Shoma Chaudhury explains the real context of the Ashis Nandy comment


Shoma Chaudhury, Managing Editor Tehelka, was present at the panel discussion in Jaipur where Mr Ashis Nandy’s comments created a controversy. She explains the comments in the context and analysis the delicate matter of Freedom of Speech.

“Freedom of Speech should be restricted only on very few grounds. What is the whole idea of Freedom of Speech, without the idea of discomfort? If we are only going to speak in ways that would make each other feel comfortable, then we might as well give up on the idea of free speech in India.”


Watch the full video of the session at Jaipur Literature Festival

What Can Freedom Of Speech Possibly Mean Without A Freedom To Create Discomfort?

The time has come to debate Article 19.2 and narrow its meaning more precisely.

Shoma Chaudhury

IT’S TIME we say it for what it is: in the 66th year of the Republic, in the week celebrating Republic Day, we the people of India solemnly give up our right to free speech and expression.

It cannot get starker than this. Non-bailable warrants are issued against eminent sociologist Ashis Nandy and, by vicarious extension, JLF producer Sanjoy Roy for a badly worded phrase; Kamal Haasan’s film is turned into a football; and Salman Rushdie is prevented from going to West Bengal. Behind them marches a long list of the bruised, the silenced and the banned: Deepa Mehta, Taslima Nasreen, Rohinton Mistry, James Laine, MF Husain, Aamir Khan, Habib Tanveer, DN Jha, bewildered professors, cartoonists, young girls, and hosts of others.

The growing assault on free speech cannot be overstated. For every high-profile case discussed, there’s a massive penumbral impact going unnoticed: people are cautioning themselves to become more careful of what they say or think: an immeasurable degree of self-censorship is kicking in. Here’s just one telling detail: festival producers are increasingly being forced by the police to sign documents undertaking no speaker will say anything to hurt anyone’s sentiments. The country’s art galleries are voluntarily following suit. Politicians, of course, are always eager to embrace this lazy and elastic position: I staunchly believe in the freedom of speech as long as no one hurts anyone else’s sentiments. Read More

~Conversations on the Controversy~

 Contrary to petty politics, Dalit thinkers want to fight an idea with an idea 

“I have read Ashis Nandy’s statement. I think he made a mistake especially since he knew beforehand that such an undignified and vulgar statement would create a furore, still he went ahead with it”. “Several people have lodged FIR’s in this case; this is the highest form of stupidity, since the courts are the last place where concepts or ideas could be settled. If the people who have filed the FIR’s thought they would stifle the thought process, they are greatly mistaken.” He goes on to say “I personally think that Ashis Nandy is a very liberal man who meant no disrespect to anyone.”

Chandra Bhan Prasad, Dalit writer

“What Nandy intended to say is different from what he actually said. It makes for confusing reading. Some of it sounds like it could hurt dalit sentiments but it does not seem like that is what he was trying to say.”

 —  Ruth Manorama, Dalit and Womens Rights Activist

“This is a huge wake up call for people in this country to the fact that the whole business of political correctness is now going amuck. Here the left intellectuals and those on the right are equally to blame for creating an atmosphere of intolerance. For instance, it is not possible to call the Justice Verma report overblown without being branded an anti-feminist. The only person it seems like its okay to critique in this country is Mahatma Gandhi. Ambedkar can’t be touched.

The space for nuanced debate has always been small. The only difference is that now people are invoking laws. I’ve always maintained that if these laws had been invoked earlier I’d have been hanged long ago for the things I say. But the media only gets upset when one of its heroes are in trouble.”

—  Madhu Kishwar, Academic, Feminist and Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies

“PUCL condemns the FIR lodged under sec. 506 IPC, criminal intimidation and 3-1(10) of prevention of atrocities against SC, ST 1989 against Prof Ashis Nandy for his statements in a discussion at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013 and the protest demanding his arrest.

From the reports we have received, he was not exhorting hate and not being casteist and was only making an academic point which means that nobody is free from corruption.

Proceeding criminally against him and arresting him is restricting academic freedom and academic debate. Now that he has apologised and regretted what he has said the matter should be closed.”

— Prem Krishnan Sharma,  President, PUCL and Kavita Srivastava, General Secretary, PUCL, Rajasthan (statement released to the press)

 “Ashis Nandy’s statement needs of course to be read in the context in which it was said. That it was a response to a point Tarun Tejpal was making during the discussion that corruption is often an equalizing force. That he chose to agree with Tejpal’s contention is one matter, but he could have been more circumspect in the way he put his point across.

