In defence of political slurs

Nandini Nair | Updated on May 01, 2014 Published on April 30, 2014

An uncivil discourse is better than none at all

This isn’t a friendly election. Accusations and barbs are flying thick and fast. Everything is fair game — from one’s religion and caste to one’s husband and sons, and from the size of one’s chest to the shape of one’s heart. The language of politics and netas is very often embarrassing, even revolting. But at a time when the freedom of expression and speech is in jeopardy, this honesty, even virulence, comes as a refreshing change.

Our politicians certainly scorn all things politically correct when it comes to elections. They should be congratulated, not because their words reveal their true selves, but because criticism and critique (even if it is of the lowest common denominator variety) speak of a healthy democracy.

On Tuesday, physician, author and Pulitzer prize winner Siddhartha Mukherjee, in a talk, ‘First they came for Rushdie; Scientific Ambitions in the age of Censorship’, expressed his dismay at the recent withdrawal and ‘pulping’ of books that certain groups found objectionable. In a well-argued talk, he said, “Science happens in the same fragile place where books and plays are crafted.” He went on to say that while physicists and poets might have little in common, they grow on the same soil. To defile the soil of one, is to defile the soil of the other.

And that is when one realises that, at a time when authors are being banned from attending festivals, or when books are being withdrawn for fear of causing offence, when science is in a perilous state, the only ‘free’ space is the political podium.

In this no-holds-barred arena, men and women are revealing their true selves on a daily basis, without fear of censure. These are often ugly selves — rich only in the contempt and derision of opponents. But at least, as a polity, we can come to know what they are thinking and who they are. We can make our judgements of them through our knowledge of them.

In the arts space, books are often banned by those who haven’t really read the books and haven’t even tried to understand them. In politics, at least one gets a chance to hear out the vileness, and to glimpse the ghouls that lurk within.

A society can never evolve if it ceases to be critical of itself. Criticism drives change and improvement. At a time when different views and interpretations are often met with hostility, politics, at least, is one place where the battles are fought in the open.

Nandini Nair, Assistant Editor

Published on April 30, 2014
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