On 31 March, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) published a report about the arrest of three Malaysian journalists
on charges of ‘sedition’. Labelling someone anti-national or charging someone with treason or sodomy is a ruse rulers use to stifle dissent and sideline rivals.
Malaysia has kept opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in legal limbo
on charges of sodomy. In the Maldives, ex-president Mohamed Nasheed
is in jail on trumped up charges. A Singaporean teenager
is in hot water over a YouTube video critisicing Lee Kuan Yew.
All this is nothing compared to Bangladesh where a second blogger has been butchered
in the last two months on the streets for Internet postings.
Growing religious intolerance and fundamentalism in South Asia is a worry and politicians happy with short-term gain are actually investing in long-term catastrophe which could engulf them as well. Clearly, the governments in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are displaying an ostrich-like attitude over attacks on free speech and religious minorities.
The turmoil inside the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of India is partly caused by an intolerant streak displayed by its charismatic leader, Arvind Kejriwal. There may hardly be anyone who would deny that Kejriwal’s image was a significant factor in its stunning election victory in the Delhi assembly elections in February, but he labelled Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav who questioned him as “traitors”.
The script is more or less same everywhere. If you refuse to engage with a differing viewpoint, you either remain silent or resort to extreme action or reaction. Trying to silence one’s critics then becomes an obsession.
In Nepal we have a good example of I-know-all-so-I-should-not-be-challenged in Baburam Bhattarai and his chums, among them some journalists who frequently hurl the term ‘idiot’ against those who challenge their worldview. These are the same sycophants who launched a vicious name-calling campaign against those who opposed their view on federalism after the collapse of the first Constituent Assembly in 2012.
Rajendra Pandey, a Constituent Assembly member from the UML was so livid with Govinda KC’s hunger strike
against granting affiliation to, among others, Manmohan Medical College (he and many of his party colleagues are promoters) that he called the respected surgeon a “lunatic”.
Pandey’s remarks were indecent and uncouth, but instead of reining in Pandey the UML put pressure on Prime Minister Sushil Koirala
to disregard his own commitment to KC back when the doctor was on a hunger strike last year.
But the surgeon’s supporters, not just doctors and medical students but also editors, reporters and human rights activists, do not want to acknowledge at least two eventualities. The first is that halting services at the OPD and other sections at hospitals are going to hit the patients and their family, the very people on whose behalf KC has launched a crusade. Protesting inside hospitals and attending to the sick in Tundikhel is a farce.
During KC’s third and fourth hunger strike
last year, many doctors who work in government hospitals abandoned their duties to express solidarity with the fasting surgeon but continued with their work at private hospitals and clinics. But raise this question, and you are showered with abuse.
In 1995, Khushwant Singh was pilloried by Indian communists and the Congress for questioning the literary merit of Rabindranath Tagore. Singh refused to apologise, prompting the West Bengal political parties to pass a resolution against him in the state assembly. The Sardar, not to be outdone, had also said that Bengalis have three holy cows: Tagore, Satyajit Ray and Subhas Chandra Bose.
We have our holy cows here, too, and they are secularism, republicanism and federalism. Question this so-called ‘progressive’ agenda and you are sure to be pushed to a wall and pummelled in cyberspace. It’s time we grew up.
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