When I wrote my previous Blog titled Artistic Freedom- Is it Absolute? ‘http://confused-ambadi.blogspot.com/2011/06/artistic-freedom-is-it-absolute.html, I did confess that I am rather confused on various dimensions of the subject. I believe that like most of the other social issues, there is no black and white answer to this issue as well. I knew various perspectives being advanced on the subject are right in their own context, yet very much wrong when seen from some other angle. In the context of artistic freedom, my heart hated any restrictions while brain demanded certain controls on the expressions in the interest of larger issues of social harmony and peace.
Therefore, I tried to find a middle path wherein the parties are encouraged to exercise self restraint while exercising their right to freedom of expression so as to avoid hurting any genuine sentiments of others. It is only a fact that there are thousands and thousands of artistic expressions in all forms of art that do not hurt any sentiments yet manage to be great works. There are also certain artistic works that by their very nature and subject might cause some hurt to some people, not because of the work as such but because these people are unduly possessive or sentimental about the subject itself. I was addressing the third group of works where an artist causes hurting of sentiments of a large group of normal population, whether deliberately or otherwise. By normal population, I mean any population of rational beings excluding the fundamentalist or extremist elements.
I am thankful to all the readers who conveyed their opinions on the subject, either through comments section of the Blog or through Tweets/ emails to me. To take these deliberations further, I would like to discuss in detail some of the comments that are more vocal on different aspects of the issue. I would also use this opportunity to invite more comments from the readers so that something positive comes out of this interaction.
Lets us start with two extreme views:
Charakan said in his comments...
“I do not have much confusion about artistic freedom for expression and freedom for an individual to hold an opinion and express it.
Artists should have complete freedom for expressing themselves in the artistic way they want to and should be subjected only to self-censorship in an atmosphere free of fear of violence.
If someone get offended by it he/she should have the freedom to not to see/read/hear the artistic work.
Thus if someone finds a story in a text book offensive he/she should have the freedom not to study it. But he/she do not have the freedom to stop others studying it.
If a person or group of people is of the opinion that an artist is deliberately maligning their religion or culture they have the freedom to protest in a peaceful manner. At the same time the Government has the duty to protect the artists freedom and the freedom of others to protest peacefully. But the Government or the Courts should never stop an artist from expressing himself as the aggrieved parties always have the choice not to see/read/listen to the work.”
While he agreed with me on subjecting the artistic works to “self- censorship in an atmosphere free of fear of violence”, he holds a very clear view on the absoluteness of the artistic freedom. The only concession to the offended is their right not to study/ read/ see/ listen to the work in question. I have no quarrel with the ideas itself but I do not agree with the practicality of the suggestions.
If a university chooses offensive portions to be included in its syllabus, would it be possible to tell the students that if they are offended by the work they don’t have to study it? Taking the artistic freedom little further, is it fine for an artist to deliberately carry out character assassination of a person by including a distorted version of the family history of that person in some artistic work? Wouldn’t affected person have a right to sue the artist for defamation and would it be improper for the State/Courts to punish the artist, if it is proved that the work amounted to defamation as per the laws of the land? Or, should the Court merely tell that person to restrain from reading the artistic work containing defamatory matter?
I am of the firm view that violence is not limited to physical form alone; even psychological and emotional violence is equally deplorable. No matter what the mode of expression, every form of violence is to be condemned and stopped. That includes a violent artistic work as well.
Further, this comment pre-supposes a superior right to artists to express themselves, in whatever form and fashion they choose, while imposing a burden on all others to be apologetic about their sentiments and to be choosy about what they read, listen, view etc. In the real world, this kind of a classification of rights may not be feasible.
On the other hand, Aaquib Naved said...
“I feel there is a thin line between freedom and hurting someone's feelings. Your freedom of expression cannot intrude my sentiments. Be it a cartoonist, a blogger/writer. If you've objections/issues/views on any particular religion/sect you are most welcome to point them out but at the same time be ready for a healthy feedback. I reiterate it being healthy and non-violent. Moreover, If I portray you in a way which may be hurting and indecent to you and quote freedom of expression (as an excuse) it is somewhat arbitrary and forceful. “
In contrast to the previous comment, this one portrays the views of the ‘offended’. Aaquib says “Your freedom of expression cannot intrude my sentiments”. But then, who decides where the thin line that separates freedom and hurt is? Sentiments differ from person to person. Can an artist realistically determine what the line is where he can be sure of not hurting anybody’s feelings?
