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Is it time to defend the right to offend ? #FOE

“I haven’t seen as much sexual tension between two people as Mani Shan kar Aiyar and Tavleen Singh,“ said writer and comedian Radhika Vaz. And with that she dissolved the tension in the audience which had watched the senior politician and the well-known author trade words at the opening session of the Times Litfest 2015 at Mehboob Studio on Friday .Spicy debate and outright attacks mar ked the first session, `We Should Have The Right To Offend’ of the three-day event, get ting the festival, with the theme `Enslaving Expression’, off to a good start. Moderator Kumar Ketkar, chief editor of Dainik Di vya Marathi, kicked it off saying he was lo oking forward to hearing the panellists who are “habitually used to offending“, de nying the right to offend.

Tavleen Singh, speaking for the right to offend, began with the times Aiyar had offended her and she him. “We live in a count ry when everyone is offended by everyt hing so we must be offensive. This whole beef issue is ridiculous. It would be funny if people hadn’t been killed over it,“ she said.

Taking a contrarian view, political commentator Shekhar Gupta said targe ting a community or ethnicity for the sake of fake fame was not right. “If you offend, you should offer others the right to protest.There is no such thing as the right to offend deliberately ,“ he said.

British cartoonist Martin Rowson, whose work appears in The Guardian and The Daily Mirror, explained that his job is to offend but he draws lines–no satire on gender and sexuality .“And so I find myself in the difficult position of refusing to defend complete freedom of speech,“ he said.“Taking offence is part of being human, but nothing will be as offensive as the end point of killing someone who offends us.“

This is something borne out by the Paris attacks and other acts around the world. “Take offence by all means, but defend to the end your fundamental right not to listen.“

Up next was Aiyar, who returned Singh’s pot shots, and proceeded to explain the Constitutional stance on freedom of expression and the reasonable restrictions on them. “There are certain limits drawn by public debate about what is appropriate,“ he said, adding that the framers of the Constitution had left it to courts to decide on these restrictions. “This is because what is decent changes over time. You have to take into account the prevailing sense of morality and see that a line is not crossed.“

Just as things were getting a little heavy , Vaz stepped up to the mike and added a touch of irreverence. “I believe in the right to offend because I am a woman and for a majority in this country that is in itself offensive.“ But she made her point, quite firmly , that those who do not see value in the freedom of expression are those who do not have much of value to say . “Being offended is not the problem; what you do after being offended is the problem,“ said author and journalist Manu Joseph, bringing the debate to a close. “Let’s not fight the right to offend, let’s just offend.“

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