Thursday, September 29, 2016

In favour of freedom of expression


 

(Dialogue, Vol. 18, No. 1, July-Sept. 2016 issue)
 

In the lifetime of the older ones among us, freedom of expression in India first became a hot item with the Salman Rushdie affair, when in 1988, his novel The Satanic Verses was banned. This was done by Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress government at the request of Muslim leader Syed Shahabuddin, in exchange for the latter’s calling off a Muslim march on Ayodhya (then a hotspot because of the temple/mosque controversy) expected to cause bloodshed.

For the younger generation, the main events were the withdrawal of A.K. Ramanujan’s essay 300 Ramayanas from Delhi University’s syllabus in 2011 under Hindu pressure; and Penguin Delhi publisher’s withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History in 2014, likewise under Hindu pressure.

Neither document was judicially banned, but the Hindu plaintiffs wielded an article of law as threatening argument, and this could not be ignored: Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. Why is this article there, and what role does it play in India’s public life?

 

Looking in from outside: the Doniger affair

In November 2014, at its annual conference, the American Academy of Religion (AAR) held a panel discussion on censorship in India under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, itself occasioned by the Penguin publisher’s withdrawal under Hindu pressure of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: an Alternative History. This translated into a section of the latest issue of the Journal of the AAR (JAAR) with four contributors and a response by Wendy Doniger. It addresses “the true source of the conflict, section 295A of the Indian Penal Code”. (Pennington 2016:323 )

 

This article 295A criminalizes “outraging the religious feelings of any class of Indian citizens”. Dina Nath Batra, former national director of the Hindu Nationalist organization Vidya Bharati, had entered a lawsuit against the publisher under Section 295A. The latter recognized that the case had a solid legal footing and decided to avoid defeat by settling out of court. He agreed to withdraw the book from circulation and pulp all remaining copies. Not that any book actually got pulped: before they could be physically withdrawn, “all extant copies were quickly bought up from the bookstores” (Doniger 2016:364) because of the sudden free publicity.

 

While many academics accused Penguin of cowardice, Wendy Doniger understood that they had acted under threat of the law, and empatically denounced Section 295A: “The true villain was the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than a civil offence to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.” (Doniger 2014, quoted by Pennington 2016:330)

 

This statement is entirely correct, except for one word. Doniger is being brazenly partisan and incorrect where she claims that the law prohibits every book that “offends any Hindu”. Formally, it does not discriminate and applies to all Indians regardless of religion. Historically, as we shall see, the law was enacted to prohibit books that offended Muslims, and to silence Hindus. Her insinuation that this law has a pro-Hindu bias, giving Hindus a privileged protection that it withholds from others, is simply false in both respects. It fits in with the common narrative that India is a crypto-“Hindu Rashtra” oppressing the minorities, when in fact the minorities are often privileged by law vis-à-vis the Hindus.

 

Likewise, in Pennington’s paraphrase (2016:329), Martha Nussbaum claims that in India, such defamation laws “are used primarily by majority groups to bludgeon minorities”. This is wildly untrue (though it is true in the other successor-state of British India, viz. Pakistan), as will become clear when we see how Section 295A came into being.

 

 

Reactions against book withdrawals and censorship

 

But first a word about the significant reactions to this famous case of book-burning. The recent changes in syllabi and the objections to books by pro-Hindu activists, both phenomena being summed up in the single name of Dina Nath Batra (who is also editor of some schoolbooks), have met with plenty of vocal reprimands and petitions in protest, signed by leading scholars in India and abroad.

Thus, at the European Conference for South Asia Studies in Zürich, July 2014, we were all given a petition to sign in support of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: an Alternative History against the publisher’s withdrawal under Batra’s judicial challenge. (Full disclosure: I signed, with heartfelt conviction.) The general opinion among educated people, widely expressed, was to condemn all attempts at book-banning. Unlike other petitions, this one did focus on the negative role of Section 295.

To be sure, most intellectuals’ indignation was selective. There have indeed been cases where they have failed to come out in defence of besieged authors. No such storms of protest were raised when Muslims or Christians had books banned, or even when they assaulted the writers. Thus, several such assaults happened on the authors and publisher of the Danish Mohammed cartoons of 2006, yet at its subsequent annual conference, the prestigious and agenda-setting AAR hosted a panel about the cartoons where every single participant supported the Muslim objections to the cartoons, though to different degrees, and none of them fully defended freedom of expression. (Another panel there was devoted to lambasting the jihadwatch.org website by Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, both targets of death threats and at least one effective but failed attempt on their lives, but not defended at the AAR panel by anyone.)

