too long. I have read pathetic pieces saying people should understand Muslim sentiments and that they are marginalized and oppressed community in most places of the world including France. Excuse me, it’s now known that the brothers who killed 12 people in Charlie Hebdo shoot out, were rap loving normal youth till they were indoctrinated by some radical mullah. People have now also discovered bikini clad pictures of the female terrorist on beaches in France alongwith the guy who took people hostages in the super market in Paris. Is that how oppressed Muslims look like? If you are so oppressed please migrate to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, Jordan, Iran etc. where you will get equal rights and emancipation. That is the height of hypocrisy and ingratitude. The cold blooded slaughter and the aftermath only show how wide the Jihadi network has spread, how well trained and motivated they are and how they can spring up from anywhere unexpected. Anyone justifying this type of incidents hasn't really grasped the real problem, which is global jihadi extremism, which sadly is only increasing due to the tacit support of “pseudo secular” media and liberals.
People of all religions are insecure about their faith and morality, so they want others to keep mouth shut, no matter how good or bad their beliefs are. Strange and sad that in most cases, we sing along those fanatic’s tunes. When the Danish Prime Minister said that he can do nothing against the Cartoonist who drew cartoons of Allah, Indians were shocked. How can the head of a Govt. can say that he can do nothing against a cartoonist? But the fact of the matter is that Govt. in those countries are limited there and not the citizen. The Govt. is duty bound to protect the individual freedom there and not the Individuals the other way. Salman Rushdie or Taslima Nasreen may write all they want, Charlie Hebdo can mock Christianity or Islam for all I care. It’s their individual freedoms. Words or cartoons never killed anyone but when thousands of people resort to violence and terrorism around the world, incited by their “religious” faith, it affects others – you and me – directly. Muslim or any other organisations – who say that rational progressive criticism of their doctrines or scriptures is illegitimate, should be banned. Every religion on earth had its age of barbarism and inhuman unjust conduct but they reformed. People of most of the faiths have abandoned the outdated beliefs, rituals and ideologies and moved on with the good, progressive ones. The current criticism of Islam is to ensure that it undergoes its own transformation which is due. And the reason why non-Islamists are concerned is because Islamic conservatism is killing them, killing entire modern progressive world order.
Let the “right to freedom of expression” be equal for all - whether somebody wishes to criticize Hindus or any other religion. I completely agree with Salman Rushdie that “Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and yes, our fearless disrespect”. But “right to freedom of reaction” to any criticism or satire as John Stewart Mills stated more than a century ago is limited – “your liberty to swing your fist ends where my nose begins”.