Let us turn the argument on its head. As much as there could be an artist who is deliberately out to destroy social harmony, isn’t there a possibility of some motivated individuals holding that an artistic work hurts their sentiments (real or imaginary) and instigating a large groups of people to indulge in violence? In fact, it is the so called ‘offended people’ who often resort to violence without even trying to find out the truth behind the allegations about offending their sentiments! Most of the violence that occurred in the past against artistic works was precisely due to misguided reactions, at the behest of trouble makers and without actual reading, viewing or listening as the case may be.
Between the two extreme views above, we have to find a line which has balance of convenience, even if not the ideal, so that we can ensure maximum social harmony with minimum interference in artistic freedom. It is towards this end that I suggested self-restraint as the method, wherein the artist himself acts as any prudent artist would act in the given situation. I am sure there are thousands of ways to express one’s creativity and ideas without hurting other normal people’s sentiments.
I am glad to note that my view on self –restraint is not completely off the mark and there are takers who support the view.
I quote The Addict who said...
“As you've rightly shown, the path between artistic creativity and greater social harmony lies within self-restraint.
I would add that this philosophy is applicable not only to the artist, but even to the so-called audience.
It has been a sad precedent that the most radical reactions to offensive art (or art *supposed* to be offensive) are from people who have never seen/heard/read the art in question.
In other cases, the solution is simple: avoid what you personally dislike. Like we all do, every day, with so many things.
Above everything, let us foster a social culture where we understand that "strength needs to be tempered with wisdom"...”
"I like the point you have made about self-restraint being the best form of censorship.
Self-discipline or 'Swatantrata' has been advocated in Indian culture from ancient times.
Both the comments above remarkably add substance to the theory of self-restraint. They do not limit it to artists alone but extends it further to encompass all of us. “Strength tempered with wisdom” is something that we all have to aspire for, as a qualification to remain social animals. If any of us try to enforce our unrestrained will on others, through art or violence or any other mode, then the fragile bond of society will only disintegrate.
I agree each one of us have absolute right to hold a view, opinion or belief, howsoever extreme it may be. But we do not have such a right to manifest that in public, without considering its impact on other members of the society. That restraint is the little cost that we have to pay for enjoying the membership and associated benefits of a society.
I do not believe the last word has been said on this topic. I look forward to more comments that may throw further perspectives on this issue, which I still believe to be complex.
“I believe in absolute freedom of expression. Everyone has a right to offend and be offended. So I supported Husain. In India, I see a division; some support Husain, others support Rushdie. Why can’t they support everybody’s freedom of expression? If they can’t support Rushdie, (Danish cartoonist Kurt) Westergaard, MF Husain, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Asiya Bibi and me equally, then they don’t believe in the freedom of expression.” These were the word of Ms Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi writer who had to leave her country, in the face of attacks from religious groups, in her interview published in the Times of India, dated 19 June 2011.
These words again brought up to the fore, certain confusions in my mind- relating to the sad situation in which India’s one of the most commercially successful artists, MF Husain, had to accept citizenship of another country and had to die outside his country of birth (when I say commercially successful, I am not qualifying the success of Husain as an artist. I use the term only for the simple reason that art and paintings are not my forte and therefore I do not want to pass judgments thereon).
Who is right and who is wrong? Are all parties wrong or right? My heart says artists must have the full freedom to express their creativity, thoughts and ideas. I would not feel offended merely because someone has used his/her artistic freedom in some or other work. But my mind says that no freedom can be absolute; one’s freedom must stop just before the nose of another and should not include the freedom to touch the nose itself! Absolute freedom amounts to anarchy and therefore it is not advisable for any society that believes in rule of law and aspires for harmony.
I wouldn’t go into details of the situation involving MF Husain for three reasons: (i) my concerns here are more conceptual in nature, (ii) I have not been able to make up my mind about culpability of Husain in drawing nude paintings of certain figures that are worshipped by groups of people, and (ii) I am already biased against the extreme rightwing elements among Hindus, who caused the whole episode.
I have had the fortune to study Indian Constitution and therefore I know, constitutionally, in India, no freedom is absolute. The Constitution itself makes fundamental rights enshrined therein, including right to life, subject to reasonable restrictions. Therefore, when Ms Nasreen talks about the “absolute freedom of expression”, that has no sanction under Indian Constitution.
However, that does not solve my confusion. What amounts to reasonable restriction is something very subjective. At the most, it will help if a matter reaches a court and the court has to decide upon it. But these issues are not decided in courts, but often on the streets. Just like artists, there are elements in the society who think they too have the freedom of expression; only that their mode of expression is violence and not arts.
When Ms Nasreen says ‘everyone has right to offend’, isn’t she, inadvertently but ironically supporting the so called right to freedom of expression of her tormentors as well? When she was being harassed by these fanatics, weren’t they expressing their freedom of expression in a manner known to them?
