February 25, 2014

In response to 'Why the Wendy Doniger episode is not a free speech issue'

I went through two links which have been shared on this regard in an attempt to argue that the Wendy Doniger episode is not an issue of importance in the context of free speech:

1) Link: http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-the-wendy-doniger-episode-is-not-a-free-speech-issue-1388751.html?utm_source=ref_article

2) Link: http://centreright.in/2014/02/wendy-doniger-academia-racism-and-hinduphobia/#.UwxLEfmSxCi

As these arguments are being taken seriously, I decided to post my response here:

1) The first post article claims that the issue is not that of free speech because the book was withdrawn within the framework of Indian law. Also, that the book was withdrawn on the grounds of factual inaccuracies as opposed to making Hindu texts erotic - making this an issue of fact Vs. error as opposed to stifling freedom of expression.

My counter-view: Below is the link for the official statement of Penguin India on why it chose to withdraw the book only from India (why was Penguin compelled to withdraw the book only from India if as the author claims, the decision was driven by factual inaccuracies?):
// We stand by our original decision to publish The Hindus, just as we stand by the decision to publish other books that we know may cause offence to some segments of our readership. We believe, however, that the Indian Penal Code, and in particular section 295A of that code, will make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression without deliberately placing itself outside the law. This is, we believe, an issue of great significance not just for the protection of creative freedoms in India but also for the defence of fundamental human rights. //

Penguin India does not say that the book was withdrawn due to any inaccuracies on the author's part. It explicitly mentions that it was compelled to withdraw the book because of Indian law. Saying that this is not a matter of free speech just because the book was not explicitly banned by the government is ridiculous because there is no need for the govt. to ban it - the Indian law itself can potentially ban it. Saying that this is not stifling of free speech just because it is within the framework of Indian law is even more ridiculous - in case the author is trying to imply this. The point he is missing is that those who are condemning the withdrawal on grounds of free speech are opposed to section 295A itself, and it is the Indian law which they want to the changed.

2) The centreright article agrees that the centreright team is opposed to banning of books or taking them to court; but puts in a different point of view that the 'real issue' is that of Hinduphobia and not free speech.

My view: As this is a matter of preference on which issues are 'important' according to the author, I don't have any particular reason to 'oppose' it. But I would like to point out my difference of priorities here, just like the author. The author says the 'real issue' is being sidelined because the likes of Rajiv Malhotra are not the people who are being invited to discussions on this. I think it is worth noting here, that whatever Rajiv Malhotra's views may be, the people who are being invited to defend the ban are of the opinion that the book deserves to be banned for hurting the sentiments of Hindus. Please note that Rajiv Malhotra's perhaps valid criticism of the book does not justify or make up for the fundamentalism of some people who want anything which offends their 'sentiments' to be banned.

Another difference of priorities following from the above, is that to me, the 'real issue' is about someone else speaking on my behalf as a Hindu, that the 'Hindu sentiments' are hurt. I refuse to accept that any one Hindu or a group of Hindus can speak for all Hindus on what offends each individual Hindu. And I refuse to give this authority to any bunch of Hindus to speak for me on whether my sentiments were offended or not, when they say the 'Hindu sentiments' were hurt. And I choose not to respond to the attacks on the 'liberals' who are criticizing the ban on grounds of free speech (I hope by now, we've established that this is about free speech from my first counter-argument). If I may say so, just as Wendy chooses to call everyone of her critics as fascist, the author decided to characterize every person criticizing the ban as naive, misinformed and without mentioning the word directly, pseudo-secular.

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