Historian and writer Ramachandra Guha in his lecture ‘Eight threats to Freedom of Expression in Modern India’ outlined the importance of Freedom of Expression and the need to uphold it. He was in Goa to release the book, ‘Ink of Dissent: critical writings on language, literature and freedom’ by Damodar Mauzo.
While Guha said that creative writers are much greater than non-fiction writers, he also mentioned that people who write novels in their mother tongue have more credibility in India. The first threat, he said, is the retention of archaic colonial laws and he went on to say that several clauses in about eight sections in the Indian Penal Code inhibit freedom of expression. The second threat he pondered on is the imperfections in our judicial system. “Lower courts are too quick and too eager to entertain threats to influencers. Our legal system is very irrational; if you write a book in Goa, if a political party wants to harass you they can file a case. In Silchar in Assam or Derra Bassi in Punjab (two places where many such cases are filed), there are several reasons why they entertain such cases, but also they would be making headlines on the front page of a newspaper,” he said.
Speaking about how politics restricts freedom of expression, he said: “No major or minor Indian politician has supported writers, artists and filmmakers against thugs and bigots.” He also spoke on the rise of complacency among police forces.
Guha also said the media too doesn’t support the Right to Freedom and Expression consistently as the media is dependent on the government for advertisements, which is more acute in the regional and sub-regional press. The other threats he said include the media’s dependence of commercial advertisements, especially the English language newspapers and television that cater to the affluent middle class. “Companies that make products that may have damaging effects are rarely criticised for fear that ads may be pulled,” he said providing instances of how the Ambanis and Tatas withdrew ads from channels when there was negative reporting, especially in cases of environmental journalism.
He said a major threat that writers don’t recognise, as a threat to Freedom of Expression, is the community of writers, artists and filmmakers themselves. “They can be career driven, affiliated closely to a political party or to a politician,” he said.
Guest of honour, former head of department of English, Goa University, Kiran Budkuley gave a critical review of the book. While she said that the three sections captured her mind, she maintained that the writings were another perspective, through which she got a glimpse of the creative artist at the heart of the writing.
“For a person who is always used to holding a pen, the pen is not hot to handle. He [Mouzo] asks the right questions with reference to the country and answers them too,” she said.
The writer Damodar Mauzo, who generally writes in Konkani said that he is can express best in his mother tongue, and will continue to do so. He also stated that the book was not a cause of the recent happenings on restrictions to freedom and speech, “I have been dissenting for a long time, during the Emergency period, when Salman Rushdie was banned, or during the issue of Award Wapsi. I am not scared to write, but there is fear… that if we give power to a party to five years, they will rule over us for 50 years,” he said emphasising the need for democracy to function.
He went on to say that people stay away from politics because they consider it dirty, but the onus lies on society to clean it up. “Politics has become a business – you are out to buy your opponents to sell your country. Don’t be surprised over such happenings,” he said.
Chairman of Ravindra Bhavan, Margao, Prashant Naik expressed his joy and thanked Guha for being present to launch the book. He also drew attention to the need to promote literary events on the same lines as folk and culture.