Thursday, 13 February 2014

Freedom of Expression

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
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The term "Freedom Of Expression" is among the most misunderstood terms - especially so after the advent of Social Media. The problem is that people don't know where to draw the line for freedom of expression. This is true for a couple of other freedoms as well.

Let's have a look at the most common example - Religion & God. The presence or absence of God cannot be proved or disproved conclusively, at least at this point of time. However, it is reasonable to say that we can prove or disprove what God has not done for sure. For example, you can say for sure that a particular disease is not because you didn't pray to God but rather because of a certain bacteria. However, there are so many things unexplained phenomena in this universe that have not yet been explained fully by science. It is, therefore, important to retain an open mind. Could it be done by God? Possible. Should we accept that as the answer and complacently do nothing about it? Absolutely not. This is because it is also possible that it is not done by God.

Whenever you analyse problems, it is commonsense that you list out all probable possibilities and eliminate which is not true. It is a common approach. But in the eyes of many, the sheer thought of attributing it to something beyond their scope of understanding is unthinkable. The other day, I was listening to tapes of Billy Meier where he discusses about his interactions with aliens. Surely the first thought is to scoff at it and say - Ridiculous, it is impossible that he had any interaction, he's bullshitting, and trying to gain attention. But if you are already forming opinions about something, then your approach is almost certainly going to be biased. Bias of any form is very bad when you are solving problems. It leads to blocking of certain paths which you will never even consider because of bias.

Now you may not believe in God or you may believe in God - That's your prerogative. Nobody questions that. But, does that give you the right to mock and scoff somebody else's beliefs? I might think you are an idiot. Just to make it more personal and piss you off, I might think (or even tell you) that your mother is an idiot. If I tell you this, will you smile and say "Yes, you have the freedom of expression - So I will take it on the chin" and keep quiet? Or will you ready your arsenal of expletives to hurl upon me?

The recent hullabaloo over Wendy Doniger's book brings to light this lack of clarity of the concept of freedom. Should the book be banned? Many of the beacons of hope and fighters for freedom of expression, the so called intelligentia and intellectuals immediately cried foul, saying that the book should not be banned. Is she exercising her freedom of expression by expressing whatever she wants? Can you say whatever you want and get away with it? Are you not accountable? In that case, I think there is nothing wrong with Owaisi's inciteful speech in Hyderabad with calls to murder people as freedom of expression as well. Where do we draw lines?

You might be an atheist (or thick skinned) and may not be affected by her book - but for believers, it is deeply offensive. By filing a lawsuit against it, they are exercising their freedom too. Freedom of expression is good in its place but it should not be used to defend atrocious or plainly stupid behaviour. Know what is fair and what is not, know what is logical and what is not. Decide based on that. Most people who are defending the book have not even read it, forget the book, they have probably not even read the reviews of  the book. I was reading several reviews of the book (discount the new ones) and saw many reviews talking about rank inaccuracies in the book - Why are these people defending something that is factually wrong? Many people think it is fashionable to be liberal sounding.

To summarise, don't follow things because of hype - apply your own thought and do some study before you accept or reject things. Secondly, freedom of expression is not a panacea, a skeleton key or the joker card for you to use all over the place - it is a precious item, use it wisely. Don't squander it. Treasure it.

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Comments on Facebook


Sandeep Shet
very well said sir. The book is not banned, It has been only withdrawn from India, due to an out of court settlement. I see lies peddled by some here too by saying the book is banned.

Ramesh Radhakrishna 
It would have been awesome if you had spoken about the inaccuracies in the book by experts rather than review comments which anyone can put up.

Nikhil Baliga 
The inaccuracies are listed in the reviews. The post wasn't about the book per se, so I didn't find it really rekevant. You'll find them with a couple of searches...

@Sandeep Shet Yeah, I told the exact same thing on Twitter today. With a scanned copy as proof. That part is apparently not made clear enough

Sandeep Shet 
http://www.indiafacts.co.in/decoding-wendy-donigers.../... here is a 3 part review of the book

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