Freedom of Expression and Indian Line of Decency

It’s one thing to uphold the right of freedom of expression, when not in Power; it’s entirely another to keep doing so, when in power.

The present BJP Government is now finding that the freedom of expression is a gun which backfires as well. And to prevent this, the Government brought the Encryption Policy.

First it brought the controversial encryption policy and then seeing a raging opposition to it on social media, the Government took no time to roll back. Not unusual though.

What was controversial about the Encryption policy of the Government? Under the policy, the Telecom and Internet Service Providers are asked to Save (NOT delete) email, Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks content (includes everything a user sends, shares, likes etc.) of the users for 90 days ; and if demanded, give such content to the Government agencies. Thus in simple, if the Government finds your online conduct suspicious or a real pain in the neck, then it can scan what you said, sent or shared online in the past 90 days.

Indian Line of DecencyAs far as the suspicious conduct is concerned then I hope, the Government has better ways to do that. But scanning a person’s online conduct in the past 3 months will not be of much use; for obvious reasons. If hate speech is all the Government is concerned about then it can monitor it on a daily basis. That apart, if any Government is really to keen maintain caste, religion, region animosities; then it’s not difficult to monitor social networks. But the question is : Intent. Does the Government wants to do curb such animosities or not!

The real objective behind the policy seems to nail down those who are critical of the Government. That’s those who are a real pain in the neck. This, the online social network users took no time to make sense of, and they vehemently opposed the policy, as an encroachment on their freedom of expression.

Succumbing to the pressure from social network users, the Government cowed down. And rightly so.

About two years ago, the same online social networks had become a place of Freedom of Expression, where a ‘very less speaking Sardar’ Manmohan Singh was made ‘Maun Mohan Singh (in English ‘Silent Mohan Singh’)’; and everything Mr. Modi and others said was being seen as an epitome of expression. Everything right from what Sushma Swaraj or Smriti Irani said was being expressed as “Smriti Irani gives a tight slap to” or “Sushma swaraj rips off”. Man or woman, anyone who took a line different from the majority opinion, was showered with all sorts of abuses. A dissenting woman had a more difficult time.

Just like today, criticism, abuses & expletives were abound on these social networks. The only difference was the target. The Congress led Government, its leaders and supporters were at the receiving end. Even the word ‘Traitor’ was used under the garb of Freedom of expression. That too for Constitutional Figures.

Those who used words such as traitor, broker etc., also showed the world how ‘violent words’ can be used in the title of a YouTube video meant merely to glorify a politician.

As said, today not much has changed. The crowd of two years ago, is still present; but those who were at the receiving end at that time, seem to have grown in number.

As a result, the communication of any level has become a dialogue or an exchange in real sense of the term. Many of the social network users have started questioning the 15 month old BJP Government. And the best way the Government finds is nail down those who cross the line of decency. This time around, any criticism to Government Schemes, policies is being seen as crossing the line of decency. How surprising!