Apropos of Barkha Dutt's article Made in India (June 23), pornographic paintings of Jesus Christ and Hindu gods and goddesses or insulting depictions of the Prophet Mohammed go beyond the limits of freedom of expression. They are vulgar and revolting and calculated to hurt the feelings of all sensitive people.
Barkha Dutt has observed that freedom of expression should not be selective and mentioned how she had defended the right of the artist from Baroda to depict Christ and Vishnu in a sexually explicit and "even possibly in an offensive manner" as well as the prerogative of Salman Rushdie to write the piece considered blasphemous by so many Muslims. I agree that there should be no double standards in such issues. The vandalism indulged in by self-appointed custodians of Hindu culture against the Baroda artist or the fatwa issued against Rushdie and the renewed cal; for his head after the conferment of knighthood on him are deplorable and should be condemned.
However, religious beliefs, of whichever faith, do not usually stand the test of science yet are regarded as sacrosanct even by law. As such, freedom of speech and expression, precious though they are, cannot be absolute.
Our politicians’ vote-bank strategy, and not any intrinsic human or artistic value of a person or work of art decides on which side of a controversy the country stands. It is the fear of the ‘fatwa-happy clergy’ and the power of the vote-bank behind it that mutes the Indian official response to the issue of knighthood for Salman Rushdie.
When we claim that Sunita Williams is ‘our woman’ then we must not forget that Salman Rushdie is our man too. I don’t feel that there is anything for us to be ashamed of if we associate with a great author like Sir Salman. He has put India on the literary map. But maybe we don’t want to believe in his Indian roots because he wrote controversial books like Satanic Verses. But if this is the reason behind our denial then, maybe, we should stop saying that India is a democracy.
The problem with us is we don't have the courage to take an independent stand. We look to others to take the lead and then follow. The inability to take a firm stand is the reason that a nation of 120 crore plus people is not in a position to claim Rushdie as their own.