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Writers Speak Up against the Unmaking of India

“A distinguished Kannada writer and Sahitya Akademi Award winner, M.M. Kalburgi, and two Maharashtrians, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, both anti-superstition activists, have all been killed by gun-toting motor-cyclists. Other dissenters have been warned they are next in line. Most recently, a village blacksmith, Mohammed Akhlaq, was dragged out of his home in Bisara village outside Delhi, and brutally lynched, on the supposed suspicion that beef was cooked in his home. In all these cases, justice drags its feet. The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology.” Nayantara Sahgal in her statement “Unmaking India”, published inwww.indianculturalforum.in.


August 30, 2015: Kannada scholar M. M. Kalburgi assassinated 

September 12, 2015: Uday Prakash returned his Akademi award saying that free speech was endangered under the NDA government. He added that “the Akademi organises a tamasha of sorts, presents you an award and forgets about you. When something like this happens, there is no word of consolation and support from them. Writers are a family but they don’t seem to care.”

October 3, 2015: Kannada writers Veeranna Madiwalar, T. Satish Javare Gowda, Sangamesh Menasinakai, Hanumanth Haligeri, Shridevi V. Aloor and Chidanand Sali returned their Kannada Sahitya Parishat awards in protest over the delay in the inquiry into rationalist M.M. Kalburgi’s killing. Veeranna Madiwalar said, “I was among the eight who was given the Aralu Prashasti… We were really proud we got the award when Kalburgi was present. We’re upset at the slow pace of the CID investigation [on M.M. Kalburgi’s murder]. We fear the probe will go the way of the other social activists, Dabholkar and Pansare, who were also killed.” T. Satish Javare Gowda said “It is a simple gesture to exert pressure on the state government to nab the culprits.” Chidanand Sali said “The CID investigation is creating doubts among Kalburgi’s followers that the culprits may not be nabbed quickly.”

October 6, 2105: Nayantara Sahgal returned her Akademi award, saying The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology.”

October 7, 2105: Ashok Vajpeyi returned his Akademi award, saying “This is in solidarity with writers and intellectuals being murdered in broad daylight… Sahgal was right. He is a very loquacious Prime Minister. Why doesn’t he tell the nation that the pluralism of this country will be defended at every cost?”

October 9, 2015: Rahman Abbas returned his state Akademi award, saying “This is high time… and we cannot remain voiceless. Hence, I request senior Urdu writers, poets and critics… to register protest against murder andkilling of creative writers by returning Sahitya Academy Awards.”

October 9, 2015: T.M. Krishna wrote to the Prime Minister, saying “Words, strong and emotional words come to you easily. So why do we need to shout and scream for a few sentences about a man who was lynched for allegedly consuming beef?”

October 10, 2105: Shashi Deshpande resigned from the Sahitya Akademi General Council,saying in such a situation “silence is an abetment”.

October 10, 2015: Sara Joseph returned her state Akademi award, saying “There is a growing fear and lack of freedom under the present government… Writers are being killed, people are being killed, ghazal singers are not being allowed to perform – this is not the free India I have lived in… The Sahitya Akademi has remained silent over all of this, when it should have been the first to speak out. I am returning my award in protest…”

October 10, 2015: K. Satchidanandan resigned from the Executive Board and all other committees of the Sahitya Akademi, saying “I am sorry to find that you think this is a “political issue”; to writers like me, this is an issue of our basic freedom to live, think and write.Annihilation should never be allowed to replace argument, the very essence of democracy.”

October 10, 2015: P.K. Parakkadavu resigned from the General Council of the Sahitya Akademi, citing its failure to uphold freedom of expression.  

October 10, 2015: Keki Daruwalla wrote to the Akademi President, saying “What does it [your silence] say of the Akademi as an institution and of office bearers of this institution as upholders of our literary and cultural values?

October 10, 2015: Adil Jussawalla wrote to the Akademi President, saying “I believe this is the time for it [the Akademi] to boldly state that it unequivocally supports the rights of this nation’s writers and condemns the violence used to suppress or destroy those rights.”

October 10, 2015: Mridula Garg wrote on the Prime Minister breaking his silence, saying “If that is all he [Modi} has to say and is not ready to be held accountable for the distortion of our so called ancient culture and bashing of intellectuals in word and deed by his Ministers and M.Ps, then I prefer him silent.”

October 11, 2015: Aravind Malagatti resigned from the Sahitya Akademi General Council, saying “I have resigned condemning the killing of Kalburgi and silence of Akademi over the issue. It should have spoken out and expressed its condemnation against such acts.”

