Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Freedom to Offend

We are all familiar with the 'Right to Freedom of Expression'. This Right has such unanimous support that even the most retrogressive conservatives would not dare to decry it.
Yet, it is not universally acknowledged that this Right is meaningless without the Freedom to Offend.

The dichotomy between these two rights typically comes to the fore, in the culturally hidebound societies of Asia, where the exercise of the Freedom of Expression often entails an offence on religious sensibilities and the prevailing social mores.
This was very evident in the recent Danish Cartoon Controversy and also in the Khushboo episode. In both the cases, the opposition stemmed not from a governmental authority, but from a certain section of society. i.e the fact that the 'Right to Expression' is enshrined in the Constitution did not deter the offended parties from launching a vicious verbal assault.

This provides us with a pertinent insight. i.e that We are often deterred from giving expression to our convictions NOT by the law of the land, but by the 'general drift of society'. Hence, the 'Right to Expression' cannot be secured and is irrelevant even in a country like India, because of the implicit checks imposed on it by the Society.

Unlike a totalitarian State, where one fears the constitutional authority, the 'free thinkers' are stymied by the 'tyrannical majority' in democracies like India. Hence, this notion of 'Democracy' serving as a facilitator in securing 'Individual Freedom' is a hogwash. Securing Freedom in the truest sense is impossible in an illiberal democracy wherein the Primacy of the Majority prevails over the Rights of the Individual.


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