To begin the joke, India has given its citizen “Right to Freedom of speech and expression”. The best part is, joke ends there and people who thought that they have that right, suffered either at the hand of public or government or police or media. No debate or discussion, to ask someone who made statement that prove it in public with evidence else you will be ignored and lose credibility. But it’s INDIA, we don’t have to expect much in terms of understanding free speech and expression as First amendment made to constitution was to curb it under Restrictions Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian constitution, enables the legislature to impose reasonable restrictions on free speech under following heads:
- security of the State,
- friendly relations with foreign States,
- public order,
- decency and morality,
- contempt of court,
- incitement to an offence, and
- sovereignty and integrity of India.
Anyone who has basic common sense can easily figure out that “decency and morality, incitement to an offence, defamation” are all subjective and can be left to the open interpretation. To understand the basic premise to introduce offence in law to protect government from all media and public outrage. Idea is very simple “State can hit you hard but you cannot hit back, but if you belong to elite group; you will not be touched, instead vandalism will happen on your property but you will not be hurt”. That’s a way to pacify their own supporters that even if elite did said something from which we got offended, we did something to make them feel vulnerable. It is mutual understanding between common man and government that if government hear something from which they feel offended, then all hell will break loose and no one can save you from their wrath. Salman Rushdie, M.F. Hussain, Kamal Hassan, Taslima Nasrin ,Khusboo and many others like these people has suffered at the hands of moral policing done under article 19.
Let’s examine the fact that adding the words like “offensive” is too dangerous in law, consider that someone talks about work not done by a government in his/her area or place which suppose to be the playground made dump yard by municipality. The citizen thinks that it is wrong on the part of government agency to use the park as dump yard and complains; but municipal commissioner or any officer get offended as someone is pointing on their way of working. They can simply put him/her behind bar for creating disturbance in society by asking question to government, which he himself has chosen. But the same question when asked by opposing political party, government hands are chopped and they cannot simply put opposition party leader in jail. But as per law they can, as he is now potential threat to the security of the state and state can take action against him too; but that doesn’t happen often in India. Now just turn the table and let’s say people die in the bomb blast and government gives the same reply to media and to the suffered people who died or injured in the attach that they are taking action. That offends the common man, that kind of statement is against the morality too as human lives is lost and government is busy safeguarding votes and playing politics with lives. But common man has a right to remain silent and if he tries to use the freedom of speech and expression, government will come heavily down on them as happened in Ram Lila Maidan on peaceful anti corruption protest and arresting innocent women for their post on facebook.
Banning movies, books and anything which government seem it can create social disorder or is offensive or it hurts the sentiments or it is against morality; they can just go ahead and put a full stop to it. Suddenly a normal book or movie which may or may not be good becomes a talk of town. By simple logic we can understand that banning anything doesn’t solve a problem but will give rise to curiosity to watch, see or read material, which otherwise could have been easily be ignored if it doesn’t hold the merit. Freedom of speech and expression is exactly present for protection against anything distasteful to any sense, but law itself prohibits common man to speak against anything by asking them to remain silent, protest in silence and let government know their issues by silence. Maintaining law and order, which should be the primary concern of any state, but India indulge in futile exercise of monitoring who said/wrote/draw something; can cause social disturbance. India became the first country to ban the Salman Rusdie’s book The Satanic Verses, instead of taking action against the people who were disrupting the law and order; same things happened with M.F. Hussain, whose house was vandalized. No doubt that India is having such a poor ranking in World Press Freedom Index, even countries like Zimbabwe being ahead of it.
In the current scenario, after the some post on facebook and twitter against the government, government came down heavily on the social networking sites to either delete the material or monitor material before even it is posted to internet. Even when the arrests were made for posting the material, none took the matter in hand; not even courts, to rescue as it was just an opinion of someone on his personal page and not forcing someone to visit his or her page. Here is the reply from Philip Pullman responds to a question about whether the title of his new book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ,is offensive to Christians and his wonderfully brisk defense of free speech in this fundamentalist age was:
“ It was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if you open it and read it, you don’t have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don’t have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or bought, or sold or read. That’s all I have to say on that subject. “. But to grasp the concept of free speech is even tough to pseudo intellectual in a country where silent free speech is the only way out.
The problem of law and order occur in society when police under the influence of their political master to do nothing to prevent any mishap, which any person with below average intelligence can understand in no time takes largely a huge time until the event happens and so called cover up inquiry is ordered by the Political class. In this whole drama of keeping the social order, only the innocent citizens, businessman and regular wages worker suffer the most. The religious outfits in India can take law and order in their own hands by saying that religious sentiment got hurt, government and complete bureaucracy will watch everything with absolute silence and action will be taken only after the event has already occurred. Getting offended is subjective and the one who is actually suffered cannot exercise the same law because common man don’t have connections or goons to support in vandalism and political master to take them off the jail with minimum effort. With the introduction of information and technology act 66a government has added teeth to already offensive material jaw to bite till death. People who don’t want to go to street to spill out their anger or want to protest silently through the internet medium will not be sparred and will be prosecuted with same degree of intolerance. Why is it not possible that common person can use the same law of offense when government or media or police or bureaucracy tells lie in open and get away, be sure that it offends not one but thousands of people. But laws big hands is good enough to catch common man but very small legs to walk up to big shots. Even media people use this weapon against common people, where they even went on threaten people with dire consequences. None is allowed to express their opinion unless it is in line with government, religion, outfits and above falling under the criterion of offensive.
Moral policing is not a new problem in India, people wants government to poke their nose everywhere even in the places where it doesn’t belong, like morals. Religious outfits publish statement like girls mobile should be taken away from them or some movies should not hit theatre as it will degrade the culture of country etc and people abide by and do not protest against it because no protection will be given to protesters as police force is busy protecting law and law makers. Politician takes huge interest in moral issues as it can bring them votes and here they don’t have to be right but just follow the majority and go with it. Panchayats declare fatwa on young boys and girls and it suddenly becomes a matter of pride to whole community, to stop helping family or take them out of village or just kill them. They are able to do that because police will not intervene and if they will, people of that community will have politician on their side to curb the police action against anybody. Government always wanted to make laws for some section of society but they do not want to fix the issue at hand, to treat all community equally and when crime is committed by anyone result should be same i.e. prison and legal action. But that will be too much of work on the side of government as if all are treated equally none will be treated more equally.
Until and unless India changes itself from vote bank politics to nationalist politics where people are treated equally over all bullies, getting offended religious outfits , moral policing and petty despots. Only way out is punish anybody or everybody who tries to disrupt the normal life and bring him/her to justice irrespective of his caste, religion or position in society. Otherwise it will be a very tough ride for the nation to use its potential to fullest in any field; future will be a dark shadow of past where even light will also be asked to sign a permit that it will not offend the darkness.