October 11, 2015: Kumbar Veerabhadrappa (Kumvee) returned his Akademi award, saying“I’m doing this condemning the killings of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M. M. Kalburgi, and Akademi’s silence on the issue; also against Dadri lynching… These incidents are an attempt to destroy the diversity of this country and it signals the entry of fascism in to India.”

October 11, 2015: G.N. Devy returned his Akademi award, saying “Your moment of reckoning has come… I do this as an expression of my solidarity with several eminent writers who have recently returned their awards to highlight their concern and anxiety over the shrinking space for free expression and growing intolerance towards difference of opinion…

October 11, 2015: Mangalesh Dabral returned his Akademi award saying “Efforts must be made to ensure that several writers come together and take a collective decision to return their awards…”

October 11, 2015: Rajesh Joshi returned his Akademi award saying, with Dabral in a joint statement, “We clearly see a threat to our democracy, secularism and freedom. There have been attempts to curb free speech earlier also, but such trends have become more pronounced under the present government. These are visible all over…”

October 11, 2015: Four Punjabi writers – Gurbachan Singh Bhullar, Ajmer Singh Aulakh, Atamjit Singh, Waryam Sandhu – returned their Akademi awards in a single day. Bhullar said he was perturbed by “…the attempts at disrupting the social fabric of the country, targeting particularly the area of literature and culture, under an orchestrated plan of action…” Aulakh said he was pained by the attacks on “progressive writers, leaders of the rational movement and the forcible saffronisation of education and culture… and the communal atmosphere being created in the country… The central government was not performing its duty as the representative of a secular and democratic country.” Atamjit Singh said he “is very upset over the incidents of communal hatred in the country for the last some months”.

October 11, 2015: A federation of Kashmiri scholars, Adbee Markaz Kamraz, too expressed solidarity with the eminent writers for their decision to return Sahitya Akademi awards, asking the top literary body to break its silence over the increasing “communal frenzy”.

October 11, 2015: G.N. Ranganath returned his Akademi award, saying he was disturbed by the recent curbs on freedom of expression.

October 11, 2015: D.N. Srinath announced he would return his translator’s award.

October 11, 2015: Nayantara Sahgal responded to the Akademi President’s remarks with a cheque for a lakh and added, “The fact that so many writers are returning their Awards or resigning from Akademi posts makes it clear how anguished we are that you have remained silent over the murder and intimidation of writers and the threat thathangs over dissent and debate.”

October 11, 2015: Aman Sethi returned his Yuva Puraskar, saying “The Akademi cannot draw its legitimacy by celebrating writers while shying clear of solidarity when they are targeted…”

October 12, 2015: N. Shivdas announced at a rally that he was returning his Akademi award, saying no action has been taken against the Sanatan Sanstha, whose members were allegedly involved in the killing of rationalists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar.

October 12, 2015: Megh Raj Mitter returned the Shiromani Lekhak, the Punjab government’s highest award for writers.

October 12, 2015: E. V. Ramakrishnan resigned from the English Advisory Board of the Sahitya Akademi.

October 12, 2015: K. S. Ravikumar resigned from the Malayalam Advisory Board of the Akademi.

October 12, 2015: C. R. Prasad resigned from the Malayalam Advisory Board of the Akademi.

October 12, 2015: Rajendra Kishore Panda invokes the constitution of the Sahitya Akademi in his letter to the Akademi President, saying one of its [the Akademi’s] prime duties is to stand by writers and scholars expressing their thoughts…”

October 12, 2015: Salman Rushdie joined the protests against the spread of “communal poison” and “rising intolerance” in the country. “I support Nayantara Sahgal and the many other writers protesting to the Sahitya Akademi. Alarming times for free expression in India,” he tweeted.

October 12, 2015: Ghulam Nabi Khayal said he was returning his award, adding that The minorities in the country are feeling unsafe and threatened. They feel their future is bleak.”

October 12, 2005: Gopalkrishna Gandhi said, “Writers returning Sahitya Akademi awards is a landmark moment… more should do so… They have spoken not just for the power of protest but also for the power of dissent… I don’t think there has been a time when three rationalists have been murdered, and the way they were, suggests a resemblance in the crimes. If writers and dissenters don’t protest, who will?

October 12, 2015: Theatre artist Maya Krishna Rao enlarges the stage of writers’ protests by adding the voices of performing artists. Her protest, she said, was against the Dadri lynching and the “rising intolerance” in the country.
October 12, 2015: Rahamat Tarikeri returned his Akademi award, protesting the recent increase in intolerance, included the Dadri lynching.

