India’s Attack on Free Speech

Oct 13, 2015

Bill Bragg

By Sonia Faleiro

In today’s India, secular liberals face a challenge: how to stay alive.

In August, 77-year-old scholar M. M. Kalburgi, an outspoken critic of Hindu idol worship, wasgunned down on his own doorstep. In February, the communist leader Govind Pansare was killed near Mumbai. And in 2013, the activist Narendra Dabholkar was murdered for campaigning against religious superstitions.

These killings should be seen as the canary in the coal mine: Secular voices are being censored and others will follow.

While there have always been episodic attacks on free speech in India, this time feels different. The harassment is front-page news, but the government refuses to acknowledge it. Indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence is being interpreted by many people as tacit approval, given that the attacks have gained momentum since he took office in 2014 and are linked to Hindutva groups whose far-right ideology he shares.

Earlier this month, a leader of the Sri Ram Sene, a Hindu extremist group with a history of violence including raiding pubs and beating women they find inside, ratcheted up the tensions. He warned that writers who insulted Hindu gods were in danger of having their tongues sliced off. For those who don’t support the ultimate goal of these extremists — a Hindu nation — Mr. Modi’s silence is ominous.

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8 comments on “India’s Attack on Free Speech

  • The ruling classes need religions. It is the only way they can justify inequalities.

    The message is ‘Never mind, life is shite now but in the next life you will be compensated.’

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  • I did the hippy trail in the early 1970s. India was delightful, but also terrifying in its size and vast population. The people would discuss everything endlessly; politics, literature, religion, caste. They explained Indian culture and history, and were proud and excited by the way the country was changing. They were definite that they wanted to keep the family system, “Ours works, yours doesn’t,” they mostly thought that caste would only last another generation, and had great hopes for the new generation of educated young people. They were wildly curious about how we in the west lived our lives, and were disappointed by some of the things I told them, about making your own bed, and cooking your own tea after work, and cleaning your own house. They had wild ideas about our sex lives, which I took care to disabuse.

    How heartbreakingly sad that that wonderful, vibrant, self examining, hopeful country, has descended into the condition described here and in the previous posting.

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  • Rational thought is an existential threat to any unjust ruling class. Religion plays the same roll now that it has for the past two plus millennia. To quote Nero’s tutor and adviser, Seneca (circa 4 BC – AD 65): “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false and rulers as useful.”

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  • 6
    Cairsley says:

    Shelley, nowhere in the known works of Seneca the Younger is there any sentence that can be construed as the origin of this quotation, which has also been misattributed to Lucretius and Cicero. Yet this misattribution, especially to Seneca and Lucretius, has been spread about the Internet without any precise citation of source other than the supposed author’s name. I regret not having mastered the method of posting a hyperlink here, but you may like to go to the webpages listed below to see where the “true, false, useful” quotation originated — The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. I, ch. 2, by Edward Gibbon.

    Bear in mind that Edward Gibbon was the historian who set the standard in modern historiography for citing sources as evidence in support of the historical narrative, though the practice was already well established among scholars by his time. If the “true, false, useful” sentence were a quotation from another source, it would have been entirely uncharacteristic of Gibbon not to cite the source. The sentence flows with those that precede and follow it as part of Gibbon’s own preparation of the historical setting he is focusing on in that chapter. Reading this sentence (in bold below) with the sentence that precedes it and the three sentences that follow it, makes this very clear:

    “The policy of the emperors and the senate, as far as it concerned religion, was happily seconded by the reflections of the enlightened, and by the habits of the superstitious, part of their subjects. The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.

    The superstition of the people was not embittered by any mixture of theological rancour; nor was it confined by the chains of any speculative system. The devout polytheist, though fondly attached to his national rites, admitted with implicit faith the different religions of the earth.³”

    “Footnote 3. There is not any writer who describes in so lively a manner as Herodotus the true genius of polytheism. The best commentary may be found in Mr Hume’s Natural History of Religion; and the best contrast in Bossuet’s Universal History. Some obscure traces of an intolerant spirit appear in the conduct of the Egyptians (see Juvenal, Satires, xv); and the Christians as well as Jews, who lived under the Roman empire, formed a very important exception: so important indeed, that the discussion will require a distinct chapter of this work.”

    I have taken the liberty to add Gibbon’s footnote 3, to give a taste of his use of footnotes and his manner of citation, which lacked none of the cadenced dignity of his main text; and also to indicate the meticulous care with which Gibbon gradually built up his case.

    As the Wikiquote article suggests, it seems that, because Gibbon was writing this passage about ancient Roman attitudes to religion, his deft summary of these has been read back into the thoughts of prominent ancient Roman thinkers who wrote on the subject of religion and were recognized as being of the “true, false, useful” view expressed by Gibbon. It was only one more step, one misstep, to think that one of them actually wrote it.

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  • Cairsley
    Oct 15, 2015 at 9:06 am

    I regret not having mastered the method of posting a hyperlink here,

    Copy the link from the top of the browser web-page.

    Past it into [square brackets]

    Without leaving a space, (paste the same link into normal brackets)

    This will show AND activate the link.

    It is much easier if you have reduced size separate pages or separate tabs for the RDFS post and the sought-after page, and copy across from one to the other.

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