Sunday, January 22, 2012

"The freedom to say unpopular and shocking things"

Today, one of India’s greatest novelists, Salman Rushdie – a writer whose work enshrines doubt as a necessary and valuable ethical position – has been prevented from addressing this festival by those whose certainty leads them to believe that they have the right to kill anyone who opposes them [...] There are many rights for which we should fight, but the right to protection from offense is not one of them. Freedom of speech is a foundational freedom, on which all others depend. Freedom of speech means the freedom to say unpopular, even shocking things. Without it, writers can have little impact on the culture.
From the statement read out by Hari Kunzru during his session at the Jaipur Literature Festival two days ago. Also read Hari’s post about the events of that day, including the short Satanic Verses readings by him and Amitava Kumar, and the subsequent intimation that they might be in serious legal trouble if they stayed on in India.

I didn’t go to Jaipur this year, but – like everyone I know who cares about freedom of speech and worries about the increasing hegemony of the easily offended (the "bleeding-heart illiberals" as Rukun Advani cleverly put it in another context recently) – I’ve been feeling very dispirited about the events of the past few days. (This report about the police fabricating a terrorism threat was particularly mindboggling, but also completely believable.)


Earlier today in Jaipur, Nilanjana helped organise a petition to unban The Satanic Verses; I’m sure an online version of the petition will be up soon, do look out for it. Meanwhile, here are some relevant links: a fine piece in The Hindu about “the slow-motion disintegration” of a secular state; a clarification by JLF co-organiser William Dalrymple; and Salil Tripathi on India's "sepulchral silence".

Update: the online petition is here. Please sign and spread the word.

13 comments:

  1. If it is Salman Rushdie was Islamic bigots, then the Hindu right wing will keep silent.

    If it is MF Hussain versus Hindu bigots, then the Islamic right wing will keep silent.

    Something similar to the Pink Chaddi campaign needs to happen to show how shallow these morons are in real life! Humor is the best weapon.

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  2. Freedom of expression is very basis of civilised society. And expression means public expression and not one in safety of private space.Normally there is no objection to say Zindabad, so on the same note there should not be objection to say Murdabad. Many satyagrahi's were acquitted on the same argument.

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  3. during emergency.

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  4. unfortunately,the point of the issue-freedom of expression-will be pushed aside by the identity thekedaars who latch on to any 'issue' which gives an excuse to vent their frustration with their tiny lives by airing their opposition to a work they haven't read and whose literary merits they don't possess the intelligence to appreciate.our Indian habit of applauding ourselves for our illusory broadmindedness won't stop.
    (phew! glad that I was able to vent some of the gussa I felt hearing about this.thanks Jabberwock. please post the link if there 's an online petition)

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  5. Sugandha: have added the link to the online petition.

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  6. I felt like tearing my hair out when I heard certain Mr. Bhagat's comments on the issue

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  8. As Sugandha mentioned, it'd be interesting to find out just how many of those 'offended' have actually read the book in question. This is indicative of a larger malaise handed down to us by generations and generations of Indians- too many individuals with the power to 'represent' collective views. The govt's opposition to social networking sites is just another example of their opposition to the changing of this old guard - it just will not do for individuals to be able to express individual opinions.

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  9. thanks JB.putting it up at all the social networking sites I can think of.

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  10. Ooh! I totally a support "pink" protest, great idea, @Anonymous (Jan 23, 1:36 PM)! Would love a campaign to send the raving, frothing censors pink ear plugs and pink eye masks (hear no evil, see no evil). Except the bloody fools wouldn't know what they were and would probably try to eat them or something. Chaddis are unmistakable.

    Sharmishtha

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  11. Thanks for the pst Jai. Much has been written on the Rushdie imbroglio by now, including some very fine articles by Ram Guha (The Telegraph), Ruchir Joshi (The Hindu) and Salil Tripathi. Early on I did a 10-point primer to arm folks looking to battle the right-wing loonies of our land @ http://the-long-walk-home.blogspot.com/2012/01/5-point-primer-on-rushdie-debate-for.html

    But perhaps the best defense would be to hear Rushdie read the relevant excerpt from Satanic Verses @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v20VvP19kCI

    Cheers!

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  12. Many liberals spent so much time bashing up them pesky hindus and their "brahminical" idealogy that they forgot the real elephant in the room, the Indian M's and their unparalleled "i weel keel you when it comes to speaking about M and his family"..just google for muslim boy hates salman rushdie...and see if that video is still up...when ten year olds use that kind of language..something is wrong in our "secular" state...

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