The Price of Silence ……Who Will Bell the Cat?

Dr. N Sukumar

"Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man presents his views without penalty there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population". ~ Albert Einstein

A few months ago, the academia was intensely debating the Wendy Doniger issue. For the person on the street, it was much ado about nothing. We are used to films and books being banned, paintings being vandalized, performers being tried for sedition. Few tears were shed when M.F. Hussain died in exile. Our memory is short-lived and reactions knee-jerked. Whenever any transgression of our democratic right to free expression occurs, we fail to react if it is not in our backyard and if at all we react, it is episodic.

delhi university abvp

However, the denizens of Delhi University were in for a rude shock when a senior professor was humiliated and his face blackened by right wing student leaders on the pretext that he had passed derogatory remarks about their political 'idol'. The social media was abuzz with comments that this is an ominous portent of the future developments. The observations covered the entire gamut from being 'antithetic to Indian Culture which worships teachers' to downright abusive. Reading between the lines, one gets the impression that as the incident occurred beneath our nose, we are extremely perturbed and rightly so. However, what explains our silence when such censorship, more violent in nature is part of the lived experience of our fellow-citizens? Our pedagogies scarcely reflect the million mutinies of India.

Such incidents in academic institutions reflect a breach of trust, while exposing the fault lines of our societies. Freedom and tolerance are indeed lofty sentiments but need to be actively promoted and upheld by the authorities who head the institutions. Fear is created to induce obedience and subjectivity. Our self-esteem is so fragile; our ideological foundations are built on sand which can brook no dissent. Instead of creatively engaging with the 'other', we opt for the path of least resistance. Hence, ban or burn anything- a book, a film, an idea, even an individual if uncomfortable questions are raised. Many a time, the institutions themselves promote regressive attitudes and launch surveillance on people with dissident views. Such ideas would percolate and permeate the culture of the institution. Hence, this heinous incident is a wakeup call for all of us, cutting across ideological barriers.

Now that our nose has been bloodied, we should realize that one cannot pick and choose 'issues' to support and promote. Once the Pandora's Box is opened, we have to bend over backwards to accommodate all sorts of 'hurt sentiments', in the process narrowing the circle of freedom. Hailing from the teaching community, I feel that such incidents reproduce and reinforce a sense of failure in imbibing a democratic ethos among the students and the wider campus community.

A report by the media watch group, The Hoot1 hits the nail on the head about the state of free speech in India. It is an apt warning which we can ignore only at our peril.

free speech transgressors

Any society would want to nurture its members as thoughtful, caring human beings. In the process of imparting societal values we also tend to police ideas and thoughts deemed dangerous under the pretext of public morality. What is disturbing or dangerous for one segment of society may be very interesting or innovative for others. Power cannot be reduced to just the exercise of political authority but is also reflective of social sanctions and sanctities. The multiplicity of ideas and beliefs are critical for creating a vibrant and pluralistic society. Critical thinking implies questioning, the analysis and evaluation of those beliefs to come to a personal judgment that empowers people to take ownership of ideas and control of their own intellectual and moral lives. The education of the imagination is as important as the education of the intellect2.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

~ Martin Niemoller

Shall we also remain mute witnesses?



[1]. The Hindu, Friday April 11, 2014, p 18.

[2]. Censorship, the Internet, Intellectual Freedom and Youth, Kay. E. Vandergrift, May 2nd, 1997, the State University of New York.



Dr. N Sukumar teaches Political Science at Delhi University.

Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.

Other Related Articles

Justice Karnan: A man caught up in the whirlwind of ideals
Saturday, 24 June 2017
  Dharmaraj Kumar I have been thinking of whether to write something to pursue the so-called 'curious case of Justice Karnan'- the title that flooded the mainstream media and finally brought... Read More...
Why RSS can’t accept even a Sanghi SC/ST/OBC Judge?
Friday, 23 June 2017
  S Kumar Nomination of Mr. Ram Nath Kovind for the presidential position has again brought the caste politics to the forefront of Indian politics. While a Brahmin appointment like the outgoing... Read More...
आर्य आक्रमण और भारत के पतन और अपेक्षित उत्थान के प्रश्न
Thursday, 22 June 2017
  संजय जोठे (Sanjay Jothe) अभी एक महत्वपूर्ण जेनेटिक रिसर्च सामने आई है जो आर्य... Read More...
Why the Sangh needs Ram Nath Kovind
Wednesday, 21 June 2017
  Mangesh Dahiwale The President of India is a ceremonial post. It is often compared with the "rubber stamp". But as the head of state, it is also a prestigious post. The orders are issued in... Read More...
Ram Nath Kovind is not a Dalit, Dalit is a Spring of Political Consciousness
Tuesday, 20 June 2017
  Saidalavi P.C. The propaganda minister in Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels was so sharp in his thinking that we have come to quote his famous aphorism regarding the plausibility of a lie being... Read More...