In their own internal functioning too, the AAR scholars and Indologists don’t put a premium on the freedom to express dissident opinions. Here I speak from experience, having been banned from several forums where Wendy Doniger and some of her prominent supporters were present and gave their tacit consent. (Elst 2012:350-385) The most high-profile target of this policy has probably been Rajiv Malhotra, a sharp critic of Indologist mores and anti-Hindu bias, some of whose experiences in this regard have been fully documented. (Malhotra 2016)

It is entirely reasonable for India-watchers, like for freedom-loving Indians, to deplore this law and the cases of book-banning it has justified; but less so for people who chose not to speak out on the occasion of earlier conspicuous incidents of book-banning. Where was Wendy Doniger when Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses was banned? At any rate, many Indian secularists, who mostly enjoy the support and sympathy of those American academics, upheld the ban, which was decreed by a self-declared secularist Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi) and ruling party (Congress). Where were they when demands were made to ban Ram Swarup’s Hindu View of Christanity and Islam, or when the Church had Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code banned?  

American Indologists including Wendy Doniger have always condoned religious discrimination on condition that Hindus are at the receiving end; they only protest when Hindus show initiative. And much as I deplore Dina Nath Batra’s initiative, it meant at least that Hindus were not taking Doniger’s insults lying down. Briefly: while everything pleads against this act of book-burning, the American India-watchers are not very entitled to their much-publicized indignation.

 

The point is that the intellectuals’ selective indignation shows very well where real authority lies. Threats of violence are, of course, highly respected by them. The day Hindus start assaulting writers they don’t like, you will see eminent historians turning silent about Hindu censorship, or even taking up its defence -- for that is what actually happens in the case of Islamic threats and censorship. Even more pervasive is the effect of threats to their careers. You will be in trouble if you utter any “Islamophobic” criticism of Islamic censorship, but you will earn praise if you challenge even proper judicial action against any anti-Hindu publications. This, then, safely predicts the differential behaviour of most intellectuals vis-à-vis free speech.

 

 

The Doniger affair: what is in it for the Hindus?

 

For the Hindus, the book withdrawal was a Pyrrhic victory. The publicity they gained worldwide was entirely negative, and it corroborated their recently-manufactured image as authoritarian and intolerant. The decision was also ineffectual, for in the days of the internet, it remained easy to access a soft copy of the book. The Hindus concerned also kind of admitted that they were unable to fight back with arguments.

 

Yet, they did have the arguments. A list of the numerous factual errors in Doniger's book has been compiled by Vishal Agarwal, an Indo-American medical engineer and Sanskritist (2014, but already on-line since 2010). Most of all, he has shown how her book's treatment of Hinduism is unconscientious and flippant to a degree that would never be accepted from a professor of her rank (Mircea Eliade Professor at Chicago University, top of the world) for more established religions. In the reprint of her book through another publisher (Speaking Tiger, Delhi 2015), she didn’t deign to acknowledge this work nor to make any correction. 

 

This is a serious aspect of the case that Western academics and their Indian cheerleaders have strictly kept the lid on. On the contrary, Pennington (2016:330) claims that the book was lambasted “even when a scholar is demonstrating what is manifestly true based on her research”.

 

We can vaguely get an idea of Hindu opinion in India about Doniger’s book through the sparse comments by the Hindi-language press. S. Shankar in Dainik Jagran “charged Doniger with a familiar set of shortcomings: overlooking standard classical works, exoticizing the Hindu tradition, writing history in league with India’s Marxist historians, and relying largely on foreign rather than Indian scholarship”. (Pennington 2016:331) In Shankar’s own words, she shows a “negligent and arrogant mindset… born of colonial and racist thinking”. Vivek Gumaste at Rediff.com asserts that “this is not a pure battle for free speech”, but “a parochial ideological ambush masquerading as one” (Pennington 2016:331). He calls it “subtle authoritarianism” out to “suppress the Hindu viewpoint”. (quoted by Pennington 2016:331)

 

To an extent this is simply true, there is no level playing field, and the American academics including Wendy Doniger herself have done their best never to give the Hindus a fair hearing. On the other hand, this power equation is the Hindus' own doing. They have never invested in scholarship, and so they had to take umbrage behind a threatened judicial verdict now that they had the chance. Here, Hindus only pay the price for their self-proclaimed vanguard's non-performance during the last decades.

Building a scholarly challenge to the present academic consensus is a long-term project that admits of no shortcuts. By going to court and twisting Penguin's arm, Hindus think they have scored a clever victory, but in fact, they have only demeaned Hinduism. Prominent Hindus from the past would not be proud of Hinduism suppressing freedom of expression: great debaters
like Yajñavalkya, the Buddha, Badarayana, Shankara and Kumarila Bhatta.

Ancient Indian thought was never divided in box-type orthodoxies on the pattern of Christians vs. Muslims or Catholics vs. Protestants. This is only a Western projection, borrowed as somehow more prestigious by the Indian “secularists”, who impose this categorization on the Indian landscape of ideas. At any rate, the vibrant interaction of ancient India’s intellectual landscape, where free debate flourished, was nothing like the modern situation where Doniger’s own school has locked out the Hindu voice and the latter has reactively demonized her and thrown up hurdles against expressions of her viewpoint.

