India’s Limited Freedom of Speech
In November, police in Mumbai arrested a 21-year-old woman for complaining on Facebook about the shutdown of the city after the death of the nativist politician Bal K. Thackeray; another Facebook user was arrested for “liking” the first woman’s comment. The grounds for the arrests? “Hurting religious sentiments.”
Mr. Rushdie, who after the 1988 publication of “The Satanic Verses” became, to his chagrin, a human weather vane for the right to free speech, was to travel to Kolkata last week to attend a literary festival. At the last minute, he says, he was informed that the police in West Bengal would block his arrival. Local politicians chimed in to support the ban. “Rushdie never should have been invited,” an official in the party that rules the state told me. “Thirty percent of Bengali voters are Muslims.”
The organizers of the literary festival had held up Kolkata as the “cultural capital of India.” The notion that any cultural capital would try to silence speech — or punish artists who do speak out — is, of course, preposterous.
Not mentioned in the article but also relevant:
When water started trickling down a statue of Jesus Christ at a Catholic church in Mumbai earlier this year, locals were quick to declare a miracle. Some began collecting the holy water and the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni began to promote it as a site of pilgrimage.
So when Sanal Edamaruku arrived and established that this was not holy water so much as holey plumbing, the backlash was severe. The renowned rationalist was accused of blasphemy, charged with offences that carry a three-year prison sentence and eventually, after receiving death threats, had to seek exile in Finland.