Chavakiran's Blog

Chavakiran's personal blog

Archive for January 31st, 2013

What happens in FB stays in court. ?

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
What happens in FB stays in court. ?
మనం కూర్చున్న కొమ్మను మనమే నరుక్కున్నట్టున్నాం . I see many of my friends staying in India now reluctant to express on FB. (Why take risk ? 🙂 ) Not sure whether it is temperory or permanent.
Good job folks for dragging it to the extreme.
Below are detailed musings from Jampala gaaru: (ఎత్తి పోతల పథకం 🙂 )
———————
The last few weeks have been quite troubling.
There are three different prominent episodes involving freedom of expression, or what we in US here are used to referring as first amendment rights in which my friends have taken sometimes contradictory stands.

A political leader, in the name of religion, makes insulting and incendiary comments about another religion. His remarks are criticized; cases are filed against him; he was jailed and judicial proceedings are underway. Another religious personality makes some comments against him. His remarks are criticized; cases are filed against him; he was jailed and judicial proceedings are underway.

A few people make seriously objectionable comments about women and sexuality on Facebook. Several people object to these comments, publicize them in Facebook and other media to show the offenders their place and socially humiliate them. Cases are filed against these offenders and judicial proceedings are under way.

A brilliant actor and a passionate film maker makes a technically brilliant and interesting film (more about the film later when time permits) with the theme of a secret agent fighting Al Qaida terrorists. A religious organization objects to the film and a state government bars the film being screened and relentlessly pursues the ban despite a legal order allowing the film to be screened. In the process, the film maker is facing bankruptcy.

All these actions are pursued on the grounds that the offender’s expressions (speech, writing, film) hurt the sentiments of some (or many) people.

The issue that troubles me is whether this is the way to deal with when somebody’s expression offends me (or somebody else)? In two of the situations above, I was offended by the expression. In another, I was not (but, somebody else apparently was).

I grant that there are some expressions that I offend morally reprehensible or outright vulgar. There are expressions that offend a large majority of the people, and there are expressions that offend a small minority. However, if we start prosecuting and jailing people for some expressions, who draws the line where we should stop prosecuting? What do we ban and what do we not?

I am not familiar with the laws of India, but I clearly see that there are quite a few restrictions on the freedom of expression. Books get banned, films get censored or banned, and people get jailed, prosecuted or persecuted by the government. Is this something that we should try to change or something that we should stand behind, and even take advantage of when we are the offended party?

There is an expression attributed to Voltaire that many liberals and libertarians are fond of – “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. If we try to restrict others from expressing what we thoroughly disapprove, we loose the right (and the strength) to cry ‘foul’ when somebody else restricts the expression that we approve.

Being in US, I have seen how the most extreme forms of expression are allowed. In the early days, I had trouble understanding how it could be. But now, particularly after seeing the many instances over the years in India of the misuse of the laws restricting freedom of expression, I think that we should vigorously oppose any curtailment by government of freedom of expression and advocate appropriate changes to the laws and constitution.

This is not to say we should ignore the expressions that offend us. By all means, we should oppose them vigorously and expose them for what they are in all the arenas that we can and hold the offenders accountable for their views. We should thoroughly debate and debunk such views that we see as hateful or disturbing. I have no problems with publicly ‘outing’ the lewd commentators and the religious hate-mongers. If an offended Muslim publicly points out the problems with Kamal Haasan’s film, I would welcome that. But we should not take joy in government curtailing freedom of expression. Only when we defend the rights of those we hate, we would be able to defend the rights of those we like and our own rights.

We would all benefit if we take to heart Martin Niemoller’s immortal lines:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

posted by chavakiran in English and have Comment (1)