The ghastly attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has once again raised the issue of lakshman rekha in domain of speech and expression worldwide. The opening day of Jaipur Literature was abuzz with similar arguments airing from all corners. During a discussion, author Nayantara Sahgal, niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, asserted that there shouldn’t be any ‘lakshman rekha’ and one should have absolute freedom of speech and expression. While many in the audience raised eyebrows, including fellow panelist and senior journalist Mark Tully, she added that writers must “stop bothering” about public sentiments. “Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right given by the Constitution. Where do sentiments come from? We do not have to compromise on our basic right,” she said. Tully immediately expressed his dissent. “There cannot be an ‘absolute’ freedom in anything. We need to be aware of that narrow line that should not be crossed. We do not have the right to insult anybody or any religion,” he said.
The discussion was moderated by lyricist Prasoon Joshi and was initially pegged on commercialisation of literature. However, he pinned the entire discussion around the freedom of speech and expression referring to Tamil writer Perumal Murugan’s decision to renounce writing. Murugan recently faced fierce protests by various fundamental outfits against his novel Modhorubhagan. “Had this festival not happened and we had not spoken, nobody would have highlighted the issue with this intensity,” he said. Tamil writer CS Lakshmi said she is more worried about the fact that writers have begun to refuse writing in atmosphere of fear.
Joshi asked if there’s a space for contrary views in our society. “Contrary views must be heard but not at the cost of violence. One cannot kill or burn books. It should be state’s duty to protect writers from fringe elements,” Lakshmi said.