Pratap Bhanu Mehta on state censorship in India

Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s brilliant article brings out the troubling state of our country today.

Everyone utters the platitude that they respect freedom, but they then use the qualifier that no freedom is absolute in the most mendacious way.

In fact, the claim made by politicians that this kind of content (i.e. Twitter, Orkut, Facebook) will lead to violence is insulting doubly over. First, it is just a plain lie to justify censorship. Second, what is offensive is that politicians continue to treat Indian citizens as if we were colonial subjects. They infantilise us. They say to us, “you are unable to control your passions, so we have to protect you by censoring”. The truth is the opposite: they want to construct our passions in such a way that they can use that as a pretext to censor.

Holding them (i.e. social networking sites) pre-emptively responsible for offensive speech is like requiring a profit-making road operator liable for every crime committed on the road because they did not pre-screen every car and driver and let potential murderers drive. But the issue is not technology. Given the Indian state’s record, it is but natural that any whiff of regulatory control is seen as threatening. A measure of this is the fact that a platitude like “no freedom is absolute” sounds more like a threat when the state utters it.

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