On the sad break with the tradition of embracing polyphonic, unorthodox ideas: The Outlook
Censorship increasingly seems to be an issue across disciplines—the arts, literature, films, science, free speech. Why do you think this is so?
I became interested in finding out about a series of events that had caused me some concern, starting with what unfolded at the Jaipur Literature Festival where I was a participant two years ago when Salman Rushdie was debarred from attending for security reasons. Events before and since then led me to believe that there is a patterned response in which a certain history unfolds with someone saying some work of scholarship or some work of literature is so deeply offensive to their sentiments. Then either the publisher capitulates or the government capitulates or both, and after that, it seems as if everyone goes on merrily, happily ever after. The point I want to make is that there is a relationship between the cultures that produce works of imagination and literature and the cultures that produce science and technology. On the one hand, India publicly proclaims its scientific and technological aspirations, on the other there seems to be a quiet tabling of intellectual freedom and I firmly believe these are mutually incompatible. The very preconditions that produce literary works and important new ideas of historical scholarship, whether you like them or not, are the same preconditions that produce scientific work. Eventually our wellsprings of science will run dry because you destroyed the ecology of ideas.
Everyone wants science and technology, but no one wants to deal with it when scholarship reveals things that you don’t like. I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. To swallow one, you have to swallow the other. Historically, as Amartya Sen pointed out in The Argumentative Indian, there have been few cultures so capable of embracing polyphonic, unorthodox ideas. So it seems to be a sad break with tradition.