Saturday, February 11

Free speech & love on valentine’s day #flashreads

One of my friends, Nilanjana Roy, has come up with this brilliant idea. To read something that is banned somewhere in the world, to strike a blow for freedom of speech. I have been debating this for some time now. Some points about some people.

  • People are happy for freedom of speech as long as it doesnt offend somebody
  • People are happy for freedom of speech as long as it doesnt offend their guru / prophet / God / neighbour / job / language. You are free to offend somebody else’s guru / prophet / God / neighbour / job / language
  • People think freedom of speech means people are impolite
  • People think that freedom of speech leads to slander
  • Minorities particularly have a love hate relationship. Christians in Indian love to stick up with Muslims when Rushdie is mentioned but fall silent when Hussein is mentioned. Muslims generally are silent anyway. Hindu’s are all excited when Hussein is mentioned or they talk about Christians propagating their faith but get upset with other Hindu’s who are saying bad things about say casteism. Even the secularists and communists get excited about Hindu supremacist articles but would not say a peep about say Muslims getting excited about Rushdie…

And so on and so forth. I used to get upset at first when these debates used to happen, the sheer stupidity of their thought processes, the breathtaking illogical thought and the shocking hypocrisy is guaranteed to raise your temperature. But no longer, it is now amusing to watch them wriggle when you say specially to the religious nutters. If you want to ban hate speech, then presumably you are happy to ban the quran and bible as well? Then you watch them squirm and squirm. Anyway, laughing at them is a good technique, that seems to wind them up even more. heh.

But we need to protest more. So what’s the idea? I quote:

THE IDEA: To celebrate free speech and to protest book bans, censorship in the arts and curbs on free expression

WHY FEBRUARY 14TH? For two reasons. In 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering the death of Salman Rushdie for writing the Satanic Verses. In GB Shaw’’s words: “Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.”

February 14th or Valentine’s Day has also become a flashpoint in India, a day when protests against “Western culture” by the Shiv Sena have become an annual feature. In Chandigarh, 51 Sena activists were arrested by the police after V-day protests turned violent in 2011. Our hope is to take back the day, and observe it as a day dedicated to the free flow of ideas, speech and expression.

#flashreads is a simple way of registering your protest against the rising intolerance that has spread across India in the last few decades. At any time on February 14th—we suggest 3 pm, but pick a time of your convenience—go out with a friend or a group of friends and do a quick reading. We’ve made some suggestions (below) but feel free to pick your favourite passage on free speech, or passages from a challenged book or the works of any writer who has faced sedition charges, a book ban or other forms of censorship.

Feel free to make up your own protest.

Places where you might do public readings: subway and Metro stations, public parks, coffee shops, open areas in malls. If you’re talking about Flashreads on Twitter, please use the #flashreads hashtag.

If you have a blog, a tumblr or a website, an easy way to join in is to post Tagore’s poem, “Where the mind is without fear” (see below) on your site for a day, or choose any of the excerpts below.

(If you choose to read from books that are currently banned, be aware of the possible legal risks. Readings from the Satanic Verses were conducted by Rajeev Dhawan, Swami Agnivesh and others in 1988-1989 when the book was banned in India and attracted no legal penalty at the time since the novel was banned under a Customs rule that prevents importation of the book, but not readings from excerpts. However, the four authors—Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Ruchir Joshi and Jeet Thayil who read from the book at the Jaipur Literature Festival may face legal action—please feel free to read from any of their works on February 14th as well.)

I'm not in India so I wont be able to participate but I can help electronically Smile What can you do to help me? You can retweet this, you can spread it on facebook, you can also do a flashread. Rise up against the forces of obscurantism, fight against the demons of illiteracy and paternalism, revolt against these small minded banshees of public morality. Remember the pink chaddi campaign? show them that their narrow minded views on society are detestable at one end and funny at the other.

Here’s the first one

“What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? – The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will change the world.”  ~ Salman Rushdie

How many Ramayanas ? Three hundred? Three thousand? At the end of some Ramayanas , a question is sometimes asked: How many Ramayanas have there been? ~ AK Ramanujan

He could say something radical -- that burning and banning books will not feed one hungry soul, will not house one homeless person nor will it provide gainful employment to anyone (unless one counts those hired to light bonfires), not in Mumbai, not in Maharashtra, not anywhere, not ever. ~ Rohinton Mistry

“Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has an affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence. ” ~ Mahatma Gandhi, on the sedition laws

We cannot let our republic, our beloved republic, our constitutional republic, our free and free-speaking republic, be hijacked by fear. It happened once in the Emergency. It must never happen again.
We cannot let them close our mouths and eyes and ears.
We cannot let them break the pen or ration the ink. ~ Vikram Seth, speech at the Kolkata Book Fair.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth…
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. ~
Rabindranath Tagore

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