One can disagree with Nandy’s position, but it’s amply clear that his intention was not to denigrate people from scheduled castes or tribes. He has clarified that and apologised for it and the matter should be laid to rest there. There is no justification for the imposition of section 3-1(10) – the prevention of atrocities against SC,STs act in this case. After all we are considering the statement of someone whose position and scholarship on the dis-empowered is well known.”

— Prof Zoya Hasan, Political scientist, Jawaharlal Nehru University

“I am not for Nandy’s arrest, but all for debate”

In the wake of sociologist Ashis Nandy’s SC/ST comments, Dalit leader Udit Raj tells Brijesh Pandey that instead of creating controversy, his views should be countered with their views

Udit Raj, Dalit Thinker and President, Indian Justice Party

Udit Raj, Photo: Garima Jain

What do you think of the controversy related to the remark made by Ashis Nandy at the Jaipur Lit fest?
See his remarks have many ramifications. We have to examine various aspects of this statement. First, let us examine whose money is parked outside India? In other words, who are the people who are holding black money account outside India? I don’t think that there will be any SC/ST. Last year the Government of India released a list of the account holders in German banks, and there were no SC/ST on that list. Even if you look at mega scams like Coalgate there is no SC/ST. None in Commonwealth either. I will not say that SC/ST are not involved in corruption, but the volume is very neglible. OBCs, I can concede a bit, but not SC/ST. However, I am not for Nandy’s arrest, I am all for debate. India is a democracy and debate should happen. He has expressed his views, we should counter his views with our views. Seeds of corruption are not sown in a day or two. It takes a long time. So after Independence, who were in power, police, judiciary? Definitely, those from the upper castes. They laid down the foundation of the administration, laid down the foundation of governance . If corruption is there, those who laid down the foundation of governance, administration and all, are to be held responsible, not the SC/STs.

Did you read his whole statement? Don’t you think that the controversy erupted when that one single sentence was taken out of context?
I have read his whole statement. His remarks are very categorical and not out of context at all. He says that SC/STs are indulging in corruption. That is a clear statement and not out of context. Once it has opened a Pandora’s box, let there be a debate, let him prove who is more corrupt. I will prove who is more corrupt, let there be a debate. And as far as his standing as an intellectual goes, there are two types of intellectuals in this country. One, those who are mentally dishonest and hanker for award, fellowship, post and all. Two, those who connect with the reality. These so called intellectuals have not been able to bring about any change in society. Khushwant Singh aptly said that intellectuals have not been able to change anything, and I say that in Europe, France, Germany, America — the middle classes — the intellectuals — are far more liberal and pragmatic. But our middle class is very bookish and I won’t call them intellectual. So as far as I am concerned, Ashish Nandy is not an intellectual. But, of course, he belongs to a so-called intellectual category, so let there be a debate.

But if you read his whole statement…
I have read his whole statement. I have. Our’s is an individualistic society and family, self, comes much before nation. India is a classical society, and that is why corruption is here. Empirically, I can say that compared to upper castes, SC-STs are least corrupt, you may say that they could not get the opportunity but who is responsible for that? Who is doing more corruption in this country?

Don’t you think that filing an FIR against Ashis Nandy is an over-the-top action by the police? Isn’t this a move to stifle free speech?
I agree. I am not for any FIR or something like that, let there be debate. It has happened in the case of Anna, and other cases. I think debate will increase the awareness.

— Brijesh Pandey & Revati Laul

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Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka, a weekly newsmagazine widely respected for its investigative and public interest journalism. Earlier she had worked with The Pioneer, India Today, and Outlook. In 2000, she left Outlook to join Tarun Tejpal, and was among the team that started When Tehelka was forced to close down by the government after its seminal story on defence corruption, she was one of four people who stayed on to fight and articulate Tehelka‘s vision and relaunch it as a national weekly.

Shoma has written extensively on several areas of conflict in India – people vs State; the Maoist insurgency, the Muslim question, and issues of capitalist development and land grab. She has won several awards, including the Ramnath Goenka Award and the Chameli Devi Award for the most outstanding woman journalist in 2009. In 2011, Newsweek (USA) picked her as one of 150 power women who “shake the world”. In May 2012, she also won the Mumbai Press Club Award for best political reporting. She lives in Delhi and has two sons.