Silencing of liberal India

Courts, publishers, educators and professional offence mongers are to blame.

Updated: February 12, 2014 5:07 pm
Liberal India is being silenced because its joy at exposing hypocrisy is far greater than its commitment to defending freedom. Liberal India is being silenced because its joy at exposing hypocrisy is far greater than its commitment to defending freedom.

Yet another book withdrawn and pulped by the publisher under pressure. The “pulping” of Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, is the pulping of liberal India. The agreement by the publisher to withdraw it is like putting a contract out on free expression. In India you publish at your peril. It is in a shockingly long line of books and art withdrawn from free circulation one way or the other, sometimes against the law, sometimes in the garb of law.

India is a democracy, but its reputation as a bastion of liberal values is dimming by the day. The argumentative Indian is being replaced by the offended Indian, the tolerant Indian by the intolerant mob, the reflective citizen by the hurt communal mobiliser, the courageous Indian by the cowardly thug who needs the state to protect it against every argument, the pious Indian by the ultimate blasphemer who thinks he needs to protect the gods rather than the gods being there to protect him. Whether this is a tiny minority or represents the majority is beside the point. The point is that the assault on free expression is winning. How is liberal India being silenced?

Liberal India is being silenced because its joy at exposing hypocrisy is far greater than its commitment to defending freedom. Every time a book is under assault, the same tiresome argument breaks out. “Oh, you did not speak when so and so was banned. You did not speak when Taslima Nasreen was the target, or when Jitender Bhargava was ordered to withdraw his book on Air India.” Or there is the partisan division: you did not object to what the Congress did to Salman Rushdie, or the CPM in West Bengal.

The point is that we spend all our psychic energies in exposing each other, not in defending values. If freedom is to survive, we have to set aside this debate on hypocrisy. It devours all energy. But it also legitimises the disposition that is at the heart of banning books: a fragile ego that takes joy in revenge, rather than taking pride in freedom. Let us get on with the task of defending the core values.

Liberal India has been silenced because it never understood that toleration does not, to use Govind Ranade’s phrase, come in halves. You cannot pick and choose when to be tolerant. You cannot choose to be tolerant along partisan lines. Neither can you choose to be tolerant based on what you think are distinctions between good and bad scholarship, serious and scurrilous books. These distinctions are a good basis for criticism; they are not the best basis for deciding whom the law will protect. And R.V. Bhasin, author of a banned book on Islam, will be protected as much as Wendy Doniger. And so it should be. If you want a hundred flowers to bloom, a few weeds will grow as well.

Liberal India has been silenced because the one institution that needs to protect it constantly fails: the courts. Civil society and politics have a lot to answer for. But the incentives to mobilise around the banning of books have largely been created by the laws and by the convoluted jurisprudence of the courts. A law that signals that it is open to banning books will incite mobilisations to ban books. If the state gives the category of taking easy “offence” such aid and succour, offence will be easily taken.

In the case of Doniger’s book, there seems to have been no threat of the book provoking large-scale violence. Despite protest and criticism, the book has been in circulation. But more importantly, the courts have sown the seeds of further confusion. For example, the Bombay High Court judgment on the Bhasin case upheld the idea that it is “no defence that the writing contains a truthful account of past events or is supported by good authority.” Courts uphold the idea that the criticism of religion must only be “academic”, whatever that means. Lampooing is part of legitimate criticism.

While banning the novel, Dharamkaarana, they showed no regard for the artistic integrity of the work. Courts should be the bully pulpit of constitutional values. They should draw strong lines protecting freedom. No wonder liberals worry that the court will not rescue them. No wonder the mere threat of litigation is a dampener on free expression.

Liberal India has been silenced by professional offence-mongers. Those who now claim to speak on behalf of communities use every trick they can to silence. There is often the threat of violence. The use of law is not, in this instance, an exercise of citizens’ rights. It is the use of law as a tactic of intimidation. Often, these groups have the implicit backing of political parties. No political party in Maharashtra stood up for the rights of scholars. As a result of the James Laine episode, most publishers do not want to even touch books on Shivaji.

The BJP’s relationship with groups that initiate these mobilisations has often been one of plausible deniability. It gives aid and succour to vicious offence mongering, it legitimises this contrived narrative of Hindu hurt. All it needs to do to overcome these suspicions is come clean and emphatically state that it does not support the “withdrawal” of books. We do not need political parties that take on the garb of liberalism by avoiding issues; we need political parties that actually defend liberal values.

Liberal India has been let down by its publishers. If major presses like Oxford University Press (OUP) and Penguin cave in to the threat of litigation so easily and fail to take matters up to the Supreme Court, it will become easier for people to intimidate. Recall OUP’s conduct in the case of the Calcutta High Court banning a scholarly monograph by Hans Dembowski on the judiciary. Indian business is supine because it feels politically vulnerable at so many different levels.

