Friday, May 4, 2012

Freedom, faction, & monkey tricks

Identify politics behind demand for banning a book, says Romila The Hindu - CHENNAI, May 4, 2012 ‘Media should first probe who is making the demand'
Eminent historian Romila Thapar has said the media should investigate claims made by sections of society that their religious sentiments had been hurt to justify their demand for banning books.
When some organisations claim that the religious sentiment of an entire community had been hurt by a book, “the media's first reaction should be to investigate the claim. Which organisation is making the claim, which fraction of the community has been hurt, and more than that, are there factions within the organisation that are using the book as ammunition to attack other factions?,” Prof. Thapar, Professor Emerita, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said in a lecture at the 12 convocation of the Asian College of Journalism on Thursday, which was observed as World Press Freedom Day. The recorded version of her Lawrence Dana Pinkham Memorial Lecture for 2012 was played for the audience. Speaking on ‘Reporting History – Early India,' she explained why reporting on historical subjects is an intellectual challenge, if its intention is to project the kind of knowledge that historians are exploring.
“Though we proclaim to be a democratic culture that nurtures freedom of expression, we do not stop to think before we rush to ban books,” she said. And she went on: “Curiously, the core reason for banning a book usually has to do with something historical. What is the historicity of Satanic Verses in Salman Rushdie's book? Was James Laine correct in questioning Shivaji's origins however indirectly, or Joseph Lelvyveld in speaking of Gandhi's friendship with a gay friend? Should Ramanujam have discussed the many versions of the Ramayanas? Should Peter Heehs be prohibited from staying in India because he has written what some think is a critical book on Aurobindo?”
Prof. Thapar said the politics behind the demand for banning a book should be identified, as such demands were motivated by groups competing for authority, however localised it might be. “We have not questioned the statement of colonial writing that Indian identities are religious identities, so we also do not question the right of any religious organisation to claim that it is speaking on behalf of an entire religious community,” the historian said.
She was of the view that instead of continuing to see ourselves primarily in terms of religious and caste groups fighting for community rights, “should we not be demanding, with much greater emphasis, a society that gives priority to social justice as a right in itself?” And rethinking one's identity, she said, should be through a thoughtful, questioning and evaluating process involving sensitivity to both the past and the present.

Constitutional expert Fali S Nariman and former attorney general Soli S Sorabjee on Thursday told the Supreme Courtthat it would be judicial overreach if the Supreme Court framed coercive media guidelines on reporting ongoing criminal trials.
The ominous warnings from Nariman and Sorabjee came on the concluding day of the over month-long deliberations by a five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices D K Jain, S S Nijjar, R P Desai and J S Khehar, which heard wide-ranging arguments from counsel on the need for framing guidelines for media on reporting of trials.
Sorabjee said, "The Supreme Court should not take upon itself the task of framing any guidelines which are coercive in nature. This is a legislative function. Court-framed guidelines would take away the right of a citizen to challenge such a guideline had it been framed by Parliament or a state legislature."
However, he agreed with the bench that the apex court could enunciate the principles based on earlier verdicts, drawing the contours of press freedom which would be applicable to very limited cases where the right of the accused to fair trial was prejudiced. "You can enunciate the law, but no guidelines," he said.
He said the apex court must not confuse interest of media in a high-profile case with media trial. "True media cannot hold a parallel trial by commenting on the guilt of an accused during the trial, but surely it can discuss if someone should have got bail or not," he said.
Nariman was more forthright. "All that was needed to be said on press freedom and restriction has been said in the Constitution and there is no vacuum for the court to contemplate laying down guidelines. Normative guidelines, which attorney general G E Vahanvati also agreed to, will surely be respected by the media. The apex court is held in high esteem and there should be no misgivings about the media honouring such normative guidelines," he said.
The bench said it never intended to punish journalists but let them know the 'Lakshman Rekha' while exercising press freedom in reporting ongoing criminal trials. "This will protect the journalists from possible contempt proceedings as well as prevent prejudice to accused," the bench said.
But Nariman was unconvinced. He said, "The right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is limited by the restrictions enumerated in Article 19(2). There is no gap to be filled by the apex court. If there is a need for additional restrictions, it has to be done by Parliament or state legislature."
He said there were enough restrictions and powers conferred under the Contempt of Court Act to regulate media reporting. "Anything which is not part of the Contempt of Court Act cannot be inserted by the Supreme Court as an additional restriction on press freedom. Let us not go to the jurisdictions in Canada and Australia, for our Constitution is long enough to cover all fields," he said.
Senior advocate K K Venugopal said the best way to deal with unscrupulous reporting of trial proceedings was to examine case by case whether there was anything published which would prejudice the accused or impede administration of justice. He also suggested that media guidelines could be built into the journalist accreditation norms to make them more accountable towards fair and accurate reporting.

