O’Freedom of Expression- Where Art Thou?
The founding fathers of the Indian republic took care to include in the Indian constitution Art 19 guaranteeing freedom of expression (with certain caveats under exceptional circumstances).
India was the first country to ban Salman Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses. Even before the Mullahdom of Iran and the Monarchy of Saudi Arabia. The Sultanates and Emirates merely followed the august example of democratic India.
India and specifically the state with a communist government of West Bengal refused to guarantee the safety of the writer Taslima Nasreen and asked her to move away to another state or country if she wished to stay alive, because she offended someone with her novel Lajja.
The Henderson Report of the reasons for the defeat/debacle war of 1965 against China has been read and reported in most international countries, including the victor nation of the war china, while it is still banned in India (from the Indian citizens) citing official secrets act.
Any book/film/material dealing with the Nehru/Mountbatten family gossip and any material/book/film dealing with the emergency era excesses still get routinely banned in India courtesy a single family’s hold on a political party.
The Tehelka group which pioneered sting operations were hounded out of operation within days of their exposes by continuous income tax raids and investigations- a move which had bi-partisan political support from the ruling and opposition parties.
The film Bombay which dealt with the Bombay riots, the film Sarkar which touched upon Shiv Sena Politics and the the film Guru which was loosely based on an industrialists life were all pre-censored by the persons involved- by Bal Thackeray, Shiv Sena and the Ambanis. Directors Mani Ratnam and Ram Gopal Verma did not have any qualms about removing scenes which were deemed objectionable by the super-censors.
Michael Jackson on his official India tour was made to first visit Matoshree, the residence of the Thackerays before being allowed to perform in Bombay.
Deepa Mehtas movie “fire” was not allowed to be filmed in India by self-appointed moral guardians -because “lesbianism” is against Indian culture. And this is the same country where gang-rapes are so common, that unless they happen in the national capital they are routinely ignored by the media.
When the actor Rajnikant choose to opt out of a Cauvery River Water demonstration, he was forced by “public” opinion to do a special “individual” sit-in protest against Karnataka for not sharing Cauvery water with Tamilnadu.
Sociologist Ashish Nandy has been charge-sheeted with multiple cases of spreading communal hatred because he choose to speak a few words on the comparative corruption of different castes in the Jaipur Litfest where an intellectual discussion on corruption was being conducted.
And people complain, protest that Kamal Hassan’s movie Viswaroopam’s banning is wrong and against freedom of expression.
Really? And when did you realize this? Last night?
For 60 years the phrase freedom of expression has been torn and trampled underfoot by successive governments at the central and state levels and intolerant tyrants and their captive mobs have been allowed to dictate terms to the ordinary citizens. Our country has been turned into intolerant India, all the while mouthing platitudes like Mera Bharat Mahan.
A few thousand twitter account holders and bloggers (including yours truly) bleating online or television anchors screaming at high pitch is not going to make much of a difference at the ground level because politicians will ignore these “elite” voices with impunity as they do not form their captive vote banks and are not even powerful enough to dent their vote banks a little.
The voiceless, faceless masses of India who toil for a living face a daily test of their freedoms and rights every time they go to any government office for any official work. In point of fact, perfect expression of freedom is shown by the official clerks at government offices who barely look up to acknowledge your existence unless you show some Christmas spirit and practice the “joy of giving”. And it is when these masses, the “common man/woman” realize the extent to which their constitution-given rights have been curtailed by their indifference to the world around them will a change come to the country- a change from the grassroots. I hope it happens soon. Will it?
Disclaimer- The facts quoted above are from media sources in the public domain and as such the writer does not vouch for the authenticity of the primary sources. The writer is a poor, working class individual and cannot afford to embroil himself in multiple libel cases under the efficient Indian judicial system. As such, an unconditional blanket apology is issued by the writer if anyone feels inclined to pursue any libel case against this blogpost.