Absolute liberty is absence of restraint

The TMC leader has said that the BJP is trying to drown the din that Sharma’s remarks have kicked up, by tearing into Moitra and by lodging FIRs against her.
Mohua Moitra and Nupur Sharma
Illustration By Hasan Zaidi

Amit Bishnoi

A Member of Parliament from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) Mohua Moitra and a former spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Nupur Sharma have kicked up a storm across the country. The impact of the tempest they have raised was felt even in the foreign lands. Both are well known for courting controversies, but their comments are now weighing on their mind as well as on the country. Sharma hit out at the Prophet during a TV debate and Moitra made comments about Goddess Kali after a poster of a documentary on the goddess made by a Toronto-based filmmaker Leena Manimekalai was released.  The BJP has organised several protests against Moitra in West Bengal and in many other places in the country. The Madhya Pradesh government even issued a lookout notice against her, as did the West Bengal police against Sharma earlier. A political commentator and leader of the Trinamool Congress said that though the party distanced itself from Moitra’s comments, what she said was not wrong. The TMC leader has said that the BJP is trying to drown the din that Sharma’s remarks have kicked up, by tearing into Moitra and by lodging FIRs against her. Congress’s lawmaker Shashi Tharoor stood by Moitra, saying what she said was hardly wrong.

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Nevertheless, the comments of both of them were neither wrong nor absurd. If someone is acquainted with the way the Bengalis worship Goddess Kali, one will appreciate Moitra’s comments. Similarly, Sharma’s remarks, if one has an open mind, will never feel bad about them. But, then, the question is what went wrong. Political commentators said their tone was the issue. Had their way of speaking been less aggressive than it was, things would have been barely as bad as it is today. Everyone in West Bengal – where people worship Goddess Kali more than the people of any other state in the country do – knows that both liquor and meat are offered to Her. The Bengalis worship the stately form or Rajsik form of Divine Mother, so they offer both meat and liquor to Her. In this form, it is believed, Goddess Kali controls the universe. Even Lord Shiva who is in the saddle of creation and destruction lies under her feet. Many Hindu texts have limned this universal form of Goddess Kali whose worship raises Kundalini Shakti (secret energy). She is loved, revered and feared.  Well-known Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam has aptly portrayed this form of Hers in a song that is very popular in West Bengal.

Divine Mother is also worshipped as Bhairavi and Lord Shiva as Bhairava. So, in Ujjain, liquor is offered to Lord Kaal Bhairava. At the Kamakhya temple in Assam, goats are sacrificed. Sacrificing a goat, human beings offer all their desires and attachments to Divine Mother. This tradition is similar to the sacrifice of goats during Bakar Eid of the Muslims. Ergo, Moitra has barely said anything wrong.

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Yet, being well educated both Moitra and Sharma could have given a wide berth to making such comments. In a democratic system – though there are many ‘demo-critics’ in the country now – a citizen fully enjoys the freedom of expression. Nevertheless, before enjoying that right, one must read AG Gardiner’s essay ‘On the Rule of the Road’. The essayist says, “Liberty is not a personal affair only, but a social contract. It is an accommodation of interests. In matters which do not touch anybody else’s liberty, of course, I may be as free as I like.” Therefore, one should use one’s freedom of expression with caution and understand the difference between melody and clamour.