Time For A Relook At Freedom Of Speech?

There is great euphoria in the country over the fantastic repeat victory of Sri Narendra Modi. In a few days, he will take oath – for the second time – as the Prime Minister of India. Naturally, supporters and well wishers are delighted. A section of the supporters have also expressed hope that a lot more work will be done in the second term on issues concerning the cultural and spiritual progress of Bharatiyas.

One area that would be fully deserving of a review, under the context of this great opportunity, is that of freedom of speech and expression. The political revival of Hindus may have already begun, and in fact, may have started to consolidate in this country. The cultural revival, though, is still in its infancy. The latter revival necessarily has to be based on the foundation of Education, which cannot sustain unless there is full freedom of speech and expression.

There are way too many roadblocks to free expression of thought in this country still. Myriad number of laws exist to pin you down on grounds such as fueling violence, causing religious disharmony, disturbing public order and so on. True – these restrictions may have succeeded in silencing many slanderers of our dharma. It may have ensured many many abusers of our rituals and practices do not speak out in the open. But it is equally true that the very same laws and restrictions have silenced many scholars on our side. A hundred trolls and abusers may have shut shop. But it is possible that one TrueIndology may be forced to cut himself off. The net loss is for us to weigh.

As I have argued earlier, the foundation of Hinduism is the premise that each individual imbibes and develops ‘dharma lakshanas’. A Hindu must believe in the concept of ‘dama’. He must bestow ‘kshama’ on others. He must remain without ‘krodha’. A Hindu must truly be comfortable with ‘asteya’. Control over indriyas must be second nature to a true Hindu.

It becomes self-evident that the development of the manas and atma – the mind and soul – cannot happen unless a Hindu exhibits the above lakshanas out of his own volition. And a person can be brought to such a state only through Education and practice – and not through imposition. A holy book of rules will, therefore, not work for us.

It is due to the above reasons only that our ancestors placed great emphasis on freedom of thought and expression. Our acharyas laid great emphasis on ‘satya’ being the focus and placed ‘vaada’ on a pedestal. They however did accord recognition to ‘vitanda’ although it paid no dividend in the quest for truth. It was a price to be paid for ‘vaada’ to prosper.

There exists many a path of ‘Bhakti’ in our culture. The word of the ‘charvaka’, still, was not blocked. A burden to be borne – a price to be paid.

That same spirit needs to be brought forth in the current situation when deciding the question of freedom of speech and expression. The first victims of restriction on expression are always scholars. Idiots and the trolls always find an alternate way to get through.

Yes, some speech may be incendiary. Some speech may be insulting. Some write ups may provoke violence. But once this ground is conceded, there is only a slippery slope. After all, there can be no tangible way to measure the hatred threshold of the supposed ‘victim’. It is never going to be possible to know, in advance, what will trigger violence in a person. So, laws restricting freedom of speech can only get tighter and tighter. And every exercise of these laws by the State will only shut the mouths of many genuine people. It is therefore harmful from every angle.

If ‘causing enmity’ or ‘provoking violence’, as subjective as they are, still count as crimes, then ‘potential for enacting violence’ ought to be an equally offensive situation. Can there be a law which can place ‘reasonable restrictions’ on such potentialities? Can a person be put behind bars because he is likely to read some book in the future and riot on the streets? It may sound a weird argument but in my honest opinion, restricting speech and expression due to potential for disturbance is equally weird.

What exact changes ought to be made and what liberties ought to be granted is, of course, a matter of discussion for the intellectual and political establishment of this country. But I sincerely hope this area receives attention and some positive changes are made.

A while ago, I had a discussion on the #Core agenda with the famous šŸ™‚ charvaka Kushal Mehra who asked if FoS wasn’t the most important requirement for achieving the rest. I would fully agree with his prioritization! Increased freedom of expression is a basic requirement for our cultural revival.

Hope we take some positive steps towards the same in the next five years.

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