But the taste of victory had become so unusual for Hindus that even many people who should have known better, have cheered the book’s withdrawal. (see Elst 2015:74-87) It was not the best response, but at least it was a response. And of course, Art. 295A may be a bad thing, but as long as it is on the statute books, it should count for Hindus as much as for Muslims and Christians.


 

 

History of Section 295A

 

Section 295A was not instituted by Hindu society, but against it. It was imposed by the British on the Hindus in order to shield Islam from criticism. Thus, it is truthfully said on the digplanet.com/wiki website, consulted on 5 August 2016, under the entry Rangila Rasul (see below): “In 1927, under pressure from the Muslim community, the administration of the British Raj enacted Hate Speech Law Section 295(A)”.

The reason for its enactment was a string of murders of Arya Samaj leaders who polemicized against Islam. This started with the murder of Pandit Lekhram in 1897 by a Muslim because Lekhram had written a book criticizing Islam. A particularly well-publicized murder took place in December 1926, eliminating an important leader, Swami Shraddhananda, writer of Hindu Sangathan, Saviour of the Dying Race (1926), next to VD Savarkar’s Hindutva (1924) the principal ideological statement of Hindu Revivalism. (However, the trigger to the murder lay elsewhere, viz. the protection he gave to a family of converts from Islam to Hinduism.) Moreover, there was commotion at the time concerning a very provocative subject: Mohammed’s sex life, discussed by Mahashay Rajpal in his (ghost-written) book Rangila Rasul, more or less “Playboy Mohammed”, a response to a Muslim pamphlet disparaging Sita as a prostitute. Rajpal would be murdered in 1929.

Wendy Doniger and the four authors who wrote about the origin and meaning of Section 295A for the Journal of the AAR strictly keep the lid on this crucial fact. None of the contributors has let on that the trigger for this legislation was repeated unidirectional communal murder, viz. of Arya Samaj leaders by Muslims, nor that it was meant to appease the Muslim community. None of them so much as hints at this. Anantanand Rambachan (2016:367) even alleges that “the aggressive party was the Arya Samaj”. No, the Arya Samaj took the initiative of criticizing Islam, an attitude which psychologists might call “aggression” in a metaphorical sense. But aggression in the sense of inflicting violence on the other party was one-sidedly Muslim.

And even verbally, the Arya Samaj was not really the “aggressive” party. In Shraddhananda’s authoritative biography, not by a Hindu, we read that “some of his writings about the Muslims expressed harsh and provocative judgments. But (….) they were invariably written in response to writings or pronouncements of Muslims which either vehemently attacked Hinduism, the Arya Samaj, and the Swami himself, or which supported methods such as (…) the killing of apostates, and the use of devious and unfair means of propaganda.” He himself “never advocated unfair, underhand or violent methods”. (Jordens 1981: 174-175) 

C.S. Adcock (2016:341) comes closest to the truth by writing that “polemics continued to cause resentment and increasingly, it seemed, serious violence”. For an academic writer on the origins of Section 295A, it is bizarre that he has so little grasp of the basic data and doesn’t know the nature of the “seeming” violence. And even he falsely insinuates that this violence was symmetrical, avoids mentioning the deliberate murders (as opposed to emotional riots), and hides the Muslim identity of the culprits. When Hindus allege that Indology today is systematically anti-Hindu, they can cite this as an example.  

The British finally resolved to curb this form of unrest. While their justice system duly sentenced the murderers, they also decided to make an end to the religious polemics that had “provoked” them. After the Mutiny of 1857, Queen Victoria had solemnly committed the British administration to avoiding and weeding out insults to the native religions. However, the right to religious criticism had been taken for granted, on a par with the right of Western missionaries to criticize native religions in a bid to convince their adherents that they would be better off joining Christianity.

For example, in 1862, the magistrate sitting in jugdment upon a case against a reformist who had criticized the caste-conscious Vallabhacharya Vaishnava community, upheld this right: “It is the function and the duty of the press to intervene, honestly endeavouring by all the powers of argument, denunciation and ridicule, to change and purify the public opinion.” (quoted by Adcock 2016:345) He “upheld the importance of religious critique, and held public opinion in religious matters to be susceptible to reasoned argument.” (Adcock 2016:345)

In Britain, reasoned debates between worldviews flourished, for public opinion was held to be “susceptible to reasoned argument”. Initially, the colonial authorities treated Indians the same way. But this assessment was reversed by Section 295A, and quite deliberately.

