Fresh incidences to silence dissent and opinions, especially in South Asia are a matter of critical concern. Attempts to silence have acquired multiple faces ranging from antics of sending Dahi Misal to murder. Gruesome firing and death of Sabeen Mahmud in Pakistan followed the murder in cold blood of two bloggers in Bangladesh. In the same nation, court punishes a journalist for contempt of court for reporting and 23 others for supporting the journalist. In neighbouring Sri Lanka, poet Sharmila Seyyid is “raped and killed online” by religious fundamentalists. Back home, in India, Kamal Hassan got a reprieve from the court of law to release his film Uthama Villain, but yet to see whether the zealots will clear their censure. Perumal Murugan, a noted writer folded pen, as it was too much for him to endure the wrath of the mercenaries of faith. The number of books banned pan India and in various states since independence make an “impressive” list.
Silencing dissent is the method of the fascist and the ones with monistic worldview. History is replete with characters and movements that have attempted to quell differences. Authoritarian regimes and religious sects have always tried to control intellect and limit modes of expressions. Free expressions, opinions and thoughts are greatest enemies of religious fundamentalists and totalitarians as they set individuals free.
Every regime, be it democratic or otherwise, tries to regulate the sphere of expression and speech. The scale of control may vary according to the weightage each society accord to the value of free expression and public space. Non-governmental bodies flex their muscles to quiet voices that do not appease their programme. Governments more often stand mute spectator to violations of the rights of citizens by these thugs to carry out their agenda with impunity.
Free speech and expression is a desideratum of Indian constitution for meaningful life and an environment required for robust democracy. Having said that, Indian legal culture is replete with experiences of censor and ban. The volatile communal fault lines give the government a justification to step in at every perceived threat to communal harmony and use the tools to suit their agenda. The FIRs registered under the decommissioned Section 66A of IT Act are examples. S. 66A has been invoked for causing ‘annoyance, inconvenience etc.’ to persons like Mamata Banerjee, Narendra Modi, Mulayam Singh, Akhilesh Yadav, Azam Khan, Karti Chidambaram to cite few.
In the judgment that annulled S. 66A of IT Act, the court discussed in detail the need of space for free speech and expression that is the foundation of a healthy democracy and a sound society. The parochial political, sectarian and religious bigots on the other hand is turning the society into intolerant short fused mass that is self-destructive. The art of deliberation and maturity to understand others opinion, even when one might not agree to is fast loosing to our communities if not already lost.
In such communities it is easy to spread fear, distrust, make people fight someone else’s war without them realizing it. Best way to make slaves is to kill intelligence. To kill intelligence; limit thought, speech and expression. It is therefore necessary to react to provincial leaders, support voices of dissent and be the voices of difference.