Freedom of speech… as we know is the fundamental right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas. And in a country like India, freedom of speech represents the democratic framework. Well, this is what we have known. As subject to the recent tussle in the freedom of speech, it seems that India is one of the most intolerant countries when it comes to free speech.
And of course, the latest is the ban of Wendy Doniger’s ‘The Hindus’. While Penguin (the publisher) has always stood up for the freedom of speech, the rubber met the road when time came to favour Doniger. Though Penguin blamed India’s intolerant laws but the truth is there was no fatwa, no ban and no court order of any sort. Ironically, it’s the same Penguin that favoured Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’.
Instead of dwelling in to the changing attitude of the old Penguin and the new one, I would like to talk about the changing landscape of free speech. It’s not that long when we heard about the ban of the 1949 caricature. The caricature about the Indian Constitution at work was a part of the 11thclass textbooks for a long time. The cartoon was said to be offensive to the Indian Constitution. The funny thing is that they did not find it funny back in 1949. Also, if you look at the caricature it doesn’t seem the case of ‘taking offense’ but the case of ‘lacking sarcasm’.
Speaking of lacking sarcasm, another incident that comes to my mind is the controversy regarding ‘Cartoon Against Corruption’ because of which the cartoonist, Aseem Trivedi was jailed. It does not seem like a happy future for ‘freedom of speech’…. or does it?
These incidents simply show us that freedom of speech is at risk. I really think that it is time to contemplate on this issue and sort it out.
Do let me know your views.