By Jaya Jaitly
Ever since two ugly incidents took place involving violent attacks by narrow-minded fringe elements and rash lumpen groups, a set of writers, academics, film makers and scientists, some known, some not so much, have returned to this government a gift that was not given by it. They are protesting the lack of free speech and liberal thought in this country. Every one of us wants to be counted as fighters for free speech and liberal thinking. Some just want to be noticed again since their 15 minutes of fame were long over. They are entitled to have a shot at that too. After all, why should anyone’s good words and deeds be forgotten? It’s a free country, so they are entitled to say and do as they wish. And they are:
That's the funny thing. They are freely saying this is not a free country, and the free media is freely spreading their words. Social media is freely commenting, for and against their actions. Right now it seems that those who are accusing this government of being fascist and communal are shouting on every television panel and at every press conference, while those who are opposing this premise or disproving or contradicting it through their words and speeches are muzzled by the free media and liberals instead. Funny liberalism that doesn’t allow for an opposing view or condemns it just because it is not their view. In any case, if someone cared to halt the returning gestures for a moment and listen, who is disagreeing with them?
Speech is free but to make an impact, speech must be credible too. Take small time film-maker and Congress drawing-room lackey Ramesh Sharma who has grandly announced that the situation now is worse than the Emergency. Others have echoed this sentiment elsewhere. Have any of them as English speaking citizens cared to read veteran journalist Coomi Kapoor’s book on the subject or reports of police treatment meted out to opponents during the Emergency? Were they too young or too uneducated or too blind to know what happened to India and its free-thinking people for 18 months? Ramesh Sharma and his ilk have done great disservice to the cause of free speech and democracy by trotting out such a laughable comparison. And socialite writer Shobhaa De gets into a vicious argument with actor Anupam Kher when he has an opposing view, with the audience being allowed to boo him at a Literary Festival for so-called genteel liberal people in Mumbai (loaded, by the way, with those of one common political view)?
National awards of any kind, including those in the Padma category, are given by the government of the day. After MGR, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Teesta Setalvad et al have received one or the other Padma or Ratna, who can claim with a straight face that they are apolitical in nature? Most awards come after hectic lobbying, sycophantic massaging or backroom begging. If the present award returners claim the awards are not in some way influenced by political ideologies or preferences, and that they stood unsullied and unaligned while receiving them, then why blame the Sahitya Akademi now unless they believe it is indeed a political body. It has not changed its constitution, rules, systems or procedures recently, and has certainly never been imbued with the authority to lock fringe elements in jail. If any such body holds an emergency meeting on any subject, it would be condemned for hasty action while stealthily burning the midnight oil. If it issues notice as per the rules to convene a meeting and issues a perfectly acceptable statement, it is accused of acting too slowly. When some stupid morality vigilantes wanted girls not to frequent bars in Karnataka, the liberals caught BS Yediyurappa by the throat when he was the Chief Minister. When a rationalist is murdered in the same state, the present CM Siddaramaiah is not rendered sleepless by liberalists.
We presume that like Medecins Sans Frontiers, intellectuals too claim to be non-aligned, unbiased, humanitarian and fair and do not stop at politically defined borders to issue their edicts or return their awards for freedom or other rights abuses. A Nobel Prize winner like Orhan Pamuk of Turkey has not thought of returning his literary prize to the august body in Oslo just because his country’s President Erdogan is against free speech and many other democratic credos. Apart from bloggers, now publishers are also being murdered brutally for their supposed atheist beliefs in Bangladesh. Our own Bangladesh writer-in-exile Taslima Nasreen would be slaughtered if she were to return to her country. It is the "illiberal" government which is giving her refuge while a 'secularist'- liberal like Mamata Banerji does not allow her into Bengal. Taslima had the courage to publicly ask whether our award returnees were anti-Hindu. Did any bold intellectual dare to answer her? Where are the international border-less voices of our liberals? If they made a noise against ISIS Sunnis killing Shias just because their Prophet seems to have said so somewhere, Boko Haram selling little girls to slavery to oppose Western values, and even a teacher’s hands getting chopped off in Kerala by religious opponents, or slaughter of RSS workers by CPM cadres in Kannur, their sincerity would have rung true. Is it too much to ask that these intellectuals, liberals, and free speech supporters display credibility to be respected and appreciated?
A true liberal would say Hinduism is a tolerant philosophy but its rituals and imposed practices are not. The same liberal would also have the courage to say many practitioners of today's Islam are intolerant of freedom for their women and other faiths. Unfortunately, Indian liberals shy away from a coherent and holistic application of their intellect. Instead, they have fallen into the trap first opened by the non-intellectual Rahul Gandhi who told the Americans that Hindu terror was worse than Muslim terror. This is music to the ears of the ISI and ISIS. This crowd of English-speaking, awarded intellectuals have saved them the job of translating local languages for the international press to defame India. However, to speak in favour of these honourable men and women, it is true that writers, scholars and scientists tend to create their own worlds, their own beautiful spaces, ideas and thoughts, as indeed they must. However, they are often far removed from the ugly political nature of international skulduggery, rumour-mongering, political games and incitements that motivate a herd mentality, and much else that inhabits the world. As true intellectuals, they have lost their ability to analyse and reflect upon such realities and offer reasoned debate in response.