Here’s a nation one of the founding pillars of which was freedom of speech and freedom of expression. And yet, we have imposed upon people restrictions on what they can say, on what they can think. And the media is the largest proponent of this, crucifying people who say things really quite innocently.
~ Benjamin Carson
Benjamin Carson might well have been speaking about India, where we continue to respect freedom of speech and expression only in the abstract. Of course, there is the argument that in a pluralistic country such as ours, absolute freedom of expression is neither possible nor desirable. “Think,” bleat liberals, “about the consequences if freedom of expression were not balanced by the duty not to offend others’ religious sensibilities! In a parochial, majoritarian society such as ours, it might wreak havoc on the religious and social sensibilities of minorities.” All this is par for the course, of course, except that this freedom of expression is deployed like a weapon, and that too a very sharp, divisive and selective weapon. Wielders of the pen use their pens like a scalpel, true, but a scalpel meant to cut into the jugular, instead of being used to cut off gangrenous sores on a dying man.
Benjamin Carson might equally have ben speaking about RN Joe D’Cruz. D’Cruz is a Tamil writer of national repute who often writes about the lives of fishermen in Tamil Nadu. He has won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi award for the Tamil category in 2013, and was awarded by the Tamil Nadu government in 2005 for another novel. It is extremely curious, then, to see that all of the supporters of free speech and free expression who shouted themselves hoarse for a foreigner like Wendy Doniger have disappeared when one of their compatriots faces similar muzzling of free speech – Navayana publishers have refused to publish a D’Cruz novel translated by V.Geetha.
Surprising, that is, till we realize the reason underlying these withdrawals: you see, D’Cruz, a Roman Catholic by birth, is a supporter of Narendra Modi. “What!” I can hear the collective gasps from so-called liberals, “a Christian supporter of Narendra Modi!” Yes, evidently that’s what he is: a man who supports Narendra Modi, and for this support he earns threats, hate mails and incredible statements such as these:
It is both appalling and disturbing that D’Cruz, who captured the rich and unique history of the seafaring community of Tamil Nadu in an epic tale spanning three generations, should call a fascist like Modi a ‘dynamic visionary.…There cannot be a place for such an author in a political publishing house like Navayana.
~ Navayana spokesman S. Anand
and from the translator, V.Geetha:
I was terribly distressed when I read Joe D’Cruz’s statement of support for Modi. He is entitled to his political opinion, but I don’t want to be associated with anyone or anything linked to Modi. We can’t forget Gujarat 2002—no one must be allowed to, either. I still stand by his novel, which I think is a fantastic saga of fisher life, and I am sorry Joe has decided to trade his considerable gifts as a novelist for a politics that is fascist and dangerous. I have, therefore, decided to withdraw my translation
The publishers are of course well within their rights to publish or not publish anything or anyone they do not deem fit. However, it would behoove these so-called liberals to admit their hypocrisy and say outright that they exist only for a certain school of thought and only for people who abide strictly by that school of thought – hyperbolic screeches of “fascism!”, “Hitler!”, “Nazi!”, “mass murderer!” do not do justice to the kind of freedom these intellectuals seek to espouse.
It is not the case that this is an isolated case, either – merely a few weeks ago Madhu Kishwar, a senior journalist, was treated similarly when she was not only denied publishers, but also had to face a last moment cancelation of her book release at one of the many Congress, left-liberal dominated publich spaces in New Delhi, which she documented blow by painful blow on Twitter. Ultimately, Ram Jethmalani offered to let her use his home for the book release. She continues to face ridicule and vicious personal attacks from the so-called doyens of free speech and the very men and women who are against online bullying – in thinly-veiled references, Kishwar was referred to as the leading voice of Modi Mausis, female journalists who write in support of Modi.
As someone who believes passionately in absolute freedom of speech, I have to ask – is this the way we as a nation ensure freedom of thought and expression in the country? Those of us charged with the responsibility of protecting, preserving and propagating culture have resorted to stooping to petty classroom politics of the meanest kind. Backbiting and sabotage have become the order of the day in the vitiated intellectual atmosphere dominated by the so-called liberals who wish to project solely their perspective as the dominant discourse, fracturing a country and its culture already in dire need of unity, not more and more divisions.