The Jaipur Literary Festival keeps getting into the news every year for the wrong reasons. It is almost as if it is a deliberate strategy to ‘market’ the festival. Or, since it is a gathering of the intellectual and articulate class, the envelope is bound to be pushed in areas where society has a traditionally hidebound approach. It is the job of the writers to question the shibboleths of the past. In the normal course, during interactions among intellectuals no matter of which ideological persuasion, discussions create a lot of heat, but the freedom of expression is respected and matters do not generate controversy. This is because writers understand more than others that speculative thinking is necessary to further the bounds of knowledge. The problem begins when those who do not understand the literary milieu begin to participate. It has become the practice for such elements to condemn books without reading them, and banning movies without having seen them.
The latest to invite the ire of the intolerant is sociologist Ashish Nandy. A single statement picked out of the context in which he was speaking has created a controversy leading to lodging of a case against him and, as always, the organiser of the festival. In a way, it shows how unthinking support for the cause of the Dalits and backward classes can boomerang upon one. He was actually speaking on behalf of the ‘rightness’ of Dalit corruption as an ‘equalising’ force. This is not a new concept and has been borrowed from what Dalit intellectuals have themselves asserted. If an FIR is to be lodged against him (and Tarun Tejpal who introduced this idea), then these Dalit intellectuals should also be hauled up!
One sympathises with the cops who will have to make sense of all this intellectual hair-splitting, which even the aficionados find hard to comprehend. Such incidents, however, give a glimpse of what the world would be like if it began to be run by uni-dimensional thinkers, who would like to squash every thought that does not conform to their own. It should make everybody else more committed to the concept and practice of free speech, as well as tolerant of words that might reflect a different worldview. A distinction should be made between what could be described as ‘hate-speech’ and acting upon the ideology that it reflects.
When opinions are expressed freely, the rest of society obtains awareness of what’s brewing. Debating an issue to its barebones builds up society’s strength to deal with that issue. A ban merely sends it underground where it festers and turns cancerous. It becomes known only when it is too late and violence has been done.
One can disagree with those who justify corruption as an ‘equalising’ force, but the proper response is to counter it with arguments of one’s own. In the end, of course, the objective is to go ‘legit’ as any self-respecting Corleone would affirm. This is a point that, both, the Dalit protestors and their oddly placed sympathisers will have to concede. Where is the need to go to the Thana for that?