Every person, who believes in the right to freedom of expression, faces a classic dilemma. How does he support the FoE of those, who want to abolish, or distort, the very concept of FoE, at the very first instant they come to power?
This is a dilemma similar to the one faced by those who believe in democracy.
How do you deal with those elements who want to destroy democracy? For example, how to deal with Maoists, who do not believe in democracy and would rather have a ‘dictatorship of a single party’, of course camouflaged in the words and cliches like ‘the only true single people’s party’?
How does a non-violent person, say a Hindu Sadhu, deal with a violent enemy?
Urdu Poet Munawwar Rana has stirred a hornet’s nest by defending the terror acts in France in a circuitous way. He says he too would kill anyone who would draw a dirty cartoon of his parents. Really? So, how should Hindus have dealt with an M F Hussain? Or the makers of movie PK? Or anyone caught with ‘pratibandhit maans’?
This word ‘killing’ represents a particular mindset and it is very difficult to argue logically with such people who do not have the basic understanding of the difference between an act that is limited to ‘words’ and an act that will affect someone’s ‘life’, ‘body’ or ‘health’.
It is useless to try and argue with such people, because the lack of basic understanding of FoE incapacitates them to even be prepared for a logical discussion.
Freedom of expression is a western concept. However, it is a concept that is the hallmark of the progress of democracy in west. And it, basically, means ’the right to offend others with spoken and written words’.
Yes, you have a recourse against lies and defamation and you can sue someone in personal capacity or even as a class of people. However, the ‘right to offend others with words and opinion’ is basic.
In ancient India, the concept was even more refined. Here, it was not only a right to offend others, but also entailed a healthy respect for others’ point of view.
It accorded respect for others’ views as something that will enrich everyone’s world-view too. That is why India has not had a single instance of killing for blasphemy or someone being killed for views on anything. Not a single case throughout its known history of more than 5 thousand years.
Even a Charvaka, who spoke against Vedas, was turned into a Rishi by devout Hindus, as he had logical points to make and was brilliant in making his points.
His points were rejected by popular opinion as being impractical, adharmic and unsocial. However, no one thought of killing or disrespecting Charvaka. He still is a rishi in Hindu parlance.
It may not be possible to restore the ancient Hindu concept of freedom of free expression and free will. However, for our democracy, modelled after Western concept, to function properly, we do need FoE at least on Western lines.
And this concept does make it mandatory for the Indian state to allow even detractors of FoE to have their FoE.
Munawwar Rana is no model for an ideal citizen of a free, secular, socialist, republic. We may disagree with his ideas and patterings. However, we must allow him to have his say. He does have the right to ‘enjoy the fruits of FoE’, despite the fact that he would be the first person to take away everyone else’s right to FoE.
This is a classical dilemma that people with true liberal, democratic, progressive and ‘Hindu’ approach to social and personal life keep facing in an attempt to not look and behave like ‘them’.
And it seems that the dilemma of not behaving like a ‘fascist’ in dealing with a ‘fascist’ will continue to stalk the democratic world for a long time.