Harvard wrestles with free speech
At a time when Kapil Sibal’s statements on monitoring online content have raised a furore in India, his alma mater Harvard is engaged in free speech issues of its own. Two recent decisions taken by the Harvard University raise pertinent questions relating to the University’s ethos of dissemination, debate, and freedom of expression.
The first concerns the decision to exclude Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy’s courses from the Harvard Summer School course catalogue. The second is the University’s decision to close Harvard Yard to outsiders involved in the Occupy movement.
A NEWSPAPER OP-ED
To begin with, on December 7, Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences took the unprecedented step to remove the summer economic courses taught by Mr. Swamy, himself a PhD from Harvard. The decision was based on a controversial op-ed written by him in the newspaper Daily News and Analysis(DNA) on July 16 in response to terrorist attacks in Mumbai. In the op-ed, he had offered strongly worded ideas on how to “negate the political goals of Islamic terrorism in India.” Among his ideas were that India should “enact a national law prohibiting conversion from Hinduism to any other religion,” “remove the masjid in Kashi Vishwanath temple and the 300 masjids at other temple sites,” and “declare India a Hindu Rashtra in which non-Hindus can vote only if they proudly acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus.”
Undoubtedly, the op-ed is execrable in so many ways, starting with cloaking itself with an understanding of social and religious history of India, and making suggestions that would leave a lot of people speechless with outrage just to think of them. Notwithstanding that, however, Harvard ought to stand for Mr. Swamy’s freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech is probably the most sacred constitutional guarantee of all, and the true test of this sacred right is when someone uttering morally repugnant thoughts exercises it. The U.S. courts have long held that in times like these, there is a need to swallow hard and understand that, in a free society, any restriction on speech or expression must be taken under very serious consideration and pass some very stringent tests regarding public safety, and clear and present danger.
To take just one example: recently, a case was brought against Fred Phelps, a pastor, who demonstrated at the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq, with signs that said things like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “You’re going to Hell” because, in his twisted mind, America’s war deaths were God’s punishment for the U.S. tolerating homosexuality. In the case brought by the dead soldier’s father alleging an injury for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, the U.S. Supreme Court held for Fred Phelps (protecting his right of speech), and against the dead soldier’s father by a vote of 8-1.
In doing so, the U.S. Supreme Court solidified the notion that underlying the constitutional protection of freedom of speech and expression are values that transcend what people like Mr. Phelps and Mr. Swamy say — values important to everyone. And when free speech rights are attacked, if one allows the least popular and morally abhorrent people to be deprived of their free speech rights, then it is not long before others are deprived too. Thus the battle for free speech is always fought on the fringes, with people whose thoughts find scant endorsement. Protecting their rights does an essential public service, because it protects everyone’s rights.
Examined through the above constitutional lens, Harvard’s decision to exclude Mr. Swamy’s courses, and thereby effectively oust him from the teaching roster, appears harsh. Also, Harvard has in place strong commitments to free speech in its policies, and this decision violates these policies. The University’s “Free Speech Guidelines,” adopted in 1990, state, for example, that “curtailment of free speech undercuts the intellectual freedom that defines our purpose. It also deprives some individuals of the right to express unpopular views and others of the right to listen to unpopular views.”
Although the subject matter could not be more different, the second decision displays the same oppositional stand of Harvard against a libertarian conception for freedom. It relates to the University’s decision to close Harvard Yard to outsiders engaged in the Occupy movement that has erupted all around America.
Harvard Yard is a calm and vibrant community space where students, tourists, and community members sit and stroll. Many buildings, including dormitories, libraries, a church and lecture halls, surround it. In the month of November, tents had sprouted on Harvard Yard in solidarity with the Occupy movement. The Occupy movement at Harvard was made up of Harvard students, staff and faculty, and posed no threat to the security of Harvard affiliates.
