By Upasana Sharma:Â
Indian politicians and political parties seem to be suffering from assorted forms of phobias. Apart from the known ones, which even the mere mortal citizens suffer from, our mighty politicians suffer from new 21st century phobias like, comment-o-phobia, cartoon-o-phobia, expression-o-phobia, tweet-o-phobia and some even suffer from the rare one;Â like-o-phobia. Â The technological advancement, easy access to the internet and its capability to make anything viral is what has been discovered as the root cause of these phobias.
Citizens resort to the internet to express themselves in the form of comments, tweets, cartoons and images. Some, who agree, end up liking them too. “Sentiments” are hurt and consequences follow. Consequences in terms of arrests, beating up, breaking into houses and sometimes, even uprooting of lives and shifting elsewhere. In the past we have seen many such instances wherein cartoons, comments and tweets against politicians or even their relatives result in arrests and deactivation of accounts on social networking sites. A college student in Kolkata, a cartoonist in Mumbai, an industrialist in Puducherry, a professor at Jadavpur university and, the most recent, an engineer from UP, these people have one thing in common, i.e. arrests due to “offensive expressions” on the internet.
It’s true; a difference is to be made between free speech, hate speech and defamation, and the rules and laws should be amended accordingly. But right now, the section which empowers the government and officials to act against these expressions, section 66A of the Information Technology Act makes it a crime for anyone to digitally send information that is “grossly offensive” or has “menacing character” or which causes anyone “annoyance” or “inconvenience”. These criteria make it very easy for anyone, even with ulterior motives, to harass any citizen who uses the internet to speak out and express his or her opinions. Amendments should be made in the laws like these that are made to ensure peace and harmony in the country, to make sure they don’t result in abuse of authority and the curbing of democracy.
Time magazine had once said “In India, the world’s largest democracy, civil rights are running up against the world of social media.” World over, policing of the internet is done to grab hold of people with unlawful behaviour, like in the U.S police nabbed a gang for murder because they were bragging about it on Facebook. But Indian authorities use the internet to curb civil rights rather than use it as a means to uphold them. Democracy as defined by Abraham Lincoln is “government of the people, by the people and for the people” and India has been regarded as a country with liberal democratic values, but the past few years have been a show of a weakening resolve from India to stand by those values. Instances like imposing cuts on a Bollywood movie as it showed a “Free Tibet” flag for a fleeting moment, give out the sorry state of affairs in the world’s largest democracy.
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore penned down a poem to describe his dream of a new and awakened India which I am putting down here. Let us take out a moment and reflect as to how far away are we from this dream India
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action —
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.