Freedom to Speak Truth to Power
Perennial battle between the dominant discourse and the alternative discourse
In any civilized and decent society there has to be a fine balance between the freedom of speech and expression and the restraints put on it in the interest of maintaining a healthy, ordered, organized and harmonious society. It is a cardinal principle of our religion that your word or deed should not hurt your fellow beings. Iqbal has prayed to God :
Meri zabano qalam say kisi ka dil na dukhe
Kisi ko shiqwa na ho zeri aasman muj ko
It is needless to labor for the obvious because we have considerably evolved from that state where this needed to be drummed down the throats of people. The question to be deliberated upon is freedom of speech and expression as a political right. The fact that there are curbs on the free expression of truth about the reality in Kashmir needs to be highlighted. The fact that there are implicit and explicit restrictions on persons and media to disseminate the truth about the situation in Kashmir under a variant of colonial rule, the fact that the cases are brought against those papers which give space to the description of the ground reality and viewpoints of people about the issue, the fact that government advertisements are denied to the papers which try to give space to the discourse of the marginalized, repressed and colonized people of Kashmir, the fact that implicit and explicit gag orders are issued every now and then to the print media, the fact that even the use of social media is banned for telling the truth about Kashmir, that those boys who are using the social media are harassed and some have already been booked under the ‘ lawless law’ PSA, the fact that those who highlight the gross violation of human rights and defend and advocate human rights are punished in various ways: they are arrested, jailed, tortured, killed, denied travel documents, subjugated economically and socially and even eliminated from the scene for voicing their views. Denial of travel documents, in particular is used as an instrument of punishment for human rights defenders and activists.
It is freedom of speech and expression of this nature that the seminar is all about. It is in this sense that I congratulate Zahid Saheb and Ahad Saheb for contributing to the repressed people’s discourse on Kashmir in the books. Zahid Saheb’s book consists of the articles he wrote during the unprecedented resurgence of popular movement in Kashmir in 2010 (which could have changed the course of history had it happened in other parts of the world but the state having already attained the title of being the largest democracy in the world , can afford to be arrogant and obdurate and does not need to listen to the public verdict!) It is when our youth had already made a momentous shift from armed to peaceful struggle. It is when the State forces achieved new refinements of horror and new depths of degradation. It is when nothing could have been more withering to our belief in democracy, humanity and secularity than the voice of terror silently communing with us. Zahid Saheb’s writings have to be seen against this backdrop, that he continued to contribute to people’s discourse and spoke the truth to power when some others , the intellectual collaborators or half-baked minds or both (who, being overawed by the repressive tactics and the cacophony of the state discourse) wrote to strengthen the dominant discourse like calling stone- pelters as barbarians of the stone age (in line with what Arun Jaitley called mob violence ) and therefore in relation to gun far more lethal and terrific than all the State machinery which was brought in to tackle the situation or the gun of the State paled into insignificance before this ‘most barbarian tool’.
Such is the force of colonial discourse that the police continues to use the excuse of stone-pelting against the boys which are being picked up every now and then. Interestingly the same tool was used by Greeks around the same time in an agitation against the Government of the day for the death of a civilian. Greece being the mother of modern civilization could not have relapsed into barbarity while protesting the death of a fellow being and Kashmiris had not resorted to stone pelting for the first time in their history. State witnesses the worst forms of resistance by people to press for their rights on a daily basis but no force is used to quell it down. But here milk- sucking babies and young sapling plants were done to death to terrorize a whole young generation into abject subjugation. Mind you, all those boys who were brutally killed were either bystanders or peacefully demonstrating on the streets. This I came to know from the families of the boys who were killed as also from those who had got fire arm injuries when I visited them in the hospitals. To cut it short, the writers could bring about revolution of various kinds in the societies if they have moral courage to speak truth to power.
To prove my point I will give you an example from the closing years of 19th century France when Emile Zola wrote an open letter to the president of the day expressing his outrage against a gross miscarriage of justice in the case of Alfred Dreyfus , a Jewish artillery officer in French army and accused the government of anti-semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus. The letter was titled :J’accuse ( I Accuse You) published on Jan13,1898 on the front page of the newspaper L’Aurore(TheDawn) A respectful writer of international renown had accused the French military of enormous wrongs. It has been adjudged as ‘the greatest newspaper article of all time, an essential date in the history of journalism.’ It is a “masterpiece of polemics and a literary achievement of imperishable beauty”. No other newspaper article had such an impact on law, justice and society. It has become an archetypal expression of outrage and accusation against the dominant power.
The letter argues the complete innocence of the accused who received an unfair trial at his court martial as the conviction was based on false, supposedly incriminating documents because of which Dreyfus was sentenced to life imprisonment and expelled from the army and incarcerated on Devil’s Island from 1895 to 1899. The article gave a detailed explanation of how it happened that Dreyfus was convicted of a crime he never committed, showed the real culprit was Esterhazy and blasted his acquittal, revealed the immensity of the cover-up, named the officers known by Zola to have been involved in perpetrating the cover-up and accused them of the greatest iniquities of the century. Imbued with a tone of outrage, it concludes with the sentence: “Truth is on the march and nothing could stop it”. Zola had two purposes in mind when he wrote his article. First, he hoped to provide the public with a terse overview of the facts of the Dreyfus case and thereby mobilize public opinion in Dreyfus’s favor. Second, he hoped to provoke authorities into criminally prosecuting him for having written the article., so that at his trial new evidence could be produced and made public concerning Dreyfus’s innocence and Esterhazy’s guilt. Zola succeeded in both his objectives. The article was an instant sensation, electrifying France and stimulating a gradual but decisive shift in public opinion in favor of Dreyfus. It brought the Dreyfus case worldwide attention . Zola was put on trial on a charge of criminal libel as London Times noted: “Zola’s true crime has been in daring to rise to defend the truth and civil liberty and for that courageous defense of the primordial rights of the citizen, he will be honoured where ever men have souls that are free…He was a moment in the conscience of humanity.”
Zola was convicted and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment To avoid prison, Zola fled to London and returned to France in June 1899 shortly after an appellate court reversed Dreyfus’s conviction and ordered that he be retried. By then the public opinion had swung decisively in favor of Dreyfus and the libel charge against Zola was dismissed. In 1906 the Supreme Court of France exonerated Dreyfus, reinstated him and was promoted to higher position in army as an acknowledgement of the miscarriage of justice though by then Zola had died of asphyxia in 1902 because of a murderous conspiracy against his life by a right wing fanatic according to some reports.
The story of his courage to speak truth to power underscores the power of writing, the power of alternate discourse to destabilize and interrogate the dominant discourse which thrives mostly on a pack of lies. Zola did suffer but in effect revolutionized the sensibility of the generations to come. It helped France’s transition from myopic and racist to a liberal and humane society (although today it is again under attack under the influence of another charade being played out by Euro-America for some neo-imperial designs). Discourse can be a site of both power and resistance , ‘with scope to evade, subvert, or contest strategies of power’.
The need of the hour is to create a counter hegemony and that could be done by a counter discourse or people’s discourse as it transmits and produces power. If dominant discourse reinforces power, the alternative discourse undermines it and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart its nefarious designs. Will the Govt of India regain some grace by acknowledging truth and ordering prosecution of 500 personnel allegedly found guilty in the recently released report by International Tribunal and CCS.?
Lastupdate on : Mon, 17 Dec 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 17 Dec 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 18 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST
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