We are tolerant Indians who believe in the freedom of expression. We firmly believe in accepting a difference of opinion as long as you don’t go against the religion we practice, the political party we support, and most everything that we believe in as individuals.
Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie, the winner of the Booker Prize for his novel Midnight’s Children, notes in his work,
“What is Freedom of Expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
Secularism, which is the belief that religion should play a role in the government, education, or other public parts of the society, is something that we have boasted of since Independence. However, looking at the state of affairs today, this faith is shaking. To begin with, it’s important to quote the example of the celebrated Bollywood actor, Aamir Khan, whose concern about the safety of his family due to the growing intolerance in India was blown out of proportion and led to one of the biggest controversies of the day. This as an example of the rising intolerance towards freedom of expression when it wasn’t even directed at a religion or a political party, yet everyone in that category felt offended. If a citizen of the country feels insecure, it is our duty to assess their situation and come up with solutions rather than sending death threats and confirming their fears.
in an article titled, ‘The Myth of Intolerant India’ published on the Indian Express website, the writer claims that since our constitution ensures Freedom of Expression as a fundamental right, the issue of rising intolerance was only a farce. He also goes on to claim that because a few Indians are intolerant it doesn’t make the entire nation intolerant.
When in July of 2013, Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen remarked that he won’t be supporting the then BJP candidate for Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, for he failed the secularism test, Modi supporters criticised Mr Sen’s opinion by posting partly-clad photographs of his daughter Nandana online. Painter MF Hussain was hounded from the country for his bold painting portraying nudity of deities. The Tamilian actress Khushboo faced criminal prosecution for hurting the dignity of Tamil women on account of her remarks on premarital sex being an acceptable practice. And how can we forget the incident following Bal Thackeray’s death when a woman who posted against the strike going on in the city on Facebook was sent to jail along with her friend who liked her post?
Exactly how many women will be shamed, citizens exiled, imprisoned, or murdered before we accept that freedom of expression is no longer being tolerated. Even our Constitution places ‘reasonable restrictions’ on this right on matters of security of the state, foreign relations, public order, decency and morality, contempt of court and a few others.
If you don’t like a movie, tell your friends how bad it was; if you don’t like an artist, don’t attend his exhibitions; if you don’t like a book, write one criticizing it’s ideologies; however, banning films, exiling artists and burning books is not the answer, for this culture is only leading to a country where the mind is not without fear and the heads are bowed down. It’s as George Washington said,
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
As for that freedom of heaven that Rabindranath Tagore wanted the country to awake in, seems very far.