Feb 022012
 

My column appeared in the DNA on Republic Day rather appropriately (it usually appears on a Monday) :D . It deals with the issue of reasonable restrictions on free speech & the 1st amendment to the Indian Consititution that possibly needs to be repealed..

This week, India celebrates the 62nd year of being a Republic. On a cold winter’s day on the January 26, 1950, the Constitution of India came into effect. In one stroke, it decimated millennia of institutionalised discrimination, inequality, bias, bigotry and prejudice. It put the rights of the individual above age-old strictures — the right of women, people irrespective of caste, and tribal people. It guaranteed justice, equality, and freedom, irrespective of gender, caste, community, or any other grouping within its boundaries. The Constitution enshrined six fundamental rights – The right to equality, right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to freedom of religion, culture and educational rights and finally the right to constitutional remedies that allow you, the citizen, to take on the whole system — organised religion, the State, society — to ensure that your rights are not violated.
On the face of it, the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution would give Indians the greatest freedoms possible in the world. But, that is not the case. Our freedoms are not absolute. There are what is called reasonable restrictions on our freedoms, especially the freedom of speech and expression.
Article 19 of the Indian Constitution deals with the protection of rights regarding the freedom of speech — including the right to express, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to form associations and unions; the right to move freely throughout the Indian Union and settle anywhere within its boundaries; and to practise any trade, any occupation that one chooses. Theoretically, this means that you can write and publish The Satanic Verses in India; as a private group, you can hoist the flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar; that you can belong to SIMI; that you can freely settle in any part of India including Jammu and Kashmir; and that you can run a beef stall in Madhya Pradesh or a liquor shop in Gujarat. But, we know that none of that is true. We have freedom but not absolute freedom. So how did Section 19 of the Constitution that guarantees you so many freedoms become so restrictive?
The answer is the First Amendment to the Indian Constitution. The first amendment in 1951 sought to curtail the freedom of expression as laid down in Article 19(1). The reason stated for this amendment was, “The citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by article 19(1)(a) has been held by some courts to be so comprehensive as not to render a person culpable even if he advocates murder and other crimes of violence.’
It is ironic that the First Amendment to the American Constitution made the freedom of speech an almost absolute right, while the first amendment to the Indian Constitution took an absolute right and (reasonably) restricted it. The amendment modified absolute rights to relative rights and said that these reasonable restrictions were in the interests of the general public.
The question is what is reasonable? Is it reasonable to burn the Indian flag as an act of protest? Is it reasonable to garland a statue of a dead king with slippers? Is it reasonable to kill a cow and eat its meat? Is it reasonable to question the existence of god? Is it reasonable to ask for independence? Is it reasonable to paint pictures of the Prophet Mohammed? Is it reasonable to question the historical veracity of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata? Is it reasonable to fly the Pakistan flag as a sign of friendship? All of these are various forms of expression. The question is not whether you approve of these or not. The question is do people have the freedom to express their views without fear of arrest or reprisal.
Reasonable restrictions have been exploited by political parties, and communal leaders to deprive individuals of their freedoms using the threat of communal riots and violence to curtail expression. The State has buckled under the pressure over and over again. As a result, individual rights have been sacrificed at the altar of buying peace. The State needs to stop using ‘reasonable restrictions’ as a crutch and back individual liberties as laid down in the Constitution. It is not the role of the government to determine whether a restriction is reasonable or not. Its job is to provide security to the individual to practise their freedoms without fear. Maybe it is time that they got rid of the ‘reasonable restrictions’ vis-à-vis free speech and restore our freedoms to those guaranteed 62 years ago on the first day of the New Republic.

Dec 212011
 

This from India Today

In the midst of a debate on monitoring content, a Delhi court has restrained social networking sites including Facebook, Google and Youtube from webcasting any “anti-religious” or “anti-social” content promoting hatred or communal disharmony.

Additional Civil Judge Mukesh Kumar, in an ex-parte order, directed the social networking websites to remove the objectionable content in the form photographs, videos or text which might hurt religious sentiments.

