Taslima Nasreen, a Bangladeshi author who lives in exile in India, today rooted for absolute freedom of speech for writers even if it led to hurting the sentiments of certain people or groups.
“I think that we should have our freedom of expression even if that might offend some people. If we do not open our mouth then society will not evolve. Of course, we should fight against misogyny, religious fundamentalism and all kinds of evil forces only to make the society a better society,” Nasreen said.
The writer was participating in a discussion titled, “Coming of the Age of Intolerance” at the ongoing Delhi Literature Festival at Dilli Haat here.
“People’s sentiments were hurt when Raja Ram Mohan Roy was fighting against sati. Many misogynistic sentiments were hurt when Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was trying to educate girl children. But if we criticise fundamentalism, may be fundamentalist sentiments are hurt, so should we shut our mouth?” Nasreen said.
The doctor-turned-author had drawn the ire of fundamentalists for her controversial books like “Dwikhandito” and had been exiled from Bangladesh in 1994 for allegedly hurting religious sentiments with her novel “Lajja” (Shame).
Former Bharatiya Janata Party ideologue Sudheendra Kulkarni, who was on the receiving end of a violent ink attack last year, said while it was important for writers being able to exercise their freedom of expression, absolute freedom was not an alternative and that such freedom could only be exercised with responsibility.
“There is no freedom whatsoever to show any religion in bad light knowing that it will hurt sentiments and insult others. I completely disagree that writers should have absolute freedom. Freedom must be exercised with responsibility,” he said.
Kulkarni reiterated his views that India as a country is “essentially tolerant” and that the debate must not be politicised.
“We should neither exaggerate nor belittle the incidents of intolerance. We should never politicise this debate making it out as if it is between political parties. It is not that intolerance has begun in May 2014.”
Last year a debate over the “growing climate of intolerance” saw over 40 writers and artistes returning their awards in protest against the killings of rationalists and writers and the Dadri lynching incident.
“A certain kind of intolerance, marginal, has always been there in our society, so let’s not blame this party or that party. It is only that the perpetrators have felt emboldened with the coming to the power of the BJP,” Kulkarni said.