This process had started a bit earlier, in a case against Arya Samaj preacher Dharm Bir in 1915. Ten Muslims were sentenced for rioting, but Dharm Bir was also charged and “a judge was brought in who could assure conviction”. (Adcock 2016:346) He was duly found guilty, then under section 298 for “using offensive phrases and gestures (…) with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings” of another community; and under Section 153, for “wantonly provoking the riot which subsequently occurred”. (Adcock 2016:345)  

As described by Adcock (2016:346), the British twisted the existing laws into prohibiting any religious polemic: “Because religion is ‘rooted in the sentiments’, the judge concluded, religion is likely to provoke a riot, and that is all it can do. Religious debate is pointless and therefore unjustifiable; the right publicly to controvert arguments therefore does not properly extend to religion. To enter into religious debate is nothing but a provocation, an act calculated to arouse hatred. Therefore, it is intolerable.”

Note that the British public would never have stood for such a reasoning. But what was unacceptable to them, and not even countenanced for the Indian subjects fifty years earlier, was imposed on the colonial underlings during the last phase of the British Raj. And has remained with us since.

The murder of Shraddhanada finally made the British rulers turn this attitude into law: “In 1927, section 295A was enacted to extend the ease with which ‘wounding religious feelings’ by verbal acts could be prosecuted.” (Adcock 2016:345) Apart from punishing the murderer, they sought to punish Shraddhanada as well, retro-actively and postumously.

 

 

Counterproductive

The British were not so much interested in justice, they merely wanted peace and quiet so the economy could flourish. The Arya Samaj was not doing anything that the Christian missionaries had not been doing (and are still doing today) to the populations they wanted to convert, viz. trying to convince them that their native religion was unwholesome and wrong. This implied saying negative things about that religion, or as the emotion-centric phrase now goes: “insulting” it.

But if the Arya Samaj’s words provoked unwanted Muslims deeds, they were part of the problem and had to be remedied. However, in spite of this intention to prevent riots, the new law did not end the recurring Muslim murders of Arya Samaj leaders until WW2 nor the concomitant riots, as discussed by Dr. Ambedkar (1940:156). It was the Partition that broke the Arya Samaj’s back, driving it from its power-centre in West Panjab with the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College in Lahore. After Independence, anti-Islamic polemics were blackened as “communal” by an increasingly powerful “secularism”, and thus abandoned. But Section 295A had little to do with this.

More fundamentally, this law put a premium on violence by making it the best proof that the statements prosecuted had indeed “provoked” violence. It “extended the strategic value of demonstrating that passions had been aroused that threatened the public peace, in order to induce the government to take legal action against one’s opponents. Section 295A thus gave a fillip to the politics of religious sentiment.” (Adcock 2016:345)

And so: “When coordinated acts of violence are justified as the inevitable result of hurt feelings, legal precautions against violent displays of religious passion may be said to have backfired.” (Adcock 2016:347) This present-day effect of Section 295A could easily convince the scholars to sign a petition against this undeniably despotic and un-secular laws. Still, it is odd that with their widespread anti-Hindu and pro-minority bias, they object to a law originally enacted to shield a minority from criticism and to punish Hindu words for Muslim murders.

Though originally and for a long time serving to shield Islam, Hindus gradually discovered that they too could use the religiously neutral language of this Section to their seeming advantage. Christians as well have invoked it, e.g. to ban Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code. This creates a sickening atmosphere of a pervasive touch-me-not-ism, with every community outdoing the other in being more susceptible to having its sentiments hurt. 

 

 

Rationale for Section 295A

 

When Batra and other Hindus put publishers under pressure to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s book, or earlier, A.K. Ramanujan’s Three Hundred Ramayanas, the publishers buckled under the fear of having to face trial under Art. 295A, as well as under their regard for the Hindu public’s purchasing power. Apart from ideological factors, entrepreneurs also take into account the purely commercial aspect of a controversy. In this case, they reckoned with the only power that Hindus have: their numbers.

But the Hindu instigators did not inspire “fear”, and definitely did not have the backing of political authority. This all happened when the Congress Party was in power. It is not entirely unheard of that Indian judges are on the take, but in most cases, the Indian Judiciary is independent, so a Government sometimes has to suffer verdicts not to its liking. Thus, Narendra Modi was repeatedly cleared by the Courts from alleged guilt in the post-Godhra riots of 2002 while Congress, which invested heavily in anti-Modi propaganda, was in power.

It is strange how fast people can forget. Modi’s BJP has only very recently come to power: in May 2014, after ten years in the opposition. At the time of the Ramanujan and Doniger controversies, Congress was safely at the helm. If the publishers were in awe of any powers-that-be, it must have been of the Congress “secularists”. So, regardless of the prevailing regime, Section 295A by itself exercises a pro-censorship influence.

