Wednesday, December 7, 2011

To censor or not to

This whole business of the Union telecom minister Mr Kapil Sibal, restricting Social media networks from posting freely expressed Individual views on their websites, has managed to catch my “generally politically aloof” and wandering mind pause and wonder as to what exactly constitutes “freedom of expression”
In this article, I try to understand, analyze and come to a logical conclusion for my own sake and for the sake of all those who care to express their views frankly and clearly even at the cost of appearing unappealing by certain sections/individuals or groups.

Let’s see what the constitution says -
The Constitution of India contains the right to freedom, given in articles 19, 20, 21 and 22, with the view of guaranteeing individual rights that were considered vital by the framers of the constitution. Right to freedom in article 19 thus also guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression. It has been also held by the supreme court in one of its landmark judgment that freedom of speech and expression has no geographical limitations and carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thought with others not only in India but abroad also. (This clearly points out that a well heeled and traveled Indian can hold and express a completely different world view then a regular Indian. And also he/she has a complete right to do so. Even at the cost of appearing westernized).

What are the Restrictions -
With the same token Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian constitution enables the legislature to impose reasonable restrictions on free speech under following heads:
  • I. security of the State,
  • II. friendly relations with foreign States,
  • III. public order,
  • IV. decency and morality,
  • V. contempt of court,
  • VI. defamation,
  • VII. incitement to an offence, and
  • VIII. Sovereignty and integrity of India.
However, the important thing to note is that reasonable restrictions on the above grounds can be imposed only by a duly enacted law and not by executive action.

My take -
In my humble opinion (and knowledge),what Mr. Sibal is worried about lies mostly under the purview of point vi and vii, not exactly the high priority areas as far as the welfare of the nation is concerned. So, are we more worried about the ill -kept skeletons that are displayed in the open without mercy? Is it because we are tired of being called names every day? Have we lost our patience? Are we anxious about keeping faces then taking corrective measures to improve the lot of the country? If the answer to any one of the above is a “Yes” then instead of curbing the social media networks we first need to curb certain freedoms that many of our esteemed ministers in the Government take too much for granted like – “The freedom to misuse public money openly,” “The freedom to nonsensical actions,” “The freedom to say one thing and do another”, “The freedom to misuse power and curb others’ freedom in the name of welfare of nation” “the freedom to only keep one’s own benefit in mind,” et al. all such freedoms must be curbed and minimized.
What Mr. Sibal is trying to say or do is best known to him and his team. His guided “code of conduct” seems to certainly rub the wrong way with the masses especially the Indian youth who are more aware, connected with world happenings and vocal with their thoughts. However, I would still give him the benefit of doubt and agree that Indian sensibilities must be kept in mind to an extent while posting thoughts and views. At the same time it is also equally important that under the garb of protecting Indian sensibilities, freedom of speech and expression must not be trampled upon just to protect the interests of a few. After all, we carry the responsibility of being the world’s largest democracy with a growing population of young and well informed minds who will find means to express their thoughts in their own ways come what may.

(Constitutional references from Wikipedia)

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