Suffocating Freedom of Expression

Posted on May 10, 2010

Tanya Jain:

While M.F Husain’s apparent disallowance to the Indian passport and caresses to that of Qatar’s appeared to be a slap on India’s face but frankly, an intolerant country like ours, couldn’t have got a better treatment from someone who the country failed on more than one account. Who would consider his loyalty towards the nation, which has left no stone unturned in degrading his name, his art, his achievements and moreover his love for the country whom he was thought to bring laurels for, of whose Picasso he was called internationally?

Salman Rushdie or Sir should I say, puts forth that the freedom of expression is garbage, until it is supplemented with Freedom to offend. In other words, an artist or a creator of fictional work should have a creative license to express his ideas and thoughts clearly without being subjected to, or scrutinised for, it’s anti political or social repercussions. A work of art is an artist’s conceptualisation, visualisation that bespeaks the beauty that the artist beholds in his mind that people may accept, deject or ignore. The question is what right do dissidents have, to shun or prostrate an artist’s world view. Does sense of righteousness only prevail in delving out a social issue out of a fictional work which otherwise may have been capacitated for greater achievements?

Satanic verses for instance, is remembered for its fatwa, raucous, violence, the outrageous killing of 38 people associated with the book plus the motivated orders to kill Salman Rushdie, the author. His book was banned in India, burnt in United Kingdom, declared blasphemous by Iran, shunned in Pakistan amongst others. However, a lesser known fact is, the book was 1988 Booker Prize finalist. What is also to be seen here is the genre of the book which is novel and ‘magical realism’ which from what I understand, can be described as use of reality to express something fantastical. Therefore, the view points of the author may be real but are set up in the fictional narrative, to facilitate the flow of the story. Therefore, before thwarting any creative work, one should understand the artist’s intentions, whether it is to send a socio-political message or is it to write a book which is grippingly entertaining and worth a read and appreciation.

The most abhorrent of all is the idea of declaring a book ban worthy, without even putting an effort to read, or a painting, aesthetically ugly and voyeuristic before trying to understand the view points of the artist or the creator. Infact if restrictions have to be put, it is restrictors, who should prove their point of restriction rather than the one who is being restricted. Why should an artist go on justifying himself more than those having issues with him or his work? Moreover who determines what and how much social harm can an art work cause?

If an artist is to be accused of impropriety, evidence should be generated. Just seeing it from the perspectives of individual’s morality or sense of correctness or wrongness is pure frivolity. The evidence collected should be of a higher standard, certainly higher than standards shown during exiled author, Tasleema Nasreen’s book release in Kolkata. She was manhandled, dishonoured and ultimately forced out of India, and all this as a punishment for making use of her right to dissent. She may have offended the zealotry of the Muslim clergy, but I believe for any social change to come about, causing offence and challenging traditionalist’s notions is a just a precondition.

The trend of suffocating the freedom of expression in the name of developing an ethical society has greater outreach than it appears. Not only are we developing an intolerant society but also chickening out when the truth hits hard. After all the beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and a remark generally hurts in proportion to its truth. An artist with a fear of condemnation of his work is half paralysed and fully wasted. Therefore, while it’s important to keep perspectives, it’s equally important to encourage fearless artistry for a society to be called a complete, free, ethical, and a democratic society.

And what better quote to cut the chase, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people whose views we despise, we don’t believe in it at all”.

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