Recent Popular Articles

Index of Articles in Features
Sunday, 07 May 2017
  2016 ~ Uniform Civil Code & Ashrafiya obsession with Triple Talaq by Ayaz Ahmad ~ Maratha Kranti (Muk) Morcha: When will Maratha women cross the threshold? by Sandhya Gawali ~... Read More...
Fight against the Misogyny & Casteism of 'Best Indian Memes for Creamy Teens', FB page
Friday, 06 January 2017
  Vinay Shende "My final words of advice to you are Educate, Agitate and Organize; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side I do not see how we can lose our battle. The battle to me is a... Read More...
The Death of a Historian in Centre for Historical Studies, JNU
Sunday, 19 March 2017
  Jitendra Suna Speech made at the protest by BAPSA on 16th March, 2017 against the Institutional Murder of Muthukrishnan (Rajini Krish) I am Jitendra Suna, and I am from a remote village named... Read More...
Gangrape and Murder of a 16 year old Dalit girl in Sendurai, Tamil Nadu
Saturday, 21 January 2017
  (A condensed translation, by Trevor Jeyaraj, of Mr. Venpura Saravanan's Facebook post in Tamil ) N (16), daughter of Rajendran R of Sendurai taluk in Ariyalur district, Tamil Nadu, who... Read More...
Brahminical Patriarchy and Social Media
Friday, 27 January 2017
 Bhagyesha Kurane Social media has become an integral part of our lives these days. There are various notions prevalent about whether one should use social media, and if at all it is to be used,... Read More...

Recent Articles in Hindi

पेरियार से हम क्या सीखें?

पेरियार से हम क्या सीखें?

  संजय जोठे  इस देश में भेदभाव और शोषण से भरी परम्पराओं का विरोध करने वाले अनेक विचारक और क्रांतिकारी हुए हैं जिनके बारे में हमें बार-बार पढ़ना और समझना चाहिए. दुर्भाग्य से इस देश के शोषक वर्गों के षड्यंत्र के कारण इन क्रांतिकारियों का जीवन परिचय और समग्र कर्तृत्व छुपाकर रखा जाता है. हमारी अनेकों पीढियां इसी षड्यंत्र में जीती आयीं हैं. किसी देश के उद्भट विचारकों और क्रान्तिकारियों को इस...

Read more

कृष्ण: भारतीय मर्द का एक आम चेहरा...!

कृष्ण: भारतीय मर्द का एक आम चेहरा...!

(कृष्ण की लोक लुभावन छवि का पुनर्पाठ!)मानुषी आखिर ये मिथकीय कहानियां किस तरह की परवरिश और शिक्षा देती हैं, जहां पुरुषों को सारे अधिकार हैं, चाहे वह स्त्री को अपमानित करे या दंडित, उसे स्त्री पलट कर कुछ नहीं कहती। फिर आज हम रोना रोते हैं कि हमारे बच्चे इतने हिंसक और कुंठित क्यों हो रहे हैं। सारा दोष हम इंटरनेट और टेलीविजन को देकर मुक्त होना चाहते हैं। जबकि स्त्री...

Read more

राष्ट्रवाद और देशभक्ति

राष्ट्रवाद और देशभक्ति

संजय जोठे धर्म जो काम शास्त्र लिखकर करता है वही काम राष्ट्र अब फ़िल्में और विडिओ गेम्स बनाकर बनाकर करते हैं. इसी के साथ सुविधाभोगी पीढ़ी को मौत से बचाने के लिए टेक्नालाजी पर भयानक खर्च भी करना पड़ता है ताकि दूर बैठकर ही देशों का सफाया किया जा सके, और यही असल में उस तथाकथित “स्पेस रिसर्च” और “अक्षय ऊर्जा की खोज” की मूल प्रेरणा है, यूं तो सबको...

Read more