Saturday, November 4, 2017
Intolerance debate: Reply to Soli Sorabji
Reading Mr.Sol Sorabji’s article “A duty to be tolerant”(The Indian Express, Nov.1, 2017) I was reminded of the “9 LEGAL METHODS LAWYERS COULD USE TO DEFEND DISNEY VILLAINS” on MTV website. Sorabji indeed is surrounded by a “mysterious halo” of supreme confidence as a former chief law officer of the Government of India and an eminently successful lawyer. For a while I suspected he was engaging in a repugnant, dishonourable scare tactic with an eye on the coming elections in Gujarat and HP, or rather engaged to do that; not worth our respect! No! He is not like any of the Chancery legal professionals in Bleak House, sinister villains, shysters, or “narrow, mean, ignorant pettifoggers.” Soli Sorabji is a Parsi, and a thorough gentleman, and a man of great erudition. He can’t be looked at as a avocat des crapules (“villain’s lawyer”) defending indefensible positions! I have always thought that like Dickens’ Tulkinghorn Soli has no life outside of the law; and “never converses when not professionally consulted”; and not politically allied!
Then what’s his case? Sorabji postulates that in contemporary India, the rise of intolerance is alarming. Dissent is smothered and self-censorship takes its place, endangering democracy itself. He pontificates on the duties of Indian citizens and connects immediately to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR) that recognises a vital link between human rights and duties in its Article 29. (I must point out that the majority of the UNHRC member-states do not represent democracies!) From there it is a straight jump to the “the painful reality that one cannot effectively exercise fundamental rights nor perform fundamental duties unless tolerance is prevalent in society.” So his premise is the threat or practice of intolerance in India that is Bharat.
I am a seventy-year old living in India till date, a reasonably educated, “tolerant” citizen of India. I read newspapers and watch news and panel discussions on TV channels routinely. And my own, and also that of a group senior citizens like me who sit and discuss everything under the sun during the evenings, thought that while some atrocities are taking place in this vast country, and are mainly dissected and discussed for the benefit of television rating points for survival of the respective Channels in their business. At times we have felt that the Opposition parties, in their “existential crisis” in the “Modified” politics, economics and governance of the country since 2014, are creating a scare and "defaming" the country, deliberately creating a propaganda of intolerance. In this vast country, how many incidents of “intolerance” have been reported in the mainstream media which is largely hostile to the present regime? I would say they are statistically negligent considering the population as well.
The strange argument by the Opposition parties and the “intellectuals” backing them is that if a case is filed against an author for writing a book with views unacceptable to a majority of Indians, that is “intolerance” of “freedom of expression”! The judiciary or the police are approached when there are statutes that support the issue opposed; right? Although the right to peacefully protest is enshrined in the Constitution, there is no constitutional or other legal right to commit criminal acts to make a point.
The law imposes on government (through police) an affirmative obligation to take all reasonable steps to protect the speaker’s right to speak, the audience’s right to hear and the protesters’ right to protest. Has this “due process” ceased to exist in India or is it thriving?
COW PROTECTION comes from the Directive in the Article 48, Soli! If you go by the principles of democracy, if the tradition, the rituals, the faith and the religion of the majority (Hindus, 80% still!) should settle matters strongly! How come Islam, that came from Arabia, has cow-killing as a "religious" injunction? Xian/Muslim invaders-cum-proselytizers to killing and eating cow obviously to spite the Hindus who were conquered in their own land. Being a lawyer Mr.Sorabji is aware that there were anti-Cow slaughter laws in as many States before Modi government came. Congress spokesperson Digvijay Singh was heard labouring hard during Bihar Assembly elections to remind people that it was mostly Congress governments that had banned cow slaughter in about 24 states, including Bihar, way back in 1955 when the BJP was not even formed! So cow protection statutes are fine; but implementation is communal, and a mark of “intolerance”?
Hate Speech: The “liberal-Left” institutes speech codes to prevent what is generally called “hate speech” which is a perverse tactic to marginalize, and exclude, the speech and ideology of those with whom liberals and Leftists do not agree, those individuals who express ideas that offend their peculiar world-view and sensibility. I must remind Mr.Sorabji that the opposite of everything is truly not hate; but indifference; and it could be worse!
