Gurmehar, Arunima & Freedom Of Expression - An Open Letter
“I don’t agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Arguably the most apt (modified) statement India must learn today. I refrain, deliberately, from commenting on whether what Gurmehar expressed or what Arunima conversed with her batchmate is correct or incorrect. The very reason of penning this piece down is to ask you to limit yourself from attacking the very foundations of a freedom, which both of them, like you, carry along.
Few notable citizens in their respective fields have taken it to microblogging website Twitter and issued tweets and engaged in unnecessary controversies. Few others have taken it to other social media and one may see unwanted views flowing in from all directions. I ask myself, and I ask you to ask yourselves, does Gurmehar not have a right to criticize violence or does Arunima not have a basic right to choose her dinner? Or are we blinded by political motives of a select few to an extent that 2 young students are subjected to harassment just because sharing their views?
First things first, Gurmehar appealed against violence and stated that she was not afraid of a student outfit. One may not agree with her and object, but one cannot shut her down. One may try to persuade her to change her thoughts but no one must threaten her. One may also introduce certain facts to her which she may not be aware of but no one can impose anything or force her say something else.Arunima shared a whatsapp chat with one of her batchmates who had taken strong objections as to her defence on permissible limits of consuming beefon Facebook. Again, one may out of concern share with her if the food she is consuming may be bad for health but one cannot dictate terms as to what she should eat or not eat. One may inform her of any alarming fact associated with beef but cannot out of the air just say that no hindu must eat beef, particularly if one is a Brahmin.
My endeavour here is not to reason with anybody based on what the law says or what the courts have held as those issues are too complicated for people driven by passion. My attempt here is to trace to you and leave it to your wisdom that we have a guaranteed right to express and speak subject to reasonable restrictions. This right is the first gate against oppression. It rejects any form of suppression on a citizen so that he/she may step forward and speak against it. India has been formed by progressive thinking people who after immense struggle made sure that you speak and express freely. When we amongst ourselves attack on this gate, it is the very foundation of our existence as a country which is under threat.
Let your wisdom choose the right path, not political motives of a collect few. Let Gurmehar express. Let Arunima express. Let this country not indulge in unnecessary debates. We have much to worry about.
Your fellow citizen
Namit Saxena is a Lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court of India.
[The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of LiveLaw and LiveLaw does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same]
*Arunima Bhattacharya is a Contributor to LiveLaw.