October 12, 2015: Four more writers from Punjab, Surjit Pattar, Baldev Singh Sadaknama, Jaswinder and Darshan Buttar added their voices in solidarity by announcing they were returning their awards. Pattar said “The murder of writers, scholars and thinkers in this diverse country is painful… Even more painful is that these murderers get away…”

October 12, 2015: Anil Joshi announces that he will return his Akademi award, saying “…it does not hold any importance when people like Kalburgi, (Govind) Pansare and (Narendra) Dabholkar are being killed… People who are behind these killings don’t have any respect for those holding different views and opinions. In that case, they would have killed Bhagat Singh, too, who did not believe in God, and Savarkar, who used to say that there is no need to worship cows…”

October 12, 2015: Chaman Lal returned his Akademi translation prize in solidarity with all writers of Indian languages including English.

October 13, 2015: Meena Alexander expressed solidarity with Indian writers and writes on the “Silenced Writer”.

October 13, 2015: Dalip Kaur Tiwana announced that she will return her Padma Shri, saying, “In this land of Gautama Buddha and Guru Nanak Dev, the atrocities committed on the Sikhs in 1984 and on the Muslims recurrently because of communalism are an utter disgrace to our state and society. And to kill those who stand for truth and justice put us to shame in the eyes of the world and God.”

October 13, 2015: Pradnya Pawar announced she was returning all her literary awards and the prize money to the Maharashtra state government to protest the “culture of intolerance” in the country. She added, “We are living in an era of undeclared emergency.”

October 13, 2015: Govind Nihlani spoke out in support of the writers, saying, “The situation of the days of ‘Tamas’, which saw the great divide and displacement of thousands has not changed. In fact, the fissures in society have grown and the manipulation of the vulnerable has increased.”

October 13, 2015: Bhai Baldeep Singh announced that he would return the Parman Patraconferred on him for his contributions to classical music and gurbani sangeet, to protest “the lack of appropriate response to warn off those who have been perpetrating crimes against humanity”.

October 13, 2015: Homen Borgohain announced he would return his Akademi award in protest against the Dadri incident, and attacks on minorities, liberal writers and rational thinkers. He also expressed his anguish over the growing fascist tendency in the country. A silent protest he said, had been going on inside him since the Dadri killing took place.

October 13, 2015: Nirupama Borgohain announced she would return her Akademi award to express disapproval of growing intolerance, saying “Religious intolerance has reached extreme level. But the leader of the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not assured us to stop it and he is remaining silent. It is as if he is encouraging fascism to grow…”

October 13, 2015: Mandakranta Sen announced that she would return her young writers’ special award from the Akademi to protest against the Dadri lynching, and growing intolerance and communalism.

October 13, 2015: Marathi writers Harishchandra Thorat, Sanjay Bhaskar Joshi and Ganesh Visputay returned their Maharashtra state government awards, saying there was an emergency-like situation in the country.

October 14, 2015: Keki Daruwalla returned his Akademi award, saying “… in recent months it [the Akademi] has not stood up as boldly as it should for values that any literature stands for, namely freedom of expression against threat, upholding the rights of the marginalised, speaking up against superstitions and intolerance of any kind…. That Dr. M.M. Kalburgi, a Sahitya Akademi prize winner should be killed for no other reason except his rationalist views is something that cannot pass muster without some protest from brother authors.

October 14, 2015: Nayantara Sahgal issued a statement on www.indianculturalforum.in

October 14, 2015: Expressing concern over rising communal polarization and intolerance, 100 intellectuals from West Bengal intellectuals on Wednesday wrote to President Pranab Mukherjee, saying that the Modi government should take a tough stand against fundamentalists.”The composite culture is the essence (of the Indian society) but concerted efforts are on to destroy this. A dangerous game of communal polarisation is being played, the result of which are the murders of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, leftist Govind Pansare and scholar M.M. Kalburgi,” the 100 intellectuals and authors, including eminent poets Shankha Ghosh and Nabaneeta Dev Sen, said.”Be it the lynching in Dadri or cancelling (ghazal maestro) Ghulam Ali’s concert or blackening senior journalist Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face for hosting a book launch of (ex-Pakistani foreign minister) Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, all are an example of this dangerous game of communal polarisation,” they said.”This is not the voice of a few authors or intellectuals but of the common people of our society who are now living in fear and apprehension,” added Sahitya Akademi Award winning author Nabaneeta Dev Sen. On October 15th, another 63 intellectuals added their names to the letter.

