Freedom of Expression & Sanctity of Belief: A Counter View

By Sudha Dixit

“Man is born free and yet we see him every where in chains” This famous quote by Jean Jacques Rousseau is true to all aspects of human life social, political, emotional, ethical, and religious. Freedom is there, so are the boundaries. You may criticize your neighbour but not abuse or ridicule him. By doing so you infringe upon his right to be what he is and then he too has a right to get upset and protest. Same is true of other prospective like religion, faith and other inclinations. You hurt them, they react and vice versa. Some times these reactions and protests go out of proportion. They become violent.

Retrospectively, society has reacted adversely to literature whenever its sensibilities and emotions were hurt. Emily Bronte’s very first and intense novel ‘Wuthering Heights’ was not well received. Its passionate love story adversely touched the then social ethos. People wanted to burn it. Ernest Hemingway too had his books condemned. In recent times Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen had to flee their homeland. Very recently Tamil writer Perumal Murugan has been humiliated for his novel ‘Madhorubhagan’.

Not only literature works of art too have fallen victim to the condemnation. MF Hussain, Charlie Hebdo & similar others had to face violent. Even films in spite of being highly entertaining endured bitter criticism & protest.

One reason (or non – reason) say the common thread behind such reactions is people’s belief, especially religious belief. We may or may not be religious; we may be radical or dogmatic, we cannot ask others to follow us. We all have different ethos and we have to respect that. God exists or not is a moot point. In reality if I believe in God, he exists for me. Nobody can tell me not to believe or argue about his not being there. So  when we demand freedom of expression –through writing, painting or just  uttering, others too have  freedom  of belief .We may  disagree, so can they. We cannot abuse, ridicule or force them against what they think is   sacrosanct.

Rights or freedom cannot be one – sided. Where writers, painters, cartoonists  and  other artists are sensitive and need space for their creativity, people in other spheres of life also need to lead  their lives according to their own  way of thinking–even if that might be contrary to reasonable minds. World has variety. No two beings are identical either in form or in thinking. To live in harmony one has to respect the other for being what he is. Humour is fine as long as it is gentle and just teasing; but if it hurts, the humourist must be ready for reaction. Well, it is like if I crack  a joke  on  some one, I must  be  prepared  to  be  a butt  of  joke  from  him. It is reciprocal. R K Laxman never faced violence, for his satire was pointed yet harmless. I am all for free speech and free expression, so are many elites & intellectuals. But freedom cannot be unlimited or boundless. The difference between Kamasutra   & porn is blazingly evident. A highly erotic book can be very artistic as against cheap and titillating writing. The line is thin. Sometimes the protesters are too intolerant and even grossly wrong. Sometimes the creative genius goes too far. Both cross the line of decency and civil behavior and that is where we ought to apply caution.

Moral and social norms do have their say but it is the religion which is most sensitive and volatile. So when we play with fire we should see that it is contained or it would spread like wild fire. Among all unfortunate, murderous cases the common factor was hurt religious sentiments. Charlie Hebdo’s case was one such that crossed the limit and then the protesters too crossed the boundary. It was sad, unfortunate even disastrous but the fault lies on both sides. Paulo Coelho’s book “Adultery”, if written in Indian context might have sparked a volatile reaction. Luckily its story is set in a more permissive society.

There is no defense for terror acts but a bit of restrain on provocation is definitely called upon.

About The Author:  Sudha Dixit is from Lucknow and studied at Aligarh Muslim Univ., Lucknow Univ. and Banaras Hindu University. She currently resides in Bangalore. She writes articles, poems in both Hindi & English. Her hobbies include painting and reading.


  1. so true the recent incident took place at freedom of speech n shooting occurred n terrorist was on loose so they have to inform local people to stay in m keep door locked. doesn’t make sense. now you are prisoner n terrorist is free until they { how many no one knows } get caught. you wanna catch n stop them committing terror ? there is a way to catch them n put them behind bar. what really they gained from freedom of speech ? terror n scare ? n set our in prison in our own home .leave them alone n do whatever necessary to bring them to justice n stop them to commit more terror. why even draw or write anything against any religion

  2. Sudha Dixit Thanks a lot Rose


  3. Its wonderful as your other blog posts : D, thanks for putting up. “Say not, ‘I have found the truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found a truth.'” by Kahlil Gibran.

  4. You’ve made some really good points there. I checked on the internet to learn more about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this web site.