However, on the pretext of security, the University ordered a complete lock-down of the campus, thereby depriving outside protestors the basic freedom to have an open conversation on the campus. In doing so, Harvard reinforced institutional exclusivity and elitism — features that the Occupy movements seek to change.
Many professors of Harvard shared this sentiment. Notably, Duncan Kennedy, a Law School professor, wrote an open letter to Harvard President Drew Faust expressing his dissatisfaction with the way the University administration handled the protest. Without a doubt, the decision to close the gates amounts to a violation of the freedom of assembly in the most general sense by saying that Harvard is off limits to those that seek to engage in a public-spirited discussion.
It is bewildering how a peaceful movement in protest against economic inequality would provoke the lock-down of a University that admits students because of their commitment to the democratic values of an open and just society. This, and the decision to rebuke Mr. Swamy, is precisely the sort of action that a university dedicated to intellectual freedom must seek to avoid.
It is central to Harvard’s thriving as a centre of excellence that it immediately reassures that freedom of expression will be protected at Harvard. The University must honour its commitment to policies that allow diverse opinions to flourish and to be heard. And who knows in doing so, Harvard might just provide its famous Indian alumnus, who has recently been at the receiving end of a lot of flak, a much-needed free speech message.
(Karan Singh Tyagi, a graduate of Harvard University, is an associate attorney with an international law firm in Paris.)
I could not help sharing this with you. It may not be politically correct, but it expresses people’s angst about corruption and Congress.
Last One Is
“Saala jhooth bolela, kaali dilli ka chhora saala jhooth bolela” was a soulful but rebellious rendition of a Bhojpuri song which found resonance across eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in 1988-89. A rather little-known Bhojpuri singer named Baleshwar Yadav sung this song at the peak of the Bofors controversy and alluded to the involvement of the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in the corruption scandal by referring to him as “kaali Dilli ka chhora (lad from black Delhi)”. Given the melodious nature of the Bhojpuri language, this song was certainly coarse. Yet, it struck the chord with the Bhojpuri belt.
Obviously, in people’s court Rajiv Gandhi was held guilty of the Bofors pay-off in 1989 even though in legal parlance he was innocent. That Baleshwar Yadav’s song conveyed a far deeper political message than legal language was evident in 1989 elections when the Congress was decimated in the polls. Though Rajiv Gandhi and his cohorts tried to defend their position by applying legalese, it only made an adverse impact. V P Singh grew in stature and acceptance, not because of application of his superior oratory or logic but because his political idioms were carried to people like Baleshwar Yadav.
Obviously, the government of the day cannot be faulted for its lack of understanding of India’s political history. Prime minister Manmohan Singh is essentially a career bureaucrat whose brush with politics is self-admittedly a fortuitous event. But there is a battery of leaders within the party who know it quite well that the application of legalese and superior logic is bound to recoil on the government. This is significant in view of the fact that the government has marshalled top-notch lawyers in the garb of politicians to defend its position.
Take, for instance, the spirited defence put up by union home minister P Chidambaram, HRD minister Kapil Sibal or law minister Salman Khursheed who have been targeting and attacking Anna Hazare as if they were performing in a court of law. In a series of press conferences, these ministers have given long expositions on constitutional matters related to individual’s rights, role of parliament and judiciary and executive in a democracy.
The Congress has simultaneously unleashed another lawyer-turned-MP, Manish Tewari, to call Anna names and describe him and his associates as “company” quite akin to the D company. There is no doubt that the government and the Congress have jointly unleashed a battery of lawyers to employ their language to demolish Anna Hazare’s campaign, vilify him and neutralise him with their superior skill of logic.
Contrast this with Anna Hazare’s one-liners coming straight out of innocent rusticity prevalent in India. He offered to serve Kapil Sibal and carry a “bucket of water” for him (“Sibal ke yahan paani bharoonga”) if the Lokpal turns out to be ineffective in tackling corruption. He is not ashamed of showing his ignorance about the complex legalese employed by legal hawks, academia or social elites of Delhi. His certain expressions may sound “anarchic” to constitutionalists. But is India not called a “functional anarchy” by the same set of people?
