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What really falls in the ambit of free speech?
Ears itching for good news got a wafted lilt this morning and I saw the dawn of new hope. It warmed the inner cockles of my heart and reminded me that this world is still a place worth living in.

A group of scholars who are members of powerful All India Muslim Personal Law Board have invited Salman Rushdie, the controversial author of the book ‘Satanic Verses’ to debate on Islam and the Prophet’s life. AIMPLB’s Yusuf Machala proposed that instead of opposing his visit to Mumbai, “let us invite Rushdie to this city and answer our questions if he has the guts he should explain to us why he wrote such a blasphemous book.” It is what should be done when we face the knotty disputes of serious nature; that is how a civilized society should react.

Freedom of Expression is the fundamental right. Think of Freedom of Expression and the famous words of Voltaire conjure up – “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death to your right to say it.” These pearls of wisdom are good to quote but difficult to act in this topsy-turvy world. They require an ideal situation where you could draw a clear line between a tyrant and a victim; an oppressor and a well recognized oppressed. Today, the world is cluttered with skewed priorities and hardened prejudices. It is difficult to fathom the pristine innocence and dig the Dracula’s teeth. Each issue is churned in wheels within wheels. A tribune of a group could be a terminator of the other set. People are swayed by emotions rather than by reason. How to discover the truth? How to hold the scale even? Granted that truth sometimes ultimately prevails but irreparable damage is done in the interim. The mischief hides behind the cloaks of religion, tradition, precedent, geography, history and principles.

To deal with this murky situation, society as a harbinger of human rights has to ensure the reign of tolerance – tolerance to listen. Intolerance clouds the logic and inhibits the free speech. But the trillion dollar question is – What is free speech; what really falls in the ambit of free speech?

According to Professor Lee Bollinger: “The free speech principle involves an special act  of carving out one area of social interaction for extraordinary self-restraint, the purpose of which to develop and demonstrate a social capacity  to control feeling evoked by a host of social encounters.”

There is no dearth of issues if we talk about India and its different religions, languages, dresses and eating habits. It is different from Saudi Arabia where the population is 100 % Muslim. Even the presence of homogenous crowd in the kingdom doesn’t make it an ideal country for others when we talk of human rights. Many religions, different out-looks and variable standards of RIGHT and WRONG are the hallmark of our Indian democracy.

Religious freedom is to practice your religion without fear of persecution. Tolerance for different theological systems of belief is the only foundation for success. Freedom of worship the way I want is the integral part of freedom of religion. Freedom for me to move around as you pray is also part of my rights. It is your right to say what pleases you to say and it is also my right to listen what has been stated – Freedom of Communication. I should be free to write what I feel, to make a movie as dictated by my creative senses. It is the integral concept of modern liberal society.

There should be no censorship as long as one is not using the vituperative language, making no obscene and offensive gestures, and stopping the smooth traffic of human society on developmental street. Within the limits of decency every belief could be questioned, life of icons could be probed and concepts could be challenged. You can throw the book in the dustbin if you don’t agree with its content. You can tear off the picture which has landed at your table inadvertently. Don’t buy the western dress for your wife if it would create an issue. But please don’t dictate others to follow your choices. One individual, group of any sort of entity can’t claim the ownership of responsibility to pontificate others.

I have but to agree with the journalist Shoma Chaudhury when she said, “There is an urgent need to ensure absolute freedom of expression in art. If you disagree with the song Yo Yo Honey Singh sings, the answer is not to ban him. Instead, don’t allow him the commercial success he has today. Don’t endorse the product, but allow every artist to express themselves the way they want to.”

I believe that problem and solution both lie with us – the society. Describing ‘FEAR to SPEAK’ the famous French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville had said: “People may not be hesitant to speak freely not because of fear of government retribution but because of social pressures.”

I might have partial or total disagreement with whatever Tasleema Nasreen writes but her tweet yesterday gave me something new to mull over: “I’ve been writing for women’s empowerment for almost three decades. Now three empowered women made my life hell. Khaleda, Hasina. Mamta.”

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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