Unfreedoming Speech

Dear Mr. Sibal

Let me begin with saying that not even my mother had ever made such a comprehensive effort to remove from my sight everything that would offend me. But then there is a reason that the word offense is associated with taking, not giving.

I am not even going to attempt to bullshit you on this, because you know what you are up to.

Google’s transparency report is another nail in the coffin of our dignity as a developing country with freedoms enshrined in the constitution. Your disgraceful behavior with the Facebook officials is now a matter of public record. You are a lawyer, yet it seems that you have not bothered to read the ToS on any of these websites.

Politicians have no shame, they say, but people do. To me it is shameful that a leader of my country made such a mockery of free speech and attempted to bully organizations into censorship, so the name of my country has that tarnish associated with it. We aren’t freaking China!

Last month or so, Pakistan released a list of words that would be censored out of SMSs. I had laughed my stomach off at the stupid, repressive, small mindedness. Secretly, I confess to feeling proud about living in a “real” democracy, where I could be me. Thank you for destroying that so completely that I spent two days cracking jokes about you.

When faced with something we don’t like, we always have a choice. Maturity means that we are able to make our choices independently of the actions of others. It is a bully who takes offense at will and forces compliance.

This is a pattern in our country. We have created an informal constitution of using power to oppress. Last week, The Slutwalk in Bangalore was threatened by BJP and other Hindu organizations and instead of safeguarding the constitutional rights of the protesters to peaceful protest, permissions were withdrawn, and the leaders of the protest actually arrested!

You don’t have to believe that I have a right to post what I will on my profile as long as I follow the laws of the land and the platform I am using. But when you chose to become a leader in this constitutional democracy, you made the commitment to uphold everything written in its constitution, or if you change it, you follow due process.

As a result of this kind of moral policing, our population is becoming increasingly stupid. You know that since the RTE passed, enrolment to primary schools dropped? You know that our graduates are considered increasingly useless in terms of being suitable for jobs? You know that LeT doesn’t need to detonate a bomb if it can post a cartoon from anywhere in the world? People are getting cabin fever in prisons of ideas.

It is like showing a destination you had no intent of going to and nagging you not to go there. Even if you didn’t want to do it, you start considering it to piss me off.

This bullying is destroying our country. Where all a person needs to do is threaten and laws will be bent to victimize whoever is being pointed at. This isn’t limited to Social Networking. It is everywhere in the country – a product of intellectual neglect. Where the investment of attention to nurture and cohesion has been replaced by laws being slapped wherever a problem is seen.

And it isn’t just us stupid citizens, you guys have made a mockery of the Parliament itself, taking offense and counter-offense and paralyzing everything to a standstill more often than working. Google and Facebook can’t fix this for you. It is institutionalized stupidity, where a rioting mob can lead you to censor the entire fucking internet – instead of bringing them to book. Wah!

So a rioting mob is now the fault of some citizen of some other country on some other continent rather than those breaking laws right here. Why? You can’t govern what happens in the country? Why are they not expected, not assisted to learn to be legal? Because Sonia Gandhi got caricatured, and you needed people to hide her among while protecting. Kya bakwaas hai!

Seriously, if you can’t protect your leader without all this garbage about protecting sentiments of all the country, perhaps it is time to accept that the action itself is wrong. And particularly the sick idea that people being offended is somehow responsible for social problems. Sharad Pawar got soundly slapped. It was wrong, but the NCP rioted. Facebook wasn’t involved.

The basic fact here is that you are pandering to whoever chooses to hijack democracy through bullying, because you want to be able to do it too. How do you expect peace in the country when consistently unrest seems to be what gets results? If I can riot and get my objectives met, while I will be likely lathi charged by cops for asking peacefully, who will find peace a good idea and why?

And you can tell Abdullah Omar that people want to throw stones in his state since well before Facebook started.

I suggest you forget all this bullshit and go back to the basics. Read laws again, enforce meticulously, govern well. Most of all, teach your party workers to follow them. Automatically, when crimes result in punishments, crimes will go down. You don’t have to become a fool in front of Facebook and Google. Leave some dignity for us to feel proud of our country.

Social scientists speak of this ability as emotional intelligence. This ability to recognize and manage emotions effectively. A key skill for humans to be functional with each other, since no two people are alike.

I have here a collection of all the cartoons from @asraghunath’s timeline I found that people said things that might be offensive to you. I invite you to see in them a country that is still alive and kicking back. A vibrant country that is able to use humor to make a point. I think this is better than slaps and shoes and burnt buses and what nots.

Maybe it is time to laugh at a few of them, dislike a few and move on knowing that freedom of speech is not a popularity contest, but a matter of values.

At the same time, I must be honest. I don’t think you can censor all content on the net. If US couldn’t silence Wikileaks, fat chance you have of filtering social media. At most people will move from Facebook to other forums – at least for offensive content, and you will have ended up creating a whole new place for netizens together in order to lynch you.

You don’t understand the magnitude of what you are throwing a tantrum for. You don’t understand what it is. You fail to see that social networking isnt’ like television, but like conversations. It is way beyond censorship to monitor and edit interactions. You censoring them is as good as gagging me in the online world.

And, frankly, I refuse to be gagged. From a person minding my own business, I will become a virtual rebel, but I will not allow another person to have power over every word I say. No matter what. It is as simple as that.

Sachin Kalbag put it well: Dear Mr Sibal, it is YOU who are accountable to the people; we are NOT accountable to you. Now repeat 100 times.