Friday, March 21, 2008

Free speech or irresponsible politicking?

India should adopt the chicken, and not the peacock as its national bird, says Jug Suraiya. Why? Because the government has allegedly been chicken hearted on issues ranging from Taslima to Tibet. Ok. Our esteemed Ms. Nasreen first. She recently left India to an undisclosed European destination, claiming that her physical security would be compromised if she told us where she was going. And why did she do so? Because the Indian government kept her under "house arrest" and caused much emotional distress. She doesn't stop there. She claims that the treatment meted out to her by the Indian government was no less than "cold-blooded state terrorism to drive her out of the country."

Oh yes, it's terrorism when you try to protect a person from angry mobs throwing stones at her house and request that she maintain a low profile until things calm down a bit. Maybe we should have left her at her house in Calcutta, or waited until she was grievously injured and then filed a case of attempted murder on the angry mobs. Would Ms. Nasreen have been happy then? How can a person, whose only connection to India is a temporary visitor's visa, be so ungrateful and accuse the government of state terrorism? I mean, just because she is a woman? Just why is India obliged to host her and provide shelter? She is not an Indian. M F Hussain would have deserved it. But Taslima? Why should we stick our neck out for someone who doesn't care a damn for us? For someone who equates India with countries like Afghanistan under the Taliban and calls the Indian state a terrorist? I am sorry to say that my regard for Ms. Nasreen went down several notches after reading this report.

I certainly support her right to free speech. But one must understand that with freedom, comes responsibility. You can't say what you please and expect your audience not to react. Mob violence is unacceptable in any context and deserves to be condemned and punished. But does a writer not owe something to the society too? She may have had a difficult childhood and adolescence, but that does not give her the right to heap such abuse on a state that tried its best to help her out. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs extended her visa despite much opposition, and on the condition that she tone down her criticism and try to respect the sentiments of the people whose hospitality is enjoying. Is that too much to ask?

Her claims that she was denied access to healthcare and that the Indian government tried to "poison" her through drugs is simply too far-fetched to believe. I do not hold the current Congress government in very high esteem and have in the past questioned its attitude on various issues. But, even I find it impossible to believe that it is capable of plotting someone's slow death. I mean...come on! To me, this seems like the result of a hyper-active imagination. As far as all that crap about Indians treating a guest nobly is concerned, I don't care any more. As far as I am concerned, Ms. Nasreen has proven herself unworthy of the old Indian adage, "Athithi Devo Bhava" (May the guest be treated as God.) by heaping abuse on the very country that has hosted her and kept her safe for almost four years now.

And then, comes Tibet. All I say is this. India has enough problems without taking on those of Tibet right now. Let's set our house in order and concentrate on the more important issues of education, economic development, military and energy security and poverty reduction before we set out to "liberate" anyone else from oppressors. Was one Bangladesh experience not enough? Let's please mind our own business. Let's leave the world's problems to George W Bush.

4 comments:

Roop Rai said...

'she may have had a difficult childhood and adolescence, but that does not give her the right to heap such abuse on a state that tried its best to help her out.'

Actually, i wasn't going to comment but the idiot in me is making me comment. :) I don't mean no offence to you but I don't feel that India tried its best to help her at all. She was merely a political pawn who was used 10 years ago and shunted now when she was no longer needed. Also, shelter is what UK gave Salman Rushdie, not what India gave Nasreen.

But, of course, that is my opinion. :) I am not anti-India but I love it enough to see it for its faults. In this particular situation, I must say that I'd have to agree with Jug. Obviously, many others disagree with me and they are more than welcome to their opinion. No arguments there. :)

Well written in any case. Shall read more of your blog now.

Roop

Sudhanthira said...

Amrutha

Just thinking since you had mentioned state terrorism. Not with respect to taslima, but india and state terrorism in general. Does this mean that India is somehow not capable of terrorism? Your take on how India is not similar to afghanistan seems a little too self-righteous dont you think? what about the sikh riots? the recent Godhra? Or even the atrocities against dalits that's been going for so damn long? That's an indian speciality i would say! India may be proud for its ideals and tradition, but is pathetic when it comes to tolerance.

:)

Christina

Amrutha said...

Some answers...I think both comments deserve them.

Roop: You are entitled to your opinion. And I respect that. Perhaps, it reflects the fact that we are two different people.

Christina: No, I am not trying to brush the govt's faults under the carpet. I certainly do not claim that India is incapable of terrorism. But, in the current context, I feel that Ms. Nasreen's allegations are too strongly-worded to be taken seriously. India is a traditionally tolerant society, but of late, politics and self-interest have forced tolerance to take a back seat. It hurts to see that happening. I only hope things will change soon.

Nita said...

Hi Amrutha! :)
A very well written and logically argued piece. You've convinced me. I was actually wondering about this issue too. On one hand I thought that India should somehow be better than other nations and help refugees. On the other hand we do have a tendency to be harsh on ourselves. We expect a lot as we see ourselves as a tolerant nation. But I guess we are expecting too much. I am no fan of Taslima Nasreen and feel she makes a lot of statements simply to get attention.
Also I doubt that she will feel at home anywhere except in Bengal. We Indians can somehow feel at home in many states in India but not Taslima.
Well, that's what I think. Not that it matters that much. But I think we should take her declared love for India with a pinch of salt.