October 14, 2015: The Goa Konkani Lekhak Sangh (GKLS) plans a series of demonstrations during the International Film Festival of India in Goa to condemn the murder of rationalists and writers in the country. Fifteen of the Konkani award winners, along with Padma Shri writer and academic Maria Couto, plan the protests to highlight their concerns before national and international delegates visiting the state for the 46th edition of the film festival. N. Shivdas, who had earlier announced that he will return his award, also plans to join the collective protest. “The trend of attacking people with creative temperament is not limited to a specific region but across nation…he (Prime Minister Modi) should give us an assurance that such incidents will not recur and the killers will be brought to justice,” said Shivdas.

October 14, 2015: Mohan Bhandari confirmed his decision to return his Akademi award in solidarity with the nationwide protest by writers against growing intolerance and killing of writers in Karnataka. He said, “It pains me to see growing intolerance and communalism against which we writers have always raised a strong voice in our writings. Returning the award is a way of bringing attention to the disturbing conditions prevailing in the country today.”

October 14, 2015: 40 Punjabi writers and theatre artists staged a protest in Chandigarh against the suppression of freedom of speech, and to express solidarity with those who have returned state awards. The number of awards returned in Punjab is the highest in the country.The group of 40 people included Mohan Bhandari, Chaman Lal, Meg Raj Mitter, Hardev Chauhan, Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, and Harjinder Kaur, chairperson, Punjab Arts Council. The highlight of the protest was 78-year-old Mohan Bhandari’s announcement to return his SahityaAkademi award.

October 14, 2015: Noted constitutional expert Fali S Nariman said it was high time Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke against the “plague of intolerance spreading rapidly across the country” and those using “violent methods to stymie free speech and dissent” were brought to book. 

October 15, 2015: Hardev Chauhan, who has returned an NCERT (National Council for Education, Research and Training) award for children’s writing, said he would also return his Shiromani Bal Sahit Lekhak award.

October 14, 2015: Class 11 student, Muddu Thir Thahalli of Sahyadri High School returned her Karnataka Sahitya Akademi award that she received for a collection of essays in 2011. She said it was to protest the killing of M.M. Kalburgi. She added, “Curtailment of freedom of expression is bad. Literature is a medium to express one’s opinions. There should be no curbs on free speech and writing.”

October 15, 2015: Chikkappanahalli Shanmukha, Principal Correspondent with Kannada Prabha newspaper, announced in a Facebook post that he would return the Madhyama Academy award in protest against the delay in apprehending the assailants of writer MM Kalburgi.

October 15, 2015: Nand Bharadwaj announced that he will return his Akademi award. The noted Rajasthani and Hindi writer and former director of Doorsarshan said, “It is sad to witness the silence of the Akademi over the increasing number of attacks on writers.”

 

October 16, 2015: Sahitya Akademi award winner and Telugu writer M. Bhoopal Reddy, announced he will return his Akademi award to express solidarity with protests against the “growing intolerance in the country”. He will also return his Ugadi Puraskaram award given by the Telangana Government to register his protest against the “indifference” of the state government to the growing number of farmer suicides. “They have increased since the new Government came to power, but the Government is more interested in spending money on building temples and other insignificant things,” he said.


275 (writers, performing artists and others) have spoken up in one way or the other, and so has the Adbee Markaz Kamraz, a federation of 25 literary and cultural organizations from North Kashmir, and the Goa Konkani Lekhak Sangh.

Originally published at Indian Cultural Forum. Republished under theCreative Commons License  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License in solidarity with protesting writers and endorsement of dissent as a fundamental right and diversity as a national resource.

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As news of Dr. M M Kalburgi being shot dead by suspected activists hit Twitter, Bhuvith Shetty, co-convenor of 's Bantwal cell has claimed responsibility for anti-Hindu murders while issuing a threat to K S Bhagwan "you are next". (Note: earlier version of this line made it appear as though *I* was saying U A Anantamoorty was murdered - I was describing his tweet. Dr. Anantamurty died of kidney failure last August. He was not murdered.)

U R Anantamoorty and Prof Kalburgi were close friends and had angered Hindutva activists with their views on idol worship. U R Anantamoorty passed away last August.

Bhuvith Shetty who goes by the handle @GarudaPurana describes himself as

"Co-convenor Bantwal, Ex-Prisoner, Campaigner @SowjanyaJustice, [needs translation], Photographer @BhuviClicks. I believe Music = @kschithra,Cricket = Srilanka"

Bajrangdal co-convenor assumes responsibility for murders and issues threat
Bajrangdal co-convenor assumes responsibility for anti-Hindu murders and issues threat against K S Bhagwan

Then it was UR Anantamoorty and now it is MM Kalburgi. Mock Hinduism and die a dogs . And dear KS bhagwan you are next.

