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Death Knell For Freedom of Speech

February 15, 2009

The UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights are individuals who work on behalf of the United Nations to investigate, monitor and recommend solutions to human rights problems across the world. One of the mandates under which these individuals serve is ensuring the freedom of opinion and expression in all countries. 

On the 28th of January 2009, The Independent newspaper in UK published an article “Why should I respect these oppressive religions” by Mr. Johann Hari wh0 reported on a surprising development in the United Nations.  Mr. Hari pointed out that in the past year, the job description of the special rapporteur was changed by a coalition of religious fundamentalist states to report on “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets.” In his article, Mr. Hari, exposed the not-so-sacred agenda of some Islamic and Christian fundamentalist countries like Saudi Arabia and the Vatican to restrict the right to freedom of speech under the guise of respect for the sensibilities of the religious. He also went on to question inane religious beliefs and argued that respect for such beliefs should not and cannot be our default position. He finally concluded that

“But a free society cannot be structured to soothe the hardcore faithful. It is based on a deal. You have an absolute right to voice your beliefs – but the price is that I too have a right to respond as I wish. Neither of us can set aside the rules and demand to be protected from offence. “

 

 

 

On the 5th of February, far away from the UK, in Calcutta (West Bengal, India), a 133 year old well-respected english daily called The Statesman decided to reprint Mr. Hari’s article in full.The editors of the newspaper probably did not realize at the time that the secular Constitution of India – which guarantees freedom of speech and expression to all Indians – is just a sham. For the next few days, thousands of Muslims angered at the article clashed with the police and brought traffic to a standstill in this very busy and crowded city. 

 

”]Calcutta protestThe Statesman quckly apologized saying 

 “We note with anguish the sentiments expressed therein. While upholding the right of media to provide space for a plurality of opinion, we seek to emphasize it is not and has never been the intention of The Statesman to defame any individual or institution or cause hurt to any community. If any action of ours has unintentionally caused hurt to any section of society or group of people we wish to assure you that was not our intention and we have no hesitation in expressing our regret for any unintended hurt. We will report the day’s developments in our editions tomorrow and assure all communities of The Statesman’s abiding faith in the Constitution of India and the secular fabric of our country.” 

However soon after, the editor and publisher of the newspaper were charged under Sections 295A (deliberate act with malicious intent to outrage religious feelings) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code and arrested.

When a reporter of the Telegraph (UK) asked a former colleague at a senior editorial position of another Calcutta based English daily about the incident. This is the insight he provided (taken from the telegraph.co.uk)

 Despite “liking the logic of the article”, he admitted that his paper (with a significantly higher circulation than The Statesman’s) would not have reproduced it because it was simply “not worth getting into the trouble”. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for press freedom. But when you know the possible outcome, it’s best to be practical and avoid these situations.”

He also assured me that very few if any at all among the protesters had bothered to read the original article or were expressing anger they genuinely felt. That job was left to the religious bosses who pulled their strings. The demonstrations had only started after local Urdu papers picked up the issue and urged fellow Muslims to take action over it. The result – protests, clashes with the police and the subsequent arrests of the Statesman duo.

 

Such incidents where fundamental rights, especially freedom of speech, are assaulted and undermined by a group of religious goons in the name of ” hurt religious sensibilities” have become increasingly common in the last few years starting with the danish cartoon incident. Almost all secular democratic countries have faced such religious fanaticism where few people have held at ransom the very rights and freedom that have allowed them to express their opinions. 

Often our reluctance or inability to protest and speak out against these religious mafias have given them the confidence and temerity to assume that they can get away with such thuggery. Its time for us to raise our voices and let these thugs know that such arm-twisting is absolutely unacceptable in a secular democratic country. If  they are against secular values and against basic fundamental rights they are free to move to countries where their bronze age beliefs will be justly served. But if they want to enjoy the privileges of a secular democratic country they must vow to uphold the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, at all costs. 

 

I request everyone to read Mr. Johann Hari’s excellent article (linked again here) and follow up article and show solidarity with Mr. Hari and the Statesman by publishing the article on their blogs or by spreading the news to build awareness about such oppressive behavior and the curbing of our fundamental rights by a small group of fanatics.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2009 10:07 am

    Hi NN,
    I really like the work you’ve done following up on this story. I especially appreciate the bit from The Telegraph about the reporter from the other Kolkata newspaper. It may be worthwhile to note that most of those protesting could not have read the original article because the protests began after an Urdu daily provoked them into protesting. Such is the nature of religion that thousands are willing to resort to violence and human rights abuse on command. Everything Johann wrote is true but these people are not concerned with truth. It’s really sad to see what religion does to people.

    • nitwitnastik permalink
      February 15, 2009 6:25 pm

      @ Ajita

      Thanks. I agree that this is how religous protests start. Even when you read about the Danish cartoon incident you can see that it started with religious zealots trying to use unsuspecting people for their own ends.

      @Dinesh

      I agree. The problem is when we allow a few people to bully us into giving up our rights we give them the impression that we are condoning it.

      @Uzza

      LOL !! Blasphemy is a victimless crime as someone pointed out.

  2. dinesh permalink
    February 15, 2009 4:08 pm

    both gem of articles, expectecedly hardly any mainstream media or even other bloggers are talking of it for the same reason as of Telegraph (India)

  3. February 15, 2009 5:18 pm

    How the hell does one “outrage religious feelings”? What does that even mean?

  4. narendra permalink
    February 17, 2009 2:48 am

    A well written piece demanding action under section 295A!What a sad state of affairs, the muslim community has lived upto its reputation of being under the thumbs of the mullahs. People who have not read the article have to “react” to it. The same as to what happened to Taslima Nasreen. The govt. as expected has gone into the election mode appeasing the so called minorities. What will happen to the case is any ones guess!

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      February 17, 2009 7:04 am

      @narendra

      I think such intolerant behavior can be observed from the Hindu fundamentalists too. If you look at Raj thakeray and his goons and the RSS goons you will know that the hindu fanatics are not incapable of such actions either. The govt needs to clamp down on all fanaticism in the name of religion.

  5. Winkles permalink
    June 13, 2010 3:41 am

    cool picsxxx

Trackbacks

  1. India, Islam and freedom of speech. | Vlad Tepes
  2. Free Speech: The Other Side of The Story « Nitwit Nastik
  3. Freedom On the Net : India “Partly Free” « Nitwit Nastik

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