State of folly: Freedom of Expression Beware the mob Do not patronise it

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Editorial in Times of India  

January 20, 2018

James kottoor(Note: This editorial in Times of India is all about freedom of expression in a Democracy.  What is the difference between public opinion and mob reaction? It is this difference that marks out  democracy quite  different from a mobocracy.

         Enlightened public opinion is driven by reason and mob reaction by impulsive animal feelings. Hence the first is defined as “Vox populi Vox Dei” (Voice of people voice of God).  Why? Because a crowd has many heads but not one mind while individuals have a mind of their own.

        When rulers of nations listen to the thought out views of the public they listen to the voice of God and become exemplary rulers. james kottoor, editor ccv).

Freedom of expression must be protected despite threats to law and order but it is unfortunate that four BJP ruled states ignored this self-evident constitutional precept and then got tutored on creative freedom by Supreme Court judges. The apex court’s stay against the ban on Padmaavat is another example of judiciary rectifying flawed executive orders.

SC noted that any possible concern regarding the film’s content or danger to public order would have been considered by the censor board in the discharge of its duties under the Cinematograph Act and state governments had little leeway to ban films.

State governments are still exploring legal options. While they are free to pursue this futile exercise a more rewarding course of action would be to provide unconditional support and police protection to cinema halls. Safeguarding free speech is critical to preserving democracy. Even the censor board’s expansive scope is contentious. Certifying a film is understandable but suggesting audiovisual cuts and title changes is no less a dampener of creative freedoms.

SC’s observation that states have “guillotined creative rights” starkly captures, perhaps inadvertently, the blood thirst inherent in BJP leader Suraj Pal Amu’s bounty of Rs 10 crore for beheading Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Deepika Padukone.

Karni Sena’s crude threats of wreaking violence are part of this wider socio-political pattern of rising intolerance. The Padmaavat ban is reminiscent of how communal riots are fuelled by administrations that surrender to mobs. State governments must disabuse themselves of the notion that right to creative expression is a utopian or elitist construct.

As Supreme Court noted: “When creativity dies, values of civilisation corrode.” Governance and the capacity to govern are often challenged when the state comes into conflict with collective interests. The Constitution has helped negotiate these pitfalls for 67 years. Bans, on the other hand, are shortcuts to disaster.

(This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.)

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