To speak one’s mind is becoming an increasingly risky business. Someone or the other, it seems, is getting outraged in the process. But what has really become a worrying trend is the form in which this outrage is unleashed. Sindhi writer Hiro Shevkani was arrested and released on bail for writing what a few individuals decided to be an “obscene story”. While Mr Shevkani was left to defend his book as being “slightly erotic...but not obscene” — a distinction that no adult needs to make in a court of law when discussing a work of fiction — we are outraged that the case was filed against him in the first place, one of the charges being that the writer had “depicted the woman’s character in a very objectionable way”. Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, creator of Paro in his novel Devdas, among many other writers, must be falling off their pedestals.
In a similar display of what can be understatedly described as ‘unbridled criticism’, a group of people in Gujarat have slapped social scientist Ashis Nandy with a criminal case accusing him of promoting feelings of enmity between communities by writing an opinion article in The Times of India and for making assertions “prejudicial to national integration”. That Mr Nandy’s harassment has been given sanction by the state government shows how a law can be misused when criticism — in this case, of the communalised aspect of Gujarat’s middle-class — isn’t tolerated. Surely, Mr Nandy has his right to his point of view. As is Mr Shevkani to his creative licence.
But unlike Mr Nandy, who is gaining support for his situation, Mr Shevkani has had few supporters. We don’t expect everyone to agree or be comfortable with either of their writings. But there are other ways of showcasing criticism. In Mr Nandy’s case, sending letters to the editor of the paper would have sufficed. In the case of Mr Shevkani, putting the book back in the shelf would have done the needful.