Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The much outrage

John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher, said that the most important aspect of the freedom of speech and expression is to give free and safe passage to those who carry opinions which collide with the opinions of the majority. The reason this is so important is so that a civilized society doesn't turn into an echo chamber wherein it says what it wants to hear and hears nothing else. In Internet terms, we do this to prevent a society from turning into one large circle-jerk. When an idea is questioned, two things happen simultaneously: we are forced to encounter an opinion different from the one that we already are aware of, and it forces us to re-evaluate our existing opinion based on the new information. The challenging of the established norms only seeks to strengthen or weaken a stance after thorough examination. Perilous as this may seem (the weakening of established mores), it is essential for civilization as we know it. 

But sometimes the freedom to speech and expression is severely limited by the butthurt feelings of the majority. Anything and everything seems to cause offense and subsequent outrage. Two young girls were arrested for questioning the shut down of a major metropolitan city on the eve of a rather infamous politician's death. Any criticism of any religion is seen as a personal affront to the Lord God, his saints, his prophets, his devotees and (most irrelevant) their feelings. A post about how Christmas is really a pagan festival co-opted by the Christians is bound to spark controversy. An opinion about the Catholic Church in India courted arrest and so a rationalist had to flee India to seek asylum abroad. A former Supreme Court of India Justice is being sued by two youngsters after being butthurt about the Justice's comments about a majority of Indians being "idiots" (not inherently, he added for clarity). The youngsters from Lucknow are "... deeply hurt and humiliated by Justice Katju's words" and are of the opinion that they "would depreciate the reputation of India and its citizens".  Let me assure you that no one is offended. If anything at all, one simply has to do simple mental gymnastics and claim to be in the 10%. These kinds of ridiculous acts show superficial we are as a nation and how anything benign or anything that has to be ignored takes center stage. What does this girl hope to achieve? It's clearly a pathetic attempt to get the words "I made a former Supreme Court Justice apologize on National television and supported the integrity of our obviously intelligent Indian race" on her CV. You want to talk about depreciation of India and its citizens? Stop doing unnecessary things like this.

One last incident of outrage over trivialities. The actress, Kushboo, wore a sari that had an image of the Hindu deity Hanuman, Krishna and Rama embossed on it to a movie premiere. The president of a Hindu outfit has claimed that the singular act of wearing said sari has insulted and outraged the sentiments of millions of devout Hindus across the country and that failing to elicit an apology from the actress, they would drag her to court. 

As a country, we should be mature about these things and take differing opinions and statements lightly and with a bit of salt. We are wasting time, money and forsaking genuine progress on more important things. A billion people's "hurt" feelings shouldn't move a court. Common sense should alone prevail.
That said, please stop with the outrage.


Vyaas said...

I see few people discussing what Katju's emphasis really was. We're a nation that seems to care more about the wrapper than the underlying gift.

An interesting feature in the Indian angst to criticism, I feel, stems from a lack of foundation. Historically, I can't place an Indian civilization that valued freedom of speech for its own sake. Sure, there were secular statutes, outlined by Asoka and Akbar for example, but those don't address the grander principles of libertarian civility. Is freedom of speech a western concept then?

prateek mathur said...

Starting from where Vyaas has left his comment, we never really had freedom of speech, it was always a Western concept. In which era could you have imagined incidents like burning of a religious book, open criticism of the government (Bill Maher school of satire)or even open TV debates between "relevant" politicians, being accepted in India as freedom of speech and expression? Never.
We always had a blanket of culture and traditions masking all of freedoms in some way. Even communal, lingual and regional divides came in the name of culture.

The point now is that we get to hear about all these incidences and we can protest after they have happened (Phew! at least). Is it better than before? Isn't this a kind of freedom of expression?