What if Barkha Dutt had spoken the truth about a religious figure of ‘a certain community’?

Few of you might have heard the name, Santosh Thammaiah, a Kodava writer from Coorg. The police of the Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka arrested Thammaiah for ‘hurting religious sentiments’. Even fewer might care about the news. After all, Thammaiah might have been an author of several books and the editor of a local Kannada newspaper, but he doesn’t write in English and he is not the toast of the average ‘liberal journalist’ on social media. 

Thammaiah was arrested because he spoke against the celebrations of Tipu Jayanti by the Karnataka government. He spoke about the atrocities Tipu inflicted upon the Kodava Hindu population. Thammaiah mentioned the dreaded ‘P’ word in his speech and, because of that, he was arrested in what was a complete mockery of free speech norms.

How many of you recall the name Kamlesh Tiwari? Tiwari is a Hindu Mahasabha leader from Uttar Pradesh who was jailed in December 2015 because he dared to publish a press note accusing a certain revered figure of a certain community: “The world’s first homosexual”. When last heard, Tiwari was in still in jail because it was felt he would be safer in jail — with lakhs of irate ‘peace-loving’ folks organising massive protest marches in UP demanding death for Tiwari.

Tiwari’s life is in danger all because he dared to call someone a homosexual. Calling someone homosexual does not qualify as an abuse in this age and day, even in India. And yet, all the vocal liberal thinkers in India were absolutely silent over Tiwari’s incarceration. 

How many even know the name of the 17-year-old boy from Baduria, Bengal, who was arrested for his Facebook post about the same revered religious figure of the same community? His Facebook post led to the torching of Hindu homes in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. Again, for all we know, the boy is still rotting in jail, as his plight does not interest our self-professed liberal journalists. 

How many have read about Sunny Gupta, the civil engineering student from Mumbai, who was jailed for more than a month just for asking on Facebook why Hindus should visit the Ajmer dargah (mausoleum)? Chances are, you don’t because our FoE warriors in the media have ignored the plight of Gupta.

And yet, Barkha Dutt, a self-professed champion of free speech and once a celebrity news anchor, who dedicated a whole article in The Print to chronicle the ‘past sins’ of the arrested blogger and defence analyst Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, had nothing to say about the arrests of Thammaiah, Tiwari or Gupta.

In her verbose piece, Barkha Dutt asks, “What if it had been Barkha Dutt in place of Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, making a joke about temple erotica?”

A question for Dutt: What if it had been Barkha Dutt, instead of Santosh Thammaiah, joking about the religious figure revered by a ‘certain community’? Would the state have spared her? Or would she have been rotting in a jail for months like Kamlesh Tiwari and Sunny Gupta?

Would the same Kashmiri youngsters, who are great fans of Dutt’s, because she called slain Kashmiri terrorist Burhan Wani a “poor headmaster’s son fighting for Kashmir”, rush to her defence? Or would they have come out on the streets of Srinagar, rocks in their hands and masks on their faces, demanding ‘death for Barkha’? Would that splendid organisation called the Editor’s Guild led by Shekhar Gupta have supported her right to free speech? Or would they just issue a token letter expressing ‘sadness’ on her arrest without even mentioning her name as they did in the case of Achyutanand Sahoo, the Doordarshan journalist who was killed by Maoists in Chhattisgarh?

Would Muslim mobs torch Hindu homes in the name of Dutt? Would her social media accounts be full of abuses, hate speech and rape threats like Shehla Rashid’s Facebook feed was — that one time she dared to speak up against Islam?

Would Dutt’s colleagues in the media have started a petition on Change.org seeking her release? Would there have been candle marches in the national capital seeking her release? Or would all her self-confessed liberal friends pretend they never knew her?

No. We will never know what would happen to Dutt if it were her, instead of Tiwari, calling a figure revered by the ‘religion of peace’ homosexual. We will never know what would happen to Dutt if she, instead of Gupta, asked Hindus to not visit the Ajmer Sharif dargah.

Because for all her vocal commitment to free speech and freedom of expression, Dutt is not stupid. Barkha rani knows where and when to barso jamke.

Dutt might be the fearless journalist who writes columns in The Washington Post about women who speak up, but she would never ever joke using the dreaded ‘p’ word. After all, the images of the Charlie Hebdo carnage are still fresh in every journalist’s mind, no?

Freedom of speech is okay — as long as Hindu religious icons are mocked. Freedom of expression is meant to be defended as long as memes are made with a Trishul and a condom and paintings are made showing naked goddesses. But let us not talk anything about other religions, please. We are ‘secular’!

No Barkha, we will never know what would happen to you if you were in the place of Thammaiah or Tiwari. Because you would never allow yourself to be in their place.