BHUBANESWAR: In spite having an independent society, India has witnessed a long history of literary censorship. Even today, free exchange of opinions and thoughts faces a grave threat from the establishment on one hand and intolerant social and religious groups on the other.
Deliberating on the topic ‘Threat to Independent Writing’ at the fourth session of the Odisha Literary Festival-2014 on Tuesday, speakers elaborated on the ‘tyranny’ of the society in restricting freedom of writing and independent thinking.
Chairing the session, author of ‘Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change’, Shankkar Aiyar said independent writing is not just about freedom of words, authors and books but also freedom to think independently, which is essential for democracy.
“Democracy is basically a tripod of liberty, justice and equality, which are constantly in contest and it is only free opinion that keeps the show running,” he said.
Senior journalist Ashok Malik said though there is a restriction on freedom of expression, the ceiling varies from country to country. “In India, we have right to free of expression but unlike the West, there is no right to offend. Newspapers in India can never carry a satirical cartoon on the Prophet Mohammad, but it might be completely normal in Denmark,” he said, adding different societies have different approach to the same stimulus.
Even if books are being banned for going against the establishment or a particular religion, publishers are not willing to hire expensive lawyers to uphold the freedom of speech, he resented. “It is the economics of book trade that militate against the principle of freedom of thought and expression. But like Atal Bihari Vajpayee commented, while turning down the idea of banning a particular book during his tenure, a book should be an answer to a book,” Malik said.
Islamic scholar Maulana Mahmood Madani agreed to Malik’s opinion. He said controversies related to books begin when someone questions a person’s religion, faith. “It is true that a book should be answered by book, not by ban. Difference of opinion exists in a democratic society, but presenting the differences in a proper manner without hurting anyone’s sentiments and dignity can do the job,” he said, while advocating self-censorship on ways things are presented by authors.
Freedom of expression is a human right, said former Chief Election Commissioner of India SY Quraishi. “But we should also realise that we live in a civilised society where we need to compromise or sacrifice our freedom at times for public order,” he said.
Editor of Odia daily ‘Sambad’, Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, said he does not believe in ‘independent writing’. “There is no independent writer or dependent writer and the real threat today is the dwindling readership. Surveys indicate that readership in English language, particularly, is going down and this is what authors should be worried about,” he said, adding that banning a book is a political and democratic compulsion.