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Absurdity Of Cyber Censor

Updated: December 31, 2011 5:50 pm

Union Communications Minister Kapil Sibal is making a mockery of Freedom of Expression, as the test of democracy is freedom of criticism. Last week, he took strong exception to uploading of disparaging and defamatory content, particularly those related to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on some social networking sites, and asked these websites to remove all such content or face action. Besides referring to uploading of pictures and videos having morphed images, he said that the use of material could hurt people’s religious sentiments. Although the learned Minister was guarded in his words of not really mentioning as to which religion was suddenly hurt by images on the net, it was obvious from the fact that, that day was a festival of a particular religious community and that for the last couple of days there had been a violent and bloody rioting by the fanatics of this community against some images on the net. The problem with this government is that when religious sentiments of majority people are hurt, it never accepts it as a legitimate demand to take action against those who hurt the sentiments. On the other hand, as in the case of MF Hussein and others, such culprits are labelled as national heroes and shown as ‘victims of Hindu fanatics’ as depicted by the ‘secular’ brigade and also by this government. In the name of Freedom of Expression and Creativity, Hindus have always been at the receiving end, and when they protest, they are ill-treated. When Hindu Gods and Goddesses were portrayed in the most blasphemous manner, the ‘secular’ brigade and this government maintained a studied silence. Against this backdrop, it is no secret that now the government is endeavouring to censor or reign in social networking sites for its vote-bank politics. As regards the defamatory content pertaining to Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, the less said, the better it is for the government. The misgovernance of this government with scandals and swindles galore, exposed by the likes of central monitoring and regulating agencies and through the initiatives judiciary, is a harsh reality being faced by the people cutting across all barriers of society in this country. In such a scenario, it is natural on the part of the people to use media technologies to express their dissent and dissatisfaction at the policies of a government steeped in corruption and has the nerve to relegate the security of the nation on the back burner by awarding licenses in sensitive technologies to dubious firms.

In fact, the social networking sites have created social awareness, not tension, as they have provided a platform for the people of all classes and creeds to voice their opinions, assent or dissent in a free manner. As for the past couple of years, mounting criticism of the Congress party elites has been seen in all sections and aspects of society, why target the internet-based media alone? India today has over 10 crore Internet users, third largest in the world after China and the US, which is likely to be more than double by 2015. So, one would like to ask Mr Sibal what content is “blasphemous” and “derogatory” for the government? Is writing against the government objectionable? We all know the part social media played in the Anna movement against the government. Does this mean that in future such dissents will be curbed by the government? In China because of its “Great firewall”, sites showing police brutality, Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, freedom of speech, democracy, etc are banned. Does the government want to do a similar thing here? Internet today is like an ocean of information. Content objectionable to one may be a piece of information to another. The government should clearly define what it means by objectionable content. This clarity will enable to approach the solution easily. The internet is self-regulatory. Doesn’t the honourable Minister know this basic tenet? It is possible for users to find some material objectionable, flag it, and have it removed by the respective administrators. Furthermore, the fact that this “content” Kapil Sibal talks about has not incited any untoward incident or outcry clearly shows people are mature enough to know what Freedom of Expression in people’s own domain is, and what blasphemy is. In fact, the UPA government, suffering from a paralysis of sorts, has picked up a random issue to create a sense of functioning so as to divert people’s attention from its misgovernance. But the truth cannot be suppressed—that the intention of the government is not to cease disparaging and defamatory content, but it seems more of encroaching on the privacy of those who do not agree with the government’s inefficient and biased way of functioning.


Deepak Kumar Rath

Deepak Kumar Rath

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