Defining Right as Wrong

By K.G. Kannabiran

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting. -- Milan Kundera
Dr. Kancha Illaiah's "Spiritual Fascism and Civil Society" published in Deccan Chronicle dated 15 February 2000 invited censure from the Registrar of the Osmania University though couched in the form of advice. The copies are marked to the Secretary, Vice Chancellor and to the Principal, University College of Arts and Science which manifest a clear intention that the letter is official and the copy of the letter will be lodged in the personal file of Dr. Illaiah. The second paragraph of his letter dated May 6 reads: "Basically being teachers, we are bound to contribute towards upliftment of society of every segment of society, promote social harmony and emotional integration. We have to positively ensure that either our writings or any other action do not in any way lend a slant to accentuating existing prejudices and inflame hatred among different sections of the people. You are requested to keep these in mind and discharge your role as a teacher with greater vigour and vitality to the betterment of the society as a whole" (The emphasis is mine).

It is a finding and a censure rolled into one. The paragraph sets parameters for academic writing not only to Dr. Illaiah but to others as well. This raises questions of the right to free speech and academic freedom as well. The Supreme Court in 1994 in Gajanan Vishweshwar Birjur pointed out that thought control is alien to the Constitutional scheme and values and went on to say that ideas can never be suppresses and that suppression drives them underground. As a policy it can never be successful. Any surface serenity it creates will be a false one. Our Constitution permits free trade in ideas says the Court. Free trade in ideas is the expression used by the American Supreme Court. The Holmes-Brandeis tradition, which has been commended by the Court, is a complete vindication of Dr. Illaiah right to free speech.

In Abrams vs. US Justice Holmes talks about free trade in ideas. The issue was the language used into two leaflets published by Russian immigrants who claimed that they were socialists and anarchists, supporting the Russian Revolution. This was immediately after seizure of power by Bolsheviks. In that context delivering the dissenting judgement Justice Holmes said: "But men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths they may come to believe even more than the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good is better reached by free trade in ideas - that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and truth is the only ground upon which their wishes can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment as all life is an experiment. Every year if not every day we have to wager our salvation on some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge."

Continuing the trend set by Holmes Justice Brandeis pointed out that men feared witches and burnt women and that the function of free speech is to free men from bondage of such irrational fears and proceeded to set down the ambit and scope of free speech: "If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more free speech, not enforced silence… Such must be the rule if authority is to be reconciled with freedom. Such in my opinion is the command of the constitution." This should be the perspective excepting the periods of grave emergency. This ratio formed the basis of late Justice Madhava Reddy in his dissenting opinion when a collection of poems entitled "March" upheld by the Supreme Court when our High Court judgement upholding the proscribing order was relied upon. Justice Iyer recommended to the Government the dictum of Mao - "let a thousand blossoms bloom" The Holmes - Brandeis tradition informed out approach to free speech. The period between 1969 and 1975 and brought a repressive state into existence for the first time after independence. There was resistance against these trends and when these issues went before the Courts they endorsed the liberal values as law until ADM Jabalpur informed us that the last bastion of democracy went under but not without a powerful dissent by Justice Khanna. The State initiated an authoritarian tradition, which is continuing even today., of using law not to promote democracy but to negate it. This tradition led to the arresting writers and thinkers as also proscribing their writings.

Among poets and writers who were arrested only to restrain their right to freedom of expression are Cherabandaraju, Nikhileshwar, Jwalamukhi, K.V. Ramana Reddy, Bojja Thrakam, Varavara Rao, Rajalochan, M.T. Khan, and Keshava Rao Jadhav. Almost all of them are teachers. There was also in existence a defying liberal tradition. Despite the fact that all suffered long periods of detention they were not shown the door by reason of such incarceration by the institutions in which they worked. Apart from this a tradition of proscribing writings also grew. The collection of poems entitled 'Jhanjha', March 'Ley', brought out by the Revolutionary Writers, issues of Srujana and Pilupu a periodical and a news magazine, Bhavishyat Chitrpatam, a collection of poems by Varavara Rao and Marichika by Vasireddi Sitha Devi were proscribed by the state and these were banned as seditious literature. None of these orders were allowed to stand excepting March and Jhanjha. The Court trying of these orders were allowed to stand accepting writings were neither seditious nor conspiratorial. The present debate is to prevent appropriation of that tradition by the University.

