It was quite ironic that a panel discussion on ‘Freedom of Speech and Expression’ came with reasonable restrictions after organisers from Unwind Centre requested panelists and participants not to rake up “controversial issues” that are still being contested in court.
“Please do not name any person or incident who have been in the news,” the host for the evening, Saroop, appealed to the crowd.
“I feel like a character in Harry Potter,” activist Kanimozhi and co-founder of ‘Karuththu’ said only half in jest. “Like ‘He Who Must Not Be Named a.k.a Voldemort’, we all know He/She Who Must Not Be Named and what she said or must not have said.”
“It is unfortunate that the civil society we live in today has come to a stage where there are restrictions on what we can talk about and what not,” Vijay Nagaswami, psychiatrist, began his argument. “Having dealt with relationships in the last 20 years, I can say that this is primarily a relationship issue. There are not enough spaces for people to be encouraged to discuss relationships. Parents need to be able to talk to their adolescent children about sex and relationships,” he said.
“Today, there is adequate freedom given for music and dance for voyeurism in music videos, but not for speech,” said advocate P.V.S.Giridhar. “Rock music emerged to register protest and rebellion. Today, there is a need to use different art forms to protest against infringement of freedom of speech and expression,” he added.
Theatre artiste Mangai, reading out a poem said that it was time for the silent majority to speak and appealed to the youth to make themselves heard.
When students expressed their fear of being victimised for speaking up against moral policing, the speakers gave them a crash course in activism. “If you stand up alone, you will be targeted. If your entire group speaks up, they can do you no harm,” said Dr. Kanimozhi.
“There is always an element of risk involved in activism. But the freedom you enjoy today is because some people took a risk years ago. So, it is your duty as youth to pass on that freedom for the future generation,” Mr.Giridhar said.
“We are from the land of the Kamasutra. So why can’t we talk of sex and sexuality,” Dr.Nagaswami asked.
The panel discussion was organised to create awareness among the general public about the fundamental rights of provided by the constitution in the wake of incidents of moral policing and attacks on freedom of speech and expression on the rise.
“The civil society is getting increasingly polarised. There are those who believe that there is a need to regulate what people wear, what they talk and what they do in people. And there are those who believe that freedom is the quintessential trait of any democracy. Till these differences are bridged, incidents of policing, infringement on civil rights and invasion of privacy will continue. The idea of a forum for a saner Chennai is to build bridges between the two extremes,” a press release issued by the Campaign for Saner Chennai said.
The Campaign for Saner Chennai convened by Dr.Vijay Nagaswami and Mr. Giridhar looks at involving different segments of the society to play an active role in celebrating freedom of speech and expression.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be a part of the campaign.
Music for freedom
The panel discussion was neatly sandwiched between two performances. Girl bands Flabbergasted Tequilas and Mantra came up with half a dozen covers on the theme of freedom. Ranjini and Kavita Thomas from Mantra singing ‘I will survive’ was THE highlight of the rock show. And very appropriate too.