Eulogy to the fallen martyrs of free speech

The recent disappearance of liberal bloggers in Pakistan has brought concerns of freedom of speech and expression back in the news bureaus of the subcontinent. This follows the spate of attacks on bloggers in Bangladesh in past 2 years and the growing right-wing rhetoric in India. While all this can be blamed on the global upsurge of the right, the new medium of online expression of thoughts has also played its part, especially given the relative inexperience that the South-Asian society has with the digital media and the idea of free speech in general.

The outburst of social media in 21st century has introduced a vast population around the world to the western liberal ideals of post-renaissance Europe which has collided with the firm and deeply held cultural beliefs. The Indian subcontinent, while having a rich, diverse and accommodating synthesis of culture has not been immune to this clash of self-identity. This dilemma of the people of our region has much recent roots that took place during the British rule. The strong sentimental currents running through the population throughout the region thus give a very saddening canvass on which the rights-activists and liberals of our region draw their ideas. The recent disappearance has to be seen in this context.

The reaction of the civil society of all three countries in question has been mixed. While the general trend in Pakistan and Bangladesh has been to evaluate the actions of individuals on the alter of Islam, the Indian way has been to test expressions on the anvil of hyper-nationalism. The participants in debates have their arguments reduced to who qualifies as a true Muslim(or not), or as in the Indian case- who has been an anti-national by expressing his opinion. Even the rationalists are afraid to move the discussion away from this narrow interpretation. the Indian scenario, however, is more of a tide-of-time issue such that the deep history and strong foundation values of the freedoms struggle allow a cushion to writers and critique to prove their current ideas in relation to the founding principles of the nation. Pakistan and Bangladesh, on the other hand, have made the mistake of basing their existence on religion. This setting becomes a very strong barrier to any meaningful interpretation of modern world by the young generation.

While there is a need to be cautious for the liberals in the region, the changing world order give more hope than fears. History, for those who have read it, has shown that killing and suppression have only led to liberation and fearless resistance. The sacrifices of those who spoke their minds will be remembered and cherished by the future generations and the dawn of a free society will be glowing with the ideas of those who died to make it happen.

An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self sustained.

-M.K Gandhi