Former Chief Justice of the Delhi and Madras High Courts, Justice A P Shah, has questioned the kind of ‘nationalism’ that "forces people to stand for the National Anthem at movie theatres, that tells people what to eat and what to speak".
Delivering the MN Roy memorial lecture on ‘Free Speech, Nationalism, and Sedition’, here on Wednesday, Justice Shah took on the “forces enforcing a certain kind of nationalism” and said, “A cult of nationalism is on the rise where people holding views against that of the government are being dubbed as ‘anti- national’.”
Justice Shah equated today's discourse on nationalism with what MN Roy, the eminent thinker and radical humanist, had said in 1942, before India got independence from the British Raj ~ “A parochial, selfish, narrow-minded nationalism has caused so much misfortune and misery to the world. “
Commenting on the situation at universities in India, he said, “Unfortunately, our institutions of learning are under attack today and there is every effort to destroy the independence of thinking by certain regressive forces operating in the country.”
Cautioning against the perils of stifling dissent on university campuses, he said, "We have a 21-year-old university student who is subject to severe online hate, abuse, and threats only because she dared express her views,"
Justice Shah condemned the crackdown on meat shops and slaughter houses in UP and its implication on the economy of a certain section of people. “Crackdowns that are primarily targeted at Muslim butchers are not only leaving lakhs of people with fear but without stable employment," he said.
He told the audience that his grandfather was the president of Hindu Mahasabha in 1940s. However, he himself disagreed with the thoughts of the Mahasabha and present RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s call for a ban on cow slaughter all across the country.
"We must be cautious of forcing a single ideology or way of living in India, where states such as Kerala, or the various states in the North-east, consider beef a staple part of their diet," he said.
Justice Shah also expressed his disagreement with the Supreme Court’s order on National Anthem. "It is important to remember that the right to free speech and expression also includes the right not to speak or express ourselves. However, under the guise of law, the court has now stepped in and restricted our fundamental rights,” he said.
Among those who were present at the lecture were Law Commission chairman Justice BS Chauhan and sitting judges of the Supreme Court, including Justice J Chelameshwar.