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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Charlie Hebdo and the Limits of Free Speech

Published in The Pioneer

Freedom of speech does not mean, and should not mean, the liberty to express your views until you’re politically correct, writes Anshul Kumar Pandey

The Charlie Hebdo massacres have justifiably ignited a debate on the limits of freedom of speech and expression. The magazine has been labeled as racist, sexist, anti-Islamic, homophobic etc. Intolerant Muslims, in particular, have been incensed to see the temerity with which the staff of the magazine has regularly and unapologetically published the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. For any casual follower of current affairs, this is not something new. Past victims of Islamic fury include the Dutch newspaper Jyllands-Posten, writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the video sharing website YouTube to name a few.

The intolerant fringe of sentimentally hurt Muslims have found an unlikely ally in the form of mainstream Leftists, some of whose members are bending backwards to adhere to the doctrine of liberal Islamic apologia. These apologists point out that you cannot express yourself so brazenly and ignore the sentiments of the followers of a particular religion — implying that you deserve the fate of Theo van Gogh and Charlie Hebdo if you do so. This pseudo-liberal narrative is at odds with the years of vicious chest thumping of liberal free speech advocates who have been insisting that when it comes to free speech, nothing is sacred.

To be fair, the anti-Charlie Hebdo camp would have made sense if the debate was about freedom of speech and expression in India. As a sovereign and multi-religious country, we have our own laws regarding free speech where we are allowed to speak until the Panditji or the Maulana saheb takes offence at what we are saying. After that, we are to write articles like this one and debate the limits of freedom of speech and expression. We are not complaining.

Except that the debate was not about freedom of speech and expression in India. It was about freedom of speech and expression in France whose Government does not care two hoots about what the Panditji or the Maulanasaheb or the Priest or the neighbourhood aunty thinks. They too are free to express their views. If they resort to violence, they are not offered quotas and Government jobs.

Instead, the full might of the law is brought down to bear upon them. The six-and-a-half million strong Muslim population of France, most of them immigrants who had zero freedom of speech and expression in their native countries, find it bewildering. The French do not care about their feudal mindset and do so even less about their touchy-feely sentiments. No burqa for you from now on.

Let us be clear. The attack on Charlie Hebdo, is an attack on the values of liberty, equality and fraternity and the ideas of emancipation, progress and modernity that came out of the enlightenment era and the renaissance. Thediktat goes something like this: You can enjoy your freedom of speech and expression until you are politically correct and selectively quote the peace and tolerance verses of the Quran. The moment you say something about Prophet Mohammed or satirise him or rub us or our religion in the wrong way, we’ll deal with you according to the laws of the seventh century.

The problem with such a diktat is that even the Muslims who have assimilated the liberal values of tolerance and the right to have dissenting views seem helpless at such a ghastly distortion of their religious doctrine. And instead of a worldwide call for introspection and reform, all they are getting is even more appeasement with the pseudo-liberal Islamic apologists acting as a front for radical hate-spewing and fatwa issuing imams, muftis, sheikhs and maulanas. To imagine a society where the prevailing discourse is above the cosmetic political correctness of such hate appeasers would require a thousand Charlie Hebdos, a thousand Ayaan Hirsi Alis, a thousand Salman Rushdies and a thousand Jyllands-Postens.

Unless we move in that direction, we can content ourselves with an Orwellian world where book bans, censorship and assassinations in the name of hurt religious sentiments are normal. If that happens, many would get their ideal Islamic state but the message of peace itself would be lost.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Academic Paper: Militarization in Jammu and Kashmir - Youth, Peace Building and Narratives of Identity

The Multi Stakeholder Engagement Initiative (TMSEI) Hum Kadam Dialogues
Venue: Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi
Topic: Militarization in Jammu and Kashmir - Youth, Peace Building and Narratives of Identity


This paper focuses on the different narratives of identity of Kashmiris living in Delhi. It will try to examine the identity crossfire in which these Kashmiris find themselves due to the conflict between the idea of Kashmiriyat and Indian nationalism. This paper interrogates the causes of the widening of the trust deficit between Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris due to the lack of an interface over a period of time. 

The meaning of ‘Kashmiriyat’ has transformed over a period of time from meaning a syncretic tradition rooted in the Sufi version of Islam to a radical, ideologically driven and a resilient point of view regarding Kashmiri Nationalism. In the same manner, the idea of Indian Nationalism has gone through significant changes in recent times. The dominant discourse reinforced by the coverage of the Jammu and Kashmir conflict by the mainstream media portrays the state as an integral part of India while bypassing any discussion of the demand by the Kashmiri’s to Right to Self-Determination. In the light of the existence of these two contrasting understandings of nationalism, Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris often find themselves on different sides of the same debate. 

Young people constitute more than half of the population of Kashmir. This is the generation which has grown up while militancy was rampant in the valley which resulted in the militarization of Jammu and Kashmir. The youth of Kashmir has seen the darker side of Indian Nationalism while simultaneously struggling with the lack of quality education, employment and access to livelihood opportunities. This deprivation of a peaceful and normal upbringing coupled with a sense of marginalization in public and social life has further alienated the Kashmiri from the non-Kashmiri. This paper tries to gauge the depth of this sense of marginalization through the interviews conducted. 

This paper will also attempt to suggest that to initiate an honest process of reconciliation between the youth of Kashmir and those not belonging to Kashmir, it is important to rectify the constant chain of broken promises, in order to lessen the trust deficit. The atmosphere of mutual suspicion needs to be put an end to and the intrinsic talents of the Kashmiri youth need to be recognized, honed and harnessed for the benefit of all. That, in this paper's view, would be the start of the much-required peace building process which will, hopefully, result in lessening of the hostilities.

Candids from the Conference


Full text of the paper is available at Academia and Social Science Research Network (SSRN)

Link to SSRN Profile: