By Shraddha Kakade
Ashish Nandy seems to have stirred a hornet’s nest with his comments at a panel discussion, “Republic of Ideas”, at the Jaipur literature festival late in January. What followed was the demonstration of Dalit and backward caste activists against Nandy’s remarks. An FIR (first information report) was lodged by tribal activist Rajpal Meena against Professor Nandy and Mr. Roy, citing Section 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 3 (1) of the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
A few weeks back when news channels were running sensational story along the headlines which read, ‘Ashish Nandy’s casteist slur’, what I got to see and hear was these excerpts of his entire discussion detailed below-
‘Almost a vulgar statement on my part. It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBC’s and the scheduled castes and now increasingly scheduled tribes and as long as this is the case, Indian Republic will survive. And I give an example; one of the states with the least amount of corruption is the state of west Bengal when the CPM was there. And I want to propose to you, draw your attention to the fact that in the last 100 years, nobody from the OBC’s, the backward classes and the scheduled castes and the schedules tribes have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state.’
Having heard the news in isolation, I was shocked. However, my instantaneous response was to check the context of his comments. And so I attempted to get the entire panel discussion video or written transcripts (so that I could form a learned opinion) I did not find one until the newspaper, Indian Express’s dated January 30th 2013, p. 11 carried relevant excerpts from the session, here’s the link below.
In my opinion, Nandy’s statement as a reply to a question in isolation was clumsily worded. And perhaps it could have been the reason why it lent itself to misunderstanding and was eventually scorned at by the journalist and other audience members at the session. True, in the larger framework of the discussion his statements may not be castiest (as are made out to be). Nandy was adding to the idea put forth by Tarun Tejpal that the phenomena of corruption in a class ridden society like ours can serve as a great class equalizer. However the choice of Nandys words should’ve been more precise.
Thus, I welcome the decision of the Supreme Court Bench to stay the arrest of Nandy. At the same time I appreciate the decision of Chief Justice of India and second their view that, “It was not a question of an idea being punished but the manner in which it was made.”
Here are the excerpts of the Supreme Court Bench verdict published in the newspaper, ‘The Hindu’-
As counsel Aman Lekhi began his submissions and asked the court whether a law could penalize an idea, the CJI shot back: “Why not? When an idea is not in the public interest, he can be. Whatever your intent, you can’t go on making statements. Tell your client he has no license to make such comments.” It was not a question of an idea being punished but the manner in which it was made. “Every person has his own idea, but it should not disturb others. Statements are to be made in a responsible manner. Why do you say something which you don’t intend?”
Though I support this view, that ideas can be expressed so long as they are made in a responsible manner, let me also state that I stand for Ashish Nandy’s (and many others like him) right to express himself so long as it is exercised in a responsible manner which clearly communicates what the speaker intends to say.
Interestingly another argument which was made by Vivek Kumar, a Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, in a panel discussion on CNN-IBN warrants a mention. When asked if he supports Ashish Nandy’s arrest post his comments, Kumar said he supports Nandy arrest on the grounds that the statement made by Nandy was un-corroborated.
True, Nandy did not present any statistical evidence and thus empirically his argument doesn’t stand. However I’m of the opinion that he still has the right to express his ideas, because if his ideas are correct they will enrich us and if not at least in that way there will be discussion on these matters and truth will come in light. Here I would like to present ideas of J S Mills in his work, ‘On Liberty’, he points out, human fallibility as a reason for not suppressing an opinion because we may be mistaken, and in suppressing a purportedly false opinion, we may in fact be suppressing what in future will be shown to be true.
However what never fails to surprise me is the media and how it edited critical views of Ashutosh a journalist present in the same discussion that, “This is a classic case of how the elite in India…they perceive the downtrodden, the Dalits, the OBCs, and all… I think this is the most bizarre statement I have ever heard in this country.”
More fundamentally for me the fact today that corruption serves as ‘a class equalizer’ points to the deeper problem in our democracy, also a question I’d like to raise is, while the corporate media is debating about ‘Freedom of expression’, shouldn’t we be debating about the freedom from gross generalization which stains an entire section of society as ‘most corrupt’ too?
• Yogendra Yadav, ‘Call it Censorship, not social justice’- The Indian Express, January 28th 2013
• Mills on Liberty- Chapter 8: Freedom of Expression http://www.victorianweb.org/philosophy/mill/ten/ch8.html
• J Venkatesan ‘SC stays arrest but Nandy should not “disturb” others’, , The Hindu,1st Feb 2013.
• ‘SC protects Nandy, raps him for being irresponsible,’ The Indian Express, 1st Feb 2013.