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Indian democracy is constantly abridging liberties of its citizens. The number of cases where free speech is abridged may be small, but they are like a poison that vitiates the whole constitutional regime. Everyone utters the platitude that they respect freedom, but they then use the qualifier that no freedom is absolute in the most mendacious way.
What do you call a regime where all the following happens: judges openly fantasise about turning India into China on censorship, where the state sanctions needless prosecution of social media, and where politicians shamelessly rake up the Salman Rushdie issue, as a reminder of how insecure artists are?
The most common argument for censorship is the phrase "cultural sensitivity". This is not so much an argument as a fig leaf. What is this thing called "cultural sensitivity?" Let us state this clearly. "Cultural sensitivity" is not a pre-given fact about Indian society. It is something manufactured through the exercise of power. It is the structure of the law that gives incentives for mobilisation. P. Ananda Charlu, as early as 1886, had prophesied how mischievous Section 153 of the IPC would prove to be. He described it as "a dangerous piece of legislation by necessitating the government to appear to side with one party against the other. In my humble judgment it will only accentuate the evil which it is meant to remove. Far from healing the differences which still linger, or which now and then come to the surface, it would widen the gap by encouraging insidious men to do mischief in stealth". Groups mobilise because they know the law and state will cave in. If the law and state were different, the cultural sensitivity would be different.
In the case of new social media, none of the regulation ayatollahs has noticed an interesting dialectic at work. Let us admit that there is often very offensive stuff posted on Facebook or Twitter. But what we paid less attention to is this: in a country where people supposedly resort to violence at the drop of a hat (or an image or a word), there has been almost no violence associated with this content. In fact, the irony is that purveyors of hate speech have become supporters of a regime of toleration. They all want the protection of the law to express what they want to express. The content of what they say may be offensive, but precisely by letting them all loose do you make these distasteful people supporters of freedom. In fact, the claim made by politicians that this kind of content will lead to violence is insulting doubly over. First, it is just a plain lie to justify censorship. Second, what is offensive is that politicians continue to treat Indian citizens as if we were colonial subjects. They infantilise us. They say to us, "you are unable to control your passions, so we have to protect you by censoring". The truth is the opposite: they want to construct our passions in such a way that they can use that as a pretext to censor.
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