The Twitter account is now inaccessible. It is unclear whether Bhuvith Shetty deleted his tweets and account or whether Twitter suspended it for issuing threat.

Mangalore has been intimated

The location of the tweet issuing the threat was at Bantwal, near Mangalore, which has seen a steep rise in in recent years.

Others on Twitter have reported that he has earlier boasted about crimes as well earlier in July when he boasted about chopping off the hand of a Muslim for smuggling cows.

https://twitter.com/IrshadBajpe/status/621296111806865408

Bhuvith Shetty confessing to chopping off hands of Muslims
Bhuvith Shetty confessing to chopping off hands of Muslims

Further information awaited.

and Govind Pansare, rationalists from had been shot dead in cold blood after receiving threats from Hindutva organizations. The investigations for the have been stagnant with allegations of cover up and a lack of interest in punishing the murders.

Supporters of the ruling appear to have come to the defense of Bhuvith saying that he does not mean it and was just tweeting. It is a strange "just tweeting" to engage in, but given that the "young", "ignorant", "over-enthusiastic" person is also a role holder in a notoriously violent organization routinely implicated in communal crimes in the region, the excuses appear to be absurd. As absurd as the idea that a co-convenor's tweets on the murders of people his organization has issued threats to in the past, someone who proudly adds "ex-prisoner" to his profile should be considered an idle teenager. Apparently co-convenors in bajrangdal are snotty teenagers while the mobs thrashing people, chopping off hands or murdering, rioting follow said snotty teenagers.

This post will be updated as more information is known.

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Dear Aamir Khan,

This is about a video of you on the subject of All India Bakchod's Knockout Roast. I agree with many views you expressed. I think it was juvenile, offensive, irresponsible. I agree that being profane for the sake of being profane is not funny. I agree that jokes about identity, color of skin or sexual orientation - particularly blunt, outright insults - are not funny. I saw the Roast. Some of it was funny, some in bad taste. It had multiple content warnings like you can't miss.

I appreciate that you stressed the extent of the right to object, in terms of expressing your dislike and requesting that the offensive speech be discontinued.

If you had kept it at that, I would not have a problem with your views. As someone speaking up for Free Speech for years now, I have a problem when you put the onus of not offending on the speaker with your talk of the creator having responsibility and oh so virtuous nonsense about "dil dukhana" and what not. You claim to be a responsible creator, yet I distinctly recollect speaking up to defend your film PK (which I haven't seen yet) from people who were outraged by whatever insult they perceived in it.

If the responsibility of not offending falls on the creator of the content, then perhaps you are not as ideal as you seemed to imply with the Delhi Belly example and perhaps should have added content warnings of another sort "Caution: Religion discussed here" etc and people objecting should have requested you with folded hands, etc. You know first hand what happens when angry people don't like content. Do you see the anger as your fault?

The opinions you expressed seemed to lack the gravity of understanding. The situation was beyond saying "please" FIRs were filed. There were threats, intimidation. The All India Bakchod videos are offline and they are busy issuing apologies left, right and center. At this point, when you speak of them being responsible for offending, it is the same as saying you are responsible for the vandalized theaters. How you think offense should be expressed is irrelevant when you speak after it has already been expressed. Who you blame can still be applicable and do much damage to free speech overall. "Even Aamir Khan said that you should not offend people".

It isn't the polite requests to desist that are the problem with Free Speech - the subject of the controversy and reason you were asked to comment at all. It is because lives and property are routinely harmed. Voices are silenced. The issue is way bigger than a juvenile video or what you or I think about it, when you expand your opinion into a blanket responsibility on the creator for "Who is responsible for hurt sentiments?"

Because, that question also answers who is responsible for Perumal Murugan being hounded or Shirin Dalvi having to go underground and her newspaper shut down or theaters showing PK being vandalized - with the WRONG ANSWER. People may not follow your guidelines on asking politely, but they will have no problem appropriating your words on the responsibility of those they want to silence to not anger them.

That is how FIRs get filed and threats made and you get invited to comment on a "wrong" done EVEN AFTER APOLOGIES AND THE VIDEO BEING PULLED DOWN. Way past the time for "Please, Sorry, Thank you". Your words end up endorsing intolerance by legitimizing people being offended and having the right to expect the creator to discontinue. You may accept that as your limit, but if others did, then Free Speech wouldn't be a rights issue, it would be a talk show where everyone shares opinions and goes home happy.

When a large voice like yours tells people that people speaking must be careful, and people who get offended can ask them to stop, a thousand voices like mine get raw throats trying to talk sanity on the issue and explain why it is not okay to shut people up just because you don't like what they say. "but even Aamir Khan agrees..." The louder the voice, the more power to heal or damage it has. I request you to be careful with where you lay blame.

