Here We Go Again…

India is in the throes of what Salman Rushdie rightly calls a “cultural emergency.” Writers and artists of all kinds are being harassed, sued and arrested for what they say or write or create. The government either stands by and does nothing to protect freedom of speech, or it actively abets its suppression.

In recent years, the government has cast a watchful eye on the Internet, demanding that companies like Google and Facebook and remove items that might be deemed “disparaging” or “inflammatory,” according to technology industry executives there.

Freedom of expression needs to be promoted with legitimate limitations and in balance with other digital rights within an expanded legal and regulatory framework. There are challenges to deal with liability of intermediaries and governmental surveillance which might undermine freedom of expression.

The ubiquity of the technology goes hand-in-hand with the ubiquity of social media. But with rights come responsibilities. Unchecked, social media can also allow disinformation, slander, racism, incitement to hatred, victimization and a catalogue of ills, some – obviously – more serious than others.

Censorship on Social Media websites has gone against the purpose of having a social media outlet.

Censorship on Social Media websites has gone against the purpose of having a social media outlet.

If something incites violence or racism, then it should be prosecuted, regardless of whether it is said in front of physical people or their virtual avatars. But drawing this line is no easy matter.

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17 thoughts on “Here We Go Again…

  1. As the youth of this country, we have a problem with everything. We have a problem when the government tries to regulate social media but then we also complain when privacy becomes an issue on social media. If the government implements regulation then we’ll go on and on about how the Democratic rights of a citizen is taken away. So to avoid clashes and violence on social media, we have to self regulate, because when an external body does it we do not accept it. Only by self regulation can this kind of a problem be solved. We have to draw the line.

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  2. A ubiquitous concern in the understanding of what constitutes the Freedom of Speech and Expression is how to balance the Right to speak one’s mind and the responsibility one’s owes towards what one says. A recognition of this sort requires self-awareness, not self-regulation, because self-regulation, if it is a thing that can be accomplished without other people’s ideas of what “self-regulation” means affecting the act of “self-regulation”, can and will be subverted by someone whose ideas of “morally correct” behaviour are capable of causing physical violence. The problem the Government of India is facing is how to adapt to a world where technological advances in the fields of social media prevent them from using established forms of information control.
    The problem is neither an abundance of potential for the misuse of these systems nor the lack of an authority-driven policing of these systems. The problem is, simply, a lack of familiarity with how and what the adoption of the technologies will affect the cultural and social fabric of our constantly changing ideas of what make up India. India, then, is in a constant state of “cultural emergency”: the emergency can either be the pressuring of the Central government by the Government of Tamil Nadu to act against the unfair treatment Tamil Sri Lankans have to face under their government or the demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindu radicals, fuelled by the flood of Ramayana and Mahabharata screenings. The freedom of speech was and is, thus, a misunderstood socio-political construction.

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    • Correction: “…how and what the adoption of technologies will affect in the cultural and social fabric of our constantly changing ideas of what make up India.”

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  3. The idea of Freedom of Speech and Expression in the face of a developing society is exceedingly unstable. What had once been an ‘accepted’ concept of Freedom of Speech, stands corrected by the new generation of lawmakers and whistle-blowers. Freedom of Speech in this sense can never mean the same to people from different ideologies. But, the question here is- to what extent can one enforce his notion about freedom of speech onto another who would definitely have one of his own?
    In the Indian society, we get to see this in the most vivid manner- when Mulayam Singh Yadav says that “Nirbhaya should have pleaded with her rapists”, that is him using his freedom of speech (which obviously was criticized by every individual). But on the other hand, when we see Aseem Trivedi caricaturing politicians and portraying them as “corrupt”, that’s him utilizing his right to free expression (which also faced immense criticism from the political front- to an extent that he was imprisoned).
    The meaning and value that these five words- Freedom of Speech and Expression- hold is extremely arbitrary. Added to that, the constant enforcement by various institutions to Express and Speak in “Limit” and “Appropriately” has resulted in this much unwanted jargon of understanding the basic fundamental right that every individual is entitled to.
    Unfortunately, I would have to conclude by saying that this brings us back to the same opinion that Freedom of Speech and Expression cannot be easily simplified in a society that exercises this right even through the tiniest crevices of it’s structure, where freedom meets bondage and the right to free speech and expression cannot be fully exercised without facing the music.

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  4. As per the Constitution of India we are vested with the right of freedom of speech and expression. But in reality we see that Indian citizens are not allowed to exercise this right to the fullest. There is always a tag of restriction or limitation that come along with it. Taking the example of the girls who posted their opinion on facebook,they were threatened and we see a violation of their freedom of expression. So if individuals decide to exercise this power for a good cause then the government should support them.

