A Threat to Freedom of Expression?

The recent arrest of two girls from the Palghar area near Bombay has thrown up several issues regarding freedom of expression. The girls – Shaheen and Reenu – had posted a message on Facebook when the ultra-right Hindu party leader Bal Thackeray had died. The original screenshot of the post can be seen on the official page of Shaheen Dhadha here.

It seems that in India freedom of expression, though guaranteed as a democratic right by the constitution, has been hijacked by religious groups, who can curtail them at will. Mostly, this is done with the connivance of the police as has been seen in the above case. There are some more instances of such arrest taking place because of pressures exerted by religious groups. A rationalist Sanal Edamaruku was sought to be arrested because the supposedly holy water coming from a statue in a Catholic church was actually issuing from a leaking pipe. Well, Christianity is against idol worship, so why this extreme step of asking for Edamaruku’s arrest?

Several other cases of freedom being hijacked come to mind. The human rights groups in India have their hands full and, that too, how far can they fight these battles. The whole issue of democratic freedom then becomes questionable, when its primary freedom has been curtailed.

Will India find a solution to the problem? Can the authorities control the religious forces that take law into their hands and destroy public property remains to be seen. Writers in India live in constant fear of something they write being taken as offensive by a section of the people. They censor themselves, before the government can censor them. And, to be frank, this is not a good signs of a healthy democracy.