By all indications, Anna’s political project of getting India rid of corruption has found greater acceptance among people despite the superior logic of his opponents. However, it appears quite amazing that the opposition has still failed to assess the mood of people and has been relying more on the prowess of legalese and complex language and less on its political instincts to comprehend this phenomenon. This is evident by the manner in which the principal opposition, BJP, has not been as forthright in its political response as its ally, Nitish Kumar, with regard to Anna Hazare’s campaign.
There are many instances in Indian political history when people rejected sophisticated language of rulers and opted for a coarse and rustic idiom which found resonance with the people. Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s famous line “Singhasan khali karo ki janata aati hai” (vacate the throne lest people come) was an instant hit during the emergency period though there were cries of “India is Indira and Indira is India” in a very sophisticated English language by Devkant Baruah.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
August 05, 2011 11:36:46 PM
If the former Telecom Secretary’s statements are meant to be brushed aside as discredited nonsense, why should a discredited IPS officer be taken seriously?
As it finds itself increasingly beleaguered, the Congress is talking itself into one trap after another. Two recent instances stand out.
In the midst of the telecom scandal trial, Mr Siddhartha Behura, former Telecom Secretary, told the court of a crucial meeting that apparently took place on December 4, 2007. The meeting, Mr Behura claimed, was attended by Mr P Chidambaram, then Finance Minister, and Mr D Subbarao, then Finance Secretary. This meeting decided upon the pricing of 2G licences, he has said. His contention is that he, as Telecom Secretary, only implemented the decisions taken at this meeting. In a sense, he has sought to expand the ambit of culpability.
Responding to Mr Behura’s charge, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal was dismissive. “We have looked into records,” he said, “the records show that there was no such meeting. Neither Mr Chidambaram nor Mr Subbarao remembers any such meeting.” He also warned of “the danger of taking arguments made on behalf of an accused, and treating them as evidence and gospel truth”. Mr Behura, the Telecom Minister added, would attempt to save himself “even on the basis of non-existent facts”.
For all one knows, Mr Sibal may be right. Perhaps Mr Behura is indeed lying and attempting to implicate others in a show of desperation and bravado. If that is the case, the UPA Government needs to oppose him tooth and nail.
Now consider another example. In Gujarat, Mr Sanjiv Bhatt, an officer of the Indian Police Service, has spoken of a meeting at the Gandhinagar residence of Chief Minister Narendra Modi on February 27, 2002. This was on the evening of the Godhra train incineration. Mr Bhatt has alleged Mr Modi asked that Hindus be allowed to “vent out their anger” and wanted Muslims to be “taught a lesson”.
Potentially this is explosive stuff. A police officer is actually saying a Chief Minister asked his administration to back off and allow a state-backed massacre of innocent people. However, the Modi Government has denied Mr Bhatt was in the meeting of senior police officials that the Chief Minister called on February 27, 2002. The then State police chief has refuted Mr Bhatt’s contention that he was in the room that day. Mr Bhatt, it is said, was simply too junior to have attended the meeting.
It has also been established that Mr Bhatt has been in touch with activists such as Ms Teesta Setalvad and with the Congress’s Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly. In e-mail correspondence that is now before the court, he is offered legal support and coaching for his deposition before the Special Investigative Team by Ms Setalvad. He exchanges documents with the Congress leader, Mr SS Gohil, and asks him for a Blackberry phone. He tells another police officer to find out where Haren Pandya, a Minister in the Gujarat Government who was later assassinated, was on February 27, 2002.
The SIT, set up by the Supreme Court to look into the Gujarat violence, had asked Mr Bhatt if Pandya was present at the meeting. Presumably, Mr Bhatt was so engrossed in listening to his Chief Minister that he didn’t notice who else was around. Alternatively, could it be concluded Mr Bhatt wasn’t around himself?
