In our time and country the vital liberty of thought and speech,so crucial for health of democracy,has been under severe stress for the strangest of reasons.Such freedom is being curbed in the name of preserving peace and harmony in society.Consider the legions of criminal cases relating to hate-speech and ‘hurting the sentiments of communities.’.
Now it is true that hate-speech of all kinds,quite virulent and venomous at that,has spread like Napalm jelly across internet and caused social tensions and dangerous conflicts all around and there is urgent need to block and curb it.There is no justification for tolerating this state of affairs.But not everything that arouses unrest and disquiet in communities is harmful to society.Indeed revolutionary new ideas in science,religion and morals and conduct had in ages past caused social unease and turmoil.Persecution has dogged such creative minds in all ages and climes,and we have learnt the value of tolerating such disturbing,revolutionary ideas and intellectual currents for their effect in removing deadwood and promoting intellectual growth.
But at this moment in our country such ideas,points of view and critical insights have drawn the baleful attention of the law.A distinction needs must be made between mean,spiteful spewing of hate and searching reasoned criticism,in passionate language, of fossilized,injurious and reactionary ideas and beliefs.
Consider the furore about Sanatana Dharma.Though both the words in the term had been used thousands of times in Hindu sacred scriptures,it is rare for them to occur together in meaningful and substantial combination.One can safely bet that nowhere in these scriptures the term occurs as bearing the essence of the Hindu creed and code or is offered as a signifier of the basic content of Hinduism.
It seems to have occurred as a term constructed as a reaction by conservative circles in late 19th and early 20th century to defend the beliefs and practices of Hindu orthodoxy from the searing criticism of radical and progressive elements as something hallowed by time.Such beliefs and practices,it was argued,must be enduring and perennial wisdom,which has put them above and beyond the reach of mundane objections.But many of the leading thinkers of our past as well the great forerunners of modernity in our country have earned our attention and respect precisely because of such provocative stances.We remain grateful to them for their vigour in pushing such scathing criticism of the stifling and corrupting effect of moribund and outgrown ideas and attitudes.If a public functionary uses similar provocative language to target abuses of social life and diseases of the mind,should he face punishment or gagging?
True they had caused plenty of unease and disturbance,and hurt sentiments of devotees of such beliefs and practices.but in the end they have been found healthy and wholesome contributions to our culture and stimuli to progress.How can courts sit in judgment over them?
Can they ever rule out and ban the ideas of a man like Ambedkar who went from a searching criticism of the seminal ideas of Hindu orthodoxy to a wholesale rejection of Hinduism as a creed?So why this belated and misguided attempt to seek the help of courts to enforce social stasis and mental stagnation? Such things are simply not in the jurisdiction of courts.
Hiren Gohain is a political commentator