Freedom of expression is sacrosanct and I have always taken issue with those who would seek to curb it. It is the inviolate right of the people to give voice to their thoughts and speak their minds (never mind that we would all be better off if we kept out traps shut more often and refrained from spewing stuff and nonsense) without the fear of being clapped in chains, thrown in jail, slapped with a lawsuit or assorted repercussions. Yet, there are too many painful examples of journalists, activists, writers, artists and outspoken people in general being muzzled, sued, harassed or killed outright.
Ever since we won freedom in India, FOE seems to be the first casualty every time the ruling party wishes to pull the wool over our eyes when it comes to their more dubious dealings and unscrupulous activities given their commitment to only disseminating information designed to make it look like the sun shines out their nether ends. Which is why it is bloody awful when a British born Indian columnist who wrote an incendiary piece about the “Divider – in – Chief” for a foreign publication, has his status as an Overseas Citizen of India revoked. Not only is it unsurprising but a stark reminder that India may not quite qualify as the largest democracy in the world unless we are referring solely to its burgeoning population.
While this is the sort of thing that prompts one to make like Greta Thunberg and call for revolution, bristling with righteous wrath, I can’t help but concede, that we have only ourselves to blame for the gradual erosion of the basic rights we have taken for granted. Knowing as we do, that every single one of the freedoms we enjoy today has been won after long, excruciating and often bloody struggle we nevertheless feel free to squander it all away on inanity, frippery and selfish self - indulgence without ever pausing to consider the sacrifice made by those who gave their lives for this land.
Even something as sacred as FOE is forever being misused. It is not just the trolls who are practically expected to abuse and provoke by sending vulgar messages pertaining to lewd and lascivious acts or vicious threats outlined with unforgivably bad grammar and worse spelling, but the militant progressives as well with their fanatical commitment to wokeness and an unwillingness to listen to dissenting points of view. Together, these extreme factions have drowned civil discourse almost entirely. Everybody seems to feel entitled to be as obnoxious as they please not bothering to even hesitate before pulling out all stops to annihilate the lives and careers of those who dare to contradict whatever ideology is currently in fashion.
We have forgotten that human beings are complicated creatures who are definitely more than the sum of their worst tweets. That purveying fake news on Whatsapp because it validates our biases is doing a disservice to fellow citizens. Of course, the government needs to clean up its act, but it is still wise to look within and ask ourselves if we are worthy of the rights we are losing. Now more than ever it is important to reinforce our commitment to honesty, integrity, decency and kindness before the chickens come home to roost and crap all over us.
This column was originally published in The New Indian Express.
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