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The Kamlesh Tiwari murder: Right or Left, free speech needs to be defended

The Kamlesh Tiwari murder: Right or Left, free speech needs to be defended

The Kamlesh Tiwari murder: Right or Left, free speech needs to be defended
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By Harini Calamur  Oct 25, 2019 6:29:06 AM IST (Updated)

One of the things that is striking here is that it doesn’t matter if you are right wing or left wing, if you exert your freedom of expression, it is likely to have serious repercussions in a touchy world, where every word and statement is amplified and disseminated many times over.

A few days ago, Kamlesh Tiwari, formerly of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha and later the president of the Hindu Samaj party, was stabbed 15 times

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, and for good measure shot with a bullet in the face. He died of his injuries. Being considered anti-Muslim by a handful of radicalised men was enough to get him murdered.

His murder, say the cops, was by young Muslim men who wanted to avenge his statements on the Prophet Mohammed. Kamlesh Tiwari’s statement on the Prophet had led to protests by sections of Muslims, especially in Uttar Pradesh. Two clerics, Anwar-ul-Haq and Mohammed Mufti Naeem Kazmi put a bounty of Rs 1.5 crore on his head. At that time, the Samajwadi Party led by Akhilesh Yadav was in charge of the state. The politics of the state were different. Akhilesh Yadav had Kamlesh Tiwari arrested under the National Security Act and locked up. He was released on bail a year later and granted police protection because the state was afraid that someone will try and claim the bounty. The police were literally caught napping.
Offensive 
Kamlesh Tiwari may have been offensive. But, does being offensive warrant someone going to jail, or have their neck slit and their face blown in? Does the state have no role to protect your freedom of speech from radicalised zealots who will kill? And, this is not the first time radicalised youth have killed those who go against their world view.
Between 2015 and 2017, we saw the assassinations of Dr Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. It is believed they were killed for what they said and wrote. All four were fearless. As rationalists and atheists, they were rather vehement about their rejection of God and God’s words. As leftists they called the State and the system to account. And, that didn’t go down well with the radicalised. Being considered anti-Hindu or anti-Indian by a handful of radicalised men was enough to get them murdered.  It is believed that these four murders were linked and carried out by highly motivated members of an extreme right wing group.
One of the things that is striking here is that it doesn’t matter if you are right wing or left wing, if you exert your freedom of expression, it is likely to have serious repercussions in a touchy world, where every word and statement is amplified and disseminated many times over.
Often discussions on freedom of expression are framed by right- and left-wing biases. Each side wants their set of exceptions to the absolute freedom of expressions. “You cannot ‘insult’ God/State/Nation/Gays/Jews/Africans/Indians/Customs/Traditions/Women/Children” goes the chorus. But, the problem is that if you take into account everyone’s exceptions, you probably will have nothing to talk about or indeed write about.
State is complicit
People have the right to their beliefs, and expressing their beliefs without worrying about radicalised youth coming after them with guns and knives.
And, this is where the state is complicit in the murders.
The inaction by the centre and the state when the clerics placed the bounty on the head of Kamlesh Tiwari, was criminal. Why were they not arrested, tried and put in jail for incitement to murder? Why were the investigations after the Pansare murder so slow – had it been faster could the murders of the others have been prevented?
The Indian State has been lax in the protection of freedoms. It is standing by and letting the radicalised set the agenda on what is acceptable. And, that is not acceptable.
Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences.
Read Harini Calamur's columns here.
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