Muzzling freedom of expression

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I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it- Voltaire  


The other day I read a Facebook post wherein a renowned doctor was apologizing because his previous post had allegedly hurt sentiments of some people. The fear that the doctor would have felt was evident in his post. I could see regret as well as exasperation in it. He went to the extent of saying that it’s the last thing he would ever do in his life. A man of his calibre and acumen, becoming so much timid and frightened, tempted me to check his previous Facebook post in order to know exactly what had happened.

I had anticipated something way too controversial, going against the norms and values of the society, support of some immoral activity or something like that. But contrary to my apprehensions, I found it a normal post wherein a man was being very much honest and had expressed his choice freely without any hesitation and hypocrisy. That was one of the blunt and straightforward statements I would have ever seen on Facebook. His heart believed that some person will do something good for the society and he donated some amount to his account to support his cause. Without any cunningness he had posted the screenshot of the transaction with the caption, ‘My heart says you are honest. Hope for the change’.

Differences of opinion are natural ‘for all colours will only agree in dark’ as is said by Francis Bacon. Some people do not think that the person to whom the doctor had donated the amount would do any good to the society while some go to the extent of calling him a ‘messiah’ who has got a magic wand to solve all the problems and others denigrate him to a level where they label him as an agent of ‘deep state’. This is the beauty of freedom of speech and expression- everybody is free to express his/her views without any fear of facing intimidation or threat to his life. And to maintain and improve this space for freedom of expression is my motive in writing this piece. You are expressing your views freely because there are conditions that allow you to do so.

This is the basic and natural right that a person is born with. A person is born free and he has every right to live freely, express freely and act freely until his behaviour does not harm other persons in a society. This is the basic principle of freedom accepted worldwide across regions and cultures. Any restriction in this regard acts upon the very dignity of a person. It curtails his opportunities to give an expression to the inherent ideas he is bestowed with and that he develops in interaction with the external environment in his life. Unnecessary obstructions hinder his personality development.

Each person has his own way of perceiving the developments in the society and each consequent idea thereof is significant. It is the clash of ideas that at the end of the day synthesise a better idea that proves productive in the longer run. Let every viewpoint flourish. If you have got a counter idea, present it. Let it face a public scrutiny and the clash of thesis and antithesis, as Hegel would say it, will result in synthesis of a better idea. But this all seems utopian in the era we are living in. Many people have stopped respecting an individual’s choice of life and try to impose their choices upon all the members of the society. A narrative is built, and people are made to regard it as the ultimate truth. Anything not toeing the line is crushed and overwhelmed with the help of the moral policing, I would call it. This moral policing brigade has exploited the social media circles particularly and adopts weird means to silence the saner voices.

Living in a conflict zone already comes up with so many restrictions from the state structure and man only enjoys limited freedom. I think the nature of the conflict where the state uses curtailment of freedom as a primary tool to suppress voices of dissension has brought us to a state of condition where restriction is regarded as a norm and freedom as an exception. Spread a lie again and again repeatedly at regular intervals and people start taking it as truth. Psychologists call it “illusion of truth” effect.This is the way we have reached to this stage where we have accepted ‘limitations to freedom’ as a norm and ‘freedom’ as an exception. We are literally gagged. The space for free and sane voices is choking gradually and the saner people are silenced so overwhelmingly that they do not dare to open their mouth again.

The second Facebook post of the above-mentioned person clearly indicates the fear of opinion of others and fear of the counter reaction coming from members of the same society while giving vent to one’s feelings. Almost all of us exhibit this fear.

As someone has aptly said, ‘unless you cannot live free from fear you cannot live a dignified life’. This is a dangerous trend and will create an intolerant society and we have already witnessed the repercussions of the growing intolerance in mainland India.  A man is born free and should be in control of his own life and should be given the opportunities to express himself freely. I would like to leave you with this beautiful statement of Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it”

The author teaches at Government Middle school Nagnad, Kulgam and can be reached at [email protected]

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