Out of stray curiosity and as a side note, I want to ask you if you asked Karan and Arjun to not propagate the videos of the event further - like showing clips to people, like you saw, or putting on youtube - since that is the method you are recommending and you also say that you thought the show was offensive. If you did it, and they listened, perhaps this whole situation wouldn't have happened?

A blogger who cares for the Freedom of Expression.

Vidyut

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The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. ~ Anatole France

Rights, like laws are determined by the powerful to address problems they face or allow actions they prefer and apply "equally" to all. These also happen to be those unlikely to prevent them from acting as they wish.

We seem to have reached an era where we "harvest" the power of hard won rights to ensure unfettered freedoms for some, while the most dangerous instances of suppressed rights continue to go under the radar.

To me, Charlie Hebdo appeared to be among such instances before the attack. Its right to free speech was largely protected by both laws and culture. There was little question of it not being allowed to have its range of free speech and that speech (in my opinion) was squandered on making a point of being offensive in a juvenile manner. I had earlier promised to publish the offensive cartoons (without seeing them) - regardless of Indian laws on the matter as a statement against violent and extra-judicial suppression of free speech. However, after seeing them, I am forced to limit myself to writing, as I honestly couldn't find anything funny about a star coming out of an ass - for example. My five year old son probably would (he even thinks farts are hilarious and breaks out laughing every time he hears one), but he doesn't blog here yet. Regardless, there is no question that free speech includes the right to be offensive as well as juvenile.

On another level, I am reminded of two recent rape cases to hit media courts - but not courts of law till the state took suo moto action in one. Both cases saw women well versed with women's rights and procedures and law after rape make no attempt to comply with the law by promptly undergoing medical tests or filing police cases. Both these women were unhesitatingly supported by more women's rights activists, lawyers and journalists, and yet the only action taken was public leaks of accusations that resulted in media character assassination campaigns that protected the identity of the victim and unquestioningly published accusations as fact in the manner of press releases and left no room for the accused to even speak in their own favor.

What I find common to both instances is empowered entities having full knowledge of their rights and using them to maximum effect, exercising their freedoms with little responsibility beyond knowing own rights.

In a world where battered and bleeding women showing monumental courage walking into police stations to file rape charges get denied, in a world where states silence dissent or target communities on the basis of identity, to exercise rights in a manner that flaunts their potential to hurt innocents has a very predictable backlash that questions the necessity of the right to exist at all without limitations.

The more insults are heaped on religion for the sheer joy of insulting, the more are voices disturbed by indiscriminate hurt caused demanding a leash. The more women flaunt the unequal protections granted to protect the voiceless many women routinely denied justice, the more misogynists claim that women use the law to punish men and there are few cases of real justice. It also seems a bit farcical to me to claim massive trauma from a fleeting incident the victim did not attempt to avoid a repeat of, in a country where marital rape (often painful and repeated) is not just common but perfectly legal and the women continue to function, while living within easy reach of their rapists (who enjoy complete impunity) without any crippling trauma recognizable to outrage brigades. It is also a country where no particular effort is visible to insist on justice for cases that are not young professional women, low caste, outside cities (particularly Delhi) and so on. And cases are cherry picked to be sensitive to, with little uniformity of importance for cases across the spectrum the crime covers.

Similarly, we see targeting for race as wrong, so why is targeting for religion a right? Similarly, in France, why is banning of specific headgear only for Muslim women wrong, but ridiculing the religion right? It is hardly a secret that your free speech won't extend to pedophilia - even if the pedophile is staunchly against child rape and insists on consent. Who went and decided that children don't have the free speech to consent to sex? For that matter, why are violent rape porn or child rape porn CARTOONS illegal, when obviously no one got harmed in making them? Why is a person who praises the attack on Charlie Hebdo or defends it "supporting terrorism" as opposed to merely exercising free speech to express an opinion? Is it that there is someone sitting up there deciding what should offend us and what shouldn't? Is it that this "righteous offense" is determined unilaterally by some entity that is no more accepting of "free speech" than a religious person, but remains unquestioned? Will we some day see a cartoon ridiculing someone who demands a ban on child rape porn cartoons? Yes these examples are "offensive" - we are discussing a right to offend, right?

This is not to say that exercising rights is wrong. It cannot be wrong and must never be leashed. However, there appears to be disproportionate utility or access to rights that is troubling.

For example, another way the Charlie Hebdo attack reminded me of rape was the motive for the crime being "provocation".

