It is time to reconsider laws against free speech
By The New Indian Express
22nd November 2012 12:00 AM
It is a matter of historical truth that the right of free speech has had to be wrung with great effort from reluctant rulers. Even today, it does not exist in totalitarian and theocratic regimes. Democracies are the only forms of government that allow freedom of expression. Even there, the various legal conditions act as shackles and deterrents. These impediments have again been highlighted in India by the controversy surrounding two girls who posted comments on the Internet that were found by the Shiv Sena to be an indirect criticism of their late leader.
While this show of barbaric political intolerance was understandable, what has led to an uproar is the arrest of the two supposed critics on grounds that are deemed untenable. This is not the first instance of the new cyber laws being misused. Not long ago, a Kolkata professor was incarcerated for circulating a cartoon online about Mamata Banerjee. More recently, unfavourable references on Twitter to the Union finance minister’s son led to a similar overreaction by the police. A few months ago, a young cartoonist was hauled up on the absurd charge of sedition for being less than deferential in his depictions of ruling party politicians. What these flexing of official and political muscles demonstrate is that India is skating on thin ice where free speech is concerned. Anyone can be put behind bars at any time if powerful politicians feel offended. The instruments of punishment in their hands are not only the laws that go back to colonial times, but also the 21st century regulations on the cyber world, which have been drafted in such a way as to enable the police to detect a subversive or mischievous intent.
The fallout for the victims of official ire is the tedium of fighting prolonged battles in courts in order to live freely again although they are unlikely to ever forget the trauma of their rough encounter with the law. Clearly, the need for amending these draconian laws is paramount.
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