Op-Ed: We Odias should be proud, not ashamed, that we are tolerant

Let us put the state government aside for a moment and stop doing a post-mortem of what it did or didn’t do, whether it did right or wrong, what it could have and couldn’t have done and so on. Here is a poser for every English reading Odia who happens to read this piece. Should we Odias be proud of the fact that we jailed Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (call him defence analyst, journalist, whatever) for six weeks or ashamed of it?

I, for one, am ashamed of it – and don’t mind going to jail for it! I am ashamed because I sincerely believe that we should be proud, not ashamed, about the fact that we are a tolerant species and have earned our well-deserved reputation over the millennia. We are the land of Lord Jagannath, the land of confluence; the land of love, compassion, forgiveness and every other finer attribute of the human race. Jingoism is not in our genes. It is, after all, the land that we have known to have transformed a ‘Chandashoka’ to ‘Dharmashoka’ (though some new age historians now dispute this popular Kalinga War theory).

While on the subject of the Kalinga War, I am reminded of what happened when the irrepressible Justice Markandeya Katju made – at the ‘farmaais’ of some of his fans on Facebook, as we explained later – some comments about we Odias that were as offensive, if not more, as anything that Abhijit has said about us. Remember how we ‘dealt’ with him? After dealing with him suitably on social media, we presented roses to him, elicited an apology from him and then laid the matter rest there for good in keeping with our rich liberal and tolerant tradition. That was when I was proud as an Odia. Not now.

Let me make it abundantly clear that as an Odia, I am as offended, hurt and angry as any other proud Odia over the comments made by Abhijit. And I refuse to buy this crap being sold by a few Delhi based liberals that what Abhijit said about Odisha and Odias was intended as some ‘joke’, ‘satire’ or ‘fun’. No Sir, it wasn’t funny at all! It had disdain for Odisha and everything Odia written all over it. Had an Odia said similar things about say, West Bengal or Tamil Nadu – the two states where Abhijit traces his parentage to – s/he would probably have been publicly lynched!

But I would still say there were (and still are) other civilized – and not so civilized – ways of ‘teaching him a lesson’ than putting him in jail, even if it was only for a day and not six long weeks. Giving him as good, may be even worse, as we got, for example. Odia Twitteratti have done and are doing it quite efficiently in the place where Abhijit reveled before heading for jail: Twitter. I am also proud of the fact that the Privileges Committee of the Assembly, under the leadership of the astute Narasingha Mishra, acted in the most mature way: by summoning him to the House, making him grovel and apologise and then sagely accepting his ‘unreserved and unqualified’ apology. I think we should have left the matter at that and not allowed him to become the cause célèbre of the Delhi liberals by jailing him. I have absolutely no doubt that a stern warning would have ensured that he would never take liberties with Odia sentiments again.

I am a strong votary of a ‘words for words’ approach and an equally strongly opponent of the ‘jail for words’ policy, not matter how offensive or hurtful they are. Even the honourable Supreme Court has ruled that ‘words’ would result in jail only when they incite, cause or threaten violence. And I don’t think any of it applies to what Abhijit has said about us.

Just to bring in the government for a moment here, have we paused to ponder over why the same government, which gave the distinct impression that it couldn’t care less how long Abhijit rotted in jail for his ‘sin’ till the previous day (how else does one interpret the 13-day delay in Abhijit’s ‘mercy petition’ reaching the state secretariat from the Jharpada jail?), suddenly acted completely against the run of play and decided to ‘pardon’ him on Tuesday? Here is my two penny. It realized that it was fast turning out to be a case of ‘diminishing returns’; that the tender Odias had just begun to feel a tinge of sympathy for the jailed culprit, especially after watching him being taken to the hospital; that any further prolongation of his incarceration could lead to charges of being unreasonably and unabashedly vindictive against it. And kudos to the state government for reading the pulse of the people right on this occasion.

But I must confess I am pained at the venom still being spewed against Abhijit on Twitter by fellow Odias. Most have toed the ‘serves him right’ line to justify his jailing while some have gone a step further to actually say that six weeks was way too short for his ‘sins’! For all one knows, there could even be some Odias who genuinely believe that he deserved to be hanged from the nearest lamp post for what he has done.

Sorry, I am not part of the crowd baying for Abhijit’s blood. And I am proud of it!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)