Mr Bhatt has had a controversial career. He faces court cases for misuse of official authority. He has been involved in land-grab cases. In one incident, he was charged with framing a person who had a property dispute with a then judge of the Gujarat High Court. The National Human Rights Commission passed strictures against Mr Bhatt in this matter and fined him for “falsely involving a person in a criminal case … (and violating) fundamental human rights”.
Disciplinary action was taken against the judge as well. The judge appealed before the Supreme Court, but unsuccessfully. The judge’s lawyer, as it happened, was Mr Chidambaram, now Union Home Minister. Today, of course, Mr Chidambaram glosses over that old association and his party praises Mr Bhatt’s “courage”.
Mr Bhatt’s history has led to him having run-ins with the Gujarat Government. He has also been denied a promotion. His career is at a dead-end. Isn’t there enough reason for him to resort to desperate measures and attempt to resurrect himself “even on the basis of non-existent facts”, to borrow Mr Sibal’s expression?
If Mr Behura’s statements are meant to be brushed aside as discredited nonsense, why is Mr Bhatt supposed to be taken so seriously? Does the Congress believe all non-existent meetings are irrelevant but some non-existent meetings are less irrelevant than others?
In another episode, the Jan Lok Pal Bill activists led by Anna Hazare released preliminary findings of a survey they said they had conducted in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency. The survey apparently showed overwhelming support for the activists’ version of the Lok Pal Bill. To be fair this proved nothing. The Hazare-driven Jan Lok Pal Bill is severely flawed and will end up creating a bureaucratic monster.
However, what was worth noting was the Congress’s reaction. Mr Manish Tiwari, the party spokesperson, invited Mr Hazare to contest the 2014 parliamentary election from Chandni Chowk (now represented by Mr Sibal) and essentially convert that battle into a referendum on competing versions of the Lok Pal Bill.
This is an interesting methodology, one that places primacy on the democratic process and reduces all debate to judgement only by the electronic voting machine. It is worth considering whether Mr Harsh Mander can be put up as the National Advisory Council candidate from Madha or Baramati, take on Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, and convert a constituency contest into a referendum on competing versions of the Food Security Bill.
Alternatively, Ms Setalvad (or even Mr Bhatt) could be the joint Opposition candidate from Maninagar in the December 2012 Gujarat Assembly election. This could then be presented as a referendum on alternative narratives on Gujarat in the past decade.
Those two final suggestions may sound facetious and silly. They are; yet no less offensive is Mr Tiwari’s mocking invitation to Anna Hazare to join electoral politics. Indeed, it is the Congress’s sudden belief in the purity and integrity of the political process that is so astonishing. In Gujarat, it has used extra-political means to fight its opponents. With the NAC, it has used extra-political mechanisms to draft and push through legislation. Having built the kitchen, it suddenly can’t stand the heat. How convenient.
The Congress – Government face-off that is now publicly evident in the
manner in which Baba Ramdev was received by 4 ministers at the instance of
the Prime Minister and invited for negotiations at Claridges Hotel – only to
be followed by the volte face of Police atrocity against 50000 innocent
citizens at Ramlila Maidan in the dead of night of June 4.
Some points occurred to me and I am sharing my thoughts aloud. This follows
articles by me (Sandhya), Smt Nancy Kaul and Smt Radha Rajan on this subject
at www.vijayvaani.com <http://www.vijayvaani.com/> and subsequent exchanges
with friends. Setting aside all emotions, I personally feel that the episode
– Whatever overt power she may still exercise over Congress and
Government, Sonia Gandhi is on a weak wicket, which is getting weaker,
though this may not be readily apparent as yet
– In fact, Sonia Gandhi may derive more power from the pusillanimity
of the BJP and some RSS ‘thekedars’ who primed Baba Ramdev to lead a
movement that was destined to be aborted [by them, for her] and thus help
Sonia to maintain her stranglehold over the Government via the NAC and the
Anna Hazare-Lokpal agenda – except that that is moving towards utter failure
– Sonia Gandhi’s Western support base has fractured and she knows
it, which is why she is desperate to ram Rahul Gandhi into the PM post, but
this desperation is making her and Rahul make costly mistakes [like Muslims
are surely going to perk up to the fact that Christian surrogates are being
primed for the post, and they will let their resentment show in some way.]
