Swamy, Friends & Limits of Freedom of Expression

It is not a very easy task to decide as to where freedom of expression ends and Hate speech begins. A lot of perception about this depends on one’s convictions about the underlying ideologies which are being talked about. At another level how democratic space is subverted for anti democratic agenda is a serious issue. The challenge is to combat Hate ideologies and Hate Speech within the democratic system, to protect it from being subverted by sectarian ideologies in the name of democratic freedom.

These questions came to people’s mind once again when Subramanian Swamy, the President of little known Janata Party, wrote an article, ‘How to wipe out Islamic terrorism’ on 16th July, in a national newspaper, in the aftermath of Mumbai blasts of 13th July 2011. In his article Swamy argued that the acts of terror are by Islamic terrorist, i.e., Muslims and are directed against Hindus, to kill them in Halal fashion. This is the unfinished agenda of Islam to convert India into Darul Islam, a plot of global Islamic agenda. Swamy suggests that conversions to other religions (except Hinduism) should be banned, article 370 be abolished, temples be built at Ayodha and Varanasi and Muslims should be disenfranchised if they refuse their Hindu ancestry. This article of Swamy has generated a lot of reactions. While many have said that we don’t agree with you Dr. Swamy, the National Commission for Minorities has asked for criminal proceedings against Swamy for promoting hate amongst religious communities.

The students at Harvard University where Swamy teaches at summer courses had begun a campaign to terminate the services of Dr. Swamy for his offensive and dangerous views. This campaign against Swamy gathered some support but Harvard authorities decided to stick with Swamy on the grounds that a robust expression of ideas is necessary in the academic world. This came in as a surprise view from the authorities, as many a times academics with very hateful ideologies have been shown the door.

Dr. Swamy’s views are an amalgam of the views of RSS ideology of Hindutva as expressed by several of its ideologues, like Golwalkar, Sudarshan etc. As per the RSS ideology, India is a Hindu Rashtra and as Golwalkar pointed out Muslims have to be disenfranchised if they don’t subordinate to Hindu race. Similarly Sudarshan, another Sarsanghchalak of RSS had asked for scrapping of the Indian Constitution and substituting it with the Indian holy book, hinting that laws of Manusmirti need to be brought back. This Hindu Rashtra ideology provided the base for the demolition of Babri Masjid and the consequent anti Muslim violence in the last two decades.

 To make India a Hindu nation has been the political goal of RSS and its fellow travelers like Swamy. The other component of Swamy’s outpouring comes from the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis of Samuel Huntington, which says that the backward Islamic civilization is the major threat to Western democracies; and to the World as whole. This thesis also provided the pretext for the invasion by US of the Muslim countries of West Asia with massive oil reserves.

The language and tenor of Swamy is full of frightening prospects. It goes against two major documents. One is the ‘Constitution of India’, which bases itself on the concept of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and gives equal rights to all the citizens irrespective of their religion. It goes against Indian culture and syncretic traditions as symbolized by Saint Kabir and Nizamuddin Aulia, where average people mix with each and celebrate life irrespective of their religion. Swamy’s outpouring goes against the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and scores of other leaders and followers from all religions who participated in the freedom movement, cutting across all sects.

Swamy’s ideas also go against the United Nations’ charters and particularly the document, ‘Alliance of Civilizations’, which was produced by a high level committee with scholars from many countries. This document points out that the world has progressed because of the interaction of different civilizations. All civilizations have contributed immensely to the growth of the human race and its culture.

What Swamy is articulating is the blunt form of propaganda being indulged in by different wings of the Sangh Parivar, BJP, VHP. Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and Bajrang Dal etc. Same ideology is being propagated through the publications of the Sangh Parivar, the schools run by them, the books being used by it, the sections of the media. Similarly Clash of civilizations thesis is the mainstay of the United States’ media in particular and other World media in general.  This was exemplified recently when the terror attack in Norway was attributed to Al Qaeda, but as it turned out, the attack was carried out by one Christian Fundamentalist, a Norwegian.  At one level what Swamy is saying is just the forthright summation of both these, RSS ideology plus US propaganda put together. Such anti-Human ideas do promote and nurture hatred and are against the ethical and moral values of United Nations and Indian Constitution, both. So what does one do?

Just before Mumbai violence of 1992 Bal Thackeray in his mouth-piece Saamana exhorted Hindus to take up arms. Many a vigilant civic action groups took up the matter and wanted Thackeray to be punished for ‘hate speech’. Courts turned it down. The likes of Togadia are spewing hate with every outburst of theirs’. No action possible! Freedom of expression! Hitler had gone a step further, using the democratic space itself, he demonized Jews and other minorities to bring in a fascist state and unleash the holocaust, anti minority pogroms. Democratic system watched itself being subverted with helplessness. The question is: can democracy based on pluralism permit the very forces which are pitched against its core value of pluralism? Can Togadia’s and Swamy’s carry on their divisive agenda in the name of religion without any hindrance, without any checks from the system? This thin line between ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘hate speech’ needs to be delineated to ensure that we are able to enhance amity in the human race, nurture pluralism and diversity to ensure a better atmosphere, congenial for progress of human race and in particular the rights of weaker sections of society and to curb the ideas which promote divisiveness in the society.  (Issues in Secular Politics)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 September 2011 on page no. 13

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