Despite the accelerating Naxalbari movements of the sixties of the last century and the rumblings of the 1975 Emergency courts were upholding liberal values. When Jwalamukhi Nikhileswar and Cherabandaraju were detained under the AP Preventive Detention Act 1970 the Act was struck by a Bench presided over by Justice Chinnappa Reddy. It was the judges who were known to be conservative who realized quite a few persons arrested under the Maintenance of the Internal Security Act. Cherabandaraju Rajalochan were restored to their jobs by the judgment of a Bench presided over by late Justices Madhavareddy and Mukthadar.

While the Government persecuted them for their writings the institutions where they worked had a very liberal democratic attitude. All these writers were committed to bringing about a social change and were actively involved in the process. When compared to that Ilaiah's article on the caste system is within the Constitutional framework.

While Dr. Illaiah cannot be accused of sedition can he be accused of bringing about hatred between castes and communities? Does a citizen who works for the abolition of the caste system be accused of promoting hatred between castes? Mistaken and misconceived approach to these issues may bring about the results, which we want to prevent. In Calcutta High Court a citizen moved a petition to ban the Quran and wanted the Court to direct that all the copies of the Holy Book be forfeited to the state almost for similar reasons. The petition was dismissed but not before the Court pointed that that the petitioner by filing this petition acted in a manner, which will promote hatred between the communities, which he wanted to avoid by asking for a ban on Quran. This was in 1986. In 1988 the film, Tamas based on Bhishma Sahani's fiction reached the Supreme Court. It is about partition and the travails of people caught in these areas. The film portrayed carnage and violence that happened during partition. The petitioner wanted the license to screen this film withdrawn. The Supreme Court refused to grant this request. As with the article with the Deccan Chronicle the petitioner was of the view that depicting the violence in the manner the film did would incite people to communal violence. Depicting history they felt was not an offence. They pointed out those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. The Court pointed out, "It is out of the tragic experience of the past that we can fashion our present in a rational and reasonable manner and view our future with wisdom and care. Awareness in proper light is a first step towards realization." The Court was also quick to point out that people will also come to know the machinations of the fundamentalists and the extremists who have an interest in such conflicts.

The Constitution was brought into force on 26 January 1950: and it declared; 1. that caste, race, religion and sex are irrelevant considerations in the social and economic life of the people; 2. it specifically declared that every person has a right of access to public tanks, places of public resort hotels etc. 3. every person despite his creed, caste or sex has a right to enter places of public worship; 4. Scheduled castes, Scheduled tribes and backward classes on account of social deprivation for centuries are entitled to protection and their right to reservation of seats and jobs in government services are a part of equality assured in Article 15 & 16 of the Constitution. 5. In recognition of the minority status their institutions have been granted freedom to administer them. 6. In view of the plurality of religions and sects freedom of conscience has been guaranteed. 7. Bonded labour and child labour were abolished. 8. Directive principles and the Preamble clearly set out the duties and the objectives to be achieved by the STATE AND ITS INSTITUTIONS.

After fifty years no institution in this Country ever tried to enforce the Constitution. A Party whose members swore to uphold the Constitution when they entered the parliament brought down a Government for upholding the principles of Secularism and reservation and are now pleading for an uninterrupted five year period for themselves. Bonded labour and child labour abound despite subsequent legislation to regulate and eliminate these practices. Violence against women and discrimination against them continue; violence against Dalits and tribes are on the increase, and a special penal legislation had to be passed to check this violence two and a half decades after the Constitution. Social and economic deprivation and immiseration is on the increase. All of these is borne by the Dalits and backward classes. Attacks on two minorities, for the present, are on the increase. In rural areas in several parts of the country untouchability, including barring of temple entry, is still practiced.

A sensitive person is bound to be righteously indignant by this state of affairs. And Dr. Ilaiah is one such person. He is campaigning for enforcing the promises made by the Constitution. The University is angry with Dr. Illaiah for taking Dr. Ambedkar and the Constitution seriously. Persons in authority never felt any need for free speech. Free speech is an obstacle to career ambitions and social climbing. The articles touch upon RSS Godse and the like without being vitriolic. The self-imposed burden of a civil or public servant is to protect the men in power, ostensible and real, because genuine criticism more than defamatory or vitriolic unsettles power welders. But then the University is granted autonomy not to run a private tyranny but to keep it away. Fascism resides in a democracy and believes in friendly persuasion by getting you used to be as innocuous as possible. If you can not be reined in, pilliwinks will be applied to set you right

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(PUCL Bulletin, Aug 2000)