Do you remember Jyoti Basu, banning the exhibition of the movie Taurus in a Kolkatta film festival saying "such movies should not even be made"? That was PC to comrades! So was use of a bit of a Tagore poem in an ad, crying out sacrilege! Can you publish anything against Communist icons, living or long-dead, in Kerala? So the elite progressives give respectable cover to the worst prejudices of the era, not that they believed in them, but to rabble-rouse!
Do you think demonetisation was an example of Modi’s intolerance; intolerance towards the rich, Soli? Many cried that it was “looting” people’s money! Even a Supreme Court judge predicted “riots’ in the wake of demonetisation, but nothing happened even when a third of the currencies in circulation evaporated and cash for daily transaction was not available. People did experience some pain for a few months. Wasn’t it unbelievable the way people had extended support to the government? That showed Indians “tolerate” anything reasonable!
Didn’t we “tolerate” 10-15000 participating in the funeral prayers for Yakub Memon, supporters of certain ‘cause’, a belief that Yakub was a holy warrior of sorts, who was unjustly hanged by Hindu India? Don’t we tolerate who burst crackers and distribute sweets to celebrate Pakistan’s victory over India in Cricket, amid chanting of “Pakistan Zindabad”? Haven’t we tolerated the Maoists, Naxalites, Jamaat-e-Islami, various militant and violence prone Muslim fundamental outfits and Communists of all hues misuse of the tools of democracy to destroy democracy?
What I see at work in these situations is the long established “secular” narrative in which endemic Hindu communalism accounts for all the ills that afflicts religious minorities in India. Let me ask you, Soli, does the miniscule community of Parsis, with their disproportionate wealth, positions, and glory in comparison with others, feel “intolerance” too? Success being a sin against fellow beings, Parsis should have certainly faced persecution from less successful and poor Hindus!
After promoting "secularism" for over six decades why do we have more frictions in the Indian society than even before Independence? If credit must go to the Congress governments for keeping Muslims an unsuccessful and inassimilable minority and almost automatic electoral fodder for 6 decades, remember they were able to accomplish only with the help of their butterboys/girls in the media. Majority’s voices are marginalized, disregarded, denounced as hate speech, unworthy of being part of an ongoing, vigorous debate in the nation's ‘marketplace of ideas’. Mainstream media, some of them proven “paid media”, defame, demean, and libel “Hindutva forces”. In the midst of the saturation coverage of the intolerant Gowrakshak’s (because it involved Sangh Parivar!) few seem to pay attention to the fact that in Kerala s many as 120 BJP-RSS workers were murdered by CPIM activists for just being Sangh Parivar members, and that Kerala is ruled by LDF!
There is no “Islamophobic” political culture in India and except a lunatic fringe everybody feels embarrassed and ashamed to blame Muslim community for terror! Some of us are ‘sorry-for-being Hindu’ apologists to be “secular”! India is not just Babari Masjid .It was a Shia Mosque, and Sunnis who burn Holy Koran in Shia mosques are at the forefront of war on Hindutva vaadis who want to have Ram Temple restored where they believe, with concrete evidence backing that belief, a Ram Temple existed! Heaven is not going to fall if the vast majority of Indians who feel for it are given their temple and have them build a grand mosque nearby! The acid test of secularism that Muslims and Christians have to take in ‘Hindu India’ is just this: will they be tolerant to the extent they accept Hindu religious beliefs on an equal footing with their own! Pundits were J&K’s litmus test concerning religious freedom; and Kashmiri Muslims who have a long history of inciting violence and hate against Hindus and Sikhs failed that! Terrorist groups are tangled up with dubious IUML and Muslim interests in Kerala and elsewhere in the country. Terrorism isn't always about blowing up buildings or killing people. It can also consist of activity intended to frighten, demoralize, or neutralize the nation’s defences, destroy communal harmony—in other words, a variety of psychological warfare against “others”.
