Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hold on! Your thoughts just got censored

Censorship was invented by a devil who did not want others to see the tricks up his sleeves. Clearly, the government of India is acting like the devil in description. Over the past one week, there have been numerous television debates and open-editorial pages discussing that we are moving back to 1975- the days of the emergency. There are numerous theories on why the emergency was imposed. That shall remain as the reference for democracy-going-wrong in times to come. But amidst the dim of Assam Riots and the Mumbai Azad Maidan riots that happened in quick succession, the government clueless as it always is blamed it all on a few twitter handles and web pages and its all time favourite Pakistan. It dint stop at that. It censored them a.k.a banned them from accessibility. On the face of it, it appears the government is entitled to block mischief in its capacity. True, but had it curtailed the riots or the people operating the account, it would have been worth the effort. What it transpired into was more rant against the government and some mind-numbing description of free speech. This shall remain as the reference for hypocrisy disguising as democracy. 

The intent of Free-Speech 

Noted television journalist Sagarika Ghose writes in Outlook magazine, arguing the difference between free speech and hate speech. Most of the hate speech in question here is of self proclaimed right wing extremists who spew cuss on the slightest dissent. In her weekly debate named- ‘We The Tweeple’, another TV journalist Barkha Dutt says we need to encourage free speech but curb/monitor/censor hate speech. This roughly gives the definition of free speech as the talk which everybody wants to hear, the way diplomats talk. Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts, says a French scholar and diplomat Charles de Tellyrand. 

To the commoner, free speech is telling whatever he/she thinks. If its hate that somebody thinks, hate shall be spoken. The article 19 of the constitution basically entitles that. The interpretation has gone horribly wrong, the same as we have done with world religions. All religions basically preach peace but we have altered the very definition of it and killed fellow human beings. That is totally new territory here, but I think is relevant for comparison. Basically things go wrong due to misinterpretation of the stated fact due to prejudice. Instead of blanket banning hate speech we need to think on what is it that is causing people to spew hate anonymously online. It sure is a difficult prospect. But this is not hypocrisy as the media stalwarts propagate searching for the middle ground. Free speech includes hate speech and if you stand for free speech you got to stand for hate speech too.

This is not to encourage hate speech. Nobody, especially no female journalist would like to be anonymously asked- 'Kitne congressiyo ke saat soyi hain tu?' Hate mongers need to be curtailed and brought back to their senses. How? There are legal ways for that. But there comes the real obstacle. How many Indians believe that they can get justice delivered in their country in a timely manner? Some anonymous person sitting in some part of the world writes derogatory tweets or blogs, how do we bring him to justice in India? That is hard to imagine. Yes, this is where we need to collectively work on. NDTV filed its law suit against a rating firm in New York, because it sure knows nothing worthwhile will happen to its peititon in India if it were to be filed here. This basically differentiates us from the free world in the West. While we constantly try to imitate their free life style, their growth, what we specifically and intentionally ignore is their approach toward freedom. 

This is where the populist media, the government and the concerned citizens should debate on. If an Arundhuti Roy, a Syed Shah Geelani can get away with derogatory, hate speech against the country under the guise of Free Speech, every citizen is entitled to his opinion. No matter what. 

Censorship and India: 

We Indians are used to censorship right from the time we are born. Our ethos themselves are so very confused that we see censoring as the genuine way to prevent. No parent in our country talks to their children about sex, social prejudices or try to explain why things are the way they are? All we know is that it is being followed from time immemorial and we dumbly accept it. The questioning ability in every child is curbed by giving the same answer- “Everybody does the same”. The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has come out with another blooper saying no ‘A’ rated films on TV. The objectivity and the method of rating by the CBFC is itself very shady. And we happily accept it under the name of much clich├ęd- “Indian Culture”. 

Dealing with the Censor Monster: 

Henry Adams, an American journalist once said- “What you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you are saying”. The high-handedness of the government, and the hypocrisy of noted journalists and politicians has created a ruckus that the original idea itself has got lost. Comparing one riot to another and measuring its intensity is a foolish act which only a creepy mind can come up with. Ever life is equally worth. Whether its lost in Kokrajhar or Kutch or Kandahar, the value is the same. We cannot ruin the essence by our foolish and prejudiced deductions. Hate speech needs to be curtailed by a mechanism called- ‘The Rule of Law’ not by censoring and exposing our intellectual impotence. Censoring the internet will only create bigger monster like the licence Raj did by creating the underworld and smuggling mafia. 

Hold on. Just give it a thought before it gets censored. 

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