13, Feb 2016
Feb 13 2016 : The Times of India (Mumbai)
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
“The problem is not that India is intolerant. It is far too tolerant even of intolerance,“ said Amartya Sen, delivering the Rajendra Mathur annual lecture organised by the Editors Guild.
Speaking on the subject of “the centrality of the right to dissent“, he began with a story about his uncle, imprisoned in Burdwan jail 81 years ago, who fought to “remove the unfreedoms imposed on us by our rulers“. Have those unfreedoms really ended, when a colonial penal code governs important parts of our life, Sen asked.
Apart from Section 377, he singled out Section 295A as the uniquely Indian law that threatens a jail sentence for anyone who hurts someone else’s religious sentiments, “however bizarrely delicate that sentiment may be“. Most Indians, including those like himself classified as Hindus, have no difficulty accepting those with different beliefs, he said. He quoted a verse from the Rig Veda, for its “radical scepticism“, and said it was a “serious insult to India, and to Hindus, to attribute to us the strange claims of a small but politically organised group“.
The realm of delicate sentiments extends amazingly far, into other people’s private eating habits, into children being denied eggs in mid-day meals, into scholarly work being pulped because publishers are intimidated.