No country for free speech

Jan 31, 2013, 06:47 IST | MiD DAY Correspondent

One of the most frightening aspects of the steadily shrinkingspace for comment, debate and art is not just the fact that the bigots are getting louder, scarier or more visible but the fact that more and more people are joining in to stifle any kind of expression perceived as offensive, without even reading the book, watching the movie, hearing the speaker or understanding what the issue is all about.

Right now, Kamal Hasaan’s movie Vishwaroopam is mired in a huge controversy. Writer Salman Rushdie’s India visit to promote Deepa Mehta’s film based on his book, Midnight’s Children, hit a roadblock in Kolkata. Rushdie has had to cancel his visit there over security concerns.

Actor Shah Rukh Khan sparked a war of words and invited ire when he wrote in a magazine that he sometimes became the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make him a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India. Dalit organisations are holding protests against sociologist Ashis Nandy’s comments at a literary fest in Jaipur.

One is not going into the merits or demerits of the works or comments here. It is only disappointing to see that most of those protesting have not read the controversial book, the piece in the magazine, heard Nandy’s comments in entirety or seen Vishwaroopam.

It is a herd mentality then, to go along and naively believe everything that has been said, and start joining in protests to ban things. Sometimes, these offensive words or parts of films are not seen in entirety or pulled out of context.

More importantly, people are opposing them without even knowing what the problem is in the first place. One must at least know what one is protesting against before screaming ‘offensive’ and baying for a ban or an arrest. 

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