It was hilarious to hear a professor of Delhi University crying hoarse that the freedom of expression in India is under threat of extinction and Narendra Modi is turning the country into Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran. If it were so, likes of Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Lalu Yadav would not hurl verbal filth daily. Can you imagine anyone in similar political dispensations calling their head of the government Hitler, Mussolini or Tughlaq and getting away with it? Where else will you have the privilege of witnessing the gutter of foul language in full flow that one waded through recently in the Uttar Pradesh elections, all in the name of exercising freedom of expression?
Look at the audacity with which Bollywood protects its obscene sense of artistic freedom. The producers jump in arms if they are not permitted to release movies that expose sexual perversions prevalent in our society. The censor board chairman Pahlaj Nihalani, a relic of the old times when Bimal Roy and Satyajit Ray made movies, does not understand that these days, creative freedom constitutes showing explicit scenes, actors mouthing coarse abuses and playing audio pornography to drive a message. Naturally, when Nihalani disallows screening of Hindi movie Lipstick Under My Burkha, which shows older women fantasising about their sexual escapades, and Malayalam movie Ka Bodyscapes, which glorifies the subject of gay and homosexual relationship, he is attacked for stifling their artistic freedom. He should know that these liberated producers have neither the talent to portray social evils with sensitivity nor the craft to depict longing for love and pain of deprivation aesthetically. Their interest is in simply making money by satisfying baser instincts of depraved cine-goers.
One wonders why SFI and AISA, left-affiliated students and youths, and Islamic Students' Organisation have to protest against assault on their right to express freely. Don’t they exercise unfettered right to regularly raise slogans to break the country in bits and pieces which we assembled after enduring centuries of slavery and conflicts? Don’t they invite Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid, accused of anti-national activities, to justify Kashmiri separatism, organise protest marches demanding ‘azadi for Kashmir and Bastar’ and hang posters and write graffiti in JNU calling for solidarity with Kashmiris in their fight for liberation from the Union of India?
For Farooq Abdullah, the purpose of freedom of expression is to remain relevant in public life. The other day he claimed that Kashmiri militants were fighting for ‘freedom of their nation’, Kashmir belonged to Kashmiris and not to Indians and that ‘his nation’ did not fear the ‘Indian guns’. He also decreed that Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir was not India’s property. One wished he could say this about Balochistan while living in Pakistan. But he need not worry. The Indian Constitution guarantees him the right to speak rubbish! Chidambaram, the quintessential opportunist, uses his right to prove his usefulness to Sonia Gandhi with his latest pearl of wisdom that ‘Kashmir is nearly lost’ and Delhi has been using ‘oppressive methods’ against seven million Kashmiris. Can you imagine, this man was the Union home minister only a few years back, spearheading the offensive against Kashmiris and Naxalites?
Liberal zealots and leftists are, however, annoyingly discriminatory. You offer a contrarian view and they will promptly pounce on you for trampling their freedom of expression. The Army Chief cannot warn the protesters who shield terrorists in Kashmir. They are right, in a way. Actually, the Army Chief should learn from his Pakistani counterpart, who does not speak, but lets his Army inflict massive collateral damages while strafing terrorist hideouts. Similarly, Gurmehar Kaur, a Delhi University student, can exonerate Pakistan for unleashing terrorists in the Valley, but not Virender Sehwag, who credits his bat for helping him score triple centuries in a lighter vein. The SFI is fine with hearing Khalid’s secessionist views at a seminar in Ramjas College, but Shazia Ilmi of BJP cannot speak in Jamia Millia Islamia on Muslim women’s empowerment. But why grudge? The arrogance of exclusivity has always been the hallmark of Communists and hypocrites.
India’s soft belly is ideal for ‘azadi’ chanters, abusive politicians and artists with distorted sensibilities to strike at. As they exercise their freedom of expression, they need not fear social sanctions or legal scrutiny, nor bother if our institutions weaken, youths get sexually disoriented and the country is made to economically bleed, in the process. Fortunately, rightists have begun asserting and centrists have started questioning. Let’s see if they can bring sanity in what we shout for.
Former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing