Friday, February 6, 2015

Where did our Freedom of Speech go?

A few days ago, satire group All India Bakchod (AIB), who are quite popular in the metro circles of urban India, had to remove a viral video from their +YouTube channel from their 'roast' event, an International (i.e., American) format of strictly adult comedy that is high on insult and expletives. This was, predictably, because some people (of no particular faith) had taken offence to it, meaning it was offensive and therefore the state had the power to stop it. Although in this case, no real action has been taken on AIB (and probably won't be taken either).

I'm not going to go into all the hogwash about the BJP (which rules in a coalition in Maharashtra, where the event happened) and its allied groups being against freedom of speech. The fact is that the Congress, by virtue of its long (and almost finished) history as India's default party, has attacked freedom of speech far more than any other party of organization in the country, with the state machinery in its power to do so. I'm not even going to go into the general, leftist idea of freedom, which is quite hypocritically implemented (remember Mani Shankar Aiyar's tirade against Charlie Hebdo?).

The problem here is not that some people are just hyper-sensitive to everything. Nor is it that our laws are badly-written and quite routinely abused, then justified in a court of law, which in turn not only accepts the justification but adds some more points itself. The problem is the very notion of what the state is supposed to do and what is its role. The problem is, from the perspective of the Indian Constitution (not just Article 19), the state created India. India is the Government of India and everything else, including its people, are a part of it, but not critical to it. Therefore, it is the state which gives us our freedom of speech (and every other freedom), it is not a natural freedom of us, as beings of an ancient, continuing civilization.

The problem is, the founding fathers of the Constitution were more interested in creating a state based on a very European conception of the state, than on continuing a great civilization that was only interrupted momentarily by foreign occupation. Therefore, India was the state, not the people, and the state could control speech (which is to say, free speech was fine only if the state said so). This might sound like a terrible thing to do, but that is exactly the path that a socialist republic goes down to. It is that sort of thinking that went into the First Amendment, and now we live with the laws that derive directly from it. 

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