Free Speech..But With Conditions?

A Sick, Sick Mindset

Ranjit Saha  (pic courtesy: ibnlive.com)

Ranjit Saha
(pic courtesy: ibnlive.com)

The head of India’s central investigative agency the CBI is at the centre of a new storm for making a despicable comment. Ranjit Saha is quoted as saying “If you can’t prevent rape, then enjoy it.” Such a comment is wrong on so many levels and for suggesting that a brutal act like rape can be enjoyed and that women can prevent it. (I googled the latter and found this startling page on Wikihow) Incidentally, one of the many people gunning for Saha’s head is Mamta Sharma, the chief of India’s National Commission for Women, who, in the aftermath of the July 2012 Guwahati Molestation case, suggested that women should be careful how they dress, alluding to clothes being a cause of rape!!)

The apex agency has been quick to douse the flames, hazarding to suggest that the rape comment was taken out of context. Fine. Then here is the context. The CBI head was speaking at a conference on corruption and making a case for legalisation of betting. He said betting in India should be legalised if it can’t be properly reined in. And then he inserted the rape analogy.

This was more than just a “poor choice of words”. It reflects a rather twisted mindset, one that trivialises a most brutal act. Suggesting that a woman must resign herself to enjoying an act that she gave no consent to is appalling and disgraceful. Making a comment like this at a time when the national capital is still simmering from the events of Dec 16 (the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman) is sheer stupidity and insensitivity. If this isn’t career harakiri then what is?

Many are calling for Saha to issue a public apology. Many more are calling for his ouster/resignation. But this is not the first time that an individual holding a state/public office has been caught on the wrong foot by making a sexist comment. It is high time that that the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service, Indian Foreign Service among others make gender sensitivity a criteria for selection for all posts. This could be done by making all candidates take a Gender Sensitivity written test and appear for an interview at the time of recruitment.

Right to Free Speech* (*conditions apply)

It would be fair to say that a majority are asking for Saha’s apology or resignation or both. But a shrill minority on microblogging site Twitter are also asking the CBI chief to shut up. Simply because they do not like what he has to say. Does anyone else spot the irony of such comments being made in a free speech forum? I love to quote French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire’s response to Jean Jacques Rousseau at times like this: I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it. While some ask others to shut up (like in the CBI chief rape slur case), a few want individuals stripped of honours conferred earlier because they don’t like the tunes they now sing.

Lata Mangeshkar being conferred the Bharat Ratna in 2001 (pic courtesy: gaurav-kumar.tripod.com)

Lata Mangeshkar being conferred the Bharat Ratna in 2001 (pic courtesy: gaurav-kumar.tripod.com)

The Mumbai unit of the Congress party wants legendary songstress Lata Mangeshkar stripped of the Bharat Ratna- India’s highest civilian award – that was conferred upon her in 2001. Why? Because the 84 year old has endorsed Narendra Modi’s candidature for prime ministership. It is no secret that Modi’s rise as signalled by the crowds at various venues of his pan-India tour and constant media coverage is making the grand old party uncomfortable. But the Bharat Ratna is not for the Congress to politicise. Just like it wasn’t for the BJP to politicise (In July this year, newspaper editor and BJP MP Chandan Mitra demanded that noted economist Amartya Sen be stripped of his 1999 Bharat Ratna for saying he would not like to see Mr Modi as the next PM)

The right to the freedom of speech and expression is among 6 Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution to citizens. But these are subject to reasonable restrictions: public order, decency, morality and security of state. Lata Mangeshkar’s comments do not endanger any of these, except for offending the morality of a few touchy people in the Mumbai Congress. Her comments merely tell us which party she may be voting for, in order to see Modi become PM. These are no grounds to strip her of the Ratna, which was awarded for her exemplary contributions in the world of music…a fact that is not music to the Congress’ ears.

Modi’s Verbal Diarrhoea

M for Modi and M for mistakes (pic courtesy: ndtv.com)

M for Modi and M for mistakes
(pic courtesy: ndtv.com)

Now, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is grabbing a great deal of air time on TV news and column space in national and regional dailies these days. And not without reason: One, for the things he says (bragging about Gujarat’s so-called development model, trading barbs with the shehezaada of the Congress’ first family) Two, for the things he doesn’t say (the Gujarat riots of 2002 and apologising for his alleged complicity in them) and three, the things he doesn’t mean to say but inevitably does: his bloopers with facts to do with history. (Lata Mangeshkar’s endorsement is most probably because of point one.) For me, it is only the third point that draws some vague interest.

Because in this day and age of excessive news and coverage, there is such a thing as over-exposure. The risk of the NaMo cracker burning out before the 2014 elections is real. In such a context, his series of history-related gaffes during rallies serve as humourous ad breaks in this age of 24/7 live television. But this could also be a sign of things to come, a spectre that haunts some like columnist Aakar Patel. He writes “It will be embarrassing, if he becomes prime minister, to have him in the same meeting as US President Barack Obama.” (Read Patel’s full column here )

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