The thing about free speech...

…is that it’s hard to draw lines in the sand and say, this is the extent, the limit to which free speech extends, and beyond this, you’ve got to pay for it, in blood and tears, in fatwas and apologies. You can draw a line in personal relationships and say this is it, the Lakshman Rekha beyond which lie discord and distress, pain or shame. But if we start doing it as a society, we are doomed.

Because there’s no thing anyone can say which offends no one else, except maybe the word yes. On the other hand, as Woody Allen said, ‘What if the question is “Does the queen have the clap?”’ So even ‘yes’ is ruled out. If we have to constantly censor and re-censor everything we say just because someone somewhere may be offended, we’ll become a mute society. Freedom of speech has to be a given in a civilized society, regardless of whether it offends someone or not. I may disagree or be offended by something someone says, but I will defend to the end the person’s right to not only have an opinion but to state it.( That, by the way, includes cow-belters referring to me as a madrassi, a fact that offends me deeply!)

How come no one arrests or stops Raj Thakre when he starts spouting hate speeches targeted at certain communities? I’m pretty sure those communities were offended. But if lumpen political goons find something a writer says or a painter paints or a filmmaker takes up as a subject offensive, the state bends over backwards to safeguard their freedom to vandalise, threaten violence and abuse and generally be a threat to life, limb and free speech. Meanwhile, the right to freedom of speech of the rest of the population is forgotten as politicians and demagogues join hands to throttle our freedoms one by one.

It’s really sad to see that a party that supposedly espouses Nehru and Gandhi is now Chief Kowtow to this kind of communalism. To re-arrange the famous poem by Tagore which has been quoted ad infinitum the past few days:

“Where the mind is full of fear and the head is bent low,
Where knowledge is limited but degrees are easily bought,
Where the world is broken up into ever smaller fragments
By narrow communal walls
Where words come out from the depths of slimy expediency,
Where tireless conniving stretches its arm towards the next electoral votebank,
Where the clear stream of reason has lost its way
In the dreary bogs of hitherto unequalled manipulativeness
Where the mind is led backwards by threats of violence
Into ever-more circumscribed thought and action,
Into that hell of narrow-mindedness, Oh lord, my country now awakes”

Now I shudder in fear of reprisals from admirers of Tagore whom I must have offended!


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