Friday, March 27, 2015

Freedom of Speech is Freedom of Speech

The supreme court of India has struck down the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act as unconstitutional. This is a welcome decision.

This is one such judicial case on top of other millions, that the courts are spending their precious time on. The ruling is an eventual reprieve, but does it really need an explanation/debating. Everyone who has read civics book in school knows, it is a fundamental right of every Indian citizen to "say" whatever he or she wants. This is his right to freedom of speech. There is no distinction between what he is saying in a microphone or if he is saying something online. It just doesn't matter. Freedom of Speech is Freedom of Speech. Both the Congress and the BJP have encouraged section 66A during their times in power - so there is no good guy here.

With the rapid rise of Internet penetration in the country, social networking sites like facebook, twitter, google, news-sites are becoming tools in everyone's hand - in the form of their mobile phones. People convey their opinions in a split second. Opinions / feedbacks / comments are all over the social media. This has changed the way conversations happen in human society. During the age of phones, you have to call a person of your preference to say something or to hear something. Now with the global black-board of social media, the concept of posting comments are viewed by many in the next second. It just too much information that flows really too fast. The few smart people are able to jump on this mania to use it to their advantage. A lot of famous people - feed the media with their tweets and facebook posts. I hardly wonder, if everyone reads everyone's tweets unless its a close following. Wonder how long this culture based on virtual connection with "hundreds of friends" would last. It always conveys your presence, but not your proximity. It has reached a point where people think - It is rude to call by phone. Why can't they text message me!!

Somewhere in this midst, there are also instances where the government of India did not "like" or "agree" - what someone told on-line. Arrests were carried out and of course you can obtain bails quickly (they give bails for any crime in our country). It is not about being punished for a mistake - it is about making you go around a horrible system that is chronically slow. Just think about the Man-hours that go through it. It would be better off, had we did something else that would benefit the society. Provisions in this section 66A, is just to please the "superiors". There are lot of online post that insults/discredits friends. You or me cannot walk into a police station and complain or file FIR about that. You will be thought of to be mentally retarded. At the same time, at the orders of the "Government" - and with the only motive to satisfy "leaders", the police would go and arrest someone for saying something derogatory, online. It can only be used to settle political vendetta or to incite fear on the rest of the people. A law provision like that is practically not implementable. With 1.25 billion people in this country is it even possible to control who says what on social media? Can someone sit there and keep checking what someone says about a particular leader or government. The section itself is a "threatening proposition", rather than good intentions.

A society that has free flow of speech, would side-line controversial people over time. In a country like India, where still the human ethics are above legal ethics, there cannot be few bad apples that mislead masses in a way contrary to truth. People are really smart. They can best differentiate what is right and wrong for them and consume then online intelligently. Government has no role to play here.

The right to freedom of speech is supreme for democracy. It is not complex phenomenon that needs some Ifs and Buts. Freedom to speak whatever you want, to convey your point of view - is a birth right. It doesn't have to be trivialized. The people understand it better.

This is what the country needs : Any citizen can say whatever he wants, online included. If it leads to violence (as the government fears) - the first act of violence is punishable. There is clear difference between speech and action. Speech is not punishable, violence is a crime.

In our country, there are political leaders who get arrested for provocative speech. Why arrest them? Let them talk whatever he/she likes to. If he leads a mass to violence - deal with the violence with iron hand. If the violence is dealt with according to law, the society would be lot better. Peace-full gatherings / groupings with an intention of information propaganda is not bad. Everyone has his right to opinion and can propagate his opinion to one or more people. There should be none - who can stop that. The society is well positioned to separate what is good and bad for itself and the country. A bad leader with a provocative speech can't lead a society in the bad path. The society and the people are lot more mature, than what the parliamentarians think it is.

Right now - the right speech is applied selectively. This is well exploited by the modern politicians. Recently there are lot of instances, where you wouldn't know a particular politician unless he makes a controversial statement. The media jumps on them. The ruling BJP has been embarrassed multiple times by its own MPs, making highly controversial statements without any end-effects. It just runs through the news channel as though that was reflection of the party, government, the PM and everyone in power. There is high pitched voices from the opposition who champion for the victim of the hate speech. Everyone is kept busy for 2-3 days. The debates on televisions appear as though the whole country is in the dark because someone uttered this. The person who created the controversy gets some good media time and face recognition with the masses. Usually he stands by his statement for a couple of days, only to be retracted later or to apologize later. They refuse to do that initially - that is the kick. But somehow find their feet later. This has happened over and over again in the nine month Narendra Modi government. It is just a periodic head-ache for the BJP's top political management team representing the government. Instead of dealing with the problems of the country, they end up wasting time dealing with the abstract news item that is bound to die. How many parliament sittings have been washed out to this play. But in our political scene this just doesn't stop. The media is being fed with "hyper" news that it could live-on for a couple of days. Its all about sensation.

The same drama plays out, when new movies come out. It is just fine to make any movies you want to, on any subject. If there are people who wants to see it, so be it. There should be absolutely no restriction. Movies are just freedom of expression. Creating controversies over movies is just waste of time. Politicians are not good judges to decide what the people have to see or not. The censor board just have to rate it to help viewer choose before he goes out to watch it. 

Clear understanding with awareness is what, is needed about freedom of speech. We are argumentative Indians - why deprive society without that pleasure.

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