But this doesn’t happen. Being the cantankerous people that we are we seem to like making an issue out of every little thing. We jump at every excuse to take to the street and protest against the authorities. Most of the time, we don’t even know what we’re protesting against. Take for example, the recent National Herald controversy or the deposition against Arun Jaitley for the supposed cricket corruption. People took to the streets protesting against the plaintiffs for absolutely no reason at all. Some media outlets carried out an operation where reporters asked the protestors what they were protesting against and what the hullabaloo was, to which they had no answers. Some just walked away from the cameras and what the others said made no sense.
Largely, we can’t say this is wrong. It’s just who we are. It’s what makes us unique. The ability to reason. The ability to question pre-existing norms. The ability to protest against what seems wrong. But we seem to have made a hobby out of protesting against everything said, just because someone other than us said it. Again, it’s us. Unless someone plans on figuring out a way of formatting everyone’s brains and rewriting the code, there’s no way that’s going to change.
There was a debate on tolerance and intolerance recently. Adam called Eve intolerant because she was not open to new ideas. Eve agreed that she was intolerant but got back by replying, not tolerating the ‘new idea’ was her right, guaranteed to her by ‘free speech’ and that Adam who claimed to be tolerant was in fact intolerant because he is intolerant of her intolerance. If he was as tolerant as he claimed to be he should have tolerated the intolerance and hence proved his tolerance.
Essentially, it’s not the clash of ideas. It’s the clash of contrasting opinions about the idea. In the battle between those advocating opposite viewpoints, the idea itself gets lost. In this debate of tolerance, intolerance, free and hate speech and nationwide protests and agitations, TV anchors and so called ‘political pundits’ started screaming at each other throwing abuses and calling names. This only made the problem worse as misinterpretations of the proposed ideas made their way through social media. And before you knew it, the whole country was a cesspool of bickering individuals who were unsure of the realities but were still talking about it because everyone else was.
In questioning and setting a limit to tolerance we’re in turn disputing the fundamental problem/compromise in our society, which is based on an inappropriate theoretical understanding of what human desire is in life. One may want to genuinely protest against something wrong. Another might just want to be seen protesting. Yet another wants others to protest for him, so he whips up a frenzied crowd.
Freedom of speech doesn’t mean calling the Prime Minister’s office in the dead of the night and issuing a death threat. Nor does it mean using your friend’s phone for as long as you want, because hey, freedom of expression! Just because the constitution gives it as a right to every citizen, it cannot and should not be misused as an excuse to defend irrational and extremist behavior.
The solution to this is just as problematic as the issue itself. What then, comes under the purview of the supposed ‘free speech?’ When certain ‘anti-national’ comments are censored, it in turn means saying, “You’re entitled to free speech as long as you don’t say this.” The very mettle of free speech is lost in this case.
Besides, who decides what’s ‘anti-national’ and what’s not? Opinions differ. Actions differ. To one man, the government is synonymous with the country. Saying anything against the government automatically makes the speaker ‘anti-national’ in his eyes. To another, the army is the country. A more liberal person who is open to different ideas, may want to sit down and contemplate, weighing the ethics of each before arriving at his own conclusion.
Let’s walk through a thought experiment. Imagine a person invites 4 of his friends to his place for Biriyani. Three of them like it and one doesn’t. He says, “Hey, I don’t like your Biriyani man!” ‘Your’ is the key word here. He doesn’t like your Biriyani. Not that he dislikes Biriyani in general. What’s happening here is the exact opposite. People tend to take so much offense that they say, “You are Anti-Biriyani! You don’t deserve to eat Biriyani. Go eat mud!”
How else would you justify the string of “Go to Pakistan” remarks? A positive course would be those who consider themselves intellectuals refraining from making remarks openly and prevent misinterpretation of thoughts and thereby avoid needless protests. Not that they’re not allowed to speak. Just that they choose not to. Until the others mature enough to not take offense at every single thing said, they do their work unobtrusively. The unassuming opinions materialize in places with like-minded individuals and transform into ideas in turn inspiring actions that everyone finds merit in. Take the Charlie Hebdo incident as an example. The satirists putting their trust in their freedom of expression drew a few cartoons. Extremists didn’t find this funny. What happened ultimately was a loss to humankind in general. The law couldn’t protect them. The community the extremists belonged to, was largely victimized. again, we the bystanders did what we did best. Protest. Boycott innocents without even considering the fact that they had nothing to do with what happened. Without regret and remorse.
We’d rather not see such an incident repeat.
Image: Indian Express
Edited by: Ashwin Kini