It’s a tough life for us godmen. After all the enlightening, awakening, healing and guiding that we’re expected to do, one would think that we were entitled to some R&R. But no, that can’t happen, can it? You spend all your waking hours serving your congregation, showing them the way to knowledge and bliss, and what do you get in return? Vilification and public humiliation.

There was this actress who was very upset that her career wasn’t doing much for her. “Look at me, Swami. I am talented and gorgeous and fame still eludes me. Oh, please show me the light…..please show me the way……”

Well, what could I do? There’s an SOP for people who want to see the light, who want to find the way. Ironically, even if it’s the light of fame and the way to prosperity that they seek, it involves casting aside worries and worldly possessions. And, as any fool knows, clothes are worldly possessions. So cast them aside she did. Again, being vertical is not a good way to see the light….the bulb’s on the ceiling, after all. So, she got horizontal. I did too…all the better to show her the light, my dears! So I showed her the light and the way – not necessarily in that order – and she showed me her moves. Oh, did she ever….!

And see what happened….and don’t take me literally, you vicariously gratified bastards! You’ve done enough of that.

Man, it sucks being victimised. After all, I just did all that I did to fulfil the aspirations of a devotee.

Not that all this hate and derision bothers me. I am a guru, and I’ve stashed away loads. (All in the course of helping lost souls shed the baggage of worldly possessions…) Besides, you know what they say…….sticks and stoners can’t break your boners…..

Perhaps I can still make a go of it? Or should I find something else to do? Something similar, something that again involves selfless service to the people? Politics, maybe? Well, what better place to start a career in politics than in prison. Talk about head starts. So that worked out OK, eh? Phew.

Though it’s a shame to be changing professions. I kinda like hanging free, if you know what I mean, in those loose robes. They’re easier to cast aside – and khadi is itchy. Should I get into a related field? Like tantric-sex wish-fulfilment therapy? Because I was really good at this. And it worked, didn’t it? For the actress, I mean. She’s famous and all over the internet and TV now, isn’t she? And look where I ended up.

So you see, the media got it all backwards. It is I who got screwed.

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Edited to add: A little over a year after we first had this discussion, Indyeah has written another post on the Freedom of Expression. Not much has changed in this one year – at least not for the better. Both the editor and publisher of The Statesman were arrested in Kolkata for reprinting a certain article, a certain word was beeped out of a song in the film Kaminey, Hussain accepted Qatari citizenzhip in the face of continued exile from his country and an article allegedly written by Taslima caused riots in Karnataka. We still have people rising in defence – rightly so – of Hussain’s Freedom of Expression. These very people seem a little reluctant to give Taslima – or the duo from The Statesman – the benefit of that same right.

The arguments of those condemning Taslima range from the ridiculous to the stupid. For instance, a few people claimed that as a guest in this country, she shouldn’t have written what she did. Let us, for a moment, concede this point, preposterous as the argument may be. But what about the right of an Indian newspaper – both the paper in Karnataka and The Statesman in Kolkata – to publish an article written by a foreign national?

Amidst renewed clamour for even more restrictions on our already constitutionally-curtailed right to the Freedom of Expression, something that has taken considerable beating from all kinds of goons and hooligans, it is absolutely critical that we safeguard and cherish that right. As I concluded in my post a year ago, this right is the only thing slowing our eventual transformation into a banana republic.

Unfortunately, we seem to have made rapid strides in that direction in this one year.

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Indyeah wrote two passionate posts on why the freedom of expression should be restricted so as to not offend certain people. I left a comment on her blog, but had some further thoughts, so I may as well write on it here. I wrote:

“I agree, freedom should be accompanied by responsibility. However, the responsibility can never be ‘forced’. If I were to give my position in one line it is this: Your freedom of expression has more value than my right not to get offended.

I might disagree with your statements, your books, your drawings, your views. But I cannot deny you the right to have that freedom. I might not allow it on my blog (because that’s my property), but I will never question the freedom you have to put it on yours, or the freedom of other people who show the stuff on their blogs/newspapers/channels.

Freedom of speech and expression can never be compromised. Because once you compromise and give in to one pressure group – however loud or violent their methods, or however hurt they may be – you have opened the doors for everyone else to come in. And that is the end of freedom. Yesterday it was Rushdie, MF Hussain, Taslima Nasrin. Today you have objections to Water, Fire, Deshdrohi, the term “Slumdog”, and the term “Barber”. Tomorrow it might be something equally stupid. Once you give in to one group, and compromise, what reason can you give other groups? That their offended feelings are not good enough? Where do you draw the line?

Every freedom, every liberal principle derives from the freedom of expression. Take it away once, and you are already rolling downhill towards intolerance. India is a prime example.

And for all those who are offended: please don’t watch the films, read/buy/gift the books, view the cartoons, see/buy/gift the paintings, or put up links to those on your blogs. But you can’t stop the person from his right to have that opinion, and the rights of others to publish or display it.

For example, you may choose to not publish this comment. You have every right to do so, as it is your blog. But I have every right to retain my views, and express them freely on my blog, or on any other platform that might allow me to do so. Ditto for Rushdie, MF Hussain, Taslima, Danny Boyle and the girls who went to the pub in Mangalore.

Because the moment the state upholds the right not to be offended over the right to free expression, it is just a matter of time before Mangalore happens. Please remember that.”

