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A lesson in free speech for our blabbering commentators

In one of my articles elsewhere on net I argued that the biggest strength of left liberals comes from their ability to think as an institution. In India, as in abroad, the left liberals are a remarkably coordinated bunch and when under attack they show the remarkable teamwork displayed by a pack of grey wolves on hunt. And of course, they are not fazed by a setback. The “Indian Barbadi” episode on JNU campus, where the stunt of students backfired badly is a case in point.

The backlash was so severe that the lefties (and their loyal tontos in the media) knew some damage control was in order, so they went Plan B ; i.e. “Free speech defence”. Sagarika Ghose called the clampdown on the JNU students “ridiculous”. Rajdeep and Barkha (perhaps fearing a backlash for an overtly pro separatist stance) asked if our state is so weak as to arrest students for raising slogans. Sagarika even posted a US SC judgement on flag burning. Their overwhelming message- if you do not stand still and take separatist scums shouting slogans against your motherland, you are weak, you are dictatorial and you do not get free speech.

Actually, idiot sirs and madams, it is you who don’t get free speech. Your arguments are so self-contradictory that they are impressive only in their brazenness. You really must be counting on us to be exceptionally stupid or exceptionally coward to hope to get away with it. You are not, not today. And just to prove how hollow your arguments are, I am not even going to use the most basic argument that anyone with a modicum of decency will find self-suggesting- namely there is no bravery in being a traitor and that our sovereignty should be above such petty discussions. I get it; your moral decay is so deep that these things will not occur to you. Never mind, like they say, more than one way to skin the cat.

So first way to look at how wrong you are to make this as a free speech issue let’s consider the fact that if free speech can be used to attack sovereignty of the nation, then free speech can be used (with the same moral right) to attack free speech itself and hence any effort to suppress those separatists should not raise your eye-brow. This is a circular argument and one the late comedian George Carlin best summarized as follows “next time someone tells you they have a right to their opinion, tell them you have a right to your opinion too and your opinion is they do not have a right to their opinion”. Got it? Even the ancient Latin doctrine cautions non faciat malum,ut inde veniat bonum i.e. not to do evil that good may come. Or as once again the late George Carlin put it so well “fighting for peace is like f**king for virginity”.

In fact if you apply your mind well to the definition of free speech, you will see that the government and police response to this incident is exemplary in its upholding of free speech. The simple fact is that free speech allows you freedom to say things should change. It provides legitimacy to the act of protesting against an unjust law or government diktat. It does not give you a license to unilaterally revoke the law. Separate the two group of people protesting against government and you will see the police action is only on one of the two. The students who raised slogans of “India ki barbadi tak jung rahegi jung rahegi ( our war will continue till Indian state is not destroyed) are all facing action because they broke an existing law.

A law that states that “whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with 5 imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

It is an existing law passed by legitimate means through Indian legislature and the law enforcement machinery would have failed their duty towards the country if they had not upheld the law in this case. The other group, i.e. people like Sagarika who wishes to abolish the sedition law itself are free and will remain so because they have not broken a law but merely protested it.

Let me take an example away from this debate to clarify my point- let’s say you are one of those activists who feel the laws about domestic violence are hopelessly female centric and require change. Free speech guarantees that your demand to make the change will be heard. However, if you lose your patience with the system and start advising men “ sc**w this, laws are not fair so start beating women till you don’t win” you will be charged. It is so simple that you have to be clinically mentally challenged or deliberately obtuse not to see it. Breaking the law- crime, protesting the law- no crime. May be you should write it down on a cue card or something.

Having addressed the first part, whether the government was within its rights to take action, let’s move to part two. Is the existing law fair? And does it not abate free speech?