Similarly, what if an artist or writer deliberately offends a group or community with the intention of either creating social tensions or merely to gain publicity for his/her works? What if a radical group wanting to create riots, use one of the artists to publish some matter that can inflame any of the groups? Can we allow such things to happen?
When I raised these issues through Twitter, @taslimanasreen did not respond. However, another friend @charakan raised certain pertinent issues by way of counter questions. I will quote his tweets (verbatim but edited to expand so as to make it clear to readers):
“Misuse of freedom to create social tension is done not by artists but by communalists. They will do it even if artists keep mum”
“Who decides what is offensive and made to market? By Communalists or Journalists who have never evaluated a work of art, or by Art Critics?
I agree these are not black and white issues. One cannot give clear answers to all these questions. Any of these questions cannot be answered by another question. That is why I advocate a middle ground.
While respecting the artistic freedom of expression, the artist himself or herself have to ensure that the freedom is not misused in a way that it results in creating social tensions. At the same time if a third party, whether it is moral police, Government authorities, censorship bodies or even art critics are given the power to censor the art works that can stifle the genuine freedom of the artist.
Artists cannot compare themselves with militant groups that are fuelled by religious or other retrograde agendas. They must value their freedom and show a sense of responsibility in exercising it. Every artist must ensure that he or she is exercising self imposed reasonable restrictions on his/her freedom of expression, so that the social harmony is not disturbed by their works. They can use the test of reasonableness, wherein they decide not to do something that a reasonable man would find offensive in a given situation. I am sure there are enough ways to create a work of art, without using offensive language or symbols.
The first step towards this objective is for artists to realise and admit that no one has absolute freedom of expression and that the right is subject to reasonable restrictions and social responsibility. They must understand that they have more responsibility towards society than hooligans and violent groups.
Finally, artists have to be aware that for a State, maintaining social harmony is more important than allowing individual creative freedom. Therefore, given the choice a State is likely to stifle freedom than allow anarchy by allowing every group to exercise their respective ‘absolute freedoms’. The concept of society and nation-states are based on giving up certain individual freedoms for the common good.
Self restraint is the best form of censorship, as it gives the artist sufficient opportunity to express his ideas or art in a way that the essence of the work is not compromised.
P.S: Please read the addendum post that analyses the comments to this post http://confused-ambadi.blogspot.com/2011/06/addendum-to-blog-on-artistic-freedom-is.html
Not a mere I, but St. I
I am the Saint... purest of pure
I, a lotus in the dirty pond
Never affected by the dirt around
I am a proud Indian
I am proud of ancient India; but not the present
I am concerned, not about me;
But about the whole world around me
I am pure, never corrupt
It is the system that is corrupt
I give bribes, but what choice do I have?
I take bribe, how can I manage my life otherwise?
I take money for vote
I take liquor for my vote
I take long weekends at vote
But isn’t that all problems of system?
I am never to be blamed; I am so pure
I am the society; but its faults are not mine
I am the country; but its weaknesses are not mine
I want strong country; but not my child as soldier
I want benefits; but not any taxes
I want cleanliness; but I will still spit
I want money; but hard work is not for me
For I am the people of this great country
I am a believer; but only in my God
I want freedom; but not to my neighbour
I want to blame; but not to be blamed
For I am the only one; so pure
I can go on; so much to say, but
I have flight to catch; to get out of the way
I will be back; when things are better
But I will have enough; to blame all the way!
Much has been said about the drafting of Lokpal Bill and the contentious clauses therein. But, have we heard anything other than the shrill noises? Are we any more enlightened on the real issues? I can vouch that most of us are not.
I think the TV Channels have taken out the communication from the debates. It is not about putting forth your views and ideas on the subject. It is about winning the noise match than winning the debate.
The more you shout, the less you have to convey. The less you convey, the more you confuse your audience. The more you confuse them, the less they retain their interest.... well, there comes the happy ending... you can go about things, the way they were... this seems to be the logic that great personalities, appearing on TV debates to enlighten us on the issues related to drafting of Lokpal Bill, following.
While the above is true about most of the current debates, I am looking at Lokpal debate, for the simple reason that the debate itself is completely lost in the noises that are being generously generated by all the stakeholders. Congress party does not communicate to people the real issues they see with the Lokpal Bill as suggested by Team Anna (Thankfully Media has now changed the term to ‘Team Anna’ from ‘Civil Society’... allowing people like me to be a part of civil society again!). Instead, they are trying to discredit the members of Team Anna/ Ramdev etc. On the other hand, members of Team Anna have lost all the proportions and are talking in voices that are so arrogant and beyond all reasoning. That leaves the principal opposition, BJP whose spokespersons are willing talk for hours on what wrong is being done by Government in Lokpal Bill drafting, but easily shies away from even the basic issues, when raised.