Hindus have been happy to live their lives without bothering about Faiths of others. Their scriptures accommodate other faiths are different paths to the God! We are not talking about “monopoly of truth and wisdom”! The erudite Sorabji isn’t ignorant not to know of the Christian “REPLACEMENT THEORY/SUPERCESSIONISM” which has been a significant concern of interfaith relations activists; he is being deliberately naive! Why are Christians, Muslims (and atheists too) waging war on beliefs that mean nothing to them? Life in India showcases the magnanimity and largesse of an Indian (Hindu) society that doesn’t riot every time Jihadis and their local supporters cause terror; or when proselytising pastors and moulvis distribute pamphlets calling Hindu deities demons, or speaking in public conventions to that effect. Please go to Kerala, Soli, the entire stretch of the road to the Hindu pilgrim route to Sabarimala temple are plastered on either side with the terrible punishments in Hell for those who do not believe in Christ! Hindus tolerate it! It is in this context I think the precondition for getting protection under the Freedom of Religion clause of the Constitution should be whether the objectionable order/situations amounted to a substantial burden on the exercise of their faith.
To those who cry hoarse for an “inclusive society”, yes indeed. But remember, the next phase is integration. Let the thieves, thugs, mountebanks, and experts in manipulation, often described as “political technologists” and “social engineers”, understand that integration has to be based on what unites us, rather than what drives us apart; drawing on culturally centripetal national loyalties too. The country can survive policy and personality disputes. It cannot thrive in the corrosive atmosphere of rigid judgment about character and motives of a ruling party or an elected leader, Modi.
Lawyers who defend notorious criminals/terrorists require a mental leap to overcome the near-universal presumption of guilt for the defendant. Does Mr.Sorabji imply that violent activities, call to destroy the country, for its vivisection, dishonouring national symbols, denigrating faith of nearly 80% of the population of the nation, etc. constitute legitimate contributions to public discourse? Brother, I wonder how tolerance becomes a virtue and peace is possible when others are belligerent, also believe that tolerance, justice, diversity etc only apply to positions and people whose views are consistent with their own, or other than Hindus? What are we expected to teach enemies of our system, enemies of our Country? That they can do anything to us and we’ll turn the other cheek?
I am anguished and astonished about Mr.Sorabji’s call to the media to “preach” messages considering the reality that in the current television debates outrage matters more than reason! They are also busy to cultivate a curious kind of identity politics which is deliberately structured and restricted to delegitimize and silence Hindus, Hindutva and the NDA government. If social justice and progress is in the perpetual conflict of identity politics with an intangible, exaggerated Hindu supremacy, then social progress will depend on the minorities decimating Hindus. That would be political condemnable repression, impossible in the free political marketplace of democracy.
Mr.Sorabji is borrowing from the second part of American jurist, SC Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr’ s judgement the sombre view that “the principle of free thought - not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate - was sacred!” I prefer his earlier judgement that defined in 1919 the limits of free speech by noting that the law did not protect someone “falsely shouting fire in a theatre” because Soli is doing precisely that for reasons best known to him. Soli could have eschewed the thinly disguised polarizing vernacular of a political opponent of the present government and taken the role of a transcendent representative of Indian intellectuals whose case he seems to be arguing. Mr.Sorabji’s article in the Indian Express, for me shows the perils of intellectual arrogance in dealing with explosive social issues. The heap of jargon-filled abuse of people on the “other side” who happen to be in the majority now is unfortunately trite and untrue, though written by one of the powerful judicial minds in the country. As a lawyer, Soli must be aware that "misrepresentation of facts is an ingredient in the constitution of cheating" according to an Indian High Court! So he is cheating a whole people and Mother India, besides cheating those who choose to read what you wrote!
Though I personally feel, under the current Indian conditions, Aristotle was right to say that “tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society” and we Hindus may have to conduct an “agonizing reappraisal” about the kind of secularism Mr.Soli Sorabji supports. However, whatever intolerant ‘secularists’, sanctimonious leftists and self-righteous liberals think of Modi-led India, freedom of thought, expression and speech, though circumscribed by restrictive laws, cannot be and shall not be removed from public domain in India: mainly because they are consistent or aligned to the values in our cultural template which is essentially Hindu!