Now that the BJP is safely in power, we find it is not making any move to abolish Section 295A. This is partly because it has apparently resolved not to touch any communally sensitive issue with a barge-pole, committing itself instead to safely secular “development”, but partly for a deeper reason.

 

The colonial view, ultimately crystallized in Section 295A, came to the fore after the Mutiny of 1857, which had formally erupted over seemingly irrational religious sensitivities: objections to the use of cows’ fat or pigs’ fat, taboo to Hindus c.q. Muslims. India was reorganized as an Empire ruled by the Queen of Britain, henceforth also the Empress of India. She made a solemn declaration to win over the Indians: “Queen Victoria’s declaration of religious neutrality (…) explicitly promised to refrain from interference in the religious beliefs and practices of Indian natives. (…) What provoked Victoria’s declaration was the assumption that religion in India was the source of volatile passions that were a threat to the peace.” (Vishwanath 2016:353)

 

This position was colonial par excellence, contrasting Britons capable of reasoned debate with natives who were prisoners of emotions and superstitions. Yet, it had a kernel of truth: not that Indians were more emotional or superstitious than Britons, but they seemed to have an aversion to religious debate. 19th-century Europeans were keen to know the world, and everywhere the conquerors of foreign lands were followed by students of the newfound languages and cultures. They prided themselves on this curiosity and thought it typical for the indolent natives that they did not have it. Thus, the early Indian pioneers of linguistics were greatly admired and accepted as inspiration for the budding science of linguistics, yet it was also noticed that they had not shown any interest in foreign languages. Thus, though Panini lived close to the Iranian- and Burushaski-speaking peoples, he is not known to have used their languages in his linguistic theories.

 

So, it was only a logical extension to apply this to religion. Consider the native welcome given to the Syrian Christians in Kerala, the Zoroastrians in Gujarat, and other refugees: no questions were asked about the contents of their faith. They were perfectly allowed to practise their traditions (within the bounds of “morality”, as the Constitution still says, e.g. the prevailing taboo on cow-slaughter, which they had not known in Syria or Iran), to honour any Prophets or Gurus or Scriptures they wanted, to build any churches or temples they chose, yet no interest was paid to what exactly their religion was about. This was simply not the business of the natives, who were satisfied with practising their own traditions. Not even purely for scholarly sake did Hindus or Muslims show any interest in other religions; al-Biruni and Dara Shikoh being the exceptions that prove the rule.    

 

Colonial prejudices are not always incorrect, but this one really does injustice to the average Hindu, who is more interested in other religions than was the case among Christians until recently. But perhaps they show less of a tendency to criticize. From experience, I tend to think that their natural tolerance as shown towards the refugees is not due to indifference and smugness but to open-mindedness. 

For Western religious converts like Saint Paul (Judaism to Christianity), Saint Augustine (Manicheism to Catholicism) or John Newman (Anglicanism to Catholicism), it would be an insult to deny the role of reason in their religious development, or to say that “to enter into religious debate is nothing but a provocation, an act calculated to arouse hatred”, as the British judge had told the Arya Samaj in 1915. But the colonial view crystallized in Section 295A did hold the Indians to be a different race, less rational and not to be trusted with debate, but fortunately also disinclined to such debate. So, it would only be a slight exaggeration of a tendency already present in Indian culture to outlaw religious debate.

That, indeed, is how many Indian secularists and their allies in Western academe now justify this continued muzzling of debate: “In India, the notion that to be truly tolerant in religion is to refrain from criticism of religion is a widespread secularist ideal.” (Pennington 2016:346)

 

Secularism

To assert that refraining from religious criticism is a “secularist ideal”, brings in the S-word. This would trigger a far longer discussion than we are prepared for here. But because it now serves as the new justification for the colonial Section 295A, at least this.

For a scholar, it is very poor to use this word as if it hadn’t acquired a meaning in India (since Jawaharlal Nehru, ca. 1951) totally at variance with its original Western meaning. This should be obvious to whomever studies the types of Indians calling themselves secularist, and those lambasted as anti-secular: “The concept of Secularism as known to the modern West is dreaded, derided and denounced in the strongest terms by the foundational doctrines of Christianity and Islam. (…) It is, therefore, intriguing that the most fanatical and fundamentalist adherents of Christianity and Islam in India – Christian missionaries and Muslim mullahs – cry themselves hoarse in defence of Indian Secularism, the same way as the votaries of Communist totalitarianism coming out vociferously in defence of Democracy.” (Goel 1998:vii)

Thus, in the West, secularism means that all citizens are equal before the law, regardless of their religion; or what Indians call a Common Civil Code. In India, by contrast, all secularists swear by the preservation of the present system of separate religion-based Personal Laws, though they prefer to avoid the subject, hopefully from embarassment at the contradiction. And all Indian secularists swear by the preservation of constitutional, legal and factual discriminations against the Hindu majority. (In case you have recently lived on another planet and don’t believe that there are such discriminations, one example: the Right to Education Act 2006, which imposes some costly duties on schools except minority schools, has led to the closure of hundreds of Hindu schools.)

