Saturday, July 22, 2006

“not silence but more speech”

Today’s Metro Plus (The Hindu’s supplement) has an article by Anand Shankar, in which he quotes Laurence Liang, who works with the Alternate Law Forum. Liang is quoted as saying, “You must realise that the answer to problematic speech is not silence, but more speech.”

He says this in the context of Nehru’s Amendment to Article 19 (1) (A) of the Constitution, which deals with the freedom of speech and expression; and Article 19 (2), which imposes ‘reasonable restrictions’ on free speech. He says that Nehru made this amendment to Article 19 (1) (A) to ‘deal with extreme right and left opinion’.

The reason why I’ve quoted him is not to argue the Amendment, about which I know nothing. I’ve quoted him because I agree with his statement that ‘the answer to problematic speech is not silence, but more speech.’

But if only all our problems were solved so easily, with a simple agreement. This whole brouhaha about the DoT blocking websites is, in my opinion, just another minor quake in our consciousness and soon we will all settle into our very democratic apathy and be moved by nothing more than the latest cricket scores.

We are rarely moved to defend free speech except where it affects us personally. So if you’re a blogger and your access to blogspot or whatever you use is blocked, you become indignant and are exercised enough to mount a protest. If you’re a filmmaker whose film has been denied a censor certificate, you gather all those who are, or might be, similarly affected and take some action.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for protest. I’m all for standing up for one’s right to speak in whichever medium one chooses. I support and have supported filmmakers and bloggers alike. I would, wouldn’t I? I have been a filmmaker and now I blog.

People support causes only when they see it directly affects them. We might all be in favour of free speech in the abstract, but how many of us will get off our seats to add our voices wherever and whenever a violation of our freedoms occurs? For the most part, we react, locally, in the short term.

Not that reacting is bad. But it has to be recognised for what it is: something that loses its energy very quickly. Tomorrow the govt. will unblock its ban and this noise will subside.

When people are brought together for a very limited reason, and a short-term goal is achieved, a movement loses its momentum. Nobody wants this to happen, naturally enough. With the best of intentions, the fora that were set up to communicate with people all over the world united by a common cause, become babels of differing opinions.

This also is to be expected. If we are to function in a democratic manner, everyone has to have their say and most people have a lot to say. Every decision has to be presented, debated and a consensus arrived at before any action can be taken. Often this takes months and is a very, very boring process. Mostly it involves people dashing off lengthy letters to person or persons concerned, to which a large percentage of the collective will be happy to merely append their signatures. If you are on a list, most of your mails will consist of people saying, ‘please add my name to the list’.

I am being slightly facetious here, but there is more than a grain of truth in my account of processes. This does happen.

The larger point I am making here is that immediate action is energising and romantic. Sustained protest is nothing if not tedious. There is nothing exciting about sending faxes. (I’m reminded of that Calvin and Hobbes one where Calvin’s hopes of being a superhero in our times is dashed by Hobbes, who says, “Quick! To the batfax!”)

Most people are unable to look beyond their noses; which of us acts with total conviction about what the outcome of our actions will be?

Ben Sandilands’ article in The Guardian talks about Antarctica being the last frontier that fuel-hungry nations are waiting to claim and exploit. Do we care enough about this to act on it in whichever way we think best? We probably do in a well-meaning, woolly-headed way. But do we really believe that raising our voices against the governments involved will result in anything meaningful?

And how many issues will we protest? About how many things will we act so that we create a groundswell of opinion? It takes way to much effort to read enough about issues to really understand them, much less talk about them.

So, though I’m with Laurence Liang when he says ‘not silence but more speech’, I’m afraid I’m also rather sceptical about it happening any time soon.


Jacob said...

Rightfully thought out. I didn't think of expressing my view on the content of this post. Simply bcoz it doesn't concern or involve me in any way.

So we need a solution. A solution which invovles a sense (quite an amount) of selflessness and commitment.

Space Bar said...


a comment that doesn't want to comment on the contents of the post because 'it doesn't concern' you; and a blog that you started only because you want to comment here?