A freedom fanatic's defence
It’s been a quite a long break. The reasons are varied, but mostly, I blame it on my laziness and probably also little loss of interest. But I still love writing and one day want to write professionally (I know I know I can hear those sighs & smirks) and want to stay in touch.
I come from a fairly liberal family. Even though traditional & deeply rooted in Hindu ethos, I like to believe my family has changed with times & become more liberal. However in arguments and discussions I find myself all alone defending the absoluteness of individual freedom. Its mainly because I am a freedom fanatic (I think my family thinks of me that way) & my family belong to the category of "but sayers". I always take the view that freedom is absolute and there can be no restrictions, while they argue freedom is all right but it shouldn’t offend, its ok until it becomes obscene etc etc.
To cast the net a little wider I think in India, majority are like my family "but" sayers, who believe freedom should come with restrictions & shouldn’t cross the limits designed by society. They essentially make two arguments to buttress this, I will in the post try to counter those arguments.
The first argument is a communal one and made by the Hindu right (but widely accepted and supported by the middle class). It argues that always Hindus and Hindu religion is targeted by Hussein & his likes and it’s a deliberate strategy to undermine Hinduism. The argument also goes on to condemn those liberals who cry murder in favor of free speech when Hinduism is targeted but look the other way when Islam or Christianity is targeted. Arun shourie’s brilliant essay "Weak to strong, Strong to the weak" argues this point better than any I have read.
Those who selectively support free speech are not true liberals. I am no fan of these pseudo liberals who are basically leftists, who by very nature are hypocritical. Most of them also oppose economic freedom, and for me it’s much greater concern, because it affects millions of people by keeping them in poverty. By being hypocritical & partial in supporting free speech, they do more harm than good. (Ayodhya movement was justified based on this). While I agree completely with the hypocrisy of the left, that still is not an valid argument to ban or arrest Hussein from painting whatever he chooses to paint.
The second argument is more a personal one and made by my cousin Gayathrakka. While getting heated up in the argument over Barado paintings & Hussein paintings, she asked me how would I feel if somebody offended my family (mother, sister, father etc.)? It’s a very interesting argument, and I admit I wasn’t convincing in my counter argument that day. But here is the essential counter argument that I think is rational and fair.
First, my family is my private matter. I share my life with my family, I love them, they love me, we live together, we do things together and have lots of mutual respect and love. And this relationship with my family is not based on my belief, its reality. But your religion & humans relationship with almighty is based only on belief. And belief by nature can be both rational and idiosyncratic. While nobody has a right to question my private relationships (It’s not somebody else’s freedom), everybody in a free society has the right to ridicule, criticize my public beliefs. Tomorrow, if enough majority (thousand of people) believe than wearing jeans is evil, will you ban jeans?.
Second, how come we humans are in the business of protecting gods, shouldn’t it be the other way around?. If your Lakshmi, Ganesha etc. are so powerful why don’t they just blow Hussein to pieces for offending them? Pratap Bahnu Mehta one of best columnist writes in The Indian express,
"From a religious point of view, I find it to be the height of impiety and hubris to suppose that we humans are in the business of protecting our gods rather than the other way round. It betrays a fragility of belief and a crisis of confidence that genuinely religious people ought to find offensive. Our social contract is that we honour the dignity of each individual by giving them freedom of expression, that we value dissent and new forms of articulation even if some of it runs the risk of being silly. But make no mistake about it. The Talibanisation of India is under way. What else do you call a republic where artist after artist is feeling insecure?"
Bang on, couldn’t have put it better. Gaythrakka are you convinced?:)