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Satyameva Jayate - Free speech

  • More than 40 people have died in the riots that have followed the killing of Swami Lakshmanananda in Kandhamal in Orissa.
  • 5 people were killed and 47 injured in Mumbai when Jerry Falwell made some comments saying that the Prophet of Islam was a violent man and a terrorist.
  • 12 people had died in Mumbai in anti-rushdie riots.
There are more instances I can point out, but these stand out because of the scale and because of how related India is to last two people. Mr. Falwell runs a Christian ministry in US and Salman Rushdie, although ethically an Indian, had migrated to Pakistan and was a citizen of UK at that time. Of all riots that took place all over the world following the statement by Jerry Falwell and against Salman Rushdie, India was the only place with causalities. Orissa has been a hotbed of communal tensions between Hindus and Christians for a while now.

India is the largest democracy which is more than 60 years old. Why then are we so undemocratic in our conduct?

I will not say that the resentment held by the people, the rage that they feel over their prophet being called a terrorist and over the death of their religious leader is wrong but we have to understand that free speech, besides being constitutional, is also more powerful than any violence. If the forced conversions were documented, shown to people, if people tried to prove that Mohammad was a peaceful person instead of killing innocent people, then that would have a lasting influence. Truth can be the only victor in a open debate.

Other resulting major problem is the lack of knowledge and reasoning, people take to streets before realizing the details of an issue. I have asked many people who spoke about the cartoons issue, Rushdie's book, hussains paintings, etc. they do not know what was shown in the cartoons and under what pretext or even the name of the newspaper in question; they do not know what the theme of Rushdies book was and why it was blasphemous. The people who went on a carnage in Orissa do not realize that Maoists have claimed responsibility and that christian organizations have condemned it.

I support complete free speech with no exceptions. It does not have to do with any ideology, varied opinions on all subjects can only benefit the people and the ones involved to make a right decision. If we educate the masses and tell them the details about the various issues we stand for or feel about, then the people would be better knowledgeable. And hope is that, in the end, truth alone shall win. Satyameva Jayate.

(Image from wikipedia, the tribute to Theo Van Gogh, it is De Schreeuw (The Scream), the symbol of freedom of speech.)


Unknown said…
hi there,

i am strong believer in free speech and i do agree with parts of ur write up...

but somehow u seem to suggest that there is no responsibility attached with free speech..and i dont find favour with that...

with any right comes a responsibility and free speech is no exception...without this responsibility attached to it anti social elements might abuse this privillege to flare up communal tensions...
Rahul said…
Ramanathan... I am glad that you also believe in free speech. I will say that there should not be any exceptions to free speech at all.
Whether you and I believe that there should be responsibility attached to free speech or not, it should not be a reason to restrict the free speech of people.
Responsibility is a subjective thing, an atheist like me would believe that there should be no holy cows and everything should be lampooned and a religious person may be selective in criticism of religion. Me and you would define it in different ways.
The anti-social elements can either represent issues correctly or misrepresent them to meet their ends. If they are representing it correctly then the sentiments are genuine and the people should protest, stand for their rights. If however, the protest takes a violent turn, the law should not spare them. If the issue is misrepresented, then lets demonstrate and show the people that they are wrong. If they are wrong because of facts then it should not be a tough task. Here again, if the protesters should turn violent, the law should spare none.
W.r.t the media, I do agree with you that the media should be accountable and that they should exercise the freedom of press with a lot of responsibility. But to put restrictions of responsibility on a person's speech is to restrict his freedom to think, which is absurd.
Rahul said…
Two additional reads..
Praveen said…
"If the forced conversions were documented, shown to people, if people tried to prove that Mohammad was a peaceful person instead of killing innocent people, then that would have a lasting influence. Truth can be the only victor in a open debate."
-If these people were clever enough to realise this, they wouldn't have done such idiotic things.

free speech is no more free:(
Akansha Agrawal said…
I do agree with free speech. But I think there are some people who cannot take the fact that the person/persons they worship are not the statues of all things right. What I mean to say is that people today get agitated when MF Hussain(or any other painter) tries to portray Mother India as a human only, they feel disturbed when Sharad Pawar is 'pushed off' the stage by the Aussies, they feel offended when Saurav Ganguly is dropped from the squad because of poor performance, they feel embarrased when a female actor talks about sexual preferances, and similarly on every issue, small or big! But these people normally want to see only one side of the coin(and that too only what they're brainwashed with), they remain ignorant about the other half and don't even try to probe into it. The brainwashing is where the media comes into the picture, and so do all those anti-social elements. The media has a huge responsibility on its shoulders because it has to represent both sides of an argument. People rely on media to convey the facts, not their own beliefs.

