By a happy coincidence, Sir Salman Rushdie happened to be visiting Delhi precisely when the Jaipur literary festival was in full flow. He appeared to have a packed diary too, promoting the cinematic version of Midnight’s Children. He was also able to push his pet theme of the growing cultural and intellectual intolerance in India because of which he has become something of a pariah in his own country. From the enormous publicity he received, one can assume he had a pleasant and productive trip. We did not hear of much protest as the nation lauded its controversial son. In fact, some mullahs struck a conciliatory note, offering to engage Rushdie in a debate on Islam. It was an offer he wisely refused given his past experience with the Muslim clergy. Nevertheless, it did suggest a change in mood: instead of asking for his head, the mullahs were asking for a dialogue. He’s welcome to come and go as he pleases. Rushdie vs India is a tale that needs urgent burial. I hope this visit puts an end to the canard advanced by the writer’s fundamentalist friends that he is unwelcome in India. If anything, the opposite is true.
A Dead Horse Beat
Another happy coincidence: Rushdie was in town and argumentative India was again discussing freedom of expression: was it endangered or safe? And fiercely divided on the issue. The Ashish Nandy storm-in-a-tea-cup punch-up added fuel to the debate. I remain a passionate advocate of free expression. How can I not be when my dal-roti depends on unhindered press freedom? But I’m not an absolutist. I believe the founding fathers displayed commendable foresight when they placed “reasonable restrictions” on freedom of expression. The ‘Freedom or Censorship’ binary is at once unhelpful and dangerous.
In our country where emotions—over religion, caste, region, language—are a tinderbox, no responsible government can allow a free-for-all. If-you-don’t-like-my-book-don’t-read-it ignores the Indian realities. In Denmark, they may do things differently. India is not Denmark. When there is apprehension of large-scale civic unrest, when there’s the possibility of a serious law and order problem, the government must act to protect its citizens. And in the rarest of rare cases, it may be necessary to curb free expression. That’s just sensible, it doesn’t make India a totalitarian state.
Big Chief Blues
My biography of Sanjay Gandhi, first published in ’78 and now reissued by HarperCollins (Rs 499), has had a surprisingly warm reception. When HarperCollins expressed an interest in the book, I was astonished and flattered. Who wants to know about Sanjay Gandhi in 2013, what relevance does the ‘extra-constitutional authority’ have today? I still don’t have an answer. Could a Sanjay Gandhi-like figure emerge in 2014? Someone who has a proven reputation for getting things done, a strong leader, a prime minister who is much more concerned with ends than means? In our messy, loud, rule-obsessed, allegedly policy-paralysed democracy, it seems the people desperately long for a ruler who can cut across bothersome PILs, cumbersome environmental concerns, land-acquisition norms, slum-clearance approvals, parliamentary opposition. You-Know-Who presently hovering on the horizon has the urban middle-class and, of course, the business class waiting to crown him. Is someone who warns that while a strong leader may be desirable, he or she must function within our maddening system, a party pooper?
A recent US opinion poll revealed that cockroaches and lice are more popular among American voters than politicians. Root canals, colonoscopies, traffic jams, Donald Trump, France, used car salesmen, Brussell sprouts and Genghis Khan also beat the politicians in the popularity stakes. Such is the level of despair in the world’s most advanced and richest democracy about their netas. Indian politicians frequently complain about how they are unfairly maligned by a cynical and corrosive media out to tarnish their image. They can take comfort: they still have some way to go before they catch up with their counterparts across the Atlantic. But it wasn’t all bad news for Obama & co. Politicians were more popular than playground bullies, telemarketers, gonorrhoea, Communism, North Korea and the Ebola virus.
Glossy Lip Service
I met a retired army officer who in the mid-’70s commanded a battalion on the LoC. He told me during his two-year tenure on the border there wasn’t a single instance of a breach in the ceasefire. Why? His Pakistani counterpart, who he met regularly as part of the protocol, demanded just one thing: the latest copy of Debonair. This was duly delivered and peace prevailed. Who says I haven’t done my duty to the nation?
I had the best mutton biriyani in my life at a restaurant called Paradise in Hyderabad. I recommend it strongly.
Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia.com
It’s a bloody shame that an otherwise fine journalist like Vinod Mehta pushes for restrictions on freedom of expression in the name of not offending the sentiments of the myriad groups in our country (Delhi Diary, Feb 11).
Why not taste the real Hyderabadi biriyani, Mr Mehta, by attending a post-nikaah ‘valima’ (Delhi Diary, Feb 11)? Editor will go mad at the smells coming from you.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
As recommended i went to Paradise to relish Chicken beriyani. Food was top and relishing. But to snatch your bowlful beriyani you hav to stand hungry near the occupied table were 4men bite biriyani . The eating ambience was poor.
freedom of expression require 'reasonable restrictions'.
freedom of expression require 'reasonable restrictions'.
That philosophy is in our Constitution. The devil is always in the details and the problem starts when we come to working out what is reasonable. Who decides that and on what grounds. There is no consistency and in most cases the restrictions are imposed merely because some "offended" group threatens violence.
No editor-in chief worth his pen will write that
freedom of expression require 'reasonable restrictions'.
But VM does. Thats why he is different.
We need to reset the copass to 'freedom of expression'
because we have lost intolerence in almost all
of walks our collective sphre of life
Hitesh Brahmbhatt >> Question really is how long before Indian elites learn to earn an honest living?
Answer - The day the Indian Feudal elite are made to account for every rupee they earn , save and spend and the day every amount earnt by them is taxed as per prevailing laws and the taxed income goes into treasury.
Now your next question is when do we get to that day - the answer should from very very venerable, honourable, INTELLECTUAL EINSTEINS OF INDIA - As Such as Shri Shri Ashish Nandy, Sir Sir Rushdie, Madame Arundathi Roy, His Highness Amartaya Sen and other such PEERLESS INTELLECTUAL GENIUESES who all live to make India a better place ...
>>I do not know how you measure corruption, but I would expect nascent SC/ST entrants in any field to be less corrupt and more rule bound as every action of theirs is likely to be under scrutiny.
this applies to gender differences with regards to STEM fields as well.
here is some effort from real sociologists:
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