Ideas can be debunked but not outlawed EDITORIAL, 8 FEB 2013
"Democracy in India," said Ambedkar, "is only a top dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic." , he added, is to be cultivated, since
have yet to learn it. Decades after that statement, it would seem that
the process of learning is, at best, still a work in progress or, at
worst, an impossible task. And when the highest court in the land, meant
to uphold and protect the democratic spirit, censures an academic for
his utterances, it only buttresses that pessimistic outlook.
The Supreme Court might have spared Ashis Nandy
from being arrested — after an FIR was lodged against him for remarks
alleged to be anti-Dalit — but in its admonishing the sociologist for
his comments, it seems to have, even by default, veered dangerously
close to approving the notion that ideas cannot be expressed freely. "We
are not at all happy," reportedly said, and also told Mr Nandy's lawyer that his client "has no licence to make such comments". The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, of course, within logically permissible limits.
But it is in drawing the boundaries of those limits that a polity can
display whether the democratic spirit is a mere top dressing or a lived
reality. A truly democratic society is one where ideas, particularly
contentious ones, can be debated — whether accepted, celebrated or
debunked — in a free exchange. of deliberately and actively promoting hatred or violence, little else by way of words need be censured.
And, unfortunately, even though perhaps unintentionally, might appear to be adding to the unsavoury clamour for restrictions on ideas and expression. That is quite avoidable.
Giving in to various sections claiming offence at the drop of a hat can
only make for a republic of hurt sentiments. A statement or an idea,
whether obnoxious, nuanced or contentious, is matter for a rational,
even if heated, debate. Logically, freedom of speech should imply even a
right to offend, given the many holy cows and shibboleths that retard
the progressive development of our society. Intolerance needs to be binned.