Many have now read news reports to the effect that Ashis Nandy, an eminent academic and scholar, unwittingly blurted out at a “Literary Festival” in Jaipur that “Most corrupt people come from …” and mentioned certain caste-based sub-groups in India.
Though I am inclined to think that Nandy did not quite mean what the statement literally says (for which he has apologized) culturally offensive words like that deserve to be repudiated, criticized and condemned. They should not go unchallenged by other scholars and commentators.
However, subjecting the man to police questioning, and calling for his arrest with threats of putting him in jail for making an outrageous, inappropriate, and morally reprehensible statement is another regressive step towards re-affirming our medieval mindset which has been raising its ugly head all too frequently in various contexts in various garbs.
I fear that many Indians will hesitate to express an honest thought about what or how they feel about aspects of their culture, religion, society, or politics, unless it is soothingly adulatory.
God knows there are nations in the world where even stricter codes of behavior and beliefs are enforced on the helpless populace by the governments in power. So far India has kept away from membership in such Dark Age clubs.
It is refreshing that some bold thinkers in India have come to the defense of Nandy, not for what he said, but for his right to speak out his mind in however clumsy and offensive a mode. They realize that the freedom to express one’s thoughts, sublime or ridiculous, enlightened or absurd, is a precious kernel in any civilized society in the modern world. Curbing it is among the necessary acts for reverting to the bad old days.
January 29, 2012