Suman K Sharma
The symptoms are there for all to see: the 24×7 nitpicking on private TV channels over issues that should rightly be argued in court rooms or in the privacy of committee-rooms of the State; fake news going viral on social media; mud-slugging on public figures, acute cynicism about morality and assertion of the self over society. India today suffers from hyperdemocratitis – growing inability to ingest aliments of democracy. Like any malfunctioning of digestive system, the undigested sustainers of the polity go on to undermine the nation state as well as jeopardise the very life of citizens. Mob lynching by self-styled cow protectors and the shooting of a police officer in Bulandshehar in December last year are instances of the real and present danger of ‘excess of democracy’.
Our neighbour China won’t put up with such nuisance. Recently, the Cyberspace Administration of China stated that it has deleted 7 million pieces of online information as well 9,382 mobile aps to clean-up unacceptable and harmful information. Additionally, it has also shut down as many as 733 websites. But we are not China. Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution grants the freedom of speech and expression to all Indians. This basic right of ours is in accord with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek and receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’
It is that far one can go.The problem arises when everyone tries to exercise his or her right without caring for the wrongs they might do to others while doing so. I hold an opinion that my neighbour is mean and I say that to everyone I come across. My neighbour too opines that I am a freeloader and broadcasts his opinion on a loudspeaker in the mohalla. Sooner or later heads will split, mine or my neighbour’s; or the heads of both of us and of our friends too. Also consider this: Anjan wears red as a sign of his faith and says Niranjan’s black dress is odious. Niranjan retorts Anjan’s red is a sure sign that he is one among bloody maniacs. Won’t Anjan and Niranjan, both pious in their diverse ways, be at each other’s throat? Leave aside casting personal or religious aspersions, there are instances galore when some persons, in order to further their selfish motives or to vitiate the established order, knowingly give expression to half-baked truths and outright lies.
Some time back, I had written in these columns (CORROSIVE MISINFORMATION, DE, 18 April, 2018) about a man who asserted with the confidence of a born propagandist that Hari Singh who ‘bought’ the state of Jammu and Kashmir from the British Raj was a ‘dacoit’! It was a patent falsification of history dressed up as opinion. As can be expected, the man was silenced by his knowledgeable fellow passengers. But it could have led to a strong reaction – even violence -from another audience who adored the memory of the late maharaja for his positive qualities.
Then there are those who use their high stature in the society to spread half-truths for their devious ends. Take a closer look at Dr Shah Faesal’s statement on his resigning from the IAS. He claims to have resigned ‘to protest against the unabated killings in Kashmir and lack of any sincere reach-out from the Union Government; the marginalization and invisiblization of around 200 million Indian Muslims at the hands of Hindutva forces reducing them to second-class citizens; insidious attacks on the special identity of the J&K state and growing culture of intolerance and hate in the mainland India in the name of hyper-nationalism…’
That there are killings in Kashmir is a fact. But what else can be expected if the militants and their cronies won’t listen to the voice of reason? Do those folks really believe that they would be able to coerce the nation to let Kashmir fall a prey to their nefarious designs?
The second part of the statement is illustrative of how an untruth reveals itself for what it is. Forget about two former Presidents, two Vice Presidents and four CJI’s who hailed from the Muslim community, here is DrFaesal himself -a Muslim adjudged as the best among the Civil Services aspirants of 2009andcelebrated as a youth icon ever since -fulminating at ‘the marginalization and invisibilization of Indian Muslims’.
Dr Faesal’sbit about Muslims being ‘second class citizens’ is interesting, particularly in the context of Muslims in J&K. Muslims account for about 70% of the population in the state and yet enjoy the benefits reserved for the minority communities in the country. He lambasts the ‘Hindutva’ (the term literarily means’the essence of being a Hindu’) elements for reducing Muslims to the status of second grade citizens, conveniently forgetting that it was the Hindu community (the Kashmiri Pandits) which was compelled by the Muslim majority to leave the Valley, and not the other way round.
More intriguing is Shah Faesal’s use of the term ‘mainland India’, as if Kashmir were an island separate and distinct from India. If a case for revisiting the sustainability of Art 35 regarding the special status of J&K is before the Supreme Court, what is ‘insidious’ about it? How long will the separatists continue to flaunt their singularity before the rest of India?
Such are the cunningly alloyed truths and half-truths that a man of Dr Shah Faesal’s sense and sensibility has thought fit to pander to his constituency before entering public life in the high season of elections. One can only imagine the extent to which the self-seekers and poisoned minds might go to polarize the society.
Our founding fathers were well aware of the flip side of granting freedom of expression. Article 19(2) of the Constitution gives adequate authorization to the State ‘to impose reasonable restrictions’ on exercise of this right’in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State…’ Citizens can enjoy any freedom only so long as their Sovereign – in this case, India – is safe from the onslaughts on its security and integrity.
Suman K Sharma