16 February 2016

Free speech

Among the people of our country there is as much ignorance as there is confidence, and both are at dangerously high levels. We are seeing what we want to see and selecting facts to suit a predetermined narrative. I suppose a lot of us are wired this way to some extent, but sometimes we need to apply our mind. We don't even agree with our spouse and children all the time, but somehow we offer this exceptional unquestioned loyalty to some people and organizations. If we read history, it led to rise of the Nazis and to Indira Gandhi and her emergency.

Ambedkar warned us of idol worship in his last address to the constituent assembly, and it's uncanny how accurate and ahead of his time he was.

For example, people here are in hysteria over insult to the nation and anti national people. From tv to social media to letters to the editor in newspapers, people are near unanimous in the need to have restrictions on free speech. Anything offensive, either religious or against government institutions or even the country is enough to put the brakes on free speech.

They fail to understand that the law works based on the Constitution and it's principles, not based on majority view, or any body's view.  For example, the majority of people might want to to hang someone, but unless it's proved as per the procedure of law and the Constitution mandates it, it cannot happen. Slowly this is being eroded away, by using mass public opinion and outrage to achieve the desired ends.

Now let's come to free speech. This sedition law was used by the British to have supreme part over its subjects. The law is so colonial in mindset that almost every popular freedom fighter in our country suffered from it.

Please have a look at this illustration to understand. http://thewire.in/2016/02/16/an-illustrated-history-lesson-on-free-speech-in-india-21758/
It is quite amusing that one needs to distill things down to a cartoon, like a story in tinkle, in a desperate attempt to reach people. It's like the same thing written in a report is too difficult to read for people who spend considerable time on social media reading things which are strictly meant to not tickle the brain. After a tiring day's work, why bother with serious stuff? This I understand, and it only makes me wonder why a typical working day is so tiring in the first place.

Our country has been reduced to mindless zombies in the name of trained professionals who have little time to be aware of society, law, history... People even ask - why are students getting into politics... I want to ask them - Why should anyone get interested in politics? Its like some orwellian society here..  Unquestioned loyalty to the State, who will think for us and free us up to work hard and consume things so that the gdp can grow at a certain rate fixed by the state.

I'm really alarmed by the concoction of social assertion mixed with incredible ignorance. Like this whole pro kashmir separatist movement... People in kashmir have been saying this for decades, almost on a daily basis. People who have no idea about history or  the social and political reality of kashmir are passing judgements on nationalism and how Kashmiris should think and behave, and that comes comfortably under right to free speech, and rightly so. Whatever ones opinion is on kashmir, it's alright to ask for a separate state, and it's alright to ask otherwise, as long as it's done thru peaceful means. That's what the Constitution says.

That's the whole point- one can say anything as long as it's non violent. This is the basic principle of free speech. The Supreme Court has said that for some speech to be seditious, it has to incite violence (advocacy is fine, incitement is the crime) and there has to be proximate connection between the speech and violence, like a spark in a powder keg, as per the exact analogy used.

There is of course almost no talk on state atrocities in the name of nationalism. Like a critique of the army or the judiciary is beyond what is tolerable. Nevermind that it's legal to rape and torture and kill anyone the army pleases in certain parts of the country. You read that right - there is complete immunity for any form of violence inflicted by the army. It happens in a lot of places where it's illegal and the police and army are in violation of law, like in tribal areas of Chattisgarh, Jharkand... But imagine it's allowed by law... Meaning, I can get raped and tortured in Kashmir or certain northeast states, and if I go to the police or courts, they will ask me what is the crime you are talking about? I think people in the rest of the country don't get this. How does one expect the people subjected to this torture to feel love for the country? Would you feel affection for the army if they send electric shocks up your penis, pour petrol and Chilli powder up your anus? Does anyone talk about the fact that this was done to Afzal Guru and (countless others) long before the crime he was convicted for?

Are we allowed to feel sorry for him in the same way we feel sorry for the eight security guards and one gardener killed in the attack on parliament? Why is one violence by the army considered patriotic and the other called terrorism?

There are discrepancies in the investigation as observed by the Supreme Court, and one other sentenced to death was acquitted.... That would be SAR Geelani. When the trial was going on, it was debated that the real masterminds are still free and unknown.. The only thing we know is a name called Tariq. Of course these things happen when the police finish their investigation in two days and declare who they want to prosecute and go after them like rabid dogs... Torture, pissing on them, violence from fellow prisoners.. A custodial confession which was blasted by the Court.. The conviction and death sentence was based on circumstantial evidence, to satisfy the 'collective conscience of the nation' as per the words of the Supreme Court. A lot of people protested then.  Nevertheless, he was hanged. Now people are not allowed to even talk about him and the case? It's like there are good guys and bad guys, and the good can do no bad and the bad can do no good...  It's Iike the Ramayana or a Vijaykanth movie... I think the world is closer to the Mahabharata. There is good and evil coexisting in all of us, and we need to get out of this binary thought process.

Nobody is encouraging violence or terrorism or torture. But we need to understand and engage with people on peaceful terms when there is a chance for dialogue. It's OK if someone feels he must be hanged, and it's OK if someone says otherwise. The current government is engaging in talks with separatist groups in Nagaland. Another terrorist George Headley is now the Golden boy, whose words are taken as gospel truth and who has full immunity. Another political party who have exactly similar views on Afzal Guru is BJP's ally in J&K. The people who gunned down Indira Gandhi are celebrated as martyrs. The killers of Rajiv Gandhi are also celebrated by various political outfits. The right wing celebrates Godse, wanting to install status and release books in his praise. The point is all of this should be allowed. We condemn violence of all kinds and welcome peaceful opinion of any kind. That's what the Constitution states.

If we are in search of truth, unless we hear all arguments, how could we succeed? The majoritarian mob mentality killed people who once claimed that the earth was not flat. We must learn to listen or at least tolerate opinions no matter how offensive or opposite it is to our own. This is the only way we can seek truth.

Who gets to decide what is truth? Today it's one group in power, tomorrow it's another. How can truth be controlled by law? How can affection for the nation be enforced thru law and punishment? Are we in North Korea?

Tamil Nadu under Jayalalitha has filed hundreds of sedition charges against all kinds of opponents. People have used it consistently to stifle free speech. Including the Congress and all other political parties in power. Usually the excuse is that it's required to maintain law and order. It could cause public unrest, so the greater good is cited. Here the justification is nationalism, and people evoke Mother India.

The reason why the state is becoming fascist is much beyond this, but it's the first step - to control speech. It's the bedrock on which all other items are arranged. Like selective persecution of minorities and people with minority opinion. Like efforts to whip up emotional fire in the hearts of the majority, like in Muzaffarnagar. All of this is happening. I will reserve that discussion for another day.

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