Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Suppression of the freedom of expression

In Cuba, Fidel Castro has the bad habit of castrating journalists who have at any point in time dared disagree with them. The choice of castration as the preferred method of reprisal is quite possibly because Castro’s name bears a striking resemblance to the unsavoury process.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein sent his enemies in the press (not that there were many who dared write against him in the first place) to Abu Ghraib where they played lots of fun games.

The United States – well, the world’s greatest democracy believes in getting the FBI, the CIA and a hundred other acronyms to raid the offices of the newspaper that offends them. If you still don’t listen, they give you bright orange clothing and matching chain mall and send you to a seaside resort called Guantanamo Bay. According to many, that’s why masochists around the country write about how Condoleeza Rice did a Janet Jackson at the Congressional hearings. Collars don’t come gratis otherwise…

India, however, seemed immune to this upsetting trend till recently. But, things have begun to change. The mother (and no, I don’t mean Mother Theresa) recently filed a hundred and fifteen defamation cases, and if that didn’t work, used more interesting techniques one would rather not describe. More recently, some poor IIT Kharagpur student was arrested for trying to make a living by catering to mankind’s most basic urges. Avnish Bajaj soon joined him there, for the poor kid was feeling lonely in prison.

More than journalists however, I find much more to sympathize with writers who attempt to write fiction, and end up stepping on the wrong toes. Salman Rushdie stands testimony to that, living as he does in the shadow of six bodyguards. Taslima Nasreen said she got a rash on her neck thanks to a veil, and she received a fatwa slapped right on her (unveiled) face. (However, the fatwa was not entirely inhuman. A learned scholar offered to forgive her sins and allow her to join his exclusive club of 65 wives – though why any right-thinking man would want Taslima Nasreen in his harem is something that is beyond me! And why Taslima Nasreen let such an eligible bachelor as the 76 year old scholar slip out of her grasp is another question that vexes me greatly.)

In the less recent past, P.G. Wodehouse wasn’t allowed to return to the United Kingdom because he swapped jokes with Hitler on Berlin Radio (notwithstanding the fact that he had fifteen carbines, five grenade launchers and invites from six different concentration camps staring him in his face as he exchanged pleasantaries with the aforementioned luminary)

Today, this intrepid blogger has suffered the same fate. Faced with some rather unique methods of reprisal for writing what he had in the last two days, he has been forced to take an original work of fiction out of his blog. A couple of the messages he received in response to what he had penned earlier reminded one of the way smiling KGB agents spoke to unfortunate blokes who’d dared to speculate on the colour of Brezhnev’s underwear.

My readers – at least those among you who understand the true meaning of freedom of expression – could possibly be shocked. Was I intimidated by these brazen threats? (ok, not so brazen threats!)

Since I have been accused of behaving unethically, I think I should apologize if my story had offended any single person’s sentiments, for it was absolutely unintended. I also apologize to her protectors and guardians. But as Wodehouse once said, a humorist’s lot is a pitiful one indeed. Anyway, henceforth, I’m going to take a leaf out of Khrushchev’s book and write humor as the doyens of the Communist party like it. So my next few posts may go like this joke by Khrushchev which had the praesedium in splits …

‘In Russia’, he used top say, making his important speech to the Presidium, ‘we have a proverb – A chicken that crosses the road does so get to the other side, but wise men dread a bandit.’, and then his face would split in the middle and his eyes would disappear into his cheeks like oysters going down for the third time in a oyster stew, and the comrades would realize that this was the big boffola and that if they were a second late with the appreciative laughter, their next hob would be running a filling station down Siberia way.

Things will remain thus as long as I live a society like ours where we take ourselves way too seriously. Maybe later, sometime in the future, I can find out for myself what the true meaning of freedom of expression is. Until then, I leave you with the words of Albert Einstein on the same -

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population.

Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

P.S: What’s your take on this, people?

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