Further, my view is that anyone who believes that Rushdie, MF Hussain or Taslima should have exercised “creative restraint” (an oxymoron) is no different from Muthalik. Shocking? Let me explain why.

Implicit in Indyeah’s argument is the judgment that the hounding of Rushdie, the killings of Theo van Gogh and Hitoshi Igarashi, the vandalism, violence and persecution that MF Hussain, Taslima Nasrin, Deepa Mehta and the supporters of Laines’ work have been subjected to were ‘invited’, because their works and expressions hurt people, ‘immature’ people who then resorted to violence as a form of protest. It is also implied that ‘creative restraint’ would have negated the need for ‘provoked’ violence.

So how is this different from Muthalik? He is offended that Indian women were drinking alcohol and wearing clothes that hurt his sentiments – both of which were legitimate ‘expressions’ of the women concerned. Legitimate expressions of emancipation, modernity, an independent income, a culture they believed in, legitimate expressions of their right to choose. Muthalik and his goons were offended, and they resorted to violence, exactly like the Islamic fanatics in the case of Rushdie and Taslima, and the Hindu fanatics in the case of Hussain, Mehta and Laines. By the same logic, if the women had exercised ‘restraint’, the violence (implicitly ‘invited’ and ‘provoked’) would never have happened.

What gives any of us the right to condemn the latter, without condemning the former? Who am I to decide that Muthalik was wrong in feeling offended – and resorting to violence – but that the people who attacked Hussain et al. were legitimately offended and worthy of support?

I feel her argument condemns Muthalik (and rightly so), but seeks to exonerate (against every civilised principle) the other goons for similar crimes.

Freedom of expression cannot give in to pressure groups. And to counter her argument’s biggest fallacy, it is not just about artists glorifying genitalia (and so what if they do?) – it is about all of us and our choices. Once you compromise, where do you draw the line? There will be more Muthaliks tomorrow who will be offended by the most trivial things, none related to art.

Indyeah mentions, in support of her thesis, that we already have restrictions on our fundamental rights, so why the fuss? Correct. The exceptions to the Right to Freedom are so vaguely worded that the government can see just about anything as violating all of those provisions. But the fact that it’s a fait accompli doesn’t make it right.

She asks, what is the solution in India? No one knows. But I know the solution does not lie in curtailing freedom. It does not lie in capitulating, as the state has, to certain pressure groups – because that only signals to others that the state is willing to compromise, depending on the levels of noise and violence. The battle’s lost right there. Such surrender, and restrictions on freedom, will only embolden newer fanatics. Is that what we want?

Finally, contrary to her assumption, I have no illusions about India ever turning into a civilised, tolerant nation. I would, however, value freedom of expression because it is one of the few things that will slow – not stop, just slow – our inevitable transformation into a banana republic. We’re almost there, anyway. While it is my fond hope that it doesn’t happen in my lifetime, I’m not holding my breath.

The Election Commission of India wants the Representation of People’s Act of 1951 to be amended so as to enable them to regulate the registration of political parties in India. That this is indeed a serious problem can be seen from these statistics: we now have 50 (yes, you read that right!) registered recognised political parties and 900 registered unrecognised political parties.

Check out this article.

The EC has a two-stage system for recognising political parties. Stage I is registration. This means that only registered parties can be recognised. Stage II – to move from registered unrecognised to registered recognised depends on whether or not the party in question can demonstrate political activity of some kind for five continuous years. There are also some quantitative benchmarks based on the percentage of votes polled. Considering 50 parties have made the grade, I guess the quantitative benchmarks are not very stringent.

Then there’s this whole to-do about the RTI Act and the sources of political funding. Obviously, the political parties do not want the act to apply to them. So what’s new? Political parties, in time, will make sure that no laws apply to them and their members. They will be, one fine day, legally above the law.

What is interesting is how these two aspects tie-in, courtesy another news item that points out how unknown parties attract huge amounts in funds, and there’s no accounting for this money. In other words, it’s a money laundering racket!

Here’s another interesting piece of news.

We are like this only. What do we expect when any sub-caste of a sub-caste, or a small enclave within a small district within a state becomes the basis for yet another political party? The fragmentation of our politics is an inevitable outcome in a place where linguistic identity, caste or sub-caste affiliation and religious distinctiveness take precedence over lack of development, farmers’ suicides, inflation, lack of education, lack of healthcare, lack of water, lack of nutrition, lack of electricity, lack, in fact, of a basic minimum standard of living.

Is that a good thing or bad? It is both. What is good is that it has enabled marginalised voices to be heard. On the flip side, it has ensured that the fear of the other, the outsider becomes the sole force binding such groups, and everything else then takes a backseat. Because any failure is then the fault of the others. And the sad fact is that this clout and immunity is used as a front for a whole host of illegal activities such as money-laundering, among others.

Is this going to change in a hurry? I don’t think so. If anything, it’s going to get worse, and as smaller and smaller groups embrace the politics of identity and distinctiveness, we may soon have neighbourhood political parties. Like the Mylapore Dravida Nadar Catholic Kazhagam, or the Nizamuddin East Punjabi Hindu Khatri Janata Vikas Manch.

Oh well. At least we can be proud that everyone has a voice in this country. And equal opportunity to launder money!