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TOI EDIT-Selective Outrage Recognise the threats to free speech. Rise above politics to defend it

May 16, 2019 06:49 AM


Selective Outrage
Recognise the threats to free speech. Rise above politics to defend it
Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s stirring defence of free speech in the aftermath of Priyanka Sharma’s arrest was an important intervention from a top functionary in the government and ruling party. Jaitley rightly called out “left liberals” on the youth leader’s arrest, asking whether they have gone into hiding. He also tweeted that “humour, wit, sarcasm survive in a free society”. The safeguarding of free speech demands unity irrespective of ideological colours and the fight against the Emergency, in which Jaitley himself was incarcerated, serves as a glorious precedent.

A similar bipartisanship is again expected from contemporary politicians and the likes of Jaitley can remedy the polarisation in society by calling out the selective outraging by both left liberals and the Hindutva firmament. For instance, Tamil actor Kamal Haasan is facing threats and cases from the Hindutva brigade for his dubbing of Nathuram Godse as Independent India’s first terrorist. While associating religion with terror has become trite and tedious, there can be no questioning Haasan’s right to hold and express such an opinion. After all, Hindutva ideologues also constantly associate religion with terror.

Nevertheless AIADMK minister KT Rajendra Balaji, whose party is in alliance with BJP, has threatened to cut off Haasan’s tongue and cases were filed in Delhi and Tamil Nadu against the actor. In the legal route to curbing free speech, the process becomes the punishment – as in Sharma’s case – subjecting individuals to police harassment and court hearings. The threats of physical harm, on the other hand, represent blatant disregard for laws and human rights. BJP, as India’s dominant party, must caution its NDA partner, Sangh Parivar affiliates and its own members against intolerance of dissent. Such actions would, in turn, have a salutary effect on other sociopolitical forces and produce a climate conducive for free speech and vigorous exchange of thoughts and ideas

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