Likewise, in the West, the enactment of secularism went hand in hand with deepening criticism of religion, which was pushed from its pedestal and recognized as just another fallible human construct, open to questioning and criticism. In India, by contrast, secularists cheer for the application, formally or in spirit, of Section 295A to outlaw religious criticism – except when it is Hinduism that gets criticized. And that is why the AAR scholars, in solidarity with their Indian secularist friends, have never moved a finger about minority-enforced censorship but made a mountain out of the Doniger molehill. Here, they vehemently denounced the clumsy Hindu attempt at banning an otherwise poor book that, to them, has the cardinal virtue of riding roughshod over Hindu self-perception.

 

 

Conclusion

All the Hindu justifications of the "withdrawal" of Wendy Doniger’s book amount to: "Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to insult." This just shows the speakers' thoughtlessness and illiteracy. All debates about book-banning, or at least one of the contending parties in them, will at some point come up with George Orwell's famous observation: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Freedom of speech doesn't mean much if it doesn't imply the freedom to offend. If the freedom to insult were forbidden, than anything meaningful would be found to displease at least someone somewhere and thus be forbidden.

Moreover, many lambasters (including Wendy Doniger) honestly feel that they have done a fair job and not "insulted" anyone. So, even the term "insult" is merely subjective: "Insulting is everything that anyone feels insulted by." This would make the worst touch-me-not the arbiter of whether books are allowed to be published.

So, down with censorship or any procedure amounting to the same, including forcing publishers to withdraw their publications with the threat of Section 295A. Down with censorship laws. Freedom of expression is a fundamental element of democracy, a precondition for making it possible at all. Equal participation in decision-making implies equal access to information and opinions, rather than one group deciding what another group is allowed to read and write.

As for the stated fear that if “insults” are not curbed by law, soon the atmosphere will be filled with unbearable swearing in the guise of “criticism”: India has done without such censorship laws for thousands of years, and the amount of insults in the religious field was not appreciably worse than in the colonial period or today. Such exaggerated fears can be laid to rest by civil society without state interference. People will give each other feedback, and they themselves will keep criticism and “insults” within reasonable bounds.

Finally, the possibility has to be faced that the fanaticism potentially emanating from certain worldviews has something to do with the contents of these worldviews themselves. Not every religion is equally prone to get provoked to violence by criticism. I make bold to say that, through a felicitous coincidence, the religions originating in India are quite capable of solving ideological differences of opinion peacefully.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Adcock, C.S., 2016: “Violence, passion, and the law: a brief history of section 295A and its antecedents”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, June 2016, vol 84, 337-351.

Agarwal, Vishal, 2014: The New Stereotypes of Hindus in Western Indology, Hinduworld Publ., Wilmington DE.

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji, 1940: Thoughts on Pakistan, republished as vol.8 of Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches, published by the Government of Maharashtra, 1986-90.

Doniger, Wendy, 2009: The Hindus: an Alternative History, Penguin, Delhi.

--, 2014: “Public Statement from Wendy Doniger following withdrawal of her book by the publisher”, 11 February, South-Asian Citizens’ Web.

--, 2016: “Roundtable on outrage, scholarship, and the law in India: A reponse”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, June 2016, vol.84, pp.364-366.

Elst, Koenraad, 2012: The Argumentative Hindu, Voice of India, Delhi.

--, 2015: On Modi Time, Voice of India, Delhi.

Goel, Sita Ram, ed., 1998: Freedom of expression, Voice of India, Delhi.

Jordens, J.T.F., 1981: Swami Shraddhananda: His Life and Causes, OUP, Oxford/Delhi.

Malhotra, Rajiv, 2016: Academic Hinduphobia, Voice of India, Delhi.

Pennington, Brian K., 2016: “The unseen hand of an underappreciated law: the Doniger affair and its aftermath”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, June 2016, vol.84, pp.323-336.

Ramachan, Anantanand, 2016: “Academy and community: overcoming suspicion and building trust”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, June 2016, vol.84, pp.367-372.

Swarup, Ram, 1993: Hindu View of Christanity and Islam, Voice of India, Delhi.

Viswanath, Rupa, 2016: “Economies of offense: hatred, speech, and violence in India”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, June 2016, vol.84, pp.352-363.

8 comments:

Arun said...

The shame is that Indian nationalists supported 295A in the name of Hindu-Muslim unity. The plea to put a sunset provision in the law was rejected.

Aniketana said...