In all these, we are losing out a golden opportunity to reform our much abused anti-corruption systems. I have no doubt and no hesitation to state that we Indians are corrupt. I don’t know about others, as I am not exposed much to them. As for Indians, we find very less people who are neither willing to bribe nor willing to take bribes! We always find an excuse to fault the system/others and thereby justify our actions. We need a change in our mindset as well, if we have to remove the corruption from its roots. However, that being not an easy task, at least let us strengthen the laws and enforcement systems to restrict corruption in our country.
We can’t achieve that war, if we continue to try winning the battles by discrediting the opponents (opponents? who can be an opponent in this just war against a common enemy!). That is why I am taking this risk of trying to remind about some ancient wisdom stated by Buddha, to these illustrious people from all sides of the table, as to how we should conduct ourselves in reaching a viable and practical outcome in this whole debate!
Buddha, the great guru, after reflecting a lot on a fight between two factions of his Bikshus in a monastery, came to the conclusion that the only way we can ensure harmony in a group is by following certain principles in our interactions. I leave out the first three as they are more related to living together and therefore not relevant to current subject. The remaining three principles are as follows:
1. Using only words that contribute to harmony, avoiding all words that can cause the community to break
2. Sharing insights and understanding together
3. Respecting other’s view points and not forcing another to follow your own view point
(as quoted in ‘Old Path White Clouds’ by Thich Nhat Hanh)
I do not have to tell you, how each of the above principles was broken by the participants in the current debate on Lokpal Bill. More words have been spoken to damage the harmony than for throwing any light on the issues. People are arriving at their conclusions first and then debating to prove how wrong others are. Utter lack of respect for each other is so visible in the whole affair and the efforts are not to understand others’ view points but to force the other side with your views, be it through fasts unto death or private army or midnight evacuations!
Again, I do not have to tell you how easily they can arrive at a better result by following these simple principles!
None of them are fighting this war for their own personal gains and all of them are ostensibly fighting against the common enemy of corruption. Yet, they can’t find harmony in their debates! Hope better sense will prevail and all parties will climb down from their respective high pedestals and meet at a common ground to arrive at the best available solution rather than fighting for an ideal one.
Believe me... it is so crucial for our country; both in fighting corruption and in its very survival.
A Crime Reporter is dead... Shot in daylight by unknown persons, just outside his home!
A crime reporter suddenly turned into a crime report!
I never read Mid Day; I don’t usually read crime reports. So, I never knew that there was a crime reporter named Jyotirmoy Dey or Joy Dey, reporting on the underworld and other crime related stories in Mumbai.
Apparently, he was a senior journalist and was very good at what he was doing. He also maintained close contacts with many police officers, including the infamous encounter specialists, and underworld operatives. Can’t blame him for that- how else is he to source the reports on criminals and crimes for us to read?
Death is a death; irrespective of the mode. It is end of a life and a beginning of sorrow for many others. Life, however, moves on even for the family of the dead.
Then why am I writing this? Well, it is not on the killing of Joy Dey but about the reaction of our society to that incident.
I know for most people death is a reason for shock; more so in the case of a killing and even more so, where the victim is well known. Expression of sadness at the untimely ending of a promising life and at the ill luck that had befallen upon the family are expected and understood. MID DAY in their statement on the incident says “MiD DAY will not speculate on the circumstances that led to his murder, and will cooperate with the Mumbai Police at every step in the investigation”.
But our new Civil Society and Social Media are not satisfied at such niceties. This is the era of fast unto deaths and instant reactions. We have no time to wait for an investigation. We have to express our anger... our anguish... our frustration.... well, all at our State and political system! Even an unfortunate death is a weapon to undermine our system of governance; wittingly or unwittingly, for our social media crusaders.
I was surprised at the reactions to this unfortunate incident. I will just quote some of the representative tweets here for illustration purpose only:
@Tony2176: “another brave life lost to corrupt politicians and cops-is there no hope for our country? the truth will never come out :(“
@timesofindia: “Journalists lambast police for Dey's murder”
@anubhasawhney: “free speech was murdered in india today”
@corruptionhurts: “#jdey is killed because of our politicians. Join the debate on electoral system”
@unessentialist: “does anyone think the Mafia wld suddenly go after a journalist without some bastard politician's okay? RIP Jyotirmoy Dey”
@waglenikhil: “Journos demanded spl law long back. Maha govt promised but postponed every time. Meanwhile many beaten n j dey killed. Will the govt listen?”