Liberal India has been silenced by its educators. The extraordinary failure of the project of liberal education is manifesting itself in the pathology of liberal institutions. If so many of India’s educated middle classes, which inhabit key institutions like the judiciary, bureaucracy, media, are so confused about basic constitutional values, if they are so content at liberty being abridged, one by one, you have to wonder about liberal education.

The fact that universities themselves did not remain exemplars of criticism, that they banished a healthy engagement with tradition has meant that the most ignorant and violent have now become the custodians of tradition. Wendy Doniger could not have damaged Hindus. But if Liberal India dies, Hinduism will die as well.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, and a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’
express@expressindia.com

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    Prakhar
    Jan 6, 2015 at 7:04 am
    When you will open your eyes you will see much pressing issues.Being offended by these things and giving importance to this is the first sign of third world and wake up we are the third worrld.With all due respect and no harm
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      Samanya Aadmi
      Feb 12, 2014 at 1:00 am
      "Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destro, and tolerance with them" - Karl Popper, Philoshpher.
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        Samanya Aadmi
        Feb 12, 2014 at 1:00 am
        "Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destro, and tolerance with them" - Karl Popper, Philoshpher.
        Reply
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          Samanya Aadmi
          Feb 12, 2014 at 12:51 am
          Liberalism and Secularism is a good stick to hit Hindoos by any Tom, and Harry. These people should look inside their own house/home before teaching Hindoos. FO.
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            Samanya Aadmi
            Feb 12, 2014 at 12:51 am
            Liberalism and Secularism is a good stick to hit Hindoos by any Tom, and Harry. These people should look inside their own house/home before teaching Hindoos. FO.
            Reply
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              Samanya Aadmi
              Feb 13, 2014 at 12:54 am
              Mehta, please do not support this trashy lady, who lives and dies everyday for ***. She is nothing but a *****.
              Reply
              1. S
                Samanya Aadmi
                Feb 13, 2014 at 12:54 am
                Mehta, please do not support this trashy lady, who lives and dies everyday for ***. She is nothing but a *****.
                Reply
                1. S
                  Samanya Aadmi
                  Feb 13, 2014 at 12:57 am
                  These burgers do not have guts to write or do anything where Islam and Christianity is involved. Hinduism is a Punching Bag for all F*****g Tom, and Harry
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                    Samanya Aadmi
                    Feb 13, 2014 at 12:57 am
                    These burgers do not have guts to write or do anything where Islam and Christianity is involved. Hinduism is a Punching Bag for all F*****g Tom, and Harry
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                      Sushma
                      Feb 15, 2014 at 10:50 am
                      Hinduism is not a religion, it's a believe system.
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                        Sushma
                        Feb 15, 2014 at 10:57 am
                        History books never depict complete truth. Don't forget they are tainted with writer's perception and interpretation of events.
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                          Sushma
                          Feb 15, 2014 at 10:44 am
                          People blindfolded by religion and rituals continue following and promoting story books as holy testaments. Religion is escapism.
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                            These Atheist
                            Feb 12, 2014 at 6:22 am
                            More Free Speech is always better than Less Free Speech. Is GOI (may not be in this case) trying to become like Catholic Church as a book banning organization ??
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                              AG
                              Feb 12, 2014 at 2:02 pm
                              Author makes following argument:"A law that signals that it is open to banning books will incite mobilisations to ban books. If the state gives the category of taking easy “offence” such aid and succour, offence will be easily taken."Only one point I want to make:If the law or state "doesn't signal" this, wouldn't the opposite happen as well, i.e. taking extreme liberty in abusing some one (a person or an idea) in the name of being liberal.i think extremes are wrong on either side and we need to have a law and state to make sure neither happens.
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                                Allie Allie
                                Feb 15, 2014 at 2:51 am
                                Alternate history of the JEws written by none other than the protestant founder MArtin Luther. "Jews and their Iies" which every German was influenced by and their h_atred for their upper caste Jews for their monopoly of Arts, the banks and everything else in Germany of the 30s.
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                                  Allie Allie
                                  Feb 15, 2014 at 2:51 am
                                  Alternate history of the JEws written by none other than the protestant founder MArtin Luther. "Jews and their Iies" which every German was influenced by and their h_atred for their upper caste Jews for their monopoly of Arts, the banks and everything else in Germany of the 30s.
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                                    Allie Allie
                                    Feb 15, 2014 at 5:29 pm