Unfortunately, rather than following Shankaracharya's Hinduism, current generation is satisfied with following Prophet Mohammad's model for Hinduism. Hence no debate, only ban. There are no good schools to teach our culture either. With no sufficient knowledge, how do one debate? Best argument to put forth is, "It is not allowed, if it was Islam. So we don't allow either". So in reality, Islam is role model for our generation. One does not realise, by comparing Hinduism on par with Islam, they actually brought down Hinduism and reduced its image.

True, "liberal governments" so far did not build the right academics. But then, the rich Mutts could have done something (teaching Sanskrit literature) and reached out to common people. But no. Sringeri Mutt limited itself to teaching Sanskrit grammar (for our previous generation). Others, I have no idea. They only produce priests who can chant Vedic verses at different occasions. The students (who study in these Mutts) devote their entire academic life in learning Sanskrit (unlike those who study Sanskrit literature just as one subject along with ten others). Still, not even one is capable of defending these works against western acamedecians. If only, research was given importance over rote learning in these Mutts, it would have been a different situation.

Prabhnoor Rangi said...

Honesty and truthfulness are same in any language. True communication occurs at level of Atman/Paramatma. What is point of Sanskrit if speakers are fundamentally dishonest, untruthful and fully corrupt, willing to do anything for a few paisa. Heart of Dharam demands vegetarian ethic. Vadakayil has pointed out near genocide of humped Vedic cow. Without proper milk one becomes diseased and ugly. Veganism is a repulsive cult designed to empower vitamin corporations. Everyone (including those claiming to be 'lactose-intolerant' can readily digest about 2 cups of milk. Eggs are repulsive - why consume 50 percent of building block of life - honour the sacred feminine by shunning eggs.
Pasteurization is the worst thing to have happened to milk and human health.
Establish Ahimsa dairies and Ahimsa apiaries etc. In Dharmic world selling cow's milk is the ultimate sin - in the ideal Dharmic village we share our gau mata milk freely with our fellow Dharmic villagers. Dharmic ahimsa dairies and ahimsa wool, silk, honey programs must be established globablly. The result will be good health and maybe some quacks will be unemployed. Then we can create societies filled with beautiful buildings and healthy fit (beautiful)people. Competition is good but so too is cooperation. Science of day may keep changing but Dharam (Natural Law) is eternal. Principle of Ahimsa is superior to worldly laws that tend to only increase suffering for people, non-human animals and the environment. Bad marriages are responsible for a lot of misery on this planet. Non-GMO grains and organic wheats/rices/pulses/leafy greens are essential in order to improve quality of life for all Earthlings. One must not sit back and watch this tamasha (drama) of life on Earth - one must actively work towards improving conditions for the vulnerable, namely, non-human animals, females, children, the elderly and yes, men too. Kaljug agricultural practices must end. Correct borders must be drawn. Let us begin by reforming ourselves first and economically boycotting unethical companies whenever possible. It would be good for people to learn again how to sew their own clothes or have their clothes tailored by competent persons. Vadakayil claims marijuana is good for eyesight. Maybe for males but for females it is best to be completely free from all drugs. Earthlings must use ancient and modern knowledge to procreate properly. Earth needs good souls to incarnate so as to usher in the Age of Truth. Some claim Kaljug ended in 1699 and we are in transitional phase. Live Sattvic lives (in mode of Truth) - the events of 1947 and 1984 in 'india' are simply unforgiveable. Let us create a civilization state worthy of name Aryavarta or even Bharat - one populated by Aryaputra.

Prabhnoor Rangi said...

Gana - sugar cane is simply superior to other forms of khand/sugar.

Dharmics must bycott (boycott) kosher/halal colonial criminal corporations.

Try being caffeine free to improve complexion instead of purchasing ridiculous (and unhealthy) fair and lovely. Deep relaxation is possible through caffeine free life. When Fuehrer A. Hitler was losing, National Socialists were losing. Tea is for losers. Become winners. Understand UNO does more harm than good.

Boycott Bollywood (by and for crazy women) and of course hollywood. Create sane art. Sikh Channel rightly points out harm caused by 'serials/soap operas'.

Cereal as breakfast food is less than ideal - breakfast cereals are for crazies. Have a prontha or croissant with pure water. (ahimsa makhan/butter)

Pay no heed to ignorant semitic mythology: it is mostly all agyanta - in the kaljug mode of blackness/tamas. It is said barking canines seldom bite - this is simply false.

Yogrishi Baba Ramdev recommends 70 percent raw diet of above ground leafy greens plus Ahimsa milk and milk products - desi ghee is best.

Religious headdress is nice - so too are religious ethics in harmony with Natural Law - famous westerner Plato himself stated it is just person who disobeys unjust laws.

World peace begins with Ahimsas. Kalki we need thee now!!! Life liberty and pursuit of Dharmic pleasures. Create ahimsa/dharmic pretzels instead of purchasing kosher/halal pretzels. Smash the adharmic/himsa milk mafia at every level - with thought word and deed while paying some heed to 'law'.