Actually no, once again. And to understand why, you need to understand the difference between free speech and consequence free speech. (The last term borrowed from the retired talk show host Jon Stewart, though me and Jon may have varied in our interpretation of the term)

Do I mean to use the popular argument that free speech should not include speech against the country? Not really and for my own reasons. Thankfully, there is no need to use it either. You see free speech is a mere guarantee that your spoken word will not become a reason for your persecution. Free speech is a guarantee that someone (your college/employer/community)/govt) will not punish you in one area for the crime of speaking your mind in an unrelated area. It means if you support Kejriwal and your boss supports  Modi, he cannot fire you from your job as a computer engineer (though in this case if you are a team leader he should fire you for poor judgement, hehe) because supporting Kejriwal is not a deterrent in discharge of your duties at work. But if you are working with Reliance petroleum and you write a blog suggesting all the oil refineries should be set on fire to rid the world of the polluting fossil fuels, he has a right, nay an obligation to act against you. In case of JNU, these students are using their free speech asking people to wage a war against the state. Sorry, free speech does not cover that. For that you would need to have consequence free speech.

Consequence free speech alone can guarantee you that whatever you say will have no consequences of themselves. It also means you can hurt sentiments of the majority of people, make changes without keeping the fairness of them in mind and never get a blowback of your words. For that to happen you need to be the top guy (or one of the top guys) in an authoritarian regime so it is a limited commodity enjoyed by a select few only. A few months back, Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, in a joint press conference with US secretary of state John Kerry, told a female journalist “ it is politically incorrect for a lady to address a gentleman when she is on her knees” (no kidding Sherlock !!) and continued as if nothing happened. That my friends, is consequence free speech. Ms. Ghose, if you wish to be part of a society where a foreign minister tells you not to open your mouth while you are on your knees, have at it. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Of course the other group that can get away with consequence free speech are small kids and idiots. (Notice how quickly we are tired of criticizing Kejriwal). That is the other extreme of consequence free speech where people say “oh bachcha hain” or “oh he is an idiot” shake their head and walk away. This is hardly the position a true revolutionary will aspire for.

There is also the fact that most of the people advocating free speech on this issue have demanded actions against hate speech in past. Sagarika herself, even in this controversy tweeted that free speech is not hate speech. What she means is, we can prosecute people for their spoken words, just ask Aunt Sagarika when. A few months back, the same set of intellectuals that are protesting this crackdown had written an open letter to Times Now demanding ban on words like Anti nationals and terror sympathizers. The most ridiculous inconsistency of this particular argument, however, is when people like Shekhar Gupta chided government for taking action against Students in collusion of ABVP. So students protesting against state are kids, students protesting against the first set however are not students, they are merely part of an organization that has students in its name. I, like most Indians, simply don’t have the right education to get the logic of this.

A word to the students then. Your cause is despicable and your cry for help shows you to be morally coward. As someone noted on twitter today, the older generation of lefties at least had the moral fibre to own up sedition if they believed in it. For two days on television every students representative is saying the same thing “the posters were disgusting, we believe in united India but oh all the students arrested for this are a result of the government’s political vendetta”. The famous court judgement that said “nobody killed Jessica” in the Jessica Laal murder case comes to mind.

Here is the truth kids, whatever worth having is worth fighting for. You want to become revolutionaries, more power to you. But then don’t run go running to the constitution of the same country you are fighting against. The bar for fighting for freedom in this country is set pretty high by people like Bhagat Singh and Rajguru and Sukhdev. If you believe this government is dictatorship, learn to fight from those brave hearts and not from some coward professor who masterminded an attack and then spent years begging to the judiciary for his life. Facing a near certain death sentence Bhagat Singh fasted for 116 days to protest treatment mated to him and his colleagues in jail. His comrade in arms Jatindra Nath Das went on hunger strike to protest treatment given the prisoners by the British authorities died after fasting for 63 days. Those were the people who believed in putting everything on line to fight for the ideal they believed in. They did not count on a democratic regime to bail them out of trouble.

Those bravehearts sang “सरफरोशी कि तमन्ना अब हमारे दिल मे हैं देखते हैं जोर कितना बाजू ए कातील मे हैं” and we sing their praises even today. We have neither admiration nor sympathy for despicable cry bullies who run for cover at the first hint of trouble.

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