vladimir May 1, 2012 12:15 AM Context driven meaning – some thoughts on PH Book.
Mind never works by a thesis alone. It needs an antithesis for its clarification and direction. In the linguistic department of St. Petersburg University we had an anecdote, which may clarify my point here:
“A lecturer presents a book written by X and says at the end of his presentation: “if somebody tells you that this book is written not by X but by Y, you should not believe it! You should be totally sure that this book is by X! Do you have any questions?” And there is a question from audience: “Is the book written by X or by Y? Tell us straight!”
The context influences and even defines the meaning. It shadows out light in a particular way and gives it a new color, as it were. When something is spoken, the meaning is not exclusively derived from what is said but also from what is not said and mainly from the context in which it is spoken. So Sri Aurobindo’s Life is now given a new context in PH’s book, which is of the western approach to life. And here lies the problem.
So, instead of trying to see our modern life in the context of Sri Aurobindo’s, PH, as a historian, brings Sri Aurobindo into our own western context, and even tries to defend and justify him in it, sometimes with a partial success. After such a presentation we discover that Sri Aurobindo is quite a healthy individual, and not some kind of schizophrenic, reasonable poet and writer, a good philosopher (again it’s a matter of opinion) and quite an honest seeker for knowledge, to say the least. In other words: a good guy.
For the Indian mind it is a misplacement of all the issues, for the western it is a true and honest account.

The issue is not whether the perspective of Peter Heehs is Indian or Western, but whether it is spiritual or materialistic, and it is obviously leaning towards the latter. The issue is also which set of values you would like to support and cherish, and put into practice in your own life. Simply putting on a show of wide-mindedness and saying that both Indians and Westerners are right in their own way won’t do. You have to take sides in life, you have to choose between materialism and spirituality. I trust that many Westerners in Ashram and Auroville have made a conscious spiritual choice; otherwise they would not have flown ten thousand miles to settle in a remote corner of Tamilnadu. If they simply wanted to follow the current materialistic trend, they would have remained in the West.
The problem with Peter Heehs is that he wants to please everybody (somewhat like you), please the spiritual-minded by making a few positive statements on Sri Aurobindo and please the academic by deconstructing him from the materialistic point of view. This is plain dishonesty. I don’t mind him being a downright and unpretentious materialist condemning Sri Aurobindo, though I, as well as you, would then object to his staying in a spiritual Ashram and being the chief editor of Sri Aurobindo’s works. But this kind of jumping from one world-view to a diametrically opposite one and then jumping back to the first position can only be termed as theatrics or monkey tricks. What this kind of behaviour actually reflects is his inability to do the Integral Yoga, and instead of simply saying that he is not fit for it, he has to bring down Sri Aurobindo to his level to justify his own failure. Well, nobody made Yoga compulsory for him!
I repeat again that this is not an Indian vs Westerners issue as has been presented by many supporters of Peter Heehs, because there are Indian materialists and Western spiritual seekers. It is true that Indians take to Yoga more easily and that Westerners are better at material organisation, but there is no essential difference between them. The Integral Yoga is common to both and there are no separate directions for Westerners. The truth is that Peter Heehs has found more supporters on the issue of his deportation and not with regard to the actual contents of his book. Westerners are a minority here, so they are obviously going to defend him on this issue because of the underlying concern for their own visas. But what is less known is that many Westerners do not dare to speak against Peter Heehs because the Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram will then withdraw their visas. Caught between the Govt and the Trustees, they observe an uncomfortable silence.

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