The court on Tuesday passed the order on a civil suit filed by Mufti Aijaz Arshad Qasmi through advocate Santosh Pandey who had also submitted the printouts of the contents

Someone needs to give judges, ministers, politicians and bureaucrats a crash course on the nature of the Internet. The fact that it is not centralised. the fact that it is not controlled. The fact that it is made up of billions of computers across the world. Even if the content is deleted from social networking websites, and doesn’t get replaced, doesn’t mean it won’t exist on the net and won’t be shared again. And, there is no way anybody can guarantee that this ‘offensive’ stuff won’t be shared again.

On a more practical note, practically everything modern can be considered to be hurting religious sentiments. To start off, every religion can be considered offensive to someone else from some other religion. When the revealed religions say there is but one God, and he is ours, it can be considered offensive to all non revealed religions. Religious traditions like Buddhism which dont have a God at its core, it can be considered to be offensive to those who believe in the concept of God. Religious traditions like Hinduism which accept animism, atheism, monotheism and polytheism would probably blow the brains of those who don’t understand variety. So, what all do you ban ?

So what kind of content would be declared offensive in the future ?

  • Would Atheist material be hurting religious sentiments?
  • Modernity & modern laws – universal suffrage, equality of genders, universal education, banning of child marriages, equal rights, the rights of women, the rights of sexual minorities, – could these be considered as hurting religious sentiments?
  • Constitutional Law can it be considered to be anti- religion and hurting religious sentiments.
  • How about videos that talk about women’s emancipation? The right of a woman not to be beaten or raped inside a marriage – is that anti-religion? Is the concept of divorce and material associated with it anti religion
  • Is science anti-religion ?
  • Is content that talks about evolution anti religion?
  • Does content that talks about the right of Dalits to worship in temples, be considered to be anti-religion.

People who file cases against content or cause violence based on their response to content are guilty. Not the content. It is their ego responding. Not God. Not religion. Politicians and courts need to start ignoring this offended ego. 

We jump up and down like a bunch of scalded kittens when an obscure group tries to get a ban on the Bhagvad Gita… they are mirroring our actions.What is religion for one, is offence for the other. there will be no end to this, unless someone draws a lakshman rekha on this silliness. If something offends you, don’t read. But, expecting the world to share your outrage on the offense is stupidity. The system is encouraging such stupidity.

Religion or God, don’t need mere mortals to defend them. They can manage on their own. The greatest blasphemy is to assume God needs your help … S/he doesn’t.

Oct 282010
 

How many people in India have the ability to bring people from various parts of the political spectrum together ?
One and only one, Arundathi Roy.

After putting me off the Narmada Bachao Andolan, feeling sorry for tribal development or lack of it, in Naxal infested areas – she has made me question my doubts about the role of the State in a modern world. If she supports any view that are even 3 light years close to mine – then I must be wrong :)

But, it is not just me that she has impacted. People from all ends of the political spectrum are coming together on common ground…

Sanjay Jha – writes in Hamara Congress. Obviously the name of the blog tells you his political affiliation:

Before condemning the Indian state and government ( always our perpetual soft targets ) for its “ brutal ways” and mocking India’s freedom and democracy in a public platform , Ms Roy needs to do some serious introspection on her much-postured predilections on Kashmir’s Azaadi . A lesson in history might help, including contemporary politics Or may be it is time to take a long sabbatical in Kerala’s backwaters perhaps, and write a book titled The Goddess of Nothing !

Kanchan Gupta – the acerbic right wing commentator – writes

Nor is this the first time that Arundhati Roy has questioned the quality of democracy in India; she has done so repeatedly. Invited for a book-reading session at New York’s Town Hall, she had stunned the gathering by suddenly launching a vitriolic attack on democracy in India. “The biggest PR myth of all times is that India is a democracy. In reality, it is not… There is no real democracy in India. Several States in India are on the verge of civil war… In Iraq, there are 1,50,000 military personnel, whereas in Kashmir Valley there are some 7,00,000,” she had said. Not surprisingly, she got a standing ovation. Who is to tell the Americans who applauded her that had India not been a democracy she would have been frog-marched to Tihar Jail immediately upon arriving at Indira Gandhi International Airport on her return?

Srinivas Ramani - of EPW, considered left wing – has this to say on FB

Arundhati Roy.. People either go gaga about her or Gag-Gag. I am mostly “ugh-ugh” and move on. …Arundhati Roy now seems to have taken her carpetbagging a step further from Medha Patkar/ML-Lib to the Maoists and Islamic Fundamentalism. One wonders, what next.

Manish Tiwari – Congress loudmouthspokesperson, who suffers from acute footinthemouthitis, had this to say :

“I do not understand why exaggerated importance is given to her who is not in the political mainstream. It is erroneous and uncalled for. Is she an MP? Is she a political leader. She is an author,”

if you do a search on twitter for arundathi roy – you will again find people from all sides of the spectrum uniting on how much of a self publicist she is

@Mirzairfan76 says

arundathi roy is a chameleon.I have no problem with your anger,your voice s against injustice and oppressive military prsce ..an angry kashmiri is not a seditionist,but arundathi roy speaks the language of the enemies of india on fragmentation.

@freaks007 says

Seems she has stayed out of limelight for quite some time and is intent on changing that! The nation doesn’t need your pity!

@GreigAbraham

Heard Arundathi Roy is forfeiting her passport and moving to Afghanistan. Moving to a greener pastures to fight for rights.

The Reuter’s blog has the best take on this issue

Indeed, after winning the 1997 Booker Prize for The God of Small Things, Roy has become a serial controversy-inciter. Whether it’s stirring the ire of India’s nationalist right with an over-zealous defence of the insurgent left, or standing shoulder-to-shoulder with displaced residents in criticism of the industrialist central government, stirring debate is her current raison d’être.

India appears to have treated her remarks as such.

I haven’t included the BJP’s official comments on this because they seem to be hell belt on making a self publicist into a martyr – thereby, perpetuating the myth of her importance and relevance. and, another view which is quite relevant in this context :

@psyco_baba

BJP wants the gov to take action against Arundathi Roy for being a separatist. i wonder what they were thinking when they demolshd /t masjid

When discussing Indians and our opinions I am often reminded of an old Jewish Joke -where there are two Jews there are three points of view :) Indians are pretty much like that … and to get most people to agree, on a more or less similar view, takes an act of genius :)

So, the National Integration Award for 2010 – goes to Arundathi Roy :)

__________________________________________________________________________________________

(seriously, stop paying that woman attention – have you noticed that she only visits an area or a cause when it is hotting up. Medha Patkar did the hard work,  Arundathi Roy piggy backed on Narmada Bachao; The Naxal movement has been on for the last 20 years; it is after the media discovered ‘backward’ areas that Arundathi Roy discovered the same; Kashmir has been simmering from when I was in school – yet it is after the current bout of highly publicized outbursts of violence that Ms.Roy has discovered Kashmir.

If tomorrow morning, the media goes mad about Irom Sharmilla – Ms.Roy will find a new cause to piggy back on … she is a media groupie and the media in turn is her groupie…. kind of a vicious cycle, isn’t it?

May 082010
 

From the ToI, a couple of days ago :

Those who speak in favour of Maoist guerrillas will face legal action and 10 years imprisonment, the government announced Thursday in a warning to civil society groups who raise voices in favour of Leftwing extremism.

Much as the idea of Mamta Banerjee, Arundati Roy & Digvijay Singh locked up in adjoining cells is interesting, it seems to be an overkill to prosecute people for speech and create more martyrs ….

The Government would be better off, trying to combat propaganda with propaganda, rather than prosecution. Creating more Binayak Sen’s is maybe, not the right way to go….especially when you seem to be doing the right things to bring the Maoists to heel….

Cut off the Maoist funds, seal the borders, send people who provide material support to prison – even if they are supporting your party from the outside ….. but prosecuting members of civil society for speech – even if it is speech you don’t agree with — is futile – it will lead to more speech in favour of what you are trying to suppress .

