Will the Supreme Court please clearly define the term "freedom of speech" once more, in the wake of the Shaheen Dhada case?



This article is not about Shiv Sena bashing, because enough people are doing that; and personally, I can’t imagine how Mumbai could have possibly had a normal day on the streets when two million of its citizens were genuinely mourning the death of the Shiv Sena supremo, Balasaheb Thackeray. In fact, before I get into the main article, let me also first say a few things about the Mumbai bandh and the Balasaheb legacy of absolutist fear. Yes, post his death, the fear factor was surely there... and that was a key reason why, even without a formally announced bandh, there was a total bandh in Mumbai. Yes, I also believe that the rest of Maharashtra should have been more normal. However, it is also a fact that this vexing fear that we are talking about and such quasi-bandhs are not really the monopoly of Shiv Sainiks. Bangalore was at a standstill when Rajkumar died a few years ago; there have been bandhs and equal fear of SP goons in UP, and far more fear, door to door, all over West Bengal about CPM goons; and now the same insidious mantle is steadily being taken up by importunate Trinamool party cadres. In India, hero worship is a culture and the loud existence and fear of suppressive political goons almost a pathetic norm in every corner of the nation. What was however very different about Balasaheb Thackeray was that he was the only leader that we have seen – in the midst of all hypocrites and chameleons – who, as my colleague Sutanu wrote in his blog, was always perspicuously consistent. BJP leaders will agree; they have seen all bigwigs – from Omar Abdullah, Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, Prafulla Mahanta, M. Karunanidhi, Chandrababu Naidu, Ram Vilas Paswan to J. Jayalalithaa – change sides from being BJP allies at one time, while Balasaheb, along with the Akali Dal, remained their only constant partners. Thus, his cult following has quite strong reasons, and it’s a fact that the so called secular media has been harsher about the Shiv Sainik goons than about the Samajwadi and so called secular Marxist goons.

Having said that, it is shocking how a professor can be arrested in Bengal for forwarding a cartoon on Facebook; how a cartoonist can be arrested for making a cartoon on the government; and unbelievably, how a young girl – Shaheen Dhadha – can be arrested for posting something as basic as: “With all respect, every day, thousands of people die, but still the world moves on. Just due to one politician died a natural death, everyone just goes bonkers. They should know, we are resilient by force, not by choice. When was the last time, did anyone showed some respect or even a two-minute silence for Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Azad, Sukhdev or any of the people because of whom we are free-living Indians? Respect is earned, given, and definitely not forced. Today, Mumbai shuts down due to fear, not due to respect.[sic]” – while another girl can be arrested for liking the post! Shameful! Disgusting! Dictatorial!

I am appalled how power makes people go peremptorily crazy and intolerant. It’s childish and gallingly immature of top leaders of this country to not have even a smattering ability to withstand cartoons made on them or to allow people to joke about them and vent their anger at their policies and thoughts, however correct the politicians might feel they are. At one point of time on Google, when you searched the word ‘idiot’, the name of ‘George Bush’ used to pop up on the first page. And why not? When he or Obama become the president of the United States, there are about 48% of Americans who are against them – from mild to extreme haters of their personality, policies, cult, and ideologies. And when these individuals go on the net and abuse, it’s only logical that even the president of the most powerful nation becomes the most abused man on the internet. Same is the case with Wal-Mart, the largest corporation in the world; and the most abused one too. Our monocratic politicians and leaders need to realize this veridical truth and thank those 51% (often, as low as even 15%) who support them, due to whom they are in power. Our politicians should nurture these supporters and think of ways of doing outstanding work so that they can win the rest over, instead of being in the picayune illusion that arresting the naysayers will solve the problem. It never did; and even if it superficially did in the past, it never will in the new munificent age of internet freedom. And thank god for that, for freedom of speech and expression is the biggest cornerstone of and for an emancipated democracy and humanity. Our iniquitous politicians need to type “Barack Obama Jokes” on any search engine once to see how tolerant that man must be, a gentleman who is the President of the United States. From pestiferous dark humour to odious sarcasm to below-the-belt ripostes, Obama is the butt of all jokes, with numerous belittling joke sites on him and millions of individuals sharing them all the time. And it’s this virtuous ability to never bother about who says what and the incumbent ability to keep doing great work and winning over more and more people and customers that make an Obama, a Bush, a Samsung and a Wal-Mart what they are. In fact, these are the greats who use all the disparaging criticism to their advantage by searching out the real areas for improvement.

However, since that kind of consummate maturity is unimaginable in our mostly illiterate, political class of goons and power-hungry monsters, it surely is time for the Supreme Court to expediently interfere and lay down clear-cut guidelines to clearly differentiate between what is freedom of speech and what is unacceptable slander punishable by law (because, after all, freedom of speech is also not the freedom to defame and insult mass sentiments in a public platform); and to define clear-cut guidelines on what police action can be taken and on what basis can one knock on the doors of the courts. This has to be done specifically for the new internet generation as the ability to express freely and convey one’s thoughts to the world has taken on a completely new form in the internet world. And obviously, guidelines are required depending upon each country, its culture and levels of tolerance, because after all, when it comes to Julian Assange, even Americans don’t seem to believe in freedom of speech!

Having said that, the biggest challenge that lies in front of us is the inability of our judges to understand, follow and fathom the new world of internet freedom and its possibilities and ramifications. They are mostly too old and too internet-unsavvy to really come to the right conclusions. Similar is the case with most of our old, outdated and intolerant politicians. I personally know of cases where certain judges, adjudicating on issues involving internet content, have openly confessed that they do not understand the internet world and that the parties should try to resolve the issue within themselves; this they’ve said without perhaps realizing that internet is the new place of war and virtual is the world where everything is being advertised, sold and traded in today’s world. So, it’s important that our judiciary engages unbiased and qualified trainers from reputed international universities to come and train our judges on the entire new web-world; so that, subsequently, they can then step in with clear-cut new guidelines. The guidelines themselves should be simple and easy to understand. It should bring a new wave of positivity, hope and freedom amongst today’s youth with a conviction that they truly have the right to free speech. It should be similar to what the Supreme Court did with the national flag... In one sweeping punctilious judgement, the police and the administrators must be told about their limits on controlling the internet and where they can’t interfere. Because as long as things are kept vague, knavish goons and dictators who are hiding behind the garb of elected politicians will make use of the confusion and try and instill fear in the minds of people; a Chidambaram could get a man arrested for a debatable tweet, while a Mamata Banerjee could get another man arrested for a completely non-issue of a cartoon. After all, in this land of immature and intolerant politicians, the Supreme Court is our only hope.