Hypocrisy of Left-liberal commentariat
Activist-author-anarchist Arundhati Roy remains recalcitrant. On Tuesday she issued a statement, in which, among other things, she “the people of Kashmir live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world”, “the Indian poor pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state”, “pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds”. Curiously, or perhaps not, she claimed “Dalit soldiers” are getting killed in Jammu & Kashmir.
On Sunday, speaking at a seminar on ‘Wither Kashmir: Freedom or Enslavement’ in Srinagar, Arundhati Roy said, “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact.” She said she was proud to associate herself with “resistance movements” across India and counselled Kashmiris to “consolidate the gains” of the recent four months of anti-India agitation. “The power concedes nothing unless it is forced to,” she said, and demanded demilitarisation of Jammu & Kashmir. Then she went on to urge Kashmiris not to join the State police and the Central Reserve Police Force.
Strangely, Arundhati Roy questioned the legitimacy of Kashmiris electing their own Government: “You (Kashmiris) should think how the elections were used against you.” In the same breath she added, “The Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy has not been elected.” Does she then, at least, admit India is the “world’s largest democracy”? Of course not! “India is behaving like a colonial power and suppressing one community at the hands of the other … They are sending Nagas to Kashmir and Punjabis to Manipur.”
The Union Ministry for Home Affairs believes there is sufficient evidence by way of Arundhati Roy’s seditious utterances to prosecute her under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code. This section says:
Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.
Explanation 1-The expression "disaffection" includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
Explanation 2-Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
Explanation 3-Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
The Home Ministry is said to be waiting for “political clearance”. The Congress is believed to be of the view that while a case should be filed against her and she should be prosecuted, Arundhati Roy should not be arrested to avoid “negative publicity abroad”. And what if the courts hold her guilty and send her to jail? What then? Or is the Congress banking on the decrepit criminal justice system to drag the case for years and decades, by when it will be inconsequential whether she is punished or not.
Over the weekend, three distinct viewpoints have emerged. First, Arundhati Roy should be prosecuted. Second, we should ignore her just as others on the lunatic fringe are ignored. Third, she should be allowed to have her say because “freedom of speech is guaranteed” by the Constitution of India. I have already expressed my opinion on the first two points. The last view merits further comment.
Contrary to popular belief, popularised no doubt by illiterate and ill-informed members of south Delhi’s Left-liberal commentariat that rules ‘national media’, freedom of speech is not unrestrained in India.
The Constitution provides for "the right to freedom of speech and expression" [Article 19(1) a]. However this right is subject to restrictions under sub-clause (2), whereby this freedom can be restricted for reasons of "sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, preserving decency, preserving morality, in relation to contempt, court, defamation, or incitement to an offence”.
Arundhati Roy is clearly in breach of these restrictions. Anybody else violating sub-clause 2 would have faced the ire of the state. Second, by slyly referring to “Dalit soldiers” and urging Kashmiris not to join the police and CRPF, she is prima facie guilty of far worse.
That apart, for the Left-liberals to argue in support of free speech is disingenuous. The same freedom is rudely curbed when the Right wants to exercise this right.
As my friend and one of the leading scholars of West Asia, Barry Rubin, recently wrote, albeit in a different context, “Leftist attacks are designed to demonise, destroy and silence … Conservatives have been often demonised and, given liberal suspicion toward that side of the political spectrum, many liberals have believed whatever they’ve been told by often highly partisan and dishonest sources, failing to insist on fair play. Ridicule conservatives and moderate, traditional liberals will accept it without checking quotes, listening to responses, and demanding accuracy”.
In justification of their intolerance, bigotry and belligerence, the Left-liberals say, “We must draw a distinction between ‘hate speech’ and ‘free speech’.” Really? When does ‘free speech’ become ‘hate speech’? When it bruises bogus Left-liberal sensitivities? And, what if I were to insist, for good reason, that Arundhati Roy’s ‘free speech’ is ‘hate speech’ disguised in cockamamie jargon?
We could also ask whether those who have suddenly become vocal in protecting unrestricted 'free speech', which rests on the principle of absolute freedom to say anything, irrespective of consequences, had been equally vocal in protecting Varun Gandhi's right to say what he is alleged to have said (he says the tape was doctored; the issue is in court) during last summer's election campaign.
Arundhati Roy claims to be speaking for ‘justice’. There can be no justice till such time India is burdened with a flawed system based on the notion of laws being equal for all but privileges being different. The laws which she is accused of having violated shall never be applied to her because she belongs to the ‘intellectual elite’, the club of English-speaking professional dissenters who thrive on media publicity, who are feted by the commentariat, who are promoted by foreign media keen to portray India as a banana republic. Yet, the same laws are applied to others who are less privileged than Arundhati Roy and her gang of cheer leaders.
There is merit in the argument that nothing should be done to help Arundhati Roy achieve her goal of being seen as India’s Liu Xiaobo. There’s nothing she would love more than that and the adulation which would follow.
Yet, it rankles that she should listen to the grasshoppers sing while others serve time for offences far less serious. This is neither just nor fair. It’s definitely not my idea of justice.
What do you think?