There is no freedom of speech in India, it’s a myth

What is even more disturbing is the India’s silence and failure to bring the culprits to book.

Sapan Kapoor September 29, 2015
During one of his court hearings, legendary writer Saadat Hasan Manto told a judge,
“A writer picks up his pen only when his sensibility is hurt.” 

I am appalled by the senseless murder of one of the most noted and progressive thinkers and scholars of Kannada, MM Kalburgi. Verily, as I write this, my heart bleeds and tears trickle down my cheeks, for yet another sane voice has been silenced by the religious fascist forces in the world’s largest democracy. Yet another rationalist and good human being has been gunned down for speaking his mind.

Septuagenarian Kalburgi was shot dead by two na maloom afrad (unidentified men) at his residence at Dharwad in north Karnataka on August 30, 2015.

What was his fault?

He dared to exercise his constitutional right to free speech and held opposing views from those in power. Through his extensive research and writings, he sought to enlighten people’s minds, stressing on the need to inculcate scientific tempers amongst the people, especially the youth.

Kalburgi’s murder brings to fore a worrying trend in India of silencing people for holding contrarian views. His assassination also reminds us of the unfortunate murders of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, who had dedicated their lives to combat superstitions and to promote broader social reform.

Their ‘sin’ was to dream of an egalitarian India, a country where everybody would be treated as an equal, regardless of their creed, caste, race, and religion.

MM Kalburgi was known for his extensive research on the 12th century old Vachanas and the literary work of Basava, the founder of Lingayatism.

HS Anupama, an activist and writer based in coastal Karnataka, says his murder could have been an act to silence his ideologies.
“In my opinion, it was a mind target, to silence the person. There are many people including Kalburgi who vehemently opposed the Sangh Parivar and its ideology — although we cannot say his killing was the work of Sangh Parivar. There are many facets to this killing… Any idea slightly challenging to those in power is not being tolerated today. Freedom of speech is a farce and nearly non-existent, with so many in the country being silenced for their ideas,” Anupama told a news agency.

MM Kalburgi had pointed out that Lingayats could not be a part of the Hindu religion since the community according to Basava’s scriptures did not believe in idol worship, temple construction, or the caste system through his writings.

Political leaders of Lingayats, a majority community in Karnataka, were undergoing talks regarding a merger with the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Did MM Kalburgi’s writings, in a way, pose threats to the Hindutva ideologues?

MM Kalburgi’s murder has shocked those who knew him and his work.
“Killing a 77-year-old man for his ideologies is an act of cowardice. He had a scientific way of analysing many things. He may have been killed, but his ideas cannot be,” said Narendra Nayak, President of the Federation of Rationalists’ Association of India.

India’s free thinkers and best minds are being systematically eliminated one by one, for only a week after MM Kalburgi’s murder, another rationalist writer KS Bhagwan received a threat letter, warning him with the following words.
“Your time is over.”

The letter read,
“We have finished three people, next is your turn, no amount of police protection will help. Your time is over, count the days.”

Reacting to the threat, KS Bhagwan said,
“It shows utter ignorance on the part of those who wrote the letter. They wouldn’t have even read a page of my writing. I write on the basis of my research. If they have objections about it, they can always oppose it in a civilised way.”

“This is not the first time I have received such threats, I’m not afraid.”

It should be noted that co-convener of the Bajrang Dal’s Bantwal cell, Bhuvith Shetty, was arrested for allegedly threatening KS Bhagwan on Twitter for ‘mocking Hinduism’. Shetty had allegedly welcomed the assassination of scholar MM Kalburgi. While his Twitter account was inaccessible after his controversial tweet, screenshots of his tweet had gone viral.

This simmering undercurrent of fascism is extremely worrying and it’s led to many sleepless nights here.

There is no freedom of speech in India, it’s a myth. If there was any such thing, rationalists like MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare would not have been killed for their intellectually stimulating writings.

People are, however, free to pull punches and call each other names, give hate speeches, resort to abusive language, demolish places of worship, plant bombs, stoke up communal tensions, and murder rationalists like MM Kalburgi. People even have the audacity to ignore the issue of the farmers’ suicides.

