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Some more on Rushdie, JLF, et al

06 Feb
  • “I was reminded of all this by a friend’s tweet from Jaipur: “Audience member has said that ‘as a person from literature’ she disapproves of adaptations.” Not being there myself, I have no idea who this lady from literature was. Perhaps it was Virginia Woolf. Perhaps it was Salman Rushdie in drag, getting his revenge on Rajasthan Police. Perhaps she was a character from a Jane Austen novel come to life. Her identity will most likely forever remain a secret. But if that is how she described herself, not to mention her casual dismissal of a genre of infinite variation and possibility, I’m just glad I wasn’t at the session today. Otherwise, just like last year, I’d have been begging Mother Earth to come claim her recalcitrant son.”

    tags: jaipur JLF books reading showoff humor wp

  • What is clear from these incidents is the role of the state: it has been glaringly absent or regrettably passive. The government has abandoned the people. Give up the idea that the state will protect you when some thugs say they are offended because you buy a book they don’t like. If you persist in reading it, they will threaten to turn violent. And instead of preventing them, the state asks you to restrain yourself…
    So afraid have we become of the mob, and so attuned do we have to be of others’ sensitivities, that virtually no topic is safe any more…
    There is peace in the graveyard, but there is no life. When they chill speech, they kill creativity, leaving an acquiescent state, an aggressive mob, and abandoned writers. Where is the poet who will “name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep”?
    Not in India, which they won’t let him visit, where they won’t let him speak, even via a video-link, and where you won’t find the book in which that line appears.

    tags: jaipur JLF freedom free_speech offence reading books friends salil_tripathi wp

  • But a third, more insidious kind of muzzle on the genuinely free expression of ideas in India is what one might call a soft opposition, or self-censorship. This is a section of well-meaning Indian opinion that honestly doesn’t understand what individuals have to gain by rocking the boat of a particular religious order, and believes that “religious sentiments should always be respected” and art has no business to question or mock what is held by some to be sacred. As its representative, one might take the bestselling novelist Chetan Bhagat, who said about the controversy, “[Rushdie] is a hero as far as his others writings are concerned, but writing something that attacks somebody’s god is not the right thing to do….I’ll not make somebody who attacks my god a hero. This is India, you cannot hurt feelings here.”
    It is true that freedom of speech, as Rushdie observed in a long interview with Barkha Dutt, is the source of all other freedoms. But, as the number of hostile responses to Kunzru’s arguments on his website demonstrate, this idea is bound to be interpreted only in the context of the overall climate of freedom in the society in which its value is asserted. India is actually unfree in so many ways, ranging from the casual harassment of women on streets to the persistence of caste hierarchies in social life to the entrenched patriarchy and deference of family life to the persistent tendency to explain all events as manifestations of the divine will. It is a country where young people are brought up to “always respect their elders” and to think twice before speaking their mind — basically, to be conformist, to value the old or accepted answer over the subversion of the new idea or question.
    It isn’t especially surprising, then, that the notion of dissent and skepticism of absolute truths enshrined in the idea of freedom of speech has a limited appeal in India. Tolerance may be an idea with a long history here, but not freedom of speech.

    tags: reading books jaipur JLF freedom free_speech dissent offence wp

  • The ‘never give offence’ brigade imagines that a more plural society requires a greater imposition of censorship. In fact it is precisely because we do live in a plural society that we need the fullest extension possible of free speech. In a homogenous society in which everyone thought in exactly the same way then the giving of offence would be nothing more than gratuitous. But in the real world where societies are plural, then it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. And we should deal with those clashes rather than suppress them. Important because any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities. The right to ‘subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism’ is the bedrock of an open, diverse society. Or, as Rushdie put it in his essay In Good Faith, human beings ‘understand themselves and shape their futures by arguing and challenging and questioning and saying the unsayable; not by bowing the knee whether to gods or to men.’
    Shabbir Akhtar was right: what Salman Rushdie says is everybody’s business. It is everybody’s business to ensure that no one is deprived of their right to say what they wish, even if it is deemed by some to be offensive. If we want the pleasures of pluralism, we have to accept the pain of being offended. Not least at a literary festival.

    tags: salman_rushdie offence free_speech freedom JLF wp

  • the whole principle of freedom of speech is predicated on the right to offend.
    Consider a society where everyone said nice things about everyone else. Would such a society ever need to enshrine the right to freedom of speech in its constitution? There would be no reason to do so because nobody ever got offended.
    You only need the right to free speech when you want to offend people…
    Because the ‘giving offence’ argument is so weak in the Rushdie case, those who want to ban the book have fallen back on another argument. Now they say that if a book like this is published, then it will lead to violence.
    And why should it lead to violence? Well, because the same people who had never read the book and who we agreed had no right to demand a ban will now run riot setting fire to property and killing people.
    A genuinely liberal society should recognise this for what it is: a law and order problem and not a free speech issue…
    But when it comes to free speech, we don’t act against those who threaten violence. Instead, we turn against those whose right to free speech we should be protecting.

    tags: virsanghvi freedom censorship reading writing india wp

  • there will be no point to the festival if the invited writers are forbidden from challenging the fast-settling status quo. The fate of the festival is the same as the fate of free expression. The problem is not that four writers spoke up at JLF, the problem is that so few of us did…
    19. It is wishful to assume the censors haven’t entered our heads. The space for thought has shrunk, is shrinking right before our eyes. They want not just that Rushdie shouldn’t come, they won’t even allow his image on a screen. They want not just that Kak’s documentary not be screened, they want the entire event cancelled. Each step they gain is harder to reverse…
    22. Why read at all? For a sense of empathy and risk. Because only reading will prevent you from mistaking fiction for fact and help you see the internal borders of a made-up story. Why read? Because culture is conversation.

    tags: india freedom censorship reading writing JLF wp

  • What is clear from these incidents is the role of the state: it has been glaringly absent or regrettably passive. The government has abandoned the people. Give up the idea that the state will protect you when some thugs say they are offended because you buy a book they don’t like. If you persist in reading it, they will threaten to turn violent. And instead of preventing them, the state asks you to restrain yourself…
    So afraid have we become of the mob, and so attuned do we have to be of others’ sensitivities, that virtually no topic is safe any more…
    There is peace in the graveyard, but there is no life. When they chill speech, they kill creativity, leaving an acquiescent state, an aggressive mob, and abandoned writers. Where is the poet who will “name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep”?
    Not in India, which they won’t let him visit, where they won’t let him speak, even via a video-link, and where you won’t find the book in which that line appears.

    tags: jaipur JLF freedom free_speech offence reading books friends salil_tripathi wp

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2012 in Links

 

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