On Palin Effigy and Freedom of Speech

Hanging an effigy of Ms Palin has stirred a nationwide controversy in USA. A couple hanged a mannequin of Sarah Palin by noose in front of their porch. The news report states ‘The officials determined that the effigy is not in violation of any city, state or federal laws and is protected by the first Amendment that protects freedom of speech’.

It makes a very interesting reading to me. Effigy making, burning on the street is a favourite pastime of people in India. We have burnt effigies of all well known leaders. Ministers, Political leaders, occasionally even Cricket players are favourite targets. It seems to have become a ritual here. What’s this fuss about Palin’s effigy? We do not understand.

There are many forms of protests that we have developed. They, like in USA, are various forms of freedom of speech. We in India have a large population of diverse background to cater to, so various forms of expression [call them freedom of speech, if you think appropriate] have been developed out of sheer necessity. Burning effigy is the most elementary form and, as the Americans have discovered now, it is not at all a crime. Not a hate crime as US authorites say in the Palin case.

The next level of expression is constantly attacking a certain group in media. This has greater impact and attracts the attention of the intelligentsia, not that they will do much about it. It is the work of the educated and the interesting aspect is that they raise some issues at fundamental level or conceptual level. This is also not a crime.

The next level is to beat up someone because they belong to certain community. This is practised widely all over the world and ignored or supported conveniently by politicians depending upon whether it serves their agenda. This is a high risk game. In India getting arrested or becoming hero are the only two possibilities in this game; and one may have dubious distinction of achieving both in one stroke! But the game must be arranged well so that these activities must follow the said order. The sequence cannot be becoming hero first and then getting arrested. It might work if the hero has lost his position in which case he becomes a zero before the arrest, so the statement is right.

I think when it comes of freedom of speech USA has much to learn from us!