No country for free speech: Statesman editor & publisher arrested, granted bail

Thursday, February 12, 2009, 8:44
This news item was posted in India, Indian States, Rights category and has 1 Comment so far.

Offend any religion at your own peril

The editor and publisher of The Statesman were arrested by West Bengal Police for allegedly hurting the religious feelings of Muslims.

The two were arrested from their residences after Muslim groups protested in the streets against an article The Statesman had reprinted from the Independent titled “Why Should I respect These Oppressive Religions” by Johann Hari, a veteran journalist.

The Independent writes about the controversy:

On two separate occasions Mr Kumar, The Statesman’s editor, issued statements standing by his decision to publish the article. But he also said he had not meant to cause offence to any religion. A note published on 8 February said The Statesman had reprinted Hari’s article because “it mourned the marginalisation of the middle, liberal path in modern society”. It added: “The Statesman has always upheld secular values and has a record of providing space to all viewpoints, even contentious ones. If we were unable to fulfil this role, we would rather cease publication with honour than compromise our basic values.

Bold and courageous words. Follow up and actually do it again, and probably you will spend a lot of time behind bars, my fellow Indian journalists.

There is no explicity guaranteed freedom of speech in India, and it has been very obvious to us. Considering that 90 % of the country would want freedom of speech to be curtailed so it does not offend the religious sensibilities of every community in India – Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jain – you are on a losing wicket.

Yes, you can try to push the envelope and try to tread that line where a lot of people are perennially pissed but never go ahead and file a case againat you. Tricky. We all make mis-steps and so will you.

There is a reason why this site – dancewithshadows – does not publish very many articles about religion. Any religion. Because if I do that, I am left with two options. Get thrashed by some group, or get thrown behind bars. And as this is a simple news and features site, and we do not make enough money to afford a lawyer to get me out, it is a losing battle which would just see me spending weeks or months taking a crap in a dirty crapper while my cell-mates watch.

In a way, it is hilarious that the protests by Muslim groups in Kolkata actually prove the point Johann Hari made – that you can’t criticise religions now, and freedom to do so have been eroded.

India has the infamous Section 295A (maliciously insulting the religions or the religious belief of any class) of the Indian Penal Code, under which anyone can file a case. Several such cases have been filed across India, and many have been put behind bars. Usually everyone tends to lose interest in the case as soon as the malicious insulter is behind bars, and soon, he manages to be out on bail.

It has not helped that every community in India has a small group of dedicated offendees.

There were protests in India when we heard about the Prophet Mohammed cartoons published in Denmark. There are continuing protests against MF Hussain‘s paintings by Hindu groups, and they have a lot of support, at least online. Christians were offended about the Da Vinci Code and even the Catholic Church got involved.  An art exhibition in Vadodara, Gujarat, India was attacked, and the painter and the Dean got in trouble. Taslima Nasreen could not live peacefully in India after she had to leave Bangladesh for offending Muslims, and she had to leave India too (In this case, Gujarat suddenly became the beacon of freedom of expression). A joke book about Sikhs (sardar jokes have always been popular in India, and even Khuswant Singh got in trouble for publishing them in his columns) saw its publisher behind bars. Even Anil Ambani got into trouble, but he’s Anil Ambani, and he is safe. That’s what being an Ambani can do for you. Hell, wearing a certain kind of dress can offend some people.

If there is one thing most of India agrees on, it is that criticising a religion should get your ass kicked. It may be a physical ass-kicking, or a legal one – but it would get kicked with massive force for sure.

What is one to do if you want to criticise something in a religion, caste or community in India? Nothing. You can’t do it. There is no legal way to do it. It might be a very reasonable question about Lord Rama, or the actions of Prophet Mohammed, or about the birth of Jesus Christ. No chance. (Notice how polite and formal I have been there, with no describing anything? That’s what fear of jail can do to you.)

I wonder why no one tries to take it to its logical conclusion, though.

For example, Islam does not recognise Jesus as the son of God. So doesn’t every true believer of Islam continuously offend Christians? Christians do not recognise Prophet Mohammed as a prophet, so isn’t that absolutely offensive to all Muslims? And aren’t all monotheistic religions offensive to Hindus as they…. never mind, I am scared already.

The only community or class which cannot be offended, even if you really try, are the atheists. You can offend them all you want, and they would neither take you to jail, or would come beat you up. Courts would throw out any lawsuit they file against anyone offending their beliefs.

So let’s enjoy what little freedom of speech we have. Let us all gang up and offend the atheists. Or let us gang up and offend, ah, Zeus.

Everyone say it aloud, together.

Fuck you, Zeus!

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One Response to “No country for free speech: Statesman editor & publisher arrested, granted bail”

  1. Bhagwad said on Wednesday, February 25, 2009, 16:06

    Lovely article! Though come on, abusing atheists – the only people who are decent enough to accept criticism – is sort of like punishing the good guys no?