Atul Kochhar and the Free Speech Debate on Social Media

I was enthralled today as I switched on YouTube to see another endless debate about free speech on the social media circuit. Yes, this time, it was celebrity chef Atul Kochhar who lost his job and his speciality restaurant by the name of Rang Mahal. JW Marriott, the hotel Kochhar was associated with, terminated their partnership. So where did Atul screw up? Well, he made an inflammatory tweet to Priyanka Chopra about her scene in the series Quantico where Hindus have been shown as terrorists. The tweet that got him into trouble said “It is sad to see that you have not respected the sentiments of Hindus who have been terrorised by Islam for the last 200 years in your show.” This tweet sparked out an outrage against the master chef who started his career from Oberoi Hotels and also has a restaurant in London. Well, he forgot that he was not in India but the Islamic Republic of Dubai where there are laws against saying things against Islam. The hotel expected a backlash and got messages from their guests to get rid of the chef. Marriott relented and cut off all ties from Atul Kochhar.

So should he be hanged for expressing his views and opinions? Did he put his point across too crudely and in an undignified manner? Just because you tweet your opinion on something, should you get sacked? Those were the questions being asked. How safe are we from truly expressing our views? What is expectable free speech and when does it become a hate speech against a community?

Most bloggers feel that free speech should be upheld especially when Kochhar had apologised for the tweet and regretted his comments. They thought hanging him like this for his opinions was not the right thing to do. To a Muslim woman, his remarks were offensive and against their community. It showed Islam in a bad light. For that, he had to be sacked. After all, he tweeted this from Dubai, not India. India is a secular republic and more tolerant.

People, especially celebrities and opinion makers, will have to be careful about what message they send out to the world and how easily things could go wrong for them. It is a lesson that we live in a free speaking society and have a right to speak our mind, but we must be aware of that thin line that causes our words to look like hate speech for some other section of the society. But till then, poor Atul will have to do with serving his guests meals in his London restaurant.

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