Sunday, February 21, 2010

Selective Freedom of Speech

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Voltaire

It was heartening to see that Mumbai stood against the Shiv Sena to defend SRK'S in the MNIK issue to say what he wanted to.

In all the noise and din though, people did not differentiate between what he said and his right to say it. He said that 'Pakistan is a good neighbor' - Normally a statement like this by anybody would be met with a lot of opposition and a public outcry, but somehow the actual statement was forgotten. Even though we all did the right thing by supporting his right to say it, we should have been equally critical of the statement which I am sure the majority of people disagree with.

Now contrast this with another recent issue. Taslima Nasreen a Bangladeshi writer who has taken refuge in India, wrote a book on the lives of Bangladeshi woman who are oppressed by the strict interpretation of  Islam in our neighboring country. Some fundamentalists threatened to kill her in Kolkatta and then the rallies by Muslim parties started against her. The West Bengal government made it known to her that she was unwelcome because she had displeased the Muslims. Her novel was in print for many years and everything that she said is factual.

They even made her actually change certain facts in the book which she did. In spite of this, under the guise of protecting her, they shipped her out of West Bengal to Delhi and then the Indian Government advised her to leave the country.

Why, because a vocal group of fundamentalists threatened to go berserk if she wasn't thrown out of the country, freedom of speech be damned.

My question is - Why is it that there wasn't as much support for her. How were the West Bengal and the UPA governments different from the Shiv Sena? In fact wasn't it much worse because here the government actually did much worse than what the Shiv Sena did. They threw her out of the country. By the way, she has still not got the right to live in Kolkata.

Contrast the two. SRK says something out of turn which could be considered offensive to 26/11 victims and their families and people who have suffered from the terror unleashed by Pakistan on India. On the other hand, Tasleema narrated true incidents of atrocities on Bangladeshi women. SRK gets massive public support, in contrast, only a few of the intelligentsia, media  or the general public support Tasleema.

What's wrong with this picture? Why this differentiation in one person's freedom of speech over another's?

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