Opinion and Editorial

Freedom comes with responsibility

Filed on December 1, 2007

IN INDIA, the freedom of expression is a constitutional right. No wonder, New Delhi tests the ability of its political leaders and citizens to understand the full significance of this manifestation. And, by granting controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen a protective shelter in India, the government is only attempting to score a political point that could fetch them veneration, as well as votes.

Consciously though, an asylum to this overtly atheist writer does not come without a frank piece of advice. She has been asked by India to ‘refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of "our people". India says it has never refused shelter to those who have come and sought its protection; a civilization legacy, which is now government’s guiding principle. Taslima has been told this time that those who have been granted shelter have undertaken no activities or actions in India that may harm 'New Delhi’s relations with friendly countries'. It is an expression that is hinted as admonition to her actions often articulated in her writings.

The veiled message by the Indian authorities seems to be yielding results already. The writer apparently has figured out how bad it could be for her if she is asked to leave India. Hence, by withdrawing controversial lines on religion in her autobiographical novel, Dwikhandito, Taslima has taken steps that may guarantee her residency permit in India akin to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama.

As it is said ‘better late than never’, Taslima is beginning to grasp how freedom of expression can be a relative right, and not an absolute one. People have decried her writings as blasphemous, demanding she be punished for hurting religious sentiments. Hope the writer knows that freedom of expression always goes with reservations, since abuse of individual rights is always a possibility.

Her arguments that the freedom of expression must be conclusive is ludicrous. By recently comparing her plight with that of renowned painter MF Husain, who is in exile owing to threats from Hindu fundamentalists, the controversial author has strutted her lack of being sensitive about those who have slammed her for choosing the freedom to revile religious feelings.

The freedom of speech and action that incites hatred, defamation, perjury, blasphemy, obscenity etc. are regulated all over the world. Taslima can be no exception to this norm. For Taslima, whose novel Dwikhandito was banned in India earlier, the learning has been easy this time: avoid being a problem, and feel at home. All freedom comes with responsibility.

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