Authors must be given the freedom to express their work - Seeker's Thoughts

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Monday, 7 January 2019

Authors must be given the freedom to express their work


 Certain ideas/thoughts/norms/values have to be open for criticism or contestation. This is unreasonable that certain forms of power are beyond criticism or contestation. 

The creation, delimitation and expansion of the domain of the sacred is always a political (and not merely theological) exercise to create barriers of defiance for entrenched power. 

Though each generation has struggles, but even in democracy, writers face threats from political and religious followers when they try to keep different narrative of lives. Due to different ideas, there came the concept of democracy and freedom, yet people do not understand it.



For writers and artists the freedom of expression is compromised often due to mob pressure.



The Brhamastra – Section 295A

The most misused section of Indian Penal Code (IPC) where unnecessary hurt of religious sentiments shush the voices of writers and artists. Section 295 A is a blasphemy law. Blasphemy is considered as an act of insulting to religion, or sacred things associated with religion.  In present day divorces are allowed, and violence against women is not allowed, which is originally against religious and cultural sentiments.




Blasphemy and Human Rights contradictions



There are various practices in every part of the world, which are regressive, scientifically harmful and meaningless yet in the name of custom and religion those are practiced.

When activist try to bring reforms, in highly orthodox societies, they are treated badly. In some part of the world, social reformers even get death penalties.  Genital Mutilation is the best example of it. Even when United Nations declared a day against female genital mutilation, but it happens. For Male genital mutilation, even United Nation did not interfere because it is the essential for ‘Sunni Muslims’.

Blasphemy Laws were introduced by highly religious orthodox communities in primitive societies. The regret is that blasphemy laws are in the laws in 21 century as well.   Some countries use Blasphemy laws as hate speech laws.



In both cases, the attack is for the people who criticize religion.

The question is- Raja Ram Mohun Roy stood against Sati Pratha in which women were burnt alive with husbands, and that could have also called blasphemy. At that time perhaps it was blasphemy but there was a little scope for criticism.

Criticism is the basic part of evaluation, how can religion be away? On the grounds of humanity, there remain certain practices which need to be abandoned and removed.



Acts in India against Blasphemy



The Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2018, mooted and passed by the Government of Punjab seeks to amend Article 295-A to make the sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib, Koran, Bible and Bhagavad Gita a punishable offence attracting life imprisonment.



International Example of ‘Blasphemy Laws”

The progressive strengthening of anti-blasphemy laws during the Seventies was a sign of a toxic combination of greater intolerance and authoritarianism.

The argument that the state needs to use coercive power in deference to religious sentiments is illiberal.

September 30th is International Blasphemy Day. On this day in 2005, the day Danish papers published cartoons of Muhammed. Riots ensued and 100+ people were killed. Today blasphemy is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, an ally of the U.S.A and in many more countries. 



Attack on secularism

Such legislations as was passed in Punjab and mob pressure can lead to other states to ‘accept’ the demands of different communities and groups. Such legislation would hinder the possibility of the immanent critique of religious/community practices, beliefs, and norms, as blasphemy laws strengthen the position of the dominant within the community by accepting their interpretation as authoritative.

Such legislation indicates to the extremist and vigilante groups that their actions have the state’s backup.

Legal protection for the text in the domain of the sacred, even as hate speech and hate crimes against human individuals and collectives go unabated and unpunished, is a definite indicator of the extent of erosion of the secular principle in polity and society. 



Shashi Tharoor’s Bill

Shashi Tharoor introduced a private member bill aimed at protecting literary freedom from threats, where he targeted three Sections of IPC – 295A, 298 which is similar to 295A. 298 criminalizes speech critical of religious organisation or religious figures.  



According to 153A, punishment is for them who promote enmity between groups on ground of religion, race and language, therefore section 295A and 298 are hindrance in the way of freedom of expression. 153B criminalizes words and imputation prejudicial to nation’s integration.

Private member bill is hard to pass but this is a needed law and abstains from the manipulation of majority orthodox. Many authors were banned for example – Wendy Doniger for ‘The Hindu: An Alternative History’, Salman Rushdie for Satanic Verses, and Tamil writer Perumal Murugan for Madhorubagan.

Authors must be given the freedom to express their work without fear of punitive actions by the state or the section of society to uphold liberal values.