Words will wound; how to stop it

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Illustration by Dwijith C.V.
Illustration by Dwijith C.V.

Invectives and politics have a symbiotic relationship. The ability of politicians to cross the Laxman rekha of political correctness into the realm of hurtful rhetoric, recently demonstrated by Union minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti in a Delhi election rally, has a long history. In fact, six months after the most polarising general elections in the nation’s history, in which caste, religious and sectarian divides were given full play, the canker of hate of ‘the other’ continues to vitiate public discourse. Experts say that the judiciary, the election commission and other such institutions can do little to check fiery orators like the sadhvis – back then it was Uma Bharati and Rithambara — from spreading disaffection when those leading them are equally guilty of pandering to their types. Political parties have shown no resolve to evolve a code of ethics and self-regulation, and in the absence of such necessary checks, the chaos has become worse confounded. The law, as usual, takes a long time to make up its mind on such issues. In many cases, politicians have easily made it out of jail after securing bail. And disqualification upon conviction has not really curbed the criminalisation of politics, because of prolonged trials and rare convictions.
In fact, the dichotomy within judiciary, experts say, is reflected in some of the Supreme Court’s recent orders. In one such case, for example, the top court dismissed a plea on March 3, 2014 seeking court’s direction to check politicians from making ‘provocative and hate speeches’ saying in effect that it cannot clamp down on freedom of expression. “We cannot curtail fundamental rights of people. It is a precious rights guaranteed by Constitution,” the court observed, adding, “we are a mature democracy and it is for the public to decide…One is free not to accept the view of others.”
On March 12, another bench of the top court asked India’s law commission to examine as to what would constitute the term ‘hate speech’. The law commission recently submitted  its recommendations to the government on reforms in electoral laws, upon the direction on Supreme Court. But legal experts say no government would like to frame laws by adopting such recommendations on electoral reforms. An election is a game of numbers. No party would like to adopt a law that risks their chances of getting to these numbers.

The political discourse is thus hopelessly seeped in vitriol. It seems unlikely that the lady — minister of state for food processing – will resign from the government. The other sadhvi, Uma Bharti, who went into political decline for six years despite her proven rabble-rousing abilities, is heading the Union ministry for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation. She consistently refused to apologise for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, openly urging her partymen in 2009 not to do so either. Not surprising, considering she had said on that fateful day, “This is the most blissful day of my life. I keep pinching myself to see if I am awake.” Her dedication to the cause of cleaning up the holy river may not, however, give much scope for hate speeches, as there is no proof that the minorities are dirtying it any more than the hindu population.
As for Sadhvi Rithambara, her official website didimaa.org (sister+mother) describes her (probably for global audiences) as ‘one of the most prominent Indian spiritualists moulding her affection into a village of maternal love’. On December 2, 1992, India Today reported that at 3 pm, she was at Ayodhya “singing and dancing as if in  a trance,” repeating in a ‘mesmeric exhortation’ “Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tor do” (Give another shove, tear down the mosque”). Back in 2002, however, when she visited a Ganesh temple in New York to raise funds for an orphanage and widows’ home, demonstrators heckled her, saying she had blood on her hands. Undaunted, she treated her supporters to a speech full of poetry and folksy humour, the kind that helped the BJP come to power back then. Such histrionics are obviously an important arsenal in her party’s rise to power.

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