– The political establishment in London and Washington can see that
she is politically in the ‘diminishing returns’ mode and that Rahul is a
non-starter. So they are unlikely to invest energy in her. Just as they
dumped the unpopular Mubarak so that they could stay put behind the scenes
in Egypt, so they will not give momentum to her fight with Manmohan Singh
and the sections of Government and Bureaucracy that are uncomfortable with
Sonia and her behaviour.
– That leaves Sonia Gandhi with only the Church (Vatican and all the
rest) and their approach is muscular and aggressive, as if India is Latin
America, and this mistake will prove costly for her.
– Sonia is left with very poor allies who determine her agenda in
public [because she does not speak so as not to commit herself to a position
from which she may need to resile later; ditto for Rahul Gandhi]. These are
Digvijay Singh [who never recovered from the shock of his defeat in MP],
Anil Shastri who attacks her enemies via the Congress mouthpiece, and Kapil
Sibal who is actually a lawyer and not a politician. There is not a single
Congress stalwart batting on behalf of Sonia Gandhi today, and hence she is
not going very far. Pranab Mukherjee, who is the Government troubleshooter,
quietly slunk away when he realised the agenda has shifted from Government
to Congress/Sonia, and that should tell us a lot. Even P Chidambaram is
keeping a low profile.
These are my random thoughts on the events of the past week, and I just
wanted to put them across.
Tarak Joshipura, Vadodara
Resp Shri Narendrabhai…..Thanks for protesting openly towards the barbaric acts of the so called executors of the Constitution of this great country….now the question comes is a very sovereign and basic question of fundamental right of raising any query by a normal citizen of this country….the Act of the Congress party (I hope Dr. ManmohanSingh will not differ for my using the word Congress Party as No sensible Government Officer including Police will take this step) as We are the normal law abiding citizens please atleat allow us to use our very fundamental right of expression.
Sir, Being a gujarati I urge you to expose this so called sophistication of Mr. Sibbal and the rest bunch. Sir, you are our last hope.
Dr. Manmohan Singh…….Your wonderful creatures in the form of Mr. Kapil Sibbal and Mr. Digvijay Singh have common Problem; they feel and believe that this entire country is made up of street smart operators like them. Mr Sibbal, the very institution where you practice has raised eyebrows towards the act of your party and asked for detail explanation. Sirji, Simple sa Sawal tha or aap to nikal pade the babaji ki history padhene…..sawal ki history ko dekho sir….ye aap ka cross examination nahi chal raha hey……ye to esi baat hui ke har sawal pe sirf aap ki party ko hi aake bata na pade….wah ji wah!
Aur Digvijay sahab ki to kya baat kare…..khud kabhi padha hai constitution ke bus rahul chalisa he padhete ho…..Mr digvijay Singh….this country will never fail in keeping up the very basic value of the great constitution and constitutions are not written by either legal experts and street smart operators like you….please keep silent or try to listen what you speak it is very easy to disagree with your own thoughts which is promoted by ( Kya Bataye?)……
for BJP….. Sirs, the youth of this country is now looking at you though helplessly as in recent months you have done precious little….please awake to the call….try some parallel movement so nobody accuses us for riding the bus of Babaji…..sir, you are our last hope.
For VHP…. Hindutva doesn’t ends in constructing temple… it is in constructing nation…..we first need to repair our nation now…. .sir, what is restricting us……..Honorable Chief Justice Shri Kapadiya is all eager for genuine Public Interest Litigations……Si,r the youth will be with you…I assure…
Baba Ramdevji… Pranam…..We are with you.
Tarak Joshipura, Vadodara