India Uncut

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Are we sheep, needing shepherds?

With reference to my earlier post, "Religion, democracy and freedom," let me point you to an excellent old essay from Pratap Bhanu Mehta, "Passion and constraint," in which he argues that in India, "attitudes to religious speech are fairly stable across a wide range of laws, and are premised on constructing religion as a site of passion and unreason." Halfway through his piece, Mehta writes:

If this analysis is correct, we can see a fairly stable set of assumptions about citizens that underlie two different domains that require abridging religious speech, whether it is attempts at conversion and the exclusion of religious appeal from elections. The court assumes throughout that citizens are, when it comes to receiving religious speech, or speech about religion, incapable of managing the impressions they receive – to use an old stoic concept.

If the insult is to one’s religion, or an exhortation is made in the name of religion, we are incapable of receiving the expression on our own terms; incapable of managing our own responses, condemned to receiving these expressions unfreely and helplessly, incapable as it were of self discipline. We can manage our impressions, exercise our religious choices and practice judgment, only when left alone. Hence the court’s emphasis that the right to freedom of religion just means the right to freedom from other people’s religion. Our choices are impaired, or faculties numbed, more so because we have undeveloped minds. This is the ‘secret’ rationale behind both anti-conversion legislation and the RPA.
Indeed, this is true not just in the context of the state's attitude towards religion, but across a vast landscape of issues, such as film censorship, as I'd mentioned here. The central, unstated premise of the Indian state is that it stands above the Indian people, and needs to guide them as shepherds do sheep.

My belief, in contrast to this, is that the state should be the servant of the people, who are quite capable of making their own choices, and whose freedom should be defended and not restricted by the state. As in those science fiction books where humans make robots to serve them and the robots take over, the rightful order of things has been reversed here.

The bizarre thing is that most people don't seem to care!
amit varma, 4:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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