Sunday, December 11, 2011

Censoring the Internet to protect my bosses

We all love Chinese food, don’t we? But that doesn’t mean, like the Chinese in China, we will forgo our freedom of speech and expression because the government of the world’s largest democracies, wants to control what we say and how we say it. It’s just impossible to believe that the man, who promoted and rolled out the landmark decree of giving every child their fundamental right to education, has proposed to control and monitor the fundamental right of speech and expression of the people. Despotic, I must say! But then, one can’t blame Kapil Sibal alone for this reckless proposal. He is only a messenger carrying the dictatorial message from his high command, which believes that censoring free content is the only way to silence people from public debate and criticism.

Citing reasons for his dictatorial verdict, Communication and IT Minister, Kapil Sibal defended his stand saying that he wants to put down guidelines to monitor content on social media platforms and remove ‘objectionable’ content from it. Now how does Kapil Sibal define objectionable content? Each individual has his/ her perspective of looking at things. What is objectionable for one, not necessarily is objectionable for the other. No doubt pornography is objectionable and should never be made legal in India, but expressing oneself cannot be measured with the same yardstick. It is our constitutional right for God sake.

To prove his point to social media giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others, Kapil Sibal evidenced offensive photoshoped images and content of his bosses floating on the Internet. Well, big deal! Tomorrow if my pictures are offensively photoshoped by XYZ, will Kapil Sibal and his team of like-minded tyrants propose to pre-screen internet content then? And even if the pictures and content are malicious and objectionable, the Constitution of India under Act 19(2) allows individuals to invoke their right of Defamation. Why can’t Kapil Sibal’s bosses as responsible individuals exercise their right of defamation and sue people maligning their name on the internet. Nobody stops them from doing that!

Censoring the communication platform itself is an unconstitutional way to silence people. Rather, government needs to take lessons from the content being generated, and subsequently devise corrective and preventive actions to correct their administrative failure, which only gets worse every single passing day. Today the government has proposed to censor and pre-screen internet content...tomorrow Kapil Sibal may decide to ban shoes, because shoes are thrown at politicians to express anger and frustration. And then, our hands will be chopped to prevent Sharad Pawar slapgate like incident from reoccurring. Grow up my government servants. When an organ in a human body is diseased, the doctor operates upon that organ or gets rid of it...the practitioner does not put the patient to death.

Recently, even United Colors of Benetton’s new worldwide communication campaign had pictures of US President Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen photoshoped to lip-lock. The unhate campaigns are still displayed on the internet and have not faced the axe of censorship. Wonder when are we going to learn? The government of India needs to stop wasting its time throwing stones at every dog that barks.

The United Nations has strongly condemned Kapil Sibal’s proposal to pre-screen internet content and has said that, no one can take away people’s rights unless they allow them to. Just hope Kapil Sibal and his bosses have heard this message from the United Nations loud and clear. People must learn to protest loudly and stop taking it lying down. We can’t afford to allow history repeat itself. We cannot afford another Emergency like situation in India, similar to the one Madam Indira Gandhi imposed for two long years during her regime.

Post script:
Going by the internet censorship diktat proposed by Kapil Sibal, our tweets/ messages will first have to pass through pre-screening government filters before it is published on micro-blogging sites. And looking at the bureaucratic process that the government already has in place, even non-objectionable messages will enter the non-prohibited side of the filter only after the message has long lost its essence and timeliness. Phew! God save us!