How free is Freedom of Expression?
Freedom of expression comes with our democratic rights. We appreciate what we like and criticize what we disapprove of. In the same way, artists, writers, actors and the like express themselves and their thoughts in their work be it by paintings, books or acting. There are several other mediums of expression that we make use of as individuals in a free independent country, giving each other space and making use of our democratic rights too. But pray, when does this act of artistic freedom become an infringement on the sensibilities of certain sections of society? Why does it become so? If expressing one’s freedom of speech or artistic expression becomes a provocation for violence and disharmony should the person expressing himself/herself be treated like a terrorist and be shunted out unceremoniously? Does expression of speech come with its share of responsibility?
Live and Let Live
We heard of reports in all kinds of media of the reputed artist, M F Husain’s decision to give up Indian citizenship and take up citizenship in Qatar. This because he and his work were not guaranteed freedom of expression as is evident in all the events from the time his controversial painting of the nude goddess took place. His paintings were destroyed, his house vandalized and cases piled up against him for disrupting harmony in the country, causing insult to another religion and inciting violence among the people.
In the same manner, Salman Rushdie’s books were banned and a fatwa put on him that turned him into a complete recluse trying to save himself from the people trying to kill him.
There are innumerable other people who have suffered, have been traumatized and are still suffering for expressing their deserving right of freedom of expression. So, where did they go wrong for producing so much hatred and dislike for them and their works? Is it only a section of the society that is getting extra sensitive by this freedom of expression or are there other sections of society too that are genuinely affected by ‘irresponsible’ freedom of expression.
Those disturbed by the acts of these artists, writers, actors, etc state that since what these people do or say is liable to influence others because of the wide reach of the work, their actions must be judged critically. They also say that no freedom comes without responsibility.
Creative people, they state, have a social and moral responsibility towards their work and should be held responsible for their work which means that they should not say or do anything in speech, action or work that could fan the embers of violence in a country which is home to so many diverse religions.
But what about the attempts to strangulate the voices of those who are not even attempting to do or say anything wrong? And here, the fault lies in the voices that are trying to shut them up. Like the moral brigade that does not want Valentine’s Day, like some governments in India that want a total ban on western music, like those who want a movie to be banned and indulge in violence only because the actor spoke about something that they don’t agree with.
What about the blogger, Chyetanya Kunte who was forced to express an apology and take off his blog that criticized Barkha Dutt’s coverage and commentary of 26/11? What about the political parties that incite violence in the public on a regular basis by presenting wrong facts to them and then provoking them to indulge in violence? Why are they not held up then?
Today, more than ever, people have become aware (thanks to the internet) and are expressing themselves left, right and centre about issues that were earlier left to political parties and the like. People today want to participate in the social process and development of the country and so, express themselves in whatever forms they deem right. I am not saying that all are right. Some of them can be mighty destructive and scathing too in their manner of expression but they are only expressing their freedom of expression. Why deprive a person of his/her creative license only because it appears negative? In fact, a court hearing in Mumbai ruled sometime back that all religions in India can be criticized as it is the approved fundamental right to freedom of speech. Of course, the issue is not just about the criticism of religions. It is about being comfortable and being free to express one’s thoughts unmindful of a possibly dangerous consequence like a ban, attempt to murder, etc. Like someone said, “Assuming he is wrong, he has a right to be wrong.”
You tell me friends. Does freedom of speech and expression comes with a no holds card? Or does it require a certain degree of responsibility with it? Who has the right to judge how much is too much!
This post has been selected for this week’s Spicy Saturday Pick.