When one goes to Google to find out the meaning of ‘freedom of expression’, the first thing it shows is its literal meaning which says – The power or right to express one’s opinions without censorship, restraint, or legal penalty.
The Indian constitution provides for this freedom as a fundamental right in the Art 19(1)(a) through which ‘All the citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression’. But one is forced to think if the freedom of expression (FoE) is limited to its literal meaning and constitutional provision or does it go beyond this with the absence of indirect restrictions.
When talking of restrictions, do we have to keep the discussion limited to the restrictions imposed by the law and the government or should we also talk about the restrictions inflicted by people who don’t agree with you? Is a death threat not a big enough restriction on the freedom of expression of a person? Is it always the government that gags people for expressing unpopular opinions? Or maybe they are discussed, restrictions are condemned and rights are demanded, but all of this takes place only when the gagged expression of ideas has its origin in a leftist mind. The Indian Left takes pride in the fact that they have struggled for a very long time for the cause of freedom of expression. But their silence exhibits their hypocrisy when a voice from the right of the ideological spectrum is suppressed. In this recent case, which we’ll come to later in this piece, it’s not even their silence that is problematic, it’s their doing.
But suppression of voices of reason against their ideology is not a new phenomenon. Even in pre-independence times, whether it was the Khilafat movement, the Moplah rebellion or Mahashaye Rajpal’s assassination at the hands of a fanatic, the country was made to believe that it was for their own good that they refrain from complaining. The Khilafat movement legitimized orthodoxy, conservatism and communal instincts of the concerned religious community. Then again during the Moplah Rebellion, which was an extension of the Khilafat movement, when innocent Hindus were subjected to the undue fanaticism of a community, the actions of the aggressor were defended by the greatest man ever born in this country himself. In an article in ‘Young India’ in October 1921, he wrote-
“The Moplah revolt is a test for Hindus and Mussulmans. Can Hindus friendship survive the strain put upon it? Can Mussulmans in the deepest recesses of their hearts approve of the conduct of the Moplahs?…….. The Hindus must have the courage and the faith to feel that they can protect their religion in spite of such fanatical eruptions………. The Mussulmans must naturally feel the shame and humiliation of the Moplah conduct about forcible conversions and looting, and they must work away so silently and effectively that such things might become impossible even on the part of the most fanatical among them. My belief is that the Hindus as a body have received the Moplah madness with equanimity and that the cultured Mussulmans are sincerely sorry for the Moplah’s perversion of the teachings of the Prophet.”
“And so I feel the Moplah revolt has come as a blessing to a system that is crumbling to pieces by the weight of its own enormity…..What was more detestable, the ignorant fanaticism of the Moplah brother, or the cowardliness of the Hindu brother who helplessly muttered the Islamic formula or allowed his tuft of hairs to be cut or his vest to be changed? Let me not be misunderstood. I want both the Hindus and Mussulmans to cultivate the cool courage to die without killing. But if one has not that courage, I want him to cultivate the art of killing and being killed, rather than in a cowardly manner flee from danger.”
This article was again an example of the acceptance of their fanaticism and violence, as by blaming Hindus for ‘saving their own lives’ in the face of adversity, the writer distributed the blame among the aggressors and the victims. All of this when thousands of innocent Hindus were killed, raped and looted. The victims’ right to complain, their freedom of expression was taken away, as they were made to share the blame- for being killed.
When Mahashay Rajpal published a book that caused an outrage from the community, it eventually resulted in his assassination and again, the same great man opined, blaming the writer for getting himself killed-
““I have asked myself what the motive possibly could be in writing or publishing such a book except to inflame passion.”
A lot hasn’t changed even after independence, has it? Compare the scenario described above with what happened with Kamlesh Tiwari. Are they any different? But people in this country have a memory of a goldfish. Therefore, let’s take another example, a more recent one- the Bangalore violence and arson. Its origin, its execution and the following reactions are they not part of an old scheme that repeats after any such incident takes place? It is quite interesting to note how these pseudo-liberals of the Indian Left had no word of condemnation for the arsonists and took away the spotlight from the crime and fixed it on the ‘human chain to save a temple’.
A few days before this incident, a female comedian was caught in the wrath of some self-proclaimed activists, who were later arrested for their threats to the comedian. However, the pseudo-liberal reaction here was completely different but a standard one- blame the IT Cell, throw the FoE argument. But if this is a situation that calls for a discussion on FoE and criticism of threat givers, how was the Bangalore incident different? How is one person’s right to freedom of speech more important than another person’s- even if their opinions are polar opposite to each other? The same pattern of partial reveal, hiding of important facts and contexts, making heroes out of inconsequential people and demeaning the actual heroes in history has been followed by historians who have hitherto commanded this ecosystem. And today, anyone who has facts and evidence to prove their hypothesis (read ideologically inclined views on history) wrong is bogged down for not being in line.
Finally, let’s come to what happened recently to a book based on the 2020 Delhi Riots which took place in the February month of this year. The book signed Bloomsbury as its publisher and all was going well until recently when the same bunch of pseudo-liberals started making noise, forcing Bloomsbury to withdraw from the contract. Bloomsbury succumbed under pressure, obliged and once again they managed to drown an expression and the right of the authors exercising it. There were celebratory tweets on how this book was going to spread lies and ultimately communal hatred. My question here is- who or what makes this bunch the judge of a work of art? They have given their judgment on a book before its launch. So, what is the difference between this faction and the group that wanted the movie ‘Padmavat’ banned in the country? Both used their influence, the only difference is that one resorted to violence, the other didn’t. But the pertinent question here is – Is the use of violence the only thing that amounts to suppression of the right to express freely? Every well-reasoned voice raised against the physical, mental or material damage inflicted on the Hindus of this country is suppressed by these pseudo-liberals, whether it is through Twitter bans or through this indirect manner like in the Bloomsbury episode.
This adversity opens an opportunity. Now that it is clear that the means to express are held by pseudo-liberals of the Indian Left, the right-wing needs to develop its own parallel ecosystem. Platforms need to come up that can allow people to express, like this one and many others.
Publishing houses have to be founded so that the books can be launched in a hassle-free manner. Producers and directors need to raise their hands to produce movies and TV shows that are not laced with leftist propaganda. The Indian Left rattles when the right-wing starts taking its space to change views (example- the movie ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ was called as a movie filled with toxic hyper-nationalism by leftist commentators). More needs to be done in this direction. Garuda Prakashan taking up the publishing work for Delhi Riots 2020 is only the start. There is a long way to go, many views to be changed, many truths to be unravelled and many ideological battles to be won.
Some people’s idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.