Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2011 > Harvard Dumps Subramaniam Swamy

Mainstream, VOL L, No 1, December 24, 2011 (Annual 2011)

Harvard Dumps Subramaniam Swamy

Tuesday 27 December 2011, by Subhash Gatade

FREE SPEECH TO HATE SPEECH

I

Mr Subramaniam Swamy must not have imagined in his wildest dreams that his alma mater would decide to ‘dump him’

The Harvard University faculty recently delivered its own ‘slap’ for one of its ex-students who also happened to be its visiting faculty. In its recent meeting for the approval of the 2012 summer school course catalogue, it was decided to exclude Mr Swamy’s Economics S-110 and Economics 1316 from the catalogue thus effectively removing him from the faculty. (http://www. thecrimson.com/article/2011/12/7/faculty-final-meeting)

It may be underlined here that in the said meeting Mr Swamy received enough oppro-brium for his op-ed in the Indian newspaper DNA (Daily News and Analysis, July 16, 2011) wherein he had openly called for destruction of mosques, the disenfranchisement of non-Hindus in India as they do not acknowledge Hindu ancestry, and a ban on conversion from Hinduism.

As noted elsewhere, the said article—which was written in the aftermath of the July 13 bombings in Mumbai—had promoted a vision of Indian society based on Hindu supremacy and also cast suspicion on the entire Muslim community. It talked of “declar[ing] India a Hindu Rashtra in which non-Hindus can vote only if they proudly acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus”; “[r]emov[ing] the masjid in Kashi Vishwanath temple and the 300 masjids at other temple sites”; “[e]nact[ing] a national law prohibiting conversion from Hinduism to any other religion”; and “[p]ropa-gat[ing] the development of a Hindu mindset.”. Terrorising and stigmatising a whole community, it added: “Muslims of India, are being programmed by a slow reactive process to become radical and thus slide into suicide against Hindus.”

Quite sometime ago Harvard had decided otherwise and chose to stand by Mr Swamy supposedly to affirm its ‘commitment to free speech’ but later they seem to have realised that it was not a product of free speech but of hate speech and it also amounted to incitement of violence. Professor Sugata Bose, History Professor at Harvard, put it succinctly: “[Swamy’s position on disenfranchisement] is like saying Jewish Americans and African Americans should not be allowed to vote unless they acknowledge the supremacy of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.”

It is worth emphasising that the campaign by a group of Harvard students calling on the University to sever ties with Swamy, which was joined in by hundreds of students, played an important role in galvanising opinion against him. Calling on the university to terminate its association with him as it seriously compro-mises the University’s integrity, undermining its commitment to diversity and tolerance, the petition declared:

“While free expression and the vigorous contest of ideas are essential in any academic community, so, too, are respect and tolerance for human difference. By advocating measures that would grossly violate freedom of religion and the unqualified right to vote for different religious groups, and by aggressively vilifying an entire religious community, Swamy breaches the most basic standards of respect and tolerance.

“More specifically, Swamy’s comments cast doubt on his ability to treat a diverse community of students with fairness and respect. The highly insulting and stereotypical nature of his comments suggest that he cannot be trusted to regard Muslims—and no doubt other groups—with anything but a jaundiced eye.

“Swamy’s views are deeply offensive; they are also dangerous. The measures he proposes—far out of step with the everyday secularism and tolerance embodied by most Indians—would threaten to tear apart the basic fabric of India’s pluralist democracy. And, as Indians know too well, the brand of rhetoric that he employs has fuelled violence against religious minorities in the past.”

II

WHILE one witnessed consternation in the Harvard community about this hate speech—which cut across community lines—it was worrying to note that barring some minority groups or stray individuals this hate speech failed to generate any revulsion in what is popularly called ‘civil society’ in the country.

Not that people have been unaware that persons making such statements which cause disaffection between communities can easily be prosecuted nor have the provisions in law been left unambiguous so that no action can be taken against them.

Under Indian law, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion is a recognised criminal offence. According to a news release issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International (dated October 16, 2002), “.. the Indian Penal Code (IPC) prescribes criminal prosecution for ‘wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot’ (section 153); ‘promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion’ (section 153A); ‘imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration’ (section 153B); ‘uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person’ (section 298); ‘statements conducing to public mischief’ (section 505 (1), b and c); and ‘statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes’ (section 505(2). Section 108 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, in addition, allows an Executive Magistrate to initiate action against a person violating sections 153A or 153B of the IPC.”

The “Guidelines to Promote Communal Harmony”, issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in October 1997, also point at the precise responsibility of the state machinery to deal with potentially inflammatory statements in the context of communal tension. Guideline 15 states that “effective will needs to be displayed by the district authorities in the management of such situations so that ugly incidents do not occur. Provisions in sections 153A, 153B, 295 to 298 and 505 of IPC and any other Law should be freely used to deal with individuals promoting communal enmity.” Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India ratified in 1979, affirms that “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law”.

Forget other silences, it took around three weeks for the National Commission for Minorities to take cognisance of this hate speech. The NCM ultimately decided to take action against Swamy on three specific grounds. One, a criminal case to be filed against Dr. Swamy under Sections 153A, 153B (promoting enmity between two groups on grounds of religion and assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings). Two, a recommen-dation to the Election Commission to de-recognise the Janata Party of which Dr Swamy is the President. And three, notice to the newspaper and its website for publishing the article. The police also took its own time in recommending action against him. It took three months for the Delhi Police to register a case under a pertinent section of the IPC. Despite the grave implications of the relevant provisions, one is yet to see any concrete action against Mr Swamy. He is still roaming free.

It is worth underlining that as far as kid-glove treatment by the police is concerned, Mr Swamy is not alone. Sometime ago Praveen Togadia, the International General Secretary of the VHP, had made similar provocative statements and he was also allowed to go scot free. Reports tell us that at the three-day Akhil Bharatiya Dharmaprasar Karyakarta Sammelan 2011 event at Ahmedabad, the Secretary-General of the Right-wing outfit, Togadia, called for a new Constitution that allows for “anyone who converts Hindus to be beheaded”. (November 10, 2011)

In his fiery speech, Togadia reportedly questioned the past of Muslims and Christians, and further gave a call to Hindus to capture the Islamic holy places in the Arab world and the Vatican of Europe. Besides Muslims and Christians, Togadia also attacked the UPA Government saying it was targeting Hindus through its draft Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, 2011.

Imagine a person from the minority community or one of their leaders making similar statements! Would the reaction of the police have been similar? Definitely not. The gentleman (woman) would have been hauled up long ago.

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