Too many of us are fearful, easily offended
Much has been said about article 66A of the government's IT Act, but what often gets lost in the discussion is that the law, while focused primarily on social media and the Net, is firmly based on our Constitution's definition of free speech which, unlike what many believe, imposes quite a few restrictions.Updated: Feb 02, 2013 23:12 IST
Much has been said about article 66A of the government's IT Act, but what often gets lost in the discussion is that the law, while focused primarily on social media and the Net, is firmly based on our Constitution's definition of free speech which, unlike what many believe, imposes quite a few restrictions.
You are allowed to say anything you want - unless it is against the sovereignty of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, defamation, contempt of court or incitement to offence (Article 19).
If that does not hammer the nail enough, IPC 295A criminalises any speech that insults or attempts to insult religious beliefs. Game, set and match.
More or less anything can be put into one of these categories: religions are always offended, there is no universal notion of decency/morality.
While the prosecution may not always be able to prove guilt, they would most likely - because the bar is set so low - have sufficient legal grounds to register a case and make you do the 'tareekh pe tareekh' grind for years.
This means the rich, the corporations and the political establishment can always keep this Sword of Damocles dangling over those of us afraid of getting into a legal firefight with someone with a lot more resources.
Better silent than sorry, as they say.
What we need is the kind of very strong protection for free speech that the US's First Amendment provides. That kind of overhaul can happen only if the people demand such a change emphatically, because the political class loves the status quo.
However, a popular consensus is not likely to emerge because most of us are free-speech warriors so long as it's the other guy getting offended. The moment the shoe is on the other foot, our opinions change and we go back to the "In India, we have to regulate speech. It's just the way we are" cop-out.
What does this mean for us? Well, it could become impossible to say anything mildly negative about anything in this country without a legal notice being slipped into your pocket or a late-night knock on the door.
(Arnab Ray, author of The Mine and May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss, is a free speech advocate. He blogs at greatbong.net)