Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
Image Source: catchnews
These are headlines from the past few days:
• ‘Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Speaks Against Section 377, Says SC’s Judgement On Gay Sex Should Be Reconsidered.’
• ‘SP Leader Azam Khan Says “RSS Leaders Are Homosexual And That Is Why They Don’t Marry.”‘
• ‘Hindu Mahasabha Activist Kamlesh Tiwari Strikes Back At Azam Khan, Claims That The Prophet Muhammad Was The First Homosexual.’
• ‘One Lakh Muslims Protest In The Streets, Demanding Capital Punishment For Kamesh Tiwari.’
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that this is a very low level of public discourse. And it only takes a little bit of educated thinking to lament on the fact that nobody – the politicians, the media or any of us – is talking about the ISSUES (in this case, Section 377). We began with what could have been a constructive discussion on the Indian Penal Code; we are left with demands for death penalties.
Let us try to digest five very simple yet crucial points:
1. Some people use the word “homosexual” as a means of mocking others. That is bigoted and skewed logic. Would calling someone “heterosexual” be a way of putting them down? No. So how can people use “homosexual” in a derogatory way? The debate on Section 377 – and homosexuality in general – needs to constructive. It should take the form of articles, speeches, nonviolent rallies and public discussions. Not petulant name-calling.
2. Azam Khan does not represent Indian Muslims and Kamlesh Tiwari does not represent Indian Hindus. And while there is no reason to believe that Khan and Tiwari speak for the rest of us, there is every reason to accept that what public figures have to say on anything influences the opinions of many.
3. Azam Khan is guilty of making the issue political. Mr Jaitley voiced his support for reconsidering the Supreme Court’s verdict on Section 377 intending to start a civil debate on it. Khan could have opposed Mr Jaitley in a civilized manner; instead, he chose to be a rogue and resorted to his romance with flashing headlines and breaking news. There was absolutely no need to bring the RSS into this. And calling all RSS leaders homosexual because they “don’t marry” is not only a vague generalization, it also inherently stupid.
4. Kamlesh Tiwari was wrong to bring religion into this. Khan brought politics in the debate, Tiwari brought Islam into it. By calling Muhammad “the first homosexual”, Tiwari demonstrated a superbly non-existent affinity to reason and an overt desire for causing communal discord.
5. Demanding the death penalty for Tiwari reflects a sheer ignorance of how democracy works. Tiwari was booked and jailed under India’s hate speech laws and received widespread criticism for his comments. Some of us will argue against the existence of hate speech laws in a 21st Century democracy like India, some of us will have a problem with the legality of capital punishment – but let us keep those debates aside for now. Let us concentrate on the crowd which wants Tiwari to be killed by the State. Free speech is the bedrock on which democracy stands. We have fought throughout history for the right to say whatever we want to say. At times, when we exceed limits, there might be penalties. But nothing which a person says can mandate him or her to be hanged by the State. That is what may happen in an autocracy, a communist State, a fascist regime or a theocracy; NOT in a Constitutional democracy like India.
As Indians we have a degree of expectations from our leaders. Similarly there is a degree of responsibility we must respect. We can and must protest for our rights and beliefs, but at the same time refrain from extreme rhetoric like demanding the death of someone. Demanding Tiwari’s death for his comments is simply not a sign of a healthy democracy. This becomes even more troubling when some people shout pro-ISIS slogans like in Rajasthan or announce a reward of Rs. 51,00,000 to those who behead Tiwari like in Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, here’s what The Logical Indian community would love to have seen as the headlines in the past few days:
• ‘Arun Jaitley Speaks Against Section 377, Says SC’s Judgement On Gay Sex Should Be Reconsidered.’
• ‘SP Leader Azam Khan Says “I Don’t Agree With Mr. Jaitley But I Will Discuss The Issue In The UP Assembly.”‘
• ‘Hindu Mahasabha Activist Kamlesh Tiwari Does Not Mock Any Religion And Says It Is “Heartening” To See Elected Leaders Behave So Decently.’
• ‘One Lakh Indians Protest In The Streets, Demanding Swift Parliamentary Debate On Section 377.’
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