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An imperilled right to offend | The Indian Express

An imperilled right to offend | The Indian Express

An imperilled right to offend

The forced retreat of M.F. Husain, attack on ‘Padmavati’ — it is naive to believe that only fringe groups are to blame

Written by Akhil Sibal | Updated: November 23, 2017 8:25 am
Padmavati, Karni Sena, Rajput protest, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Deepika Padukone
Members of Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena shout slogans against fimmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali during a protest demanding for a total ban on the movie ‘Padmavati’ in Bengaluru. (PTI)

Freedom of speech and expression in India is increasingly in the grip of non-state actors, imposing their law as self-appointed artistic police. State authorities, acting under the diktats of elected representatives, are driven by political considerations rather than legal precept. The court machinery, instead of serving as a bulwark against the infringement of this constitutionally cherished right, is often activated to serve the cause of harassment of the artist, writer or filmmaker. Eventually, the hallowed legal principles protecting free speech are successfully invoked before the superior courts of law, but the process is so punishing for the artist that this belated success remains a pyrrhic victory. The creative pen or brush is forever saddled with the inhibition of self-censorship. The suffering inflicted acts as a cautionary tale for others to avoid controversy and play it safe. And so the freedom of expression is held hostage by dogma.

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