Issues

Freedom of speech in a Democracy

If the allegation of being a seditionist is levied against Arundhati Roy, a well known writer and social activist, then a few questions would obviously emerge. Where is the freedom of speech in our country? Freedom of speech and expression is an integral part of a democratic polity. If someone is not allowed to express his or her idea or thought because it contradicts the policy of the state; this is against the very norm of democracy. If the government machinery wants the people to speak in a certain manner and in a certain language and vocabulary then it can hardly be called a democratic state. If in the name of statehood and its integrity, the people’s freedom of speech is curtailed it is a sham of a democracy. We gave shelter to Taslima Nasreen in the name of freedom of expression and liberal human values, when she got exiled from her own country Bangladesh. But what a contradiction, that for availing the same freedom of speech we level the charge of sedition against Arundhati Roy. Since everybody has a freedom and choice to agree or disagree; hence, every body has a choice to express his or her mind. Why is there so much super sensitivity about Kashmir being an integral part of India, and insensitivity about the people of Kashmir - the men, women and children? The stony eyes of the innocent Kashmiris (children, young boys, men and women) killed knowingly and deliberately at the hands of security forces which are there to stay and kill. Why don’t we apply a human perspective to the issue of Kashmir?

In the past, we have shown to the world that we are the advocates of human freedom by giving overwhelming support to the Bangladesh war of liberation.

There so much of dissonance to the Valley’s outcry to ‘Azadi’, because Kashmir is an integral part of India. Have we ever thought about those curfewed nights and days during which the civilian population of the Valley had to survive? Is there any other state in our country which is an integral part and at the same time deprived of the freedom to live as a free citizen of the country? The Kashmir people have been deprived of their freedom to live a normal life. From among the Kashmiris, who speak about their own freedom, they are being labeled as separatists. And those who are non Kashmiris but voice their agonies and take up their cause, are treated as seditionist and disloyal to the country. Again the interlocutors have to please the entire populace of the country while giving a suggestion in order to solve the present crisis. Why are we not able to apply a human perspective to the problem of Kashmir and keep it above all other perspectives

Recently, and not very long ago syllabus on Shiv Sena’s demand, Rohinton Mistry’s book ‘Such a Long Journey’ which was a part of Mumbai University syllabus has been excluded, and that also without following a proper procedure. This is not the first instance, we all know that earlier also Shiv Sena made so much of hue and cry on the paintings of M. F. Hussain, the renowned artist and painter. The situation stooped to such a low level that the artist got life threatening messages from the Shiv Sainiks and ultimately M. F. Hussain had to take shelter in some other country for saving his own life. Surprisingly and shockingly, a party which thrives and survives on religious, cultural, social and emotional divide, dictates the governance of the country. If the government, which is responsible for the protection of life and property of each and every citizen of the country irrespective of caste, creed, gender and religion, and gets handicapped by such divisive forces, what will be the future of India?

The Valley’s outcry for ‘Azadi’ has been echoed by Arundhati Roy in her speeches. Arundhati Roy is a writer cum social activist. If she is voicing the agony and sentiments of the Kashmir people, how can it be interpreted as an un-patriotic statement verging on to an act of sedition? This is an undeniable fact that Valley people have been tortured, raped, killed by the security forces on lame excuses. The human right groups have already brought to light the disappearances of the young Kashmir men, molestation and rape of the Kashmir women, and now the killing of children and teenage boys on the allegation of stone throwing.

If the government is so insensitive and the rest of Indians are so indifferent towards the Valley people, who will speak on their behalf? If, we are guided by the idea: come what may, Kashmir is an integral part of India, how we are going to save this state? Innocent boys right from the age of five to twenty-five to thirty and so on have to be shot for their stone-pelting mercilessly, callously. If Kashmir is an integral part of India, why the stones are answered with bullets? If the Kashmiris are the citizens of India is it justified that the Army should have supremacy here? Are we a democratic country or an oligarchy or a totalitarian state? The time has come for us to introspect.

Dr. Anjum is Reader & Head of the Department of English, Gautam Buddha Mahilla College, Gaya

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2010 on page no. 2

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