A few self-proclaimed intellectuals met a long time back and set rules and regulations about what is offensive and what is not. Their intentions were right, we must respect each other, and must not offend anyone.
Over time, the face of these ‘intellectuals’ changed but their frequent meetings have not. They meet in secret, away from the prying eyes of the public, and review “good” and “bad” things. Good is what is good according to them, and bad is what they have decided is bad. The best part is, these self-proclaimed intellectuals claim to represent the masses, and say that they do what they do for the betterment of society (it doesn’t matter whether you have asked for this betterment or not).
Our constitution guarantees us the Right to Freedom of Expression in Article 19 as one of the six key freedoms (with “reasonable” restrictions, which are wide-ranging and vague enough to encompass anything you might think of saying). And this freedom led to people speaking their mind, and other people taking offence. So these ‘intellectuals’ decided to enact Section 153(A) and 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This basically allows a citizen to seek the punishment of anyone who shows them disrespect towards them “on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever”. And thus marked the beginning of the end of freedom of expression in India.
One problem is that we are all naïve. We see the phrase “Right to Freedom of Expression” and take it at face value, forgetting to look at the nuances (the devil, as they say, is in the details). There are caveats from other clauses of the article and sections of the IPC that cut down this freedom. And this is indeed a problem, because when people are acting as per their own will, they are not aware that their every action has the potential to offend someone somewhere in the community, society, country, or the world.
One of my friends, Gaurav Jain, tried a few days back, to eat beef. As a consequence ended up in the police station and was questioned for almost the entire day, not because he didn’t know how to cook, or because he cooked bad meat, but because he was hurting the sentiments of non-beef eaters, vegetarians and certain religious groups.
There are many more in the list. Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie and few others have been persecuted for writing books which were “offensive”, Shah Rukh and Gauri Khan for approving one of the “offensive” songs in the movie Student of the Year, Sunny Deol (Mohalla Assi) and Akshay Kumar (Oh My God) for “thinking out of box” and acting on what the writers/directors wanted them to act on, bloggers who were trying to be funny but unknowingly hurt the sentiments and emotions of women, or minority groups and so on.
The latest on this list of offenders is Kiku Sharda. His crime was to portray himself as one of the religious gurus, and entertain people. The list of naïve people also includes the very famous Galileo. He decided to prove something which was not acceptable, and paid for it with his life.
As one of the articles in Swarajya narrates:
“the fear [that absolute freedom of expression can be harmful] has its roots in the belief that there is a reality (or Reality) which can be misrepresented or distorted if the freedom of expression is absolute. This presupposes a universally accepted definition of the reality. But the fact is that no such definition exists; there are as many definitions of reality as there are philosophers and philosophies. There are Christian theologians interpreting the faith in numerous ways; there are six orthodox Hindu schools of philosophy, with several sub-schools; there are Marxists again following countless lines; there are Western conservatives (all of them ardently anti-state, Burkeans in harmony with tradition); there are libertarians (followers of Ayn Rand and others); there are postmodern thinkers who actually do not believe in any reality. It is a long list. What then is the reality or ultimate reality? “
Since, there is no one truth, and no set definition of anything, what can we do? What can we do to live a happy harmonious life where nobody offends anybody else? Fear no more, I am here with my commandments of living a life peacefully:
- Thou shall respect the committee
Reiterating the fact again, there is a committee of ‘intellectuals’ working for your betterment, you don’t go against them. And you don’t make fun of them. It is in fact a sin and you may have to pay a hefty price.
- Thou shall not make fun of anyone
This includes the entire nation. You never know, your jokes or narrations might be hurting a particular segment or community. May be religious groups, minorities, atheists, cobblers, drivers and many others.
- Thou shall always be apologetic
Because there is always someone you might offend. It is best to apologise to everyone in advance. If you need help, check out the disclaimers before a movie—they’re a good example of an exhaustive list of apologies we must make before being creative.
- Thou shall not think out of the box, or have your own opinion
We must follow what has been approved by the intellectuals. They are in that committee for a reason. Stop being rebellious and stupid. If you want to make jokes, consult the pre-approved joke book which sets the parameters and guidelines for what is allowed.
- Only the politicians and people in power holds the rights to offend and hurt people’s sentiments.
Realise who you are, if you do not fall under any of the categories mentioned above then do not even dare to speak your mind.
- Thou shall not associate with, or show any support for, anyone who has broken any of the above commandments
…Or thou shall be prosecuted as an accomplice.
The commandments have been pre-approved by the intellectuals, who will ensure nobody is ever offended.
If this article has offended any community, sex, caste, creed, trees, animals, cars or any other sentient or non-sentient being whatsoever, my apologies in advance. Or in the words of Mangesh Padgaonkar:
Salaam,To everyone, salaam
To the hand that holds, And brandishes the rod, salaam,
With my left hand on my rear,
For fear of the boot, A right-handed salaam,
To the one who watches me closely, salaam,
To the one who doesn’t watch and doesn’t care, salaam,
To the one who’d like to buy me out, salaam,
To his unseen boss, who orders him to buy me out, salaam,
Salaam, dear friends, to everyone, salaam.
The article was originally published in Swarajya
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.