    6th Bcom(P)

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  5. I agree when it is pointed out by either Rushdie or Obama that India is going through a sort of ‘cultural emergency’.
    Freedom of expression with limitations is already present in the form of art 19 1 (A) and reasonable restrictions.
    The debate however surrounds the term, ‘legitimate restrictions’. The problem is, who decides, in a country as diverse as india, what is legitimate and what is not?
    It is true that freedom of expression is not really a freedom anymore because people no longer feel free to express their thoughts and opinions.
    According to me, whether anyone incites violence or racism, they should be allowed to express it without the fear of being prosecuted. The essence of democracy lies in tolerance. Everyone is equal and should have the right to openly debate and discuss issues. Perhaps instead of coming up with new laws, remedies such as tolerance must be promoted among the citizens of one nation.

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  6. in India we claim that we have freedom of expression then why is it that some movie directors or certain movies are banned when they are simply trying to express their view points and concerns. in this manner aren’t these deprived of their basic rights which they are entitled to.

    6 pseco

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  7. The right to express is given to all citizens !!
    But then in reality is the right amidst being exercised given any significance or importance now a days ?? Is any one listening to what the people in vain are shouting out ?
    “The rich become richer and poor becomes poorer” as the saying goes , it is the same way where people who have influence and control rule and dominate with their views and needs ! But the people who are in need of basic needs and justice though exercising their right to speak and expression usually it remains unnoticed !
    Hope we could see more of a transparent system where people will have equal voice and say in practice !

    6BCom P

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  8. “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression” propounds Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To be able to speak your mind and express your opinion is a fundamental human right. Right from the Athenian democratic ideology of free speech in the 5th century BC to John Milton’s 17th century ‘Areopagitica’, till today, free speech has become a central agenda that has led to hair-raising controversies. Whether it be the recent Charlie Hebdo terror attack, or the AIB Roast, closer to home, the atmosphere appears to be charged, ready to gag the blanket on anyone who appears to be emerging from the mold of conformity. Such events are giving rise to bigger political questions than the freedom of speech and expression. For instance, the Charlie Hebdo case gives rise to questions such as the condition of Muslims in France, the need for political satire, the decline in the open-minded acceptance of satire, and the necessity to reform radicalists. Even the AIB Roast raises some serious questions such as the uses of apparent ‘obscenity’ as a self-conscious act to disrespect the big names of the country or just a bold act as an example of aping the West (gone bad). Does this mean that such jokes that are deemed ‘sexist’ or ‘racist’ a reflection of a nation with no sense of humor? And do we finally point all fingers to the freedom of speech and expression (or lack of it)?

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  9. According to the Oxford dictionary,Freedom is the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants. Though our constitution gives us freedom of speech and expression, one cannot follow this blindly in India, because of its mixed population in terms of religion and culture. What might be freedom for us might be an infringement to other. One cannot completely blame the government for restricting their rights, as the government need to look after the interests of even those who are a minority.
    We are a democratic, secular, sovereign and socialist country. With this 1 D and 3 S comes a huge responsibilty as well. One needs to be highly responsible and sensitive when it comes to freedom. Just like “one” has freedom, the “other” also has equal freedom. My freedom ends, where the freedom of other starts.
    Therefore. absolute freedom cannot be given without certain restrictions.

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  10. We have a tendency to underestimate the word ‘freedom’. I think this underestimation is the major reason of problems associated with any kind of freedom. However main crisis emerges when it comes to drawing the line between ‘my freedom’ and ‘your freedom’.
    The idea of freedom of expression is problematic when it becomes a mode of power assertion. The situation in which the expression of opinions contributes to form a collective’s consciousness is the real origin of issues. Minorities like dalits, women and LGBT groups are affected by others’ freedom of expression, as the majorities through their right to express opinions are subjugating the minorities. For example the tendency to label all the dalits as criminals and avoiding any kind of artistic work that comes from dalit perspective is an issue that should be resolved. But at the same time the violent atmosphere created by certain religious groups can’t be justified also. Everyone has the freedom to express their views, be critical and state their stands on any issue. But when one’s freedom of expression plays a role to subjugate a certain group of people and contribute to develop their collective consciousness it becomes problematic. The act of power assertion as a result of freedom of expression is to be curbed. This is possible only through the awareness of our socio, political and cultural condition and this awareness will help us to be self censored. This is also applicable in online space. No matter where you express yourself, but what you express and how is it going to affect others matters.
    When it comes to the issues regarding freedom of expression, the monopolist way of expression should be avoided. Express your opinions and views in order to justify your ideas. It should not be used as a tool to suppress certain group of people. The shift of the concept of freedom of expression from ‘a right’ to a mode of ‘dominating someone’ is the core issue. The violent situations in the name of freedom of expression should be controlled legally. Burning books or banning an artistic work is not at all a solution. This will create a state of anarchy.

