Freedom of Expression Vs Larger Social Good

We recognised spontaneously that all freedom comes with reasonable restrictions

Freedom of Expression Vs Larger Social Good
Freedom of Expression Vs Larger Social Good

It is high time conservatives start becoming as vocal as liberals

Liberals have always been demanding unlimited freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom to offend, etc be it for M.F.Husain, Kanniah Kumar, or the Tamil movie Mercel (one of the hot topics currently). What is worrying most is the freedom to offend.

We can’t forget Emergency or the many instances of true suppression of freedom of expression (like the arrest of a cartoonist) under the Congress, but they preach liberalism. The hypocrisy of the very same extreme-liberals who chose not to stand by the likes of Salman Rushdie’s and Taslima Nasreen’s cannot also be ignored; some of them pretend to speak long after the issues have died down.

Even since Modi came to power at the Centre, this subject has assumed enormous proportions. Surely, the problem is partly the making of a section of BJP and Non-BJP right-wingers who have not just been intolerant but have sometimes taken the law into their hands and engaged in criminal activities including mob lynching. Such acts can’t be accepted by any stretch of the imagination. They should not be mistaken for conservatives.

The problem is substantially the making of the liberals, who have stretched liberalism to the point of harming the larger social good.

Even curtailment of freedom of expression against media, artists and writers should not be allowed, however wrong, opinionated, or biased they may be. It appears that neither have the appeals of the PM worked nor have the actions of the Central and State governments (both BJP and Opposition) given us the confidence that the Government safeguards freedom of expression to any reasonable extent (- not that they did before Modi became the PM).

But the problem is also substantially the making of the liberals, who have stretched liberalism to the point of harming the larger social good.

We’re not discussing the Government or Indian pseudo-liberals but the issue of freedom of expression Vs larger social good. So, let’s not get into a judgment of who is right and who is wrong; let’s confine ourselves to just the subject at hand.

We had less social tensions in the society long, long back, when we didn’t argue that we all have absolute and unlimited freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom to offend. We recognised spontaneously that all freedom comes with reasonable restrictions. Tensions arise NOT because of BJP’s or Oppositions’ intolerance (which are not acceptable), but because liberalism is being stretched too far.

Those days, we thought one was not permitted to offend another person’s sensitivities (say religious, by painting Gods or Messiahs in the nude or denigrating). Not so any longer. We thought we should all stand up for the national anthem, regardless of whether we believe in its purpose or not. Not any longer. So the Supreme Court chooses the easy option of observing that people don’t have to wear their patriotism on their sleeves after schooling; the day is not too far off when this interpretation will be extended to schools also.

My idea is not to deny credit for the very significant and innumerable positive contributions liberal thought has brought into our lives all through history.

We thought speaking ill of our police or defence forces was not a done thing. Not any longer. (We thought they had the right to resort to minimum force against rioters based on the situation, but we are told they don’t even have the right to defend their own lives, much less hurting rioters.)

We thought portraying our historical heroes (especially women, who have made our nation proud) through obscenities and untruths in the form of cinema, theatre and art are condemnable, but we are now told these are creative freedoms enshrined in our Constitution and should be enjoyed as art.

In short, we thought the freedom of all others stopped at our noses. Not so, we’re told. Offenders have all rights, and the offended has none.

My idea is not to deny credit for the very significant and innumerable positive contributions liberal thought has brought into our lives all through history. It is the extreme liberalism that I’m worried about. I won’t blame these extreme liberals; they know not what damage they are doing to the society.

In principle, most people on the street agree that no freedom can be absolute and there should be reasonable restrictions; the difficulty is, how do you define how far to allow freedom and no farther? Who will monitor and control it? If it is the Government, does it not give the Government unlimited power to suppress opposition? A moderate midway needs to be found.

As per the Indian Constitution, freedom of expression is subject to restrictions on the grounds of security, foreign relations, public order and morality.

We thought that if the reputation of someone is tarnished in public, the victim, whether a politician, bureaucrat, or a private person, one reasonable recourse available to the victim is legal, say in the form of a civil or criminal defamation suit (since Civil cases take forever). But we are told this also amounts to curtailment of freedom of expression; activists want even this option to go. (Judges are different; they can even take cognisance of personal utterances against them suo-moto and punish the offenders for contempt of court.)

As per the Indian Constitution, freedom of expression is subject to restrictions on the grounds of security, foreign relations, public order and morality. Our courts have often, sadly, interpreted the Constitution more in favour of the liberal thought even beyond the limits set by the Constitution. Judiciary sometimes seems to interpret sentences to mean just the opposite of what the law says.

Such liberalist orientation of the intelligentsia is not confined to India, but it is a global phenomenon.

While liberals have been aggressive, Conservatives have always been laid back, not speaking, not writing and not propagating their philosophy, its intellectual moorings, how the world has benefitted from moderate conservative philosophy, how the world is becoming a dangerous place to live in due to extreme liberalism (e.g., by abolition of death sentence in the rarest of rare cases, leniency in dealing with terrorists and extremists, etc)

It is high time conservatives started becoming as vocal as liberals, voicing their views strongly in favour of more fair and balanced approach of placing reasonable restrictions on freedom of expression, occupying positions of power in academic, legal, and all other spaces, balancing the liberal-conservative equation.

Unless conservatives start becoming a pressure group, the world will be swayed to extreme liberalism, to the detriment of the society.


Note:
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

Latest posts by Ganesan Subramanian (see all)

1 COMMENT

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here