No-Show Revives Rushdie Affair in India: Choudhury – Bloomberg
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.