                                    Alternate history of the Jews written by none other than the protestant founder Martin Luther in his "Jews and their Iies" which every German was influenced by and their h_atred for their upper caste Jews for their monopoly of Arts, the banks and everything else in Germany of the 30s.Wendy's quixotic hatred for the upper castes Hindus and Brahmins is not very different from the German's hatred of the Jews for being the elites of Germany in the 30s for the perceived sense of these elitists.Although the caste thing and a social Endogamy practiced by the Brahmins is ntohing to Crowe about, it is no different than the elitism and social endogamy practiced by the Jews of the world.The caste system did not amount to the slavery or lynchings or the Holocaust of the Abrahmic faiths "gods chosen people" caste system.And no. I am not an upper caste Brahmin.. I eat beef and every meat and am in the middle of the caste totem pole... I don''t need this Don Quixote Wendy to come to my rescue from the alleged evil upper caste Brahmins. I am grateful to the religious Brahmins for saving Hinduism from the evils of the predatory christians, Islamists and communists of the world for thousands and thousands of years with the blood letting of the Abrahmic jerks!And no I am not being facetious. The graffiti "Juden this and Juden that", we saw on the walls of early Germany is what we see in Tamilnadu against the Brhamins in the south of India. I have seen "Pappan this and Pappan that" PAppan is a dergative name for Brahmins. Upper caste Brahmins have been driven away from the intolerance of the Dravidian South. Read "Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlinesby Rajiv Malhotra.IF you enjo Wendy's alternate history of the Hindus, I am sure you would enjoy Hitler's "Alternate history of the Jews - Mein Kamph". And Martin Luther's "Alternate history of the Jews - "Jews and their Lies". It will satiate you liberal lefties blood thrifty revenge in supporting the proletariat "underdogs" of the world.
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                                      Allie Allie
                                      Feb 15, 2014 at 2:51 am
                                      HAve the uppercaste done anything close to this? You fking Iefties? If your Iefties h_atred for the upper caste Hindus is jusitfyable then I can justify throwing every christian in the oven and b_urning them d_ead!Christianiy a reIigion that never helped its adherents to be m0ral. No wonder they have done these.- Inquisiti0n in Spain and Goa- C_rusades- Ethn!c cIeansing of American Indians- SIavery- Iynchings- The Ant! Chinese league of the Americas- Jim Cr0we- The HoI0caust. Read the ant!semit!Ic rantings of Martin Iuther the founder of the Protestant movement that was the impetus for the HoIocaust.- Separate churches for bIacks and whites in the bible belt.- BI00d Iibel. Read in Wikipedia about this.. OMG! What eviI!- Rwwanda ethn!c CIeansing- Ant! G _ay kiIIings in African countries like Ua on the instigation of the Southern Bapt!st EvangeIicals- Doctrine of Discovery
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                                        Allie Allie
                                        Feb 15, 2014 at 2:51 am
                                        I always felt sympathy for JEws until this leftist Jewish not unlike Chomsky came to this world to spread similar hatred against "uppercaste" Hindus..Why? because Brahmins and upper castr Hindu for contributing to India;;'s culture, arts and what not? Whelp! They have suffered a little sin of puffery ego perhaps..Now is that so rible?Why? What a quixotic f00l you are Wendy.PS: I am in the middle of the caste totem pole and I am no Brahmin. I am a liberal too..I want to defend the underdogs.. the upper caste Hindus who have saved Hinduism from christiany and Islam fand others for 50000 years. from today's far Ieftist h0s like you.The upper caste Brahmins did nothing like the HolocaustThey did not ensIave anyone'Brahmins do not go about Iynching others like the people of the Abrhamic faithsBrahmins unlike even Buddhists are vegetarians.The worst you could say about the Bramins is is that they insuIted others and for maintaining social endogamy not unlike today's Jews.. thats it.vvTF is your problem you Jewish f00king .. If I had a bat, I'd c_rack you skuII and p!ss on you, you f00king Jewish leftist pi!g!This proally doesn't realize she has wasted her miserable life to be a Don Quixote!
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                                          Allie Allie
                                          Feb 15, 2014 at 2:51 am
                                          I always felt sympathy for JEws until this leftist Jewish not unlike Chomsky came to this world to spread similar hatred against "uppercaste" Hindus..Why? because Brahmins and upper castr Hindu for contributing to India;;'s culture, arts and what not? Whelp! They have suffered a little sin of puffery ego perhaps..Now is that so rible?Why? What a quixotic f00l you are Wendy.PS: I am in the middle of the caste totem pole and I am no Brahmin. I am a liberal too..I want to defend the underdogs.. the upper caste Hindus who have saved Hinduism from christiany and Islam fand others for 50000 years. from today's far Ieftist h0s like you.The upper caste Brahmins did nothing like the HolocaustThey did not ensIave anyone'Brahmins do not go about Iynching others like the people of the Abrhamic faithsBrahmins unlike even Buddhists are vegetarians.The worst you could say about the Bramins is is that they insuIted others and for maintaining social endogamy not unlike today's Jews.. thats it.vvTF is your problem you Jewish f00king .. If I had a bat, I'd c_rack you skuII and p!ss on you, you f00king Jewish leftist pi!g!This proally doesn't realize she has wasted her miserable life to be a Don Quixote!
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                                            Allie Allie
                                            Feb 15, 2014 at 2:54 am
                                            I am all for free speech I too want to draw Mohammad.
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