In the year 2013, Amartya Sen was asked to ‘control’ his daughter before expressing his views on who should govern India, simply because he stated that he would not support Narendra Modi as a prime-ministerial candidate. In Sen’s belief, Modi wasn’t secular enough. The internet blew up with pictures of Nandana Sen, his daughter, who needed to be ‘controlled’. Of course, every girl who shows some skin needs to be ‘controlled’. Chandan Mitra even said that the NDA government should strip Sen off the Bharat Ratna. Painter MF Husain was exiled from India for depicting Indian Gods and Godesses embracing their sexuality. Kapil Sibal has a group of websites he believes should be banned, because they blaspheme faiths and are critical about political leaders.
Very often, it is people who steal one’s Right to Express; or it is the state. Sometimes the protector becomes perpetrator. This is when the law and order of the country steals one’s Right to Freedom of expression. In the words of Salil Tripathi, this “forces obedience and compliance; it does not spur imagination, nor nurture a spirit of inquiry. It breeds a culture of conformity, not creativity. And so we learn to argue only within our minds, confide with a few, keeping our head down.” And this goes against the very spirit and being of democracy.
Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, is one of the many ‘controversial’ books banned in India, following the fate of Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Versus, and Nine Hours to Rama by Stanley Wolpert. The novel examines Hinduism in an alternate light, often examining an amorous relationship between Sita and her brother-in-law Laxman, and proclaiming Lord Surya, the Sun God of Hindu mythology, to be a rapist, as well as a seducer. The book also attempts to bring out the contribution made by women, as well as the untouchables, and how the same enriched Hinduism. In the words of writer Shoba Narayan, Wendy Doniger “looks at Hindu rituals and traditions from the point of view of women and minorities.” The book states that Lord Ram may have saved Sita in order to save his pride, not to save his wife; otherwise, why would he have asked her to bathe in the fire in order to prove her ‘purity’?
— Seetesh (@SeeteshPande) February 15, 2014
Intolerance in India is practiced in various different forms and facets, one of the most recent cases being that of the Kashmiri students who cheered Pakistan during an India – Pakistan cricket match, being charged with sedition. In the year 2012, political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was charged with sedition, and sent to judicial custody over his cartoons, which incidentally, were cartoons against corruption. According to the Indian penal code, sedition refers to any form of speech, writing or action that threatens to disrupt the harmony of the country and incites violence and hatred against the established order of the same. The law states, ‘whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visual representation, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excited or attempts to excite disaffection towards’ the government would be charged under section 124-A. However, those words or actions, which simply express disapproval towards the actions of the Government, yet do not incite violence towards it, are not supposed to be charged with sedition.
Though the charges were later dropped, there was a nationwide furore when two girls were arrested, over questioning why all of Mumbai had to observe a ‘bandh’ or shutdown following Bal Thackeray’s death. The post that sparked outrage, made by one of the girls, simply questioned why Bal Thackeray’s death led to a ‘bandh’ in Mumbai, when people died everyday. She was arrested for the same, while her friend was arrested for ‘liking’ the post. The girls were charged with IPC Sections 295(A) deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes), as well as the IT Act. In no way can the apparently controversial post be said to ‘outrage religious feelings or any class’ as the post did not insult any religion. The post did not mean to promote ‘enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes’, it simply lamented the fact that an entire city experienced shutdown because of the death of one man.
Sedition charges against Kashmiri students, who cheered for Pak in cricket match, dropped http://t.co/pl6txsEUdb
— NDTV (@ndtv) March 6, 2014
It is unfortunate to note that all four above examples have, in one way or another, had their Freedom of Expression, and their Right to Speech under article 19(1)(a) stolen from them. All the above examples have been failed by the Freedom of Expression that the Indian Constitution allegedly grants it’s citizens. Though the Indian Constitution has laid down tests and checks in order to determine limits of Article 19, these tests and checks are now being used without indiscretion, and infringing upon the very Rights that make India a democracy. The same is not in tandem with our democratic ideals; in a democracy everyone has the right to express their view, with no malicious intent. This, in itself would encourage free speech and free debate, an important facet of democracy. Our very right to express and protest is being taken away, book by book, post by post, cartoon by cartoon.
By Arushi Maheshwari
Image Source: Twitter@rahulwhiz