This is what Kamal spoke at HarvardPublished: February 8, 2016
Kamal Haasan spoke in length about freedom of speech, during his address as one of the key speakers at the India Conference 2016, at the Harvard University. Here we present you the complete text.
“Freedom of speech is unlike love. Love as popularly quoted, is never having to say that you are sorry. With freedom of speech you must be ready to say as many things as you need to before you say sorry. That too only when are truly convinced you are, sorry that is.
The choice of the topic ‘Freedom of speech’ was mine. Those who invited me here must also have believed in it. I thank them for allowing me this freedom. Why did I choose this topic? Why now ? Is it because as a filmmaker, a free speaker and thinker I feel suddenly concerned about my freedom of speech? Is it any recent untoward or frightening attempt to curb or coerce my speech, through politics or religion? Or both? My honest answer? Not really. To be precise, not exactly. I am only voicing my concern which is handed down to me by my ancestors, generations of town criers who care for their lot.
“What’s Kamal Haasan’s problem? What is ailing him that he chooses to speak on freedom for speech as if it is threatened?” That too in a democratic fortress like the US of A where freedom thrives and freedom of speech more so. You can speak, rap and curse and also use parliamentary language to show off your education. That’s the kind of freedom enjoyed here. Is that freedom of speech? Is that freedom enough? Hyde park in London, centuries ago allowed somewhat similar freedom. It was called soap box oratory and allowed speaking opportunity. For centuries, many could clearly see the oppressing or the opportunistic political hand throughout history however stealthy it moved— from the senate of Rome to modern day senates.
Democracy is often touted as being the only bastion for freedom of speech. My opinion is questioned when I tell them Democracy is not the most infallible of political systems. They take umbrage. They see red. Red as my political complexion. Let me confess I am not. I feed myself in this international buffet of political ideologies never committed to one diet like a religion. I think, like in food habit, man should remain omnivorous to stay on top of the food chain. I don’t have a religion yet I shamelessly use some rare but finer points from even religion for a better living and harmony. I don’t think that either democracy, communism or fascism or any other “isms” is going to be the ultimate and final answer for all social maladies.
We have in our short 10 thousand year period of time experimented with various combinations. It is work in progress. Our society is work in progress. Some scientists believe that human mind itself is work in progress. So I am unwilling to accept any one political ideology as a settled cure for all our woes. I am always usually sternly informed that I cannot deny the fact that only in a democracy can freedom of speech exist. Freedom unlike money is not safe once inside a bank locker. It won’t safely accrue, to be withdrawn for use in times of dire need. Constant vigil is necessary to safeguard it. I am part of that large vigilant community that is always on the lookout, for subtle political coercion. That is the reason why I am willingly part of the reform committee In India that is going to recommend a new order of function for the film certification board that surreptitiously tries to censor films and other voices in the name of culture or the state.
I am not here to bash democracy or praise communism or socialism. I have taken this opportunity to put on record through media and those receptive minds here that we cannot take freedom of speech for granted and complacently think that democracy automatically means freedom of speech. It is only through the offices of democracy that Hitler rose to power. ‘Oh! That was when the world was naive. Not anymore possible some say.’ Let’s move forward in history and that too Indian political history and you find emergency promulgated and voices silenced in plain sight for the world to see. I am not taking a dig at my own country.
As a matter of fact, I am proud of the kind of democracy we have managed to practice in spite of many attempts to abuse it. India is a younger democracy as compared to the centuries old democracy practiced in UK and the US of A. Yet universal suffrage that is voting rights for all citizens of India came into practice 15 years before it came into practice in a democracy called America. It was not democracy that allowed freedom of speech and freedom itself but the other way around. It was freedom of speech that sculpted and cultured democracy. Silenced voices rose in harmony, masterfully orchestrated by Martin Luther King. His blood was the ink that made corrections in the law of this land. America moved into a period of transition after that. Not only India, the world is in transition. The world is going to face new challenges, find new opportunities. I can almost hope to see borders blur within my lifetime, and all will truly and slowly become citizens of the world instead of boasting limiting parochial borders. Many, many whistles will be blown before that happens. I am proud and fortunate to be in a medium that can reflect and protect freedom of speech and even fight for it subcutaneously and also in a full frontal attack if need be.
‘You are going to speak all this in Harvard?’ asked some of my friends, in awe and some in disbelief. I have been constantly remindedabout my lack of intra mural training. I must humbly submit that I am a high school dropout. Before, with very little success on my side, Iused to brag about being a drop out and yet managing to move seamlessly in scholarly circles without being caught out. Well I was an actor, what do you expect? I knew the right lines. I have over time realised the value of education and the institutions that disperse it. It might be true that even these great institutions need to be constantly reformed. I can only agree with a pedestrian understanding that change is permanent and rigidity or stagnation is the recipe for
atrophy and regression.
I have always envied people like you who have pursued wisdom and skill in your chosen field, where it is taught with scientific methodology. People often confuse my voicing dreams of going back to film school as humility, that too a false humility. Believe me it’s truly humility that time and experience has taught me, that too not very kindly. I have learnt little tricks in the time I spent in the film industry, a little more than half a century. What took me nearly 25 years to learn could easily have been taught to me in a proper film school in 5 or 7 years. The only difference and a happy compensation was that I was earning throughout the process of learning instead of spending on my education. I guess that is a good trade off.
While India is poised for a leap in many fields, in my own field of activity, we are preparing the ground for India to become, truly, an international contestant in the global market. We want India not to become complacent with a happy captive home market of 1.2 billion . We want India to set world standards. We have done it before. We have be forerunners and actual practitioners of the civil disobedience. An idea presented as a theory by Henry David Thoreou, we actually put it to practice. Thanks be to Mr. Rajagopalchari popularly known as Rajaji and our own Mr. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. India became a trendsetter for giants like Mr. Martin Luther King and Mr. Mandela to emulate. Those vigilant gentlemen have made it possible for me to speak fearlessly, but with responsibility, today. I respect the way their freedom to speak was won. On rare occasions, freedom of speech was won taking on violence without returning it in kind. A very hard act to follow. To take on violence with non-violence needs extraordinary valour. Not without reason does Gandhiji, an otherwise humble man, openly brag about ahimsa being the highest form of valour. That is why probably the 24th Theerthankara or saint in the Jainic religious order, the champion of Ahimsa, was called Mahaveera, the great warrior. Ahimsa is difficult to achieve. It is not done by merely turning vegetarian.
Being a vegetarian and yet showing apathy to fellow human beings is purpose defeated. In my mind, there is this constant tussle between Darwin’s theory and the fascinating concept of ahimsa. Well that is the subject for another podium, another debate. Once again I remind myself and you to be on constant vigil. Any government institution or religion trying overtly or covertly to coerce your mind to suit a narrow selfish purpose with disregard to larger society is something we should all be wary off.”
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