Friday, August 24, 2012

Liberty - just a shoe brand or more?

Hardly any subject (except sex) has been as closely discussed or followed like Free Speech or Liberty is. As India stares at web censorship by a desperate government, we find ourselves in mdst of the same discussion.

So what is freedom of speech? I am a no google experts or a think tank or a rent a quote master. I will use a simple definition I and my friend Sai had used in an online group called Bindass Bol. Liberty is freedom of a person to swing his stick wildly. But it should not touch anyone's crotch. If it does, the other person has the liberty to react. That is freedom for me.

People will say "oh but, xyz is indulging in hate speech disguised as free speech". Well to start with who defines what is hate and what is not? For e.g. For many, Imam Bukhari or Raj Thackeray are indulging in hate speech. But for a sizeable section, they are just giving words to their woes (whether true or not). If left to people, judging hate speech is very subjective and will just increase friction and intolerance. Letting government do it can result in misuse of it to quell disset and promote appeasement. Only courts should be allowed to say what is a hate speech and what is not.

The only way to fight hate speech or misuse of liberty is to fight it legally. Take people to court. In M F Hussain's case, I agree with those who filed cases against him but not with those who threatened violence against him. India has enough laws which if followed carefully work perfectly well.

Coming to the recent case of blocking few twitter handles. The list will clearly show you that the idea was to muzzle anti-government voices and not to stop hate speech because very few in that list were guilty of hate tweets. And if government is keen to work on stopping hate tweets, it has to act against many IDs from across political and religious spectrum. Blocking a few Hindu Right is more politics than security. But expecting a balance from a government keen on minority appeasement is plain foolishness.

What about the role of common people in upholding liberty? A very crucial role. While many in current saga rushed by the sides of those blocked (irrespective of ideological differences), a large number of so-called liberals either kept quite or supported the blocks. The duplicity of those supporting the blocks and such cases hurts liberty as badly as strikes by the intolerants. Many media stars who cry foul on media regulation were the first to welcome these blocks. Very few, like Shivam Vij, Salil Tripathi, Sadanand Dhume had the courage to say the right things inspite of ideological differences. But many others including few friends failed that crucial test. To uphold free speech, self regulation and unbiased approach are the only options.

As long as we don't do the above, Liberty will remain a shoe brand and no more.


  1. Thanks, Jiten. That's just the point. The test of free speech is when you uphold the right to speak of the one you disagree with. (On Husain, as you know, my view is that India should change its laws altogether, so that people who claim offence cannot go to the court to get stuff banned. If they don't like something, they shouldn't see it, or hear it, or read it. It is that simple. And yes, it applies as much to Salman Rushdie as Tasleema Nasreen, as MF Husain, etc - all should have the freedom.

  2. Using the Ramayana,on the social media censorship:every time he cuts off one of his heads, another grows in its place. To my mind *both* the Traditional media and the Govt colluded in bringing about smthg that was simmering (for them) for a very long time. Their inability to digest free and fair criticism of their worthless deeds from and by the people!

    Traditional media and it avowed independence died with the Radiagate scandal. Who the **** are they to even be commenting on social media is incredible!

    The GoI and its unabashed loot and corruption with a scam a day, an appetite which remains unsatiated, needs 2b kicked out and kicked out fast, b4 they sell us and our resources to the highest bidder and pocket the money, and go scot free!

    A year ago rioting in London prompted David Cameron to consider, but ultimately decide against, curtailing user access to social media and digital messaging. That is transparent responsible governing. Not arbit blocking directives like the GoI!

    Govt's need to react, in times of crisis, but must equally embrace transparency. Google and Twitter both publish reports with details on government requests for content removal and user information. Facebook too. Why can the Govt not use this info for advocacy with its people? The Government of India should disclose the blocking requests it has made and articulate the legal justification for them, so as to build trust and garner support for legitimate law enforcement efforts. And not be arbit and dictatorial as if we are not a Democracy but living under a Fascist regime!