On October 31, 1570, the renowned German theologian, Martin Luther, penned a document attacking the corrupt practices of the Church. In order to do this, he nailed on the door of a prominent church, a list of ’95 theses’ that eventually led to the emergence of Protestantism in Europe.
Similarly, in the year 1927, the famous German Chemist, Heinrich Wieland, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, for discovering the molecular structure of colic acid which was actually proven to be wrong in a year’s time.
The above examples demonstrate, in fact, that the vast progress of mankind is actually a history of informed dissent. If today we favour democracy as a noble and cherished idea, it is only because a citizen has a legitimate right to dissent, without any kind of fear.
Dissent and democracy are synonymous with each other. In stark comparison to a democracy, dissent in an authoritarian or dictatorial regime is totally unacceptable and could lead to punishment. A classic example is that of Hitler’s Germany, where there was widespread censorship and suppression of dissent.
In the face of this, the continued imprisonment (under house arrest) of distinguished civil society activists such as Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira, to name a few, and the subsequent takeover of the Bhima Koregaon case, by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) few weeks ago, in which the same activists were allegedly involved, casts serious aspersions on the intentions of the government.
The practice of arresting people for their anti-establishment actions is not encouraging and is a serious concern. Perhaps, the sedition laws, too, need to be reviewed.
The past few years have seen jargon like anti-national, urban Naxal and urban Maoists being excessively used, especially by the right-wing cabal. By casting unproved aspersions and terming the activists as Urban Naxals, Tukde Tukde Gang and Anti- Nationals, the government has indicted every individual, who has reasonably voiced dissent in the country.
Such an attitude by the government makes a mockery of our great democracy and reeks of an attitude of intolerance.
The criminalisation of government criticism on different platforms – be it the social media (Twitter et cetera), events or campuses (JNU), has become a recent trend. For example, on January 26th, prominent TV journalist Faye D’souza’s name was dropped from the panel of speakers at the D.D. Kosambi Festival of Ideas in Goa, organised by the Goa Art and Culture Department.
The state Art and Culture minister reportedly said that her name was dropped because of her anti- CAA stand. “She was shortlisted but we were told she speaks against the CAA. We wanted to avoid mess and chaos around the event”, the minister said.
The Renowned American historian, Howard Zinn once said: “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism”. It is important to note that constructive dialogue and criticism gives rise to new ideas. Dissent and disagreements on issues would actually result in the better formulation of policies for the country.
The propagation of the idea of India, in which the citizens are not allowed to protest and criticise the actions of their own government, make redundant, the very foundation of democracy, that our forefathers fought for.
It is time for governments, both, at the centre and states, to have a spirit of tolerating dissent. After all, the right to dissent is the fulcrum of any democracy.
One hope is that, amid all the attempts to crush dissent, India and its institutions will emerge much stronger in the days to come.