So I think free speech will have to be laced with a lot of responsibility until the masses are mature enough to recognise which matter can be treated as a nonissue(Richard Gere kissing Shilpa Shetty, all scenes in the movies which people normally protest against) and which are the actual issues which concern the welfare or ill-treatment of people, or the country as a whole. Why don't we try to sit and discuss the Indo-US nuclear agreement? Some people may find it beneficial, some may find it too compromising. But there isn't anybody who'll try to stir a public protest of the kind we see for other trivial issues(It is actually a good thing that they're NOT doing it, and I'm not giving any ideas to anybody), but what I'm trying to point out is that only those issues which can agitate some people if misrepresented are normally the cause. The tolerance levels here are very low and every statement that even hints at accusing any religious belief provokes feelings of insecurity among the people of that religion. So free speech is very imporatnt but it can be a trouble maker until the society as a whole decides to evolve and most importantly, accept!
Rahul said…
Indeed, these people are not intelligent. Its ironic that the protest saying that mohammed was peaceful, was itself not peaceful. Its like killing a few police members and other simple people would make the peaceful nature of mohammed more evident.
True, in fact, the fact that the people worship others means that they are blind to their faults. Offence and insult are a part and parcel of life, but that should not constitute a reason to gag another person of his free speech. If you are offended, then sure have a protest, but that should not mean that I will not be allowed my free speech.
Yes, people probably are easily offended now, but to constitute a society where people would not feel insulted is not possible. The government has to be serious about free speech to the extent that you say whatever you want to, we will protect you. Not leave you to exile in another country and not deport you. That is the commitment to free speech necessary from the government. Rest offence that people take, discussion of trivial non-issues and protests are parts of everyday life.
Akansha Agrawal said…
I agree! Yours is the ideal situation that SHOULD BE. My arguments are based keeping in mind the present circumstances (only in the Indian context), because well, I don't think Indian government or Constitution is going to do that anytime soon. If we look at the US, people can(and do) openly call their President an ass-hole and nobody starts taking them to the courts, whereas here, well, let someone try ;-)

Coming down to even day to day life,I have no problem whatsoever with freedom of speech because I feel that what you're doing is expressing 'yourself'. What your best friend thinks is pretty irrelevant, becuase you're not speaking to please your friend. He/she may protest but why should that stop you from believing what you do believe in.

That is of course the level we want the society to reach to, but my question is, is it going there???

P.S. Your first article isn't opening up. Seems it's been removed from the net.
Priya Joyce said…
The only thing I feel to put up here is such issues like religion people think from heart and not from their mind and we all know that heart always looks for emotion and not reason...its sad tat anger is a sad emotion expressed from heart.
Rahul said…
We have been cutting the government a lot of slack, we are not such a God forsaken third world country that we can not guarantee our citizens free speech. Indian government has not only allowed the people to be attacked for what they speak, but has joined them in suppressing free speech. The government is working hand in hand with the others to get books and movies banned. The government has compromised democratic principles to gain vote banks. The bigger problem is that we are getting used to it.
You are exactly correct the way you put it, freedom of speech is closely linked to freedom of thought. I can not speak differently if I feel one way.

The alt link for that TOI article.
The alternate link for the article by Salman Rushdie :
Rahul said…
welcome, I think we need not stop thinking from the heart, one can feel anguish over something. There is a way of expressing anger, powerful arguments can be more damaging and if you can use your anger to provide with those arguments then why not.
Whatever be the case, religion or even personal insult, it should not be a reason to stop others from speaking.
Si_Lee said…
@ assman

u talk about the responsibility factor to be a subjective thing ?? I will respond by saying resorting to violent means is a right or wrong is a matter of perception ... So if we get down to that everything turns into a debate. that said, the constitution of india has granted us certain fundamental rights, why don't we talk about the sub clause in it ? Dude it's easier said thean done .. tomorrow i come and insult you and your family openly .. you are bound to be agitated and react lest you are a Gandhi, which I doubt . No it is not an analogy to orissa or rushdie for tht matter but it is in response to you suggesting rather quoting, free speech should be devoid of responsibility ..