Deg Teg Fateh. Panth ki Jit.

Prabhnoor Rangi said...

Correction: when A. Hitler was losing, Nazis were sitting around slurping tea - tea is for losers. Ahimsa milk, ahimsa (pure unfluoridated) water, and freshly squeezed orange nectar is superior to nescafe coffee etc. Some kosher-chrislamic corporations don't even label products accurately. What an ugly kaljewg dunya.
Waiting impatiently for Kalki to come and save the day.
Surveillance society is a nightmare. Anyone who tries to do something good is punished.(Assange, Snowden etc.)
Sometimes it is best to just be quiet and focus upon one's bhagti regimen.
Combat sharia patrols with jagrati patrols in cooperation with worldly police. What is happening in no-go zones besides illiterates tormenting illiterates?

Hari Smith said...

KE QUOTE: " George Orwell's famous observation: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” "

It also means the right to go easy on them if you realize they cannot handle the things you have to say.

You are not meant to be completely free in the materialistic world, wherein you experience a conditioned existence - complete freedom is available only in the spiritual world, though it comes with a different attitude towards people, regardless of their views. The attitude is visible in the behavior of spiritually advanced people, in India known as gurus and the like.

The tendency to forbid things is not unusual. In the age of Kali Yuga, ignorance is widespread and people are pushing their freedoms far beyond good taste or common decency - they are also quick to condemn and forbid, as a solution to the things they do not like to hear/see/know. They cannot handle the pain inflicted to personal ego.


Equal access to information is an illusion as there are so many factors that shape the outcome, the information you end up finding or holding on to. Lets take an example: Google search results won't give you equal access to any information, as more popular results will be shown first and thus will also be the ones most likely visited by the users. Others would say that those search results are actually modified to fit certain worldviews held by the owners of the search engine. And another view is that the results you end up viewing are exactly those you needed to view, fitting your personal path in this life, as regulated by the Divine.

Koenraad, a religion or an ideology, no matter how strange or violent it may be, is not the problem. The human being who decides to interpret those things in ignorant ways is much closer to the problem. Although, and i'm sure Vraja would explain with more scriptural detail, on the spiritual level of 'how things work', there is no problem whatsoever, as mentioned above (regulated by the Divine).

As for choosing only peaceful solutions, it is recommended to do so for ordinary human interaction and to be used most of the time, but when the time comes (example: the battle in Gita, the end of Kali Yuga, etc.), peace will have to be won on the battlefield, literally, in a grand finale of sorts. Even the most shameful or painful battles of this Era are needed or necessary to arrive at that outcome. They too are a part of the Story, pieces of the Puzzle.

Niraj Mohanka said...

Koenraad,

Please check your email addresses - looks like they were hacked.

- Niraj

American said...

KE,

1. Free speech is not the right to speak falsely to defame or insult, it is the ability to speak freely and factually "that might insult"!!

2. People ought to have a right to peacefully bring legal action against anyone who defames and dehumanizes someone. Imagine being accused of raping your children, or children of your neighbors, or alleging "your ancient religion" teaches you to rape or abuse others, and such. You can't logically defend this, for accusations can exponentially grow, swamping you out of your time and energy, as they have since the early 19th century. Logical dialogue is not the answer to deliberate and persistent waves of terror with words, just like logical dialogue is not the answer to deliberate and persistent waves of terror with bombs. No Dr. Elst, you are mistaken here. There can be no one sided right to falsely accuse, distort and insult Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Judaism, or any religion, or any community, or any race, or any people, or individual human being.

3. The dehumanization is a destructive process. It affects people psychologically, giving the bullies of our world so-called "expert opinion", making the peacefully people victims of such bullies. The experts are not super-beings, outside the preview of law, with a special natural law. No. No. They are subject to the rules of objective scholarship, not exempt from sloppy distortions, not permitted to vomit violent words of hate against Jews, Hindus or whoever pretending it to be scholarship. They better read more, or pay the penalties if they are too busy publishing rather than researching and learning.

4. Hindus are at error in strategy. Don't be endlessly defensive. Gather up. Send in petitions to the "experts" such as Doniger who accuse Hinduism for being non-liberal, and asking them to sign "make Salman Rushdie's book lawful". Draft up petitions that criticize hate speech against Buddhists by Muslims such as in Sri Lanka or Myanmar, or Sikhs by Christians in the West, and then ask these experts to sign petitions. Create petitions for animal rights to end animal killing, such as for cow, pig, birds, dolphinsm, whales and all life forms, then ask these experts to sign them. If they don't sign or ignore such secular petitions, use that to name and shame them. Right now, it is the other side which is using these tactics to dehumanize the Hindus. Falsely. Turn the tables. Be tall. Think big. Think love. Think like the ancient Hindus did.