The fun of old-fashioned rail and rant is rare these days. It does not involve mouse-click nirvana. It involves risk for all involved—the editor, publisher or other equivalent mediator who provides the medium; the medium itself; and of course, the writer, thinker or rabble-rouser. The time for reaction is longer and the ripple effect, wider. On Twitter or Facebook, as banal as they are addictive and liberating, opinions flash, scream and fade.
Desperate measures: It took thousands of pink panties to rattle the Sri Ram Sene. PTI
We celebrate the old and new kinds of free speech in this special issue. It’s a freedom, the lack of which we remember every other day. Our right to freedom of expression in the Constitution has “reasonable restrictions”—the “reasonable” often bordering on the bizarre. Hurt sentiments over calling Billu a barber; outrage over the biography of a national hero; violent attacks on those who commemorate the spirit of a certain fun-loving St Valentine with sweet nothings and oblong-shaped balloons—something irks somebody all the time. If you laugh at Indianness, you are booed. If you have a mind, you are stupid and deserve to be called names.
The free speech issue, not surprisingly, became less about freedom and more about censorship and restriction—in art, movies, erotica and the public sphere.
In the cover story, our columnist Sunil Khilnani makes a cool case for offence. One of the inherent dangers of a society which does not tolerate free speech, he says, is the belief that nothing new is left to be discovered or said in this world. Scary thought.
Also Read The Free Speech Series
We met people other than the towering figure who constantly reminds us of the presence of extremist maniacs around us—M.F. Husain. Justice A.P. Shah, Ram Rahman and Anand Patwardhan are champions we haven’t heard enough about. We also met men across the country who consider it a moral duty to write letters to newspapers; after years of having their letters hacked by sub-editors, they have found ways to speak their mind in different ways, but they haven’t stopped saying it. And we met 82-year-old Shanu Lahiri, who would literally colour Kolkata red, blue and pink if her health would allow her to paint graffiti on the city’s walls, just as she used to many years ago.
One of the facts that emerges from all the writings in this issue is the Indian tendency to self-censor. I am convinced we (by which I mean tweeple, and also those dinosaurs who aren’t tweeple) speak less than what the law allows us to. A few bear the brunt of restricting laws and outdated ideologues.
Are we a republic of silence? Read on.