Well, I will stop quoting further. You got to believe me when I say one person even commented that now the equilibrium can’t remain any longer and it is time for a revolution and another wanted the occasion to be used for demanding police reforms (though demand for reforms in itself is sensible)!
Mumbai Police categorically stated that they had no information about any threat to Mr Dey. No one else had accused police of knowing about the threat. Even if Dey sensed some threat, in his line of work, I do not think he would have sought police protection or filed a police complaint.
Some people point fingers at Oil Mafia, others at D Company; but all are unanimous in pointing out the role of politicians in this killing.
Is it the first time that a crime reporter got killed for his reporting, anywhere in the world? I doubt it. Is the killing of crime reporter different from the number of killings that he probably reported in his life? When you seek out secrets of those who have a lot to hide, you are in danger. That is a fact of life. When those people you seek out and report include professional killers, there is a huge risk of yourself becoming a victim. Anyone who reports on crime must be aware of these basic facts. Yet they can’t go around doing their work with police escorts; so they prefer to live with the risk.
We do not know who killed Dey. We all want Mumbai Police to actively investigate and bring the killers and anyone behind them to book. But blaming police or politicians (unless we can prove complicity of either) or the Indian democratic/electoral system for the killing is beyond all reasonableness.
Rule of law is not about stopping every crime; but the ability of state to investigate a crime objectively and to get the perpetuators convicted in a fair trial. Sensationalism is acceptable; but not at the cost of undermining our constitutional systems.
Democracy is undergoing a crisis in India...
Every day, we hear comments on how Indian democracy has failed... how Indian politicians have looted the country... how the system is so incorrigible that there is no scope for any redemption... how elections are farce that the votes are purchased for money or liquor.... how it is useless to vote in an election as each and every candidate is a criminal.. etc.etc
India is a country that is characterised more by its diversities than its unity; the only unifying factor being ‘Indian-ness’ or ‘Bharatiyata’. Among the more solid identities based inter alia on religion, caste, language, race and regionalism, it is indeed difficult to perceive the Indian-ness. The crass efforts to define it within the narrow perspectives of Hindutva have only further eroded that defining identity of Indians.
Such a country (even though we can be proud of its very long history), cannot afford too many challenges to its existence. More so, if these challenges are from within. There are various fringe players, from the wide spectrum of extreme right to extreme left, that are wittingly or unwittingly trying to destabilise the nation. Even a seemingly noble fight against corruption is being hijacked by forces that can be a real threat to the Indian State. When I say this, I am not speaking about the political threat to existing government, but the threat to the core of Indian State.
India cannot neglect these developments but to its own peril. The State and its political establishment have to make sure that they carry the people along. At this moment, this can only be attained by two steps: (i) restoring people’s faith by expediting the actions against corruption and the malaise of black-money; and (ii) restoring people’s faith in the electoral system of the country.
While we all know what needs to be done in the case of corruption, I am concerned here with the second step of restoring faith in electoral system of the country. Various steps initiated by the Election Commission of India have ensured that most of the recent elections have been very fairly and successfully conducted. Yet many people are still not happy for the simple reason that they perceive these elections as an exercise that only provides a chance to elect the lesser of many evils.
It is often true. In their quest to identify “winnable candidates” political parties end up with persons who are of dubious and often outright criminal history. Winnability prevents many a capable and sincere candidates from not being able to contest in the elections.
While political parties must, for their own sake, ensure fielding credible candidates in elections, on the other hand we need more reforms in our electoral laws. One such reform that can really bring a change is the provisions related to rejection of candidates.
Not many of us are aware that there is a provision to reject all the candidates in an election and even lesser numbers actually use that provision. A voter who does not want to vote in favour of any of the candidates can declare so in front of the Returning Officer by filing up a prescribed Form. However, exercising that option in the present manner is against the principles of secret ballet, as the choice of the voter become known to all those present in the electoral booth, including the agents of the candidates. I do not have to explain the problems associated with such an open exercise of choice; it could even put the person’s life in danger! Apart from that, it is also against the legal right to exercise secret ballot.
It is time to change the law and make the rejection of all candidates an option in the ballet paper or EVMs, along with option of candidates. Such a step will serve the purpose of providing a perception of supremacy to the voters and put the political parties on notice to present better quality candidates. It requires not a gigantic change; but merely some tweaking of the existing procedure. In the worst case of really bad choices, majority of the voters can demand another set of candidates by rejecting the existing ones.
Hope our parliamentarians understand the need to provide such a perception of power to the people, so that they are not swayed by unscrupulous elements who exploit their anger towards what they consider as an unresponsive system.