There is a perpetual conservative response that blames the victim and recommends not offending. In effect, creating a right to be offended. On the other hand, the offense being social, the mere upholding of rights does little to prevent unjust and illegal retaliation. Those at risk must strike their own balance between continuing to enjoy their rightful freedoms and exercising caution. Regardless of who is at fault, it is the life of the victim that ends up devastated or lost altogether. There is bravery in bold stands, but there is nothing wrong with installing a phone app that allows you to instantly broadcast an SOS - for example.

Less discussed is the willingness to risk the safety of another. Just because a woman should have the right to travel in the city alone at all hours (and you would do it as a ringing statement of your freedom), would you ask a woman employee or relative to travel alone at night in .... Delhi - for example? I suspect the day is not far that publishers of content that can trigger a violent backlash will consider the potential risk of the editorial stance to employees or others tasked to protecting their lives.

While even empowered women are long used to compromising freedoms for safety and finding ways to exercise rights when they really matter rather than making risk a way of life regardless of importance of goal; the question of free speech remains stuck on absolutes that depend on the world comprehending specific ideals and respecting them. This is not a criticism of any choice - they are all our right and our safety is our right regardless.

There is also a need to include more voices on what we agree on as rights. While I believe that free speech and particularly the right to challenge entrenched bastions of authority (including government and religion) must be sacrosanct, my belief in democracy also forces me to accept that like any other participant in a democracy, I have no special right to have my specific preferences met and those contradicting it, overruled. I would rather prefer to dig in my heels on those saving lives and rights. I also believe it is more important that free speech or women's rights (or indeed any other rights - women's rights is just an example) not be trivialized in a manner that shakes popular support to crucial, life and death need. In my eyes, the need to prevent the suppression of expression of religious belief through attire trumps the need to allow juvenile, racist crudery that effectively deems large swathes of humanity as inferior. In my eyes, it is more important that Saudi Arabia flogging a blogger be fought - with international pressure, if need be; than the right to stereotype and demean people.

I don't dispute that these are rights and can and will be exerted in a whole range of ways that will be as diverse as there are people. What I am suggesting is that uniformity and equality demands that we understand the variations in urgency and ensure basic rights and freedoms more equally before allowing free rein to a few disproportionate voices. Perhaps there is also a question of why some kinds of radicalization is unacceptable while other kinds of radicalization are free speech. After all, having a near cult following for juvenile insults to all sorts of diverse cultures cannot be all that different from seeing your religion as the only true one and discriminating against others. Except that the "holy book" of the "religion of offending as a means of creating enlightenment" is illustrated and easier to read.

That said, because Charlie Hebdo faced the attack, upholding its right to free speech now becomes paramount, as opposed to merely supporting the right to free speech of yet another kind of religious fundamentalism.

There is also a need for believers of all religions who do not support violence to not blame the actions that "provoked" the criticism by enacting the religion in a manner that brings it disrepute. What Islam (or Hinduism in India) "really" is becomes irrelevant if it manifests as a danger to others. Religious people need to recognize that it isn't their humanitarian description getting insulted and avoid providing smokescreens to criminals by making it about themselves. Violent fanatics conducting cold, premeditated murders while yelling "Allah hu Akbar" or "Jai Shri Ram" are not a figment of the imagination of someone who likes to harass peaceful people. It is time to accept that there are people who enact your religion in ugly ways without your permission and either be okay with it or join the criticism of your own religion for not being enacted in a manner compatible with what you believe it "really" is. Jumping into the fray as victims without interpretation you endorse being criticized only implies that you will allow crimes in the name of your religion and are defending them. This helps no one. Least of all your religion.

What happened at the Charlie Hebdo premises was ugly, tragic and unwarranted - plain wrong. It was a crime and this article makes no attempt to justify it. The intent is only to dig in deeper to a level where we are able to find dialogue that goes beyond camps of "people like us" with "preferences like ours" to uphold. If it manages to engage people into deeper dialogue on what comprises free speech and attempts to find agreement across a wider range of humanity, perhaps over time we may find ways to strengthen and deepen the manifestation of rights - beyond merely being accepted as ideals - to a point where all are strengthened and conversations fuel enlightenment rather than provocation or outrage.

6

A leaked copy of an agreement where Penguin India undertakes to recall and destroy all copies of the book "The Hindus: An Alternative History" has taken Twitter by storm. Unsurprisingly, it is the Hindutvawadis with their rigid insistence on controlling the correct interpretation of Hinduism who have been the challenge. A case filed by Dina Nath Batra, convenor of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti makes all kinds of important or bizarre (depending on your perspective) observations.

To me, this was mostly a good opportunity to run riot with my favorite accusation, now also a pun. "The Hindutvawadis are destroying The Hindus" and variations thereof.

