Our Opposition members in the parliament are fighting for you. It would seem your lives depend on them. Reservations, anti-FDI protests, Lokpal bills and any number of issues that are important to people get their attention. The only one that doesn’t get their attention is your freedom or democracy itself. They will agree blindly to any measure and law that will curtail or suppress your freedoms. Last year actor Om Puri and IAC activist Kiran Bedi were served with notices for mocking MPs. This year Arvind Kejriwal was served with a notice for calling MPs “rapists and murderers”. All three managed to get away being public figures. You’re not going to be so lucky.
One man arrested for tweets against Union Minister P. Chidambaram’s son, Karthi Chidambaram, in Pudduchery. Two women arrested in Mumbai for negative comments on Bal Thackeray’s funeral shutting down Mumbai. Both made a lot of noise in the media. Two more arrests, which didn’t get much media attention, were of men for allegedly posting offensive comments against some Congress leaders on their Facebook group in May 2012. The last two are also accused of insulting the national flag but when the images were shown on Headlines Today the flags were of the Congress party and not of the country. The two were also employees of Air India who were sacked for their supposed online indiscretion. Not surprisingly, all these arrests have occurred in Congress ruled states. At the heart of all this is Kapil Sibal, the man who seems to want to throttle online freedoms. I recommend you read these two posts before you proceed further: “To Kapil Sibal, With Love -Deep Throat” and “How Indian MSM Blacked-out Sibal's Grand Scheme”.
In all this, we constantly get to hear of the IT Act of 2008 and particularly section 66A. Here’s a summary of what this section is:
Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—
a) Any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
b) Any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
c) Any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.
Punishment - Imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
That doesn’t need much explanation. Anything you say online which is “offensive” to anyone is liable for a 3 year imprisonment. Well, that is just about anything because anything that is said may likely offend someone or the other. Therefore, to speak is a sin. How did we get here? I guess it all starts with religion. First, the ministry of “hurt sentiments” tells you can’t offend religious sentiments. Well, actually what they mean is you can offend Hinduism or Hindu culture but you can’t talk about Islam or Christianity. Of course, there isn’t a single moron who won’t say “we welcome fair criticism”. But that is the usual “having said that...” type of statement you will hear from our intellectuals. Then slowly it extends to others. You see, we bestow upon him the title of ‘father of the nation’ with a ‘Mahatma’ prefix and then he too is beyond criticism. So anything negative or any negative book you write about MKGandhi will be banned. Even Narendra Modi will ban it. Maybe in a few 100 years MKG will be declared God’s avatar and temples will be built for him. And when you talk of religion can Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi be far behind? Oh yes, in our times Sonia Gandhi is where it all began with. Soon we may reach the third ‘6’. We have gotten to 66A and soon we might get to ‘666’ too.
In Christianity, the number 666 is the number of the Beast and represents the Devil. It’s the number of the Anti-Christ. An interesting theory floating around is how the number 666 has infiltrated all the bar-codes. Sounds funny? Yes it is! But do read this fascinating theory “Warning: 666 is coming”. It’s about all the smart cards and other cards. Maybe we should check our ‘Aadhar’ cards too. But funny stuff apart, in India it did start with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Given the performance of UPA it was natural that an abundance of jokes on the Gandhis, including parodies and often offensive material started floating on the internet. That, to the Congress party, is nothing short of blasphemy.
Outlook Magazine carried an article on all the funny stuff on Sonia Gandhi in December 2011. This was just after Kapil Sibal had started attempts to crackdown on internet users. Then came the August 2012 blockade of certain Twitter and FB accounts as also blockade of certain websites. A few months back this site was blocked by BSNL for nearly a month. No reason whatsoever was given and the blockade was lifted after a few complaints. The images in the Outlook magazine, some ridiculous and some funny, are not glowing tributes to SoniaG. Naturally, the Congress could hardly find humour in any of these. Kapil Sibal reacted similarly to Barkha Dutt over the Shoddy Journalism episode. Since then the GOI has been systematically trying to bring down online accounts that offend the Congress, its president or their allies in any manner. The Google statistics produced by Outlook also make interesting reading on how many attempts the GOI has made to silence free speech. Every disease has its own symptoms so too democracy. Corruption and scams are common to all forms of govts. But the sure sign that democracy is terminally ill is when free speech starts to vanish and more and more laws silencing people are made. This is especially so when public figures seem to get more protection from insults and ridicule. I need not even embark on a greater story of the indecency and frequent defamatory speeches by our public figures.
The IT Act of 2008, with this now infamous 66 number, was passed in December 2008. But go back a few months in 2008. Here’s what the Express report states: “Pune June 21 The Pune police on Saturday arrested one more person for posting derogatory content about Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi on an orkut community. Police have identified the accused as Nithin Chkravarthi Suresh Sahha (22), a resident of Sharan Apartment, Begum Peth in Hyderabad”. So even before this particular IT Act was passed in December 2008 there appears to have been enough laws under which people could be summarily arrested for insulting Sonia Gandhi. But yes, there was a need to widen the scope and make everything offensive you see. The two guys arrested in Mumbai in the India Today report are also accused of “insulting” NCP ministers Praful Patel and Sharad Pawar. We are clearly in the process of taming the beast.
Our media which enjoys complete freedom of speech also doesn’t like people to have the same freedom. They won’t stand up against foolish laws like 66A. Understandable! As of now there are two petitions in courts against the 66A clause. (Read Here) It is a surprise, though, that the petition isn’t to strike down the whole Act itself. There are enough laws to protect a person or entity against defamation in this country. Maybe the punishments need to be made more stringent under those laws. But a law, whose misuse enables the police to arrest anyone at any hour at the whims of stupid politicians, surely signals the death of democracy. It’s a warning!
The Opposition stands up for your rights against an evil law? Well, FDI or Lokpal are important issues no doubt. It may be interesting to learn that this IT Act 2008 was passed in the parliament without a single objection and without a single discussion. It threatens our democracy; the very basis of our society and existence. That’s how good our Opposition parties are. Next time you vote, maybe ask your candidate whether they will repeal this law itself and not amend it. The other option is to be prepared for the number 666 stamped on you.