Now that Penguin India has agreed to recall and destroy all remaining copies, due to the sustained protest against her book for reasons explained in the above mentioned articles, predictably, sections of the English language TV media felt the need to further
their pet 'Hindutva is Fascistic' & 'The rise of Hindutva is directly proportional to Illiberalism' narratives. Dopey, in several ways it might be, but fascistic, in its present mainstream form, it's certainly not. Distortion of facts to fit into a predetermined
narrative is not uncommon, and in the context of this 'controversy' it was the turn of the well-meaning, but perennially confused seeming Sagarika Ghose, to play that game.
A few points:
1) What is the pre-existing paradigm in India w.r.t. free speech and expression?
Illiberalism, Hindu or otherwise, in the Republic of India, has always existed. Individual Liberties of speech & expression have always been threatened &/or curtailed by various religious & political groups from diverse (Read 'All') ideological backgrounds.
2) How have free speech & expression been threatened and curtailed in India?
Through illegal or/and legal methods. If someone is 'offended' at a claim or a book, there exist legitimate and illegitimate ways of protesting. To kill, thrash, loot, vandalise, riot,
ban or block based on Kangaroo court judgments, would fall into the latter category. To sue, debate, respond coherently through articles and books, or demand a ban or block from the government on constitutional grounds, to demand a ban through the legal process, all constitute legitimate responses. Even though the morality of asking for a ban - unless someone justifies a clear-cut crime &/or calls for their supporters to indulge in criminal activities, for example, a justification of, or call to, murder apostates - is questionable. This, is not too difficult to understand. Unless of course, one doesn't wish to or pretends not to! Bill Maher understands the difference all right.
Even the most annoying civilised people, tend to go through the legal route in these situations.
3) Is Hinduism/Religion threatened by free speech/expression?
A wonderful way to finish the legitimacy of an idea or set of ideas, is
to convert it into a laughing stock. This, is the role that is played by ridicule of the pompous John Cleese kind. Religious people know this better than anyone else.
Note that, practically everywhere the following two conditions are satisfied -
a) The state is largely separate from religion
b) A relatively high amount of freedom to criticise, ridicule, mock and question religion exists
- Religion, in its classical form, is dying.
Hence, to ask questions like "Is Hinduism threatened by a book?" is not particularly bright. Of course, religious ideas & beliefs are threatened by largely free criticism or/and mockery.
4) Continuing now from point 2, does this controversy include a legal or an/illegal response from the 'offended' parties? If it is
clearly, a legal response, what makes this legal crushing of Individual liberties possible? Was this a ban?
The Nehruvian secularists (as opposed to real secularists, who of course, are practically non-existent in Indian politics) are hell bent on portraying it as a 'ban', but the fact is, it (the book in question) was withdrawn. Yes, we may rightly disagree with the decision by Penguin India, but it was completely theirs i.e. a management decision. They had a choice to go to the upper court, but didn't. Books have indeed been 'banned' by the government in India to calm religious and political offence-takers. Not this one!
How and why, can this lamentable situation have legal sanction? Doniger makes at least one excellent point in the BBC report provided earlier in this post. Indian law criminalizes 'causing deliberate offence' to any religious group. This is sad, and true! 295A in the Indian Penal Code & clause 2 of Article 19 (1) of the Indian Constitution, together form the shield that religious offence-takers can use to protect their beliefs. These have to go. Religious Ideas/Beliefs must be subject to scrutiny/ridicule. These sections, render criticism, questioning, ridicule/mockery of religious beliefs on a grand scale, impossible. Religion in its classical form, a failed science and a failed ethical theory, is protected from questioning and ridicule. IPC 295 A is to relatively free speech what Sanjay Bangar was to an 8 RPO required rate, run chase!
5) Did Modi play a role? If no, why does he get linked to this by sections of the media?
CM Modi's total contribution, positive or negative, to this issue, amounts to tumbleweed. He didn't make this worse or better & had
diddly squat to do with it.
How does he get linked to this, then?