What is even more disturbing is the state’s silence and failure to bring the culprits to book. What kind of India do they want to build by eliminating its best minds and critical thinkers?

People have every right to disagree with these rationalists on issues they were raising and debate and protest in a civilised way. But how can they just bump off someone for his or her ideas?

Intellectual levels cannot be the same for everyone, for we are what we read. The more you read, the more it broadens your mind-set. No society, religion, sect or country in this world is perfect, for remember, they were made by man. It was the man who made religion, it was the man who wrote holy texts, it was he who built caste system, it was he who formed nations, and it was he who built nuclear bombs.

With time we evolve, for change is the only constant thing in the world. India is not perfect. Pakistan is not perfect. Humanity will find a way.

How can man-made things be perfect? If that is not the case, why can’t they be evaluated and analysed critically? It is a pity while good people are being killed for merely writing blogs, books, and defending human rights, bigots who promote hatred and commit murders go on to enjoy a high status in life. Isn’t it a matter of great regret that those who killed Mahatma Gandhi, a wonderful human being, rule the roost in India today?

Nathuram Godse had said that he killed Gandhi because he was ‘an enemy of Hinduism’. The Punjabi refugee, Madanlal, who made a failed attempt on Gandhi’s life by exploding a bomb at the latter’s prayer meeting at Birla House on January 20, 1948 also thought the same.

This is what Gandhi said in his speech at prayer meeting next day,
“You should not have any kind of hate against the person who was responsible for this. He had taken it for granted that I am an enemy of Hinduism. Is it not said in chapter IV2 of the Gita that whenever the wicked become too powerful and harm dharma God sends someone to destroy them? The man who exploded the bomb obviously thinks that he has been sent by God to destroy me. I have not seen him. But I am told that is what he said when questioned by the police. He was well dressed too. But I am sure God is not out of His mind to continue sending such men. If we do not like a man, does it mean that he is wicked? Even if I become wicked in the eyes of everyone, I shall not be considered such in the court of God.

If then someone kills me, taking me for a wicked man, will he not have to answer before God? Let us pray that God may grant him good sense. When he says he was doing the bidding of God, he is only making God an accomplice in a wicked deed. But it cannot be so.

Therefore, those who are behind him should know that this sort of thing will not save Hinduism. If Hinduism has to be saved, it will be saved through work which is similar to what I am doing. I have been imbibing Hindu dharma right from my childhood. My nurse, who literally brought me up, taught me to invoke Rama whenever I faced any fears.

With God’s grace, I came in contact with noble and good persons later on in life who happened to be Hindus. I was blessed enough to partake in good company of Christian and Muslim friends as well, who too could not influence me otherwise. Therefore having passed all the tests, I am as staunch a Hindu today as intuitively I was at the age of five or six.

If God deems it fit to make anyone the instrument for saving Hindu dharma, it could be none but me. Do you want to annihilate Hindu dharma by killing a devout Hindu like me?”

The murderers of Gandhi, MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar have done no good to Hindu dharma. Likewise, the killers of Sabeen Mahmud, God rest her soul in peace, also think she was fit to be killed as she was indulging in ‘anti-Pakistan’ activities by healing the wounds of Balochis.

As Jesus Christ looked down from the cross whereto he was cruelly nailed, he saw the Roman soldiers casting lots for his clothing, the criminals on the crosses to either side of him reviling him, the religious leaders mocking him, and the crowd blaspheming him. Jesus looked down upon this most unworthy lot and said,
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Sapan Kapoor A history buff and India-based journalist, the author has worked with the Press Trust of India. He blogs at and tweets as @dRaconteur.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Gulbaat S | 7 years ago | Reply The questions of the day are ...Is there freedom of Speech in India? Can any religion align with a political party to legalize atrocities against another religion? Can extremist behaviour from one religion push far enough to create extremism in another and what will be the consequences as a nation when there is so much internal turmoil and corruption. Why does one religion encroach on fundamental rights of another religion, such as what to eat or wear or practice religion.
Sabeen Khayam | 8 years ago | Reply Killers of Sabeen Mahmood have been caught and motive of her killing was not baloch people
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