India at 70: Humans of Hindutva founder on ripping apart bigotry
We need to remember that a truly independent country always has room for multiple voices.
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People often message to ask me why I do what I do. And my reply to them is: "Because I live in a free country". Some of these people hold the misconception that because I satirise some politicians, I must hate India and everything about it.
It boggles my mind to think how some people have managed to create an environment in which any criticism of the government is tantamount to criticising the country. This is not a sign of progress; it’s a symptom of a deep malady.
I have always been enamoured with India’s diversity. I grew up in the north, south and east of this country and witnessing the cultural quirks of each region first-hand made an indelible mark on me. It is precisely because I was exposed to this diversity at an early age that I strive to preserve it now when I see it being attacked by an imposed uniformity.
If I had a penny for every time someone told me to go to Pakistan/Saudi Arabia/Iran, then I would be Gautam Singhania. For some reasons these people think that by bringing up these regressive countries, they are winning an argument that exists solely in their heads. They tell me to be glad that I live in India and not in these countries because none of them would allow me to say the things I say.
I find this reasoning hilarious; I love India precisely because it is a free and secular nation. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution promises all Indian citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression.
However, there is one important caveat in this arrangement: our freedom of speech is not absolute. There are restrictions on our freedom of speech it they affect the security of the state, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation, incitement to offence and the sovereignty and integrity of India.
Our government, both past and present, have used this caveat to craft a sedition law that can be used to silence dissidents.
I love India, but every now and then I ask myself if we’re truly independent. How did we arrive at a junction where the right to be offended trumps the right to offend?
On every street of India, there is someone ready to be offended at the drop of a hat. They are offended when you bring someone of the opposite sex to your housing complex.
They are offended when you eat something they don’t like. They are offended if you wear something they don’t like. They are offended if you watch something they don’t like. And most importantly, they are offended if you say something that they don’t want to hear.
Molly Ivins once said that "satire is traditionally a weapon of the powerless against the powerful". The problem with doing political satire in India is that the powerful use archaic laws to their advantage by painting any criticism as being detrimental to the national cause. It is telling that the people arrested under such laws are always whistle-blowers or activists or students while politicians and their affiliates make hate speech openly and without any fear of consequence.
This Independence Day I urge my fellow Indians to be more vigilant about the news they consume and share online.
I urge you to not fall for emotional blackmail and see things for what they are. We are a serious lot so I also urge my fellow Indians to lighten up a little.
On the 70th anniversary of our independence, we need to remember that a truly independent country always has room for multiple voices… even the ones that allegedly criticise her. Those who died fighting for our freedom did so because they envisioned a free country where Indians could speak their mind without fear.
Our freedom to express ourselves is perhaps our most important freedom. So, let’s not take it for granted.