Perhaps I don't take the matter with the gravity it deserves. Or perhaps there is a knee jerk intellectual tendency to park on the opposite side of the Hindutvawadis (which is a pretty solid default to have, most of the time), but I don't see this as a matter of censorship. It is simply a configuration of prevailing circumstances ranging from the laws to orthodox mindsets, and frankly, India has worse problems.

I don't believe in absolute free speech. It is a myth. What any place has is an agreement that draws a line demarcating where you swing your hand and where I have my nose, so to say. Some places have the line pushed so far to one side that it doesn't exist. These would be lawless places, and the free speech probably wouldn't get compensated by the other risks in terms of quality of life. Other places have a heavy set of rules on what can be said and what cannot. Most places lie somewhere in the middle. For instance, leaking out secret passwords or other information won't count as your right to free speech (unless it is your information). While the line should never be drawn in a place where it ends up putting collective preferences over an individual's autonomy, such a utopia does not exist and whether we "see" the "unfairness" or not is largely about whether people like us are bothered by it.

freedom of speech quote
May Freedom of Speech be always in the streets and on the net

 

So while I wouldn't be offended by such a book, being an atheist, I wouldn't be offended by any book reinterpreting religion. I don't do religion. I dare say I'd be offended by a book promoting fascist thoughts being sold openly. I bet the RSS wouldn't mind. And it is complex. Not many free speechers for example protested for banned extremist sites to be unbanned. I most certainly didn't, and I'd oppose them being unbanned. My reasoning would be that it promotes results in real life that will harm people. The case against the book took a similar and opposite stand, that it would attack the Hindu identity by distorting it into something people don't recognize.

And this can be argued till the end of time. Right wing intolerant thoughts are unbalanced, one sided and primitive. I have no hesitation accepting this is my opinion. At the same time, primitive or not, they are a large part of the country and in a democracy have the right to influence that "line" of what is allowed and what isn't as per their wish as well. I don't have to like it, and I don't like it. But I have to suck it up and accept that our laws are what they are, and we have created them as a country.

In my view, if orthodox Hindus with "injured" feelings have been fighting a four year case in courts without killing, injuring somone or burning their belongings, or at least a car or thrashing a few people or calling the author a slut, etc, it actually counts as a welcome change in India. To those who cannot fathom it, Indian right wing rules on the street rather than lose intellectual battles on paper. It is fascist, yes. I am not defending it. Only describing what is normal. Countless incidences of vandalism, riots, aron  and more stand witness that the Hindu right in India has to really mellow down to fight a case by the rules alone.

And Penguin did not have to agree with them. The public seems to be under some belief that Penguin is a humanitarian organization promoting their political goals of free speech (read resistance to right wing suppression of liberal thought). They are a publishing house with a business to run in an era when publishing is already fighting to survive. They cannot take over our job - that of creating laws condusive to free speech. If their book breaks laws, at the end of the day it will be cheaper to pulp it than fight a losing battle in court AND earn the ire of the political right as well (which the supposed vanguards of free speech won't support an inch beyond writing op-eds). Besides Penguin probably knows that the book got more publicity with this ban than without it.

People who wouldn't touch a book called "The Hindus" with a 10 foot pole out of sheer disinterest, will probably buy it out of rebellion or curiosity for accessing the forbidden. Sheer titillation. "If it got banned (for the public, this is as good as a ban), there must be something really scandalous in it. Which probably means I can claim to own it or have read it and tell others with great effect." Penguin is an old player. Penguin knows this. Cold blooded? No more than any other business playing with the cards they have been dealt.

The way I look at it, if we want people not bowing down to laws we find unfair, then it is our job to change unfair laws as a country before expecting Penguin to take a lead in fighting religious intolerance in this instance because it is them directly targeted. And we can try to change laws, but we will fail. Because we are a minority occupying our own corner in the media, while the media getting mass consumed is still showing three shocked reaction shots per slightest lack of respect to Gods, which in turn is possible by people clearly marked as "villain".

It is time for the assorted seculars, liberals, free speechers to realize that the country does not seek them out in their armchairs and update their opinions based on what they say. Most of India doesn't even know the names of the newspapers where these lofty thoughts reside. They will need to come across thoughts that show them why one way of thinking is better than another, and we have done a pathetic job of it so far. I am not leaving myself out of this accusation.

I am just sucking it up and realizing that my "The Hindutwadis wrecked The Hindus" metaphors will have to wait, because in this instance The Hindus got screwed by the creators, because the Hindus failed to evolve thoughts of the Hindus as a whole. Which probably is another metaphor.