This is the full quote from the GoI,

It has come to the notice of the Government that some Maoist leaders have been directly contacting certain NGOs/intellectuals to propagate their ideology and persuade them to take steps as would provide support to the CPI (Maoist) ideology. It is brought to the notice of the general public that under Section 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, any person who commits the offence of supporting such a terrorist organization with inter alia intention to further the activities of such terrorist organizations would be liable to be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or with fine or with both. General public are informed to be extremely vigilant of the propaganda of CPI (Maoist) and not unwittingly become a victim of such propaganda.

This is being issued in public interest so that the general public are aware that the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and all its formations and front organizations are terrorist organizations whose sole aim is armed overthrow of the Indian State and that they have no place in India’s parliamentary democracy. CPI (Maoist) continues to kill innocent civilians including tribals in cold blood and destroy crucial infrastructure like roads, culverts, school buildings, gram panchayat buildings, etc. so as to prevent development from reaching these under-developed areas.

Propaganda needs to be combated with propaganda, religion with religion, law with the law — using the Power of the State to combat propaganda is a bit like using a earth mover to crack open a walnut — kind of an exercise in futility !

Oct 172009
 

It’s been three Diwalis since Vikaram Buddhi has been locked up in jail in the USA, without a trial after a trial lasting 3 days (thank you Rahul). He was accused of posting on-line threats against George & Laura Bush. He maintained that he didn’t do it.

A PHD Student, he was an alumnus of the IIT, with Maths being his area of interest.

So why is he in prison – what did he do ?
The basic case history :

Vikram Buddhi was at first interrogated in January 2006 by US Secret Service for allegedly posting messages on Internet Yahoo space which had called upon the people of Iraq to retaliate the perceived unjust Iraq war and to kill President G W Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others. After thorough interrogation, the US Secret Service set Buddhi completely free in mid-January 2006 and in February 2006 the Secret Service even made a formal report that Buddhi is not a threat to US President or any other person. But for some mysterious reason, the US Secret Service arrested Vikram Buddhi on April 14, 2006 and launched federal prosecution charging that he threatened to kill US President and others.

(vikram Buddhi’s father, Subbarao Buddhi holding up his son’s photograph)

It has been almost three and a half years since Vikram Buddhi was picked up by the US Secret Service for allegedly threatening George W Bush via online threats. He is still in jail. There has been a trial, but no sentencing, just internment

It is sad that that the media that whips up emotions every time a student gets mugged by a bunch of wastrels in Australia, hardly pays attention to a young man whose only fault was that he got carried away by the notion of free speech.

In India, to abuse your leaders is an inalienable right – we deal with all our leaders and the system with humour and thinly veiled contempt. When Parliament was attacked – the SMS that went around was ‘damn, they missed them all”. When 26/11 happened we called for the heads of political leaders to decorate the street outside the Taj. Vikram Buddhi comes from such a culture, where calling for the Head of State’s head is considered to be a vent to let out pressure not a serious threat. If the authorities in India arrested everyone who called for political leaders to be hung from the nearest lamp post – there will be no one on the outside – not even the political leaders :) . The so called leader of the free world needs to be slightly more tolerant of free speech and abuse of leadership. Their nation is not a monarchy, and their President is not King Emperor !

Vikram Buddhi does not deserve 3 and a half years in prison for abusing political leadership. He deserves to be free, compensated for his lost years and allowed to build back his life.

In addition to the mass petitions, lets all send individually crafted mails requesting justice for this young man to the Prime Minister of India, the President of the United States, The Ministry of External Affairs India, The Secretary of State USA, and anyone else who is in authority and can make a difference to this case.

Happy Diwali Vikram Buddhi – may the next year see you free

Articles on the Vikram Buddhi case :

Vikram Buddhi, Indian student languishes in US jail, alleges abuse

Does this Indian deserve to be in jail for 35 years?

Ind. grad student convicted of threatening to kill Bush

Vikram Buddhi, Anti-Bush Blogger, Wrongfully Jailed

Threat against Bush was stupid, but was it also illegal?

Appeal from Dr. Buddhi Kota Subbarao