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'There is no such thing as hate speech':The Left, Right, Centre & all that is wrong with India

Neeraj Thakur | Updated on: 16 September 2017, 17:45 IST

Imagine a society that allows everyone to say anything about anyone. No holds barred views about gods, leaders, priests, imams and communities. Would it lead to a utopia or dystopia?

The Orientals love their traditions – dowry, child marriage, and blasphemy are the practices that are cherished by millions in the subcontinent even today. Nobody is supposed to speak against the prevalent culture. Being politically correct is considered a virtue.

But here is a book that makes a vehement case for absolute freedom of expression. A pre-condition for the emancipation of humankind.

Plotted in the context of the Indian democracy, the author of There is no such thing as hate speech, Ravi Shanker Kapoor, demands freedom of speech and expression, in its purest form as the basic right of an individual.

“Mine is an extreme position,” Kapoor says, quoting American conservative Barry Goldwater, who said – “extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice. A moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”.

Harm Principle

For Kapoor, the only limit on an individual's expression should be based on the 'Harm Principle' – defined by English philosopher John Stuart Mill.

In the course of the book, the author has also written about the confusion that surrounds the Harm Principle, which often allows the critics to call its premise to be contradictory.

“An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed out among the same mob in the form of a placard.”

Kapoor is a votary of private property and hates socialism, alongside fascism, to the core, but believes in the right of a socialist to disseminate his views to the masses.

“A socialist is not only entitled to his view that private property is theft but also free to express it. He, however, crosses the line only when he convinces, coaxes or instigates his followers to such an extent that they immediately carry out violent activities against propertied persons or property,” argues Kapoor.

Built on polemics, the book is a delight in prose with classic quotes from Western philosophers, who ignited the spirit of enlightenment in the dark ages of the Christian world.

As India stands today – bathing in revivalist sentiment under a right-wing government of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) – a praise for the Western philosophy would immediately evoke allegations of promoting Macaulayism.

But here, too, Kapoor takes an extreme stand in the most daring fashion; he vindicates Thomas Babington Macaulay who is hated by Indian nationalists for his diatribe against Indian culture, history and education system.

And not just this, Kapoor destroys the halo built around the nationalist figures like Swami Vivekananda and Subhash Chandra Bose. Vivekananda's dichotomy between Indian Spiritualism and Western materialism does not impress the author.

For Bose, Kapoor writes – “He was the worst tyrant we never had (though most Indians adore this admirer of Hitler and Mussolini, and think that his untimely death was one of the most tragic events for the nation in the 20th Century). In Bose, the pathology of nationalism reached its zenith and almost touched Fascism and Nazism. His blind rabid nationalism made him the greatest.”

No holy cows

In the 21st century India, liberals are addressed as 'libtards' in the parlance of right-wing nationalists. Extolling Western liberalism is labelled as a disease for the county. Such ideals are attached with the Nehruvian India and any praise for it is seen as sycophancy towards the Nehru dynasty.

But, Kapoor, an author of three other political books, spares neither Nehru nor Gandhi.

Nehru's government gets the badge of being the original sinner for using the first amendment to the Constitution to render Indians only 'partially free'.

“The reasonable restrictions' appended to the right to freedom of speech and expression in Article 19(a) empowered the state to curb this fundamental right whenever it wished to,” argues the author.

This original sin, committed by the Nehru government, opened a can of worms for the liberty of an individual in India and has been used over the years against artists, actors, filmmakers as well as common citizens who dared express their views against powerful authorities in the country.

From this sin originated thousands of shackles that chain the individual to appease the groups of tetchy, cantankerous and grumpy people.

Right, Left & Centre

Politicians belonging to the Right, the Left as well as the Centrist ideologies come together to strangulate the individual.

To appease this group of thugs (the likes of the Shiv Sainiks and the Bajrang Dal), authors like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen are subjected to physical threats in broad daylight. Shiv Sainiks and Bajrang Dal supporters are allowed to harass young couples on the eve of Valentine's day. Movies are banned, song lyrics are changed, all in the name of reasonable restriction on freedom of expression; to ensure no sentiments belonging to dark ages are hurt. 

Digital chains

It was the so-called liberal UPA government that introduced section 66(a) of the Information Technology Act in 2009 to control the excessive criticism of Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul on social media.

But, the Bharatiya Janta Party-led NDA government in 2015 fought tooth and nail to defend this clause that was being used to harass anyone who dared express his opinion against the authorities on social media.

The narrative in the book is built with sharp comparisons between India and the West in safeguarding the freedom (of expression and holding property) of their citizens. The West's success, the author posits, is a result of their defense of the individual right to decide his own course in life.

This is why, the writer believes, no Indian has ever won a Nobel in science post-Independence. He quotes Professor Judea Pearl – an American computer scientist and Philosopher –

“You cannot truly search for the truth unless you are free to rebel against the detractors of truth: conventional wisdom, peer pressure, sacred cows, wishful thinking, revered authority and hidden agenda, in short, free to perceive yourself as an agent, in control of your destiny, not and object, at the mercy of destiny.”

Every chapter in the book reveals at least one such quote or example that can give goosebumps to a champion of individual freedom.

West liberalism faced its biggest threat when Islamic Jihadists killed over a dozen journalists of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015 to avenge a caricature drawn of Prophet Muhammad.

But instead of giving in to the violence of the enemies of liberalism, the whole West marched together, hand-in-hand, with slogan Je Suis Charlie (French for I am Charlie).

This spirit of the West, the authors argue, is the essence of Western liberalism.

“While Orientals tolerate (read Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen and MF Hussain) the gradual erosion of the freedom of expression, Westerners make it clear that liberty is not negotiable. This makes the West superior to the East.”

In today's times, there is no such thing as hate speech pours fresh life in the dying narrative of liberal ideals. It does it with impeccable corollary, pointing to the historical mistakes and suggesting the path to a future without chains.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 16 September 2017, 17:28 IST
Neeraj Thakur @neerajthakur2

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