Slaves of Freedom



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I know a lot of annoying people through Facebook and as a result I am at the receiving end of a lot of narcissistic self expressions, pseudo-philosophical views, antediluvian love quotes, over edited-weird angled photographs, and a lot of creative failures. From the bottom of my heart, I always wanted somebody to stop them, and it seems the government has heeded to my prayers.

Mumbai girl Shaheen Dadha was arrested for a Facebook post on the demise of Balasaheb Thackeray. Renu, a friend of Shaheen, perhaps made an error of judgment and liked it, and was arrested. The whole incident is disturbing.

From times immemorial to times unconceivable, the human race will be in an indefinite battle with freedom, and this desire will enslave us. In Salman Rushdie’s words: ‘Human being, let`s remember, is essentially a language animal’ and I connote that ‘language is essentially problematic’.

So when Shaheen protested the Bandh in Mumbai by expressing her poor opinion of Thackeray, the domain of her freedom overlapped with certain sentiments, leading to a backlash.

Being young, Shaheen’s knowledge was majorly limited to the media portrayal of Thackeray as a right wing extremist and a messenger of hatred. The fact that he was the strongest pro-Maharashtra voice ever was floating in the corners. He was no Shah Rukh Khan, no Sachin Tendulkar, but a ‘politician’. I wonder which modern day ‘state-level’, for that matter any politician, can draw such a crowd at his funeral.

Lakhs of people who came out to mourn him stand testimony to his contribution to the state. And yes, unlike a mythological character he had shades of grey.

Shaheen’s comment was like all other Facebook comments but she seemed to have crossed the thin line that one should adhere to while exercising the freedom to express, as guaranteed in the Constitution of India.

The Supreme Court of India recently said - “Freedom of expression cannot be absolute”. This one is a hard dictum to follow. No right is absolute in its own, they all are relative.

Though now she regrets the national attention she has received, Shaheen said, “I apologize for the comment. We`re scared with this incident. We won`t write on Facebook again.” Poor girl must have gone through a lot of torture and agony to turn her revolting soul to a compliant one.

Yes the girl did make a mistake, but the counter reaction by the government was a total abuse of power. We were reminded of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa for supposedly blasphemous “Satanic Verses”.

Rushdie and Shaheen both were accused of hurting ‘religious sentiments’ to varying degrees. The dogmatic Shiv Sainiks attacked the clinic of Shaheen’s uncle to display in full finesse the art: ‘how to make a mountain of a molehill’. One must not forget that Bal Thackeray was an ardent practitioner of freedom of expression and that too with much élan. He made innumerable hate comments against some communities and was never gagged.

Essentially, it is all about the constant duel between power and freedom. They always seem to be at odds. The concept of freedom of expression was born during Plato’s era and came up more often with the advent of print. Initially in the West, Roman Catholics had a very strict censorship. And once John Stuart Mill’s work on the defense of divorce was banned, he argued that truth drives out falsity, therefore the free expression of ideas, true or false, should not be feared. Truth is not stable or fixed, but evolves with time.

Many people across the world have lost their lives defending freedom. In India we are on the verge of bursting this sensitive bubble of censorship. The Shaheen issue has lessons for everyone, including those in the government.

A young girl may have made the ‘mistake’ on Facebook, but the government could have handled it better.

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."(Voltaire’s Biography)