    Haritha.Kalyadan, 2yr JPE

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  11. This is clearly a matter of visibility and perception. Everything that you post in the internet is to some degree, public. Freedom of expression is a double edged sword. There are plenty of instances of violence, hatred and other bad things spreading through internet. But, if you look it from a different perspective, a premeditated opinion of someone can be judged as racist by others. This could be nothing but a matter of perception. Different people perceive the same message differently. That is just how we are designed. It is also the reason why media and newspapers are subjected to widespread criticism these days. Thus leads us to the big question: what should be done? Who draws the line? Who decides where to draw the line? Not so easy to answer. My simple and silly way of looking at it would be to not take things (especially technology) too seriously. Our lives are already too short to be spent worrying all the time. Absorb the good, turn a blind eye to things that do not matter. But, this is just my opinion. And laws not narcissistically standing by it. So I would like to take a step back and agree with you by saying that yes, violence should be controlled, and when absolutely necessary, prosecuted. But be advised when laws percolates into matters, loopholes arise which are big enough for culprits to escape, but still small enough for the common man to be trapped. Yes, law is an oxymoron.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. We live in a world of greys. There is no black and white. Every watershed has brought with it narratives and counter-narratives. If Marx and Engels were vociferous in their outlook, Ayn Rand was a predator in her own right. Where power is concerned, it is the same soul in different garbs. Freedom of Speech and expression as we know it, is like everything else mankind has professed to ‘know’ – a myth. Every myth is a story, and the result of a sleight of hand- some faceless entity shrouded by layers and layers of power.

    Today our story is democracy and the ink is public relations- perspective is everything. If Malala Yousufzai is a hero and Nabila Rehman a nonentity, it is by virtue of this careful tailoring of information that society consumes. If a disadvantaged majority and an ostensibly disadvantaged minority can exist simultaneously, the discourse of each group proving offensive to the other, it is simply due to a multifaceted outlook within a diverse society. By attempting to impart a brand of diversity to everybody, we only succeed in homogenising them, thus robbing them of their freedom of identity, which is essentially freedom of speech and expression.

    The debate therefore, is not on the importance of freedom of speech and expression- for what frees me, may bind you.The debate must weigh absolute freedom against absolute censorship. Since absolute freedom would prove as dystopian as absolute censorship, we have chosen that festering middle ground and will forever feel the tug from both sides.

    The farce of freedom is preferable to being gaoled and shackled, and when it comes to existence it is every individual to their own. In the global society today, every single one of us – caged birds -will sing of freedom, until the playground changes or a new bully makes himself known. Until absolute freedom is the immediate threat, freedom of speech and expression will save us from the sinkhole that is absolute censorship.
    We must remember that the equation could be reversed in the blink of an eye.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. One of the underrated thing in the “current” world affairs is words. India has a cultural aspect; and along with it the baggage of ideologies and several “right” conclusions. Controversies here are not needed to state that with the uncommon nature of this empire, there is not common sense too to think the right and the wrong, or the obvious. In any medium, hypocrisy is usually suppressed, while entertainment is attained out of it by every means. An enlightening thought is accepted as to be violating.
    There is an urge though. If anything at all should be put a limit to in the first instant by each citizen is the responsible use of words for the only succession to not having an excuse to say scandalizing things. Words are as strong as any other destructive thing and as secure in that space. Yet that drawing line should not become enforcement or law, but the sensibility towards individual perspectives, and the allowance of our own understanding of it.
    Any nation for this matter does not need policing or a check in any form. It is an undermining act in itself to conduct the pages of law, or penal codes, when the sense of fundamentals is lacking. How could the world, be it in its virtual aspect, be put to test when its basic fundamental rights are robbed off. Getting over with the freedom of speech and expression means on progress. It is like banning man’s aim to express because he is thinking. The freedom of speech and expression is primary to each individual and censoring it makes least sense, like its translation would not do any bad, does every man of purpose use his or her freedom but, not at the cost of someone else’s. Liberty does not remain liberty if it intervenes with other’s liberty. With that success, things would fall in their place.

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