Summary of Bloomsbury saga
Free speech is yet again in the news this week. Bloomsbury, a British publishing house which has published a significant amount of books in India was slated to release a book – Delhi riots 2020: An untold story, authored by Monica Arora, Sonali Chitalkar and Prerana Malhotra. But Bloomsbury cancelled the book launch and decided not to publish the book at all, flouting all the contractual agreements it had with the authors. It did so because it was under tremendous pressure from an influential section of the literary society, primarily from authors like William Dalrymple. It did so as some of the authors had a problem with the people attending the launch event. This caused a huge uproar on social media as the publication was publishing another book which put forth the perspective of the Shaheen Baug protests. Many prominent authors like Sanjeev Sanyal and Anand Ranganathan decided to boycott the publication completely as a sign of protest. The book was ultimately published by Garuda Prakashan and now is one of the best sellers. This whole saga pegs some questions.
Why go as far as to ban the book?
Aren’t all the sides allowed to put forth their perspective?
Is free speech really free?
A note on the ban culture creeping in the world
Ban culture is not new. India particularly has been guilty of fostering a culture of banning ideas and works that don’t bode well with the incumbent political establishment. Starting from Rangila Rasool, India has banned close to 50 books till date. Although not new to India, the ban culture has been seeping into many societies in the world especially the west. There have been numerous cases of people being de-platformed or facing a violent backlash for expressing their ideas freely. The radicals take pleasure in doing so at the altar of Political Correctness. But where does this come from?
The Left which associates itself with ideas like weakness, progressivism, identity politics, etc. is following nothing but an updated version of marxism. The followers of this ideology have a political framework which is described by Yarom Hazonay in simple steps.
- They believe that the present liberal order is as bad as any other oppressive regime as it also tends towards two classes i.e. the oppressor and the oppressed.
- They believe that the current political regime is oppressive and it can only change by a revolutionary reconstitution of the society.
- Only then can society put an end to the oppression of one class over the other.
Thus the left always sees one section of the society as oppressive and the other as oppressed without paying any heed to the facts. In order to reconstitute society and defenestrate the oppression, it becomes imperative to control the narrative and not let any other perspective surface which does not conform to their version of the truth.
The liberal dilemma
What highlights this episode the most is the utter and complete silence of the liberal class. It is something to ponder upon that the same people who claim to champion the free speech cause are today accommodating voices that are anti-free speech in its all of its forms.
Yaron Hoznay in his essay gives a simple yet brilliant explanation as to why the liberal class who espouse the classical liberal values are unable to do anything against the onslaught on their core ideas. Liberals fight for certain basic values that differentiate a modern mature society from an authoritarian one as it respects liberty, equality, rights and consent. But liberal society does not necessarily end oppression completely but strives for giving an equal chance and opportunities to all the sections of the society, particularly the less fortunate ones. Yaron Hoznay puts it as a ‘dance of liberalism and marxism’
- Liberals declare that henceforth everybody is equal as the society is based on the values of consent and individual freedom
- Marxists, employing reason point to many instances of unfreedom and inequality in the society decrying for new rights
- Liberals embarrassed by this have to give in to some demands of the Marxists and the system is reset again with new rights.
- Return to 1. and repeat.
This dilemma is one that is being extremely difficult to traverse for most liberals. It makes them believe that they are the ones with all the right answers. They have a monopoly over truth. Any idea or concept other than theirs is dangerous as it has the potential to cause disharmony in the society and thus need to be crushed. This very attitude has led to the alienation of most common people from the liberal class. In India particularly, this has taken the form of the following –
- Having a reductionist view of Indian history. Reduce everything to caste and nothing else.
- Deny any existence of any ancient knowledge that India had. Propound theories like Aryan Invasion Theory.
- Neglect India’s contribution to the world thought.
- Mono-narrative of freedom struggle. Completely ignore the revolutionary movement that went parallel to the Gandhian freedom movement.
- Name and shame any critique as Sanghi, Hindu nationalist, fascist, supremacist, etc.
The liberal desperation in India
India has thus far been in the shackles of the ideas that were professed by the same left-liberal ecosystem. The effort to systematically alter the past and make assertions about the corruption of India’s culture has led to the alienation of most Indians from the liberal values of this beleaguered class of people. The Bloomsbury saga is just one example of their desperation as this class of elites, sitting in their ivory towers face the brunt of a changing India. This entire saga and the backlash that resulted in shows how progressively the left-liberal ecosystem in India is only going to become irrelevant culturally and politically.