Mr. Ruchir Joshi (seen in the linked CNN IBN discussion) and other assorted Modiphobes, see CM Modi as a Fascist. Hence, if one were to endorse, support or associate with CM Modi in any particular way, from the standpoint of the average Modiphobe, you immediately become Anti-Freedom of Expression/Speech as of course all Fascists tend to be. The problem with this line of thinking of course, is
that it fails to distinguish between a form of democratic cultural nationalism and fascism, and furthermore, moderates and hardliners or extremists that subscribe to this form of nationalism.
6) Does this controversy prove the 'Hindu radicalism/Illiberalism in India is increasing' narrative?
This entire chain of events, was both encouraging and depressing. That the more intolerant and easily offended organisations and groups claiming allegiance to an ideology, have graduated from typically endorsing a sound thrashing of 'offence-causers', to pursuing a more civilised approach of responding to perceived attacks on their beliefs, is encouraging. So the behaviour of these Hindutva
groups when they find themselves in these situations, has demonstrably improved from even a few years in the past, leave alone a decade or two ago. That they still seek out bans on what should be considered non-criminal behaviour, is depressing. That they do this through the legal process and not through threats of violence and vandalism, or through their buddies in the government, is encouraging.
7) Continuing from point 6, if Hindu radicalism/Illiberalism is not increasing based on the Donger-Penguin India controversy, what does this say about the doyens - in sections of the intelligentsia and the media - that felt the need to push the above mentioned narrative?
We saw no violent protests/threats/vandalism in this case, like in the aftermath of the Danish cartoon publishing. And that was a cartoon. Now imagine what the Islamist response to a Doniger like book on & named ''The Muslims'', would have been! A recent controversy from the UK should suffice to illustrate this difference. Maajid Nawaz, a former-extremist & now counter-extremist, author & Liberal Democrat British-Muslim candidate, tweeted a picture of Jesus and Muhammad. I haven't linked to that picture for the simple reason that it undoubtedly constitutes a criminal offence in India. All hell broke loose over that harmless picture. Maajid's response was refreshing. A cursory glance at the comments on his facebook page post-controversy, helps to understand the mindset of the hardliners. And these are British citizens, mind you, with generally greater access to information, better literacy & education levels than their Indian brethren of all kinds. They're upset at a cartoon of two of their most revered prophets(Jesus & Mo) literally saying 'hello' to each other. Upset enough to demand Maajid's sacking & threaten to kill him[Edit - Watch this & make sure to read the links provided in the 'About' section of the video]! How many death threats did Doniger get?
Sadly, it suits some in sections of the intelligentsia & the media, to consistently poke at half-full hornet's nets instead of full ones as is explained here.
Nehruvian secularists are rattled by the fact that even the more intolerant of the Hindutva organisations have won this battle in a far more civilized manner than the former ever thought. Not by issuing fatwas & not through violent processions as the highly intolerant hardline right-wingers such as the Islamists they are happy to co-opt into their ranks, are so fond of doing! This, is also what is upsetting them. It's inconvenient for the Nehruvian secularists that the more intolerant Hindutvavadis aren't nearly as intolerant as the rednecks in their ranks. That hardline & radical Islam, is much more dangerous and odious than hardline versions of Hindutva. To not acknowledge or understand this is dangerous. If the importance of prioritisation is understood, the reasons for acknowledging the far greater threat from a certain type of religious radicalism, is too. We have finite attentional & financial resources and they must be directed at the greater/greatest dangers to the global community.
It's also inconvenient for the assorted Nehruvian secularists that Hindu rednecks aren't thrashing people for causing offence, nearly as often as the same Hindu groups used to, even a few years & especially more than a decade ago.
Several writers that felt the need to moralise on this have been & still are, associated with Penguin. Yet they first spontaneously choose to primarily or exclusively blame, surprise surprise, Hindutva groups. The source of this behaviour is the need felt by them to describe all of their Hindutvavadi political opponents as freedom-despising fascists or/and 'communal' & hence claim tolerance and pluralism for themselves. As if they themselves have loved & promoted individual liberty. As if all Hindutvavadis are the same. As if Vajpayee's coming into power resulted in him immediately changing the constitution to compel non-Hindus to walk into the sea!
In conclusion, instead of making this a discussion predominantly (though not exclusively) about our flawed constitution and penal code, sections of the media have chosen to further predetermined illogical narratives, exclusively due to their prejudice against certain political ideologies & individuals. Either that, or they're exceptionally good at missing the point!