An @ Akanksha I totally support when you say he is talkiing about an ideal situation .
Assman .. dude you have used a very big IF in your last para ... you see if I bring in an IF to any system , no matter how ridiculous it be, I can justify it. Si lets not bring that into the equation either.

The way I see it.. there are certain rules to a society forget country. you cannot have a free society. it's and oxymoron and those who contemplate it , morons. no offence meant.
We need to understand what a society is and what needs to be done to be a part of it .. even amongst the wild animals rules are followed territories are respected... at the end of the day the responsibility has to be there .. else i will say i am gonna nuke my house so what if the whole city goes up ? it ain't my responsibility.
That will be doomsday for the world .. and indeed words are sharper than the sword when wielded artistically .. and our politicians and so called spiritual leaders are exceptionally brilliant at that ... thats another issue infact a whole new dimension...
to conclude ..
the number of people involved in these incidents is not large when compared to our population. A democracy is meant for a majority agreed... then is bajrang dal justified ? for tht matter is the hurriyat in kashmir, MNS in mumbai ?? Thackrey uses words and people act ..? tell me shouldn't he be responsible in his speeches ???
Rahul said…
Siddharth, very sorry for the extremely late response, I had been out of town and did not check for comments here.
I am saying that restricting free speech to responsible usage is absurd, because neither you nor I have anyway of showing that it is irresponsible. So I can not agree that responsibility is a factor for permitting a person to speak because I have no way of defining responsible speech. I agree to a more standard exception on free speech, which is to incite violent methods.
Someone may come and hit you if you were to insult him or his family. But that does not mean you are to blame. This is similar to blaming the rape victim for provocatively dressing. Nothing justifies violence just as nothing justifies rape.
Regarding that "if" in that last para, I see it as inevitable. You have issues to stand for, you need people to support it, you educate them about it. An uneducated, undebated stance can at best be temporary. More the debate that takes place on a certain issue, more the people would be informed. Its inevitable, even if you choose to be pessimistic about it.
You are correct in saying that words are stronger than swords and if a revolution can be brought about by words, through peaceful means then why not? Violent speech asking the listeners to be violent is definitely not acceptable, even by law in any country.
I am not talking about a free society as a rule less society, I am talking about free speech, and though I do accept some exceptions to it, I do not think it is moronic to seek your speech to be free. I think morons are those who expect the state to stand up for them because they are insulted. Morons are those who think swords can fight words and taking lives will make them less offended.
I will support Thackeray's right to his speech when he says chatt puja is a new natak in maharashtra, when he says that the state does not understand the language of non-violence. I support his right to say these things, not necessarily what he says. If there is something that directly asks the listeners to beat or kill other people then I definitely think he should be tried for that. In any case, being the premier of a party which is spearheading the violence against people in Maharashtra, is grounds enough for him to be tried by law.

If you, others think that free speech should have restrictions, then please tell me whether you think so about opinion on religion. Should people be allowed to opine on religion and ideologies freely.
Akansha Agrawal said…
I am talking about free speech, and though I do accept some exceptions to it

Exactly my point!I agree with all the rest, because I think we've been saying the same things,albeit in different manners.

And about religion and ideologies, no harm if all you are doing is educating people about your religion without teaching hatred. If it is progressive without causing 'justified' provocation from other quarters, then go ahead with your ideologies. And as for who decides if it is justified, well it is a 'grown-up' society that has to...
Rahul said…
Akansha, I am glad you point it out. There is a distinction that I would like to explain here. I do not think you can consider it an exception to free speech, because you are not allowed to insult a judge in a court room. These are things taken for granted, and are arguably necessary. Similarly, since you all mention violence emerging from speech, I would say that if you ask someone to go hit someone, or a certain kind of people, then its wrong. If what I say is not violent itself but can cause someone to get violent then i do not think that any restriction should be placed. Libel, anti-state speech and violent hate speech, though debatable are quite standard in most countries.
We ban books on Shivaji maharaj, books like satanic verses and Lajja which comment on Islam, Da Vinci code. Its very sad the treatment meted out to MF Hussain. These are what we need to rise above, and we need to learn that we can oppose things in a peaceful manner more effectively. And that is exactly the point that I am trying to impress.
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