Media advisor to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, Dinesh Amin Mattu has called upon people of all walks of life to raise their voice for protection of freedom of speech and expression as it is facing threat in recent years.
Speaking at a one-day seminar on 'Democracy and challenges for freedom of expression' organised by Gauri Lankesh Hatya Virodhi Vedike, at Rotary Bhavan in Davangere on Thursday, he said, freedom of expression faces a universal challenge, much greater this century when compared to 19th century.
Journalist such as Gauri Lankesh and rationalist Kalaburgi were killed. Students, youths, writers and rationalists are being targeted across the country for expressing free speech. The Constitution of India has guaranteed equal rights and opportunities for all its citizens irrespective of caste, sex, creed and religion. People are targeted for expressing even their right to eating food. However, such freedom earns and commands respect, as these qualities are ever in true display. It should be protected by all, he said.
Mr Dinesh Amin Mattu said that democracy is ultimately about the rights of the people who vote representatives to power, to speak against abuse of power.
There has been too much emphasis on democracy and elections in India. The heat needs to be taken off elections. We need to be conscious of what happens between elections, given the opacity of government, given its awesome power over the lives and liberties of citizens, and given the propensity of every government to appropriate, accumulate and misuse power. This can be checked, provided we appreciate the competence of ordinary people to participate in political campaigns in civil society, he said.
However, what is offensive is a matter of subjective feelings, and therefore, cannot be a reason for restricting an individual's freedom of expression, which must be absolute, the liberal opinion concluded, he said.
"My right to free speech has to be absolute, and if you are offended, you have the right to respond. But if we start placing restrictions, we are shaking the foundations of tolerance for views that one finds disagreeable, and tolerance has to be one of the foundations of a true democracy", he said.
He said, citizens have the right to scrutinise the work of their representatives, publicise acts of omission and commission, such as infringement of civil liberties, failure of governments to provide a reasonable standard of life for the citizens, and engage with leaders on the troubled issue of political conflicts. The right to engage with, interrogate and criticise representatives is an integral part of democracy. Without this right, democracy becomes farcical, an empty term, an illusion, he said.
He further said, with rise of intolerance, writers, journalists and people are being targeted for expressing their opinions in the present regime in the country.
Indirectly criticising the functioning style of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said, the very youths and people who campaigned for Mr Narendra Modi through social media have now started to blame the failure of the Union government to find solutions to check unemployment. Mr Modi has failed to keep his promise of creating two crore jobs. Cine actors like Vijay, Kamal Hassan, Prakash Rai and Sudeep have already started to raise their voice against the poor functioning style of Mr Modi, he said.
He regretted that issues of eating beef, fish and chicken are becoming news. Realistic issues like social and economic problems should become topics of debate in the country, he said.
Karnataka Komu Soharda Vedike K L Ashok, advocate Anees Pasha, Dr A B Ramachandrappa, K L Bhat, K L Chandru, Arunkumar Kuradi and others were present.