Freedom to Speak Truth to Power

Perennial battle between the dominant discourse and the alternative discourse

SEMINAR PAPER

HAMEEDA NAYEEM

    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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