Mar 29, 2009

Primary Colours

Freedom is never free; it always comes with a price tag attached. Of the many facets that this word assumes, perhaps the most significant is 'freedom of expression'. If one goes by the classic textbook definition, this term connotes "the freedom to express freely without censorship or limitation, of any act to seek or receive or impart information or ideas, regardless of the medium used". It means that we can even say what others do not like or even detest. In India, we take this fundamental right very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that we freely exercise our free right to freely interpret our freedom of expression. Most of us would recoil in horror at the real implication of this freedom. There are limits to expression of hatred just as there are limits of freedom of expression itself. The law marks the outer limits of this freedom.

Many in India and other parts of the world would have us believe that religious fundamentalism has only one colour - that of Islamic green. Not any longer. The vicious attacks on Christians and Christian institutions - including orphanages - instigated by 'Hindutva'-spewing activists in Orissa have savagely shown that fanaticism also comes in Hindu saffron. Not that this needed any more proof after the Gujarat riots of 2002, which were vindicated with the sacrilegious claim that they 'had the blessings of Lord Ram'.

Fundamentalism is essentially the hijacking of a faith to promote an exclusionist agenda, often through violent means. This transcredal phenomenon does not begin or end within the confines of one belief system; it is common to all. There are Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh fundamentalists, just as there are atheist (condescendingly called 'communist' or 'commie') fundamentalists. Not to mention 'pro-life' fundamentalists who eliminate those working in perfectly legal abortion clinics. Though no credo can claim monopoly over fundamentalism, but for some time now the term is frequently interchanged with 'terrorism' and concatenated with the word 'Islamic'. So much, that 'Islamic' in 'Islamic terrorism' is used as an adjective.

We often urge 'moderate' and 'liberal' Muslims to stand up and act as a corrective influence on their radical co-religionists. So in the context of Kandhamal and Naroda-Patia, should only moderate Hindus denounce the horrors that were perpetrated in the name of their religion? Why should moderates of all faiths, together with atheists, realists and agnostics, not come together to condemn it? Never before has moderation itself as an ideology been more beleaguered than in an increasingly divisive world. Tolerance, and not faith, must unite people from across the various sects of society in condemnation of such acts.

The goal of all fundamentalists of any stripe - saffron, white, green - is the same; they aspire to disrupt and destroy our common humanity. Such subversion can be countered only by refusing to make it the responsibility of any one particular faith. Since fundamentalism is based on a misguided premise of extreme exclusion and xenophobia, the opposing voice must base itself on inclusivism and the affirmation of a pluralist identity. Only tolerance for the 'other' who is demonised by fundamentalists, can be the cornerstone of a harmonious co-existence. Which is why the oft-iterated call to ban organisations which allegedly are fundamentalist in nature - be they saffron or white or green - actually politicises the ideology behind moderation. Necessary though such explots may seem at times, they are hardly efficacious or even durable. Bans actually go against the basic nature of democracy, even of moderation. They are simply one more way of saying that fundamentalism achieved its objective of divisive exclusionism.

The public anger and refusal to tolerate injustice has come down heavily against those accused of the carnage against Sikhs in 1984. Let us hope it extends to the genocide at Kashmir, Orissa and Gujarat too. Let us also witness now similar sentiments (and honest ones) from our leaders and followers of all faiths. But most of all, let us hear from those who believe moderation, though desirable and even , can culminate in lack of the fabric on which our society is woven - diversity. Let us accept this - we are not a society of saints. There will always be voices of dissonance, raucous and ugly. We need to hear them in order to shun them. Gagging even their voices by using their own methods right back at them is hardly a solution. Let not moderation become a mirror image of prohibitory fanaticism.


  1. Very well written In my blog I have covered the same subjecct HATE SPEECH by quoting various dirty speeches.I do not see an endto this.

  2. Mr. Chowla:
    I'll go over to your blog and read your post too. And I agree, there seems to be no end in sight to this hatred.


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