Even as Kapil Sibal's demand to screen 'inflammatory' content on the Internet faces the ire of netizens, the co-founder of Gaysi an online literary cafe for the LGBTQ community that firmly believes in not censoring opinion even on its own website tells us why the move is completely out of place in a democracy that's aiming for inclusive growth
When my friend MJ and I started Gaysi in 2008, it was meant to be a support forum for the desi LGBTQ community. It focused on the struggles of coming out of the closet and the angst of living in a country that, back then, criminalised our love. But everything changed, when we posted a piece of erotic fiction on the site.
When this piece of fiction was published, we took a lot of people by surprise. Some of the fiercest criticism we received insinuated that we had sold out in our pursuit of cheap publicity.
The irony of demands to ban erotica on a website that was supposed to support an outlawed group of people fighting for their right to be wasn't lost on us. Not only did we ignore the criticism and keep the story online, we went one step further and made it a weekly feature. Nobody puts Gaysi in the corner!
We seem to be a country with very fragile sentiments that are hurt at the drop of a hat. I am constantly reading of some effigy being burnt somewhere because people's 'sentiments' were hurt. And now, Kapil Sibal wants to coddle these sentiments via the law. If we censored half the things that appeared on Gaysi to protect people's sentiments, we'd be running very low on posts.
Today, erotic fiction is a regular feature on Gaysi and nobody bats an eyelid. It is also one of the most popular sections on the website and a ton of people love it. I will confess to censoring just one thing - pointless homophobic comments that add no value to the discussion.
You would get away with saying ignorant things like, "I think being gay is a lifestyle choice" and it will get published. But if you write any variation of "Gay people are <insert swear word here>", your comment will never see the light of day.
If you've never commented on Gaysi before then your comment has to be approved by one of the team members. After that you're allowed to comment as you please, but we keep a close eye for homophobia. People who desperately want to be mean and nasty towards gay people have the freedom to take their venom elsewhere and we have the freedom to ignore them.
Kapil Sibal wants to censor the Internet and scrub it clean. His definition of keeping things clean is "screening" anything that is "derogatory" or "inflammatory" about politicians and religion.
Has he tried to shut the Shiv Sena up for all their inflammatory rhetoric about "Marathi Manus"? Has he ever censured Baba Ramdev for his dangerously misleading, outrageous and laughable claims that yoga can "cure" me of my homosexuality? No, and honestly, he shouldn't.
India is a democracy and the bedrock of any democracy is the freedom of expression. Of course, there are limits to this freedom - you can't yell 'FIRE' in a crowded room under the guise of democracy.
As long as the Shiv Sena is all talk and no rioting they should be allowed to display their bigotry and ignorance to the country. Baba Ramdev should be allowed to say what he wants as long as he's not physically harming people.
My freedom to say and do as I please on views like gay rights is no more valuable than the freedom of others to say and do as they please even if I completely disagree with it.
A few weeks ago, we aired a podcast on Gaysi that drew criticism from many of our regular readers. On the podcast, MJ said, mostly in jest, that she was attracted more to North Indian women than to South Indian women. The s**t-storm that followed was no picnic.
I had emails and comments from a lot of team members and regular readers telling us how hurt they were and demanded to know how we could have published it. While recording the podcast, I had asked for it to be edited out, but my request was ignored (a testament to how much freedom of expression Gaysi provides its members!) and the podcast was aired as is.
Following the heavy barrage of unhappy responses, I agonised for a long time over a crucial decision to keep it online or delete the podcast. But in the end, we decided to let it stay up along with all the brickbats that came with it.
My response was a sincere apology for hurting people. Not everybody agreed with this decision and not everybody thought it was ok to leave the offensive podcast up on Gaysi. Honestly, it would have been easier to just delete it and move on. But the easier choices aren't always the right ones.
There are many obvious problems with this proposed law and for me, as the co-founder of a website that deals with a very sensitive and controversial issue of gay rights, the most obvious one is that it is very likely that some bureaucrat somewhere will think that sites like ours are either "derogatory" or "inflammatory", and in a post-Internet-clampdown world, Gaysi would not exist. We can kiss our already fragile, democracy goodbye if this proposed law materialises.
If Kapil Sibal wanted to protect people from physical danger by censoring the Internet, I'd support him. Introduce laws that monitor and ban sites set up for human trafficking, paedophilia, drug trafficking and I'll give him a big thumbs up.
But he only wants to protect the fragile sentiments of his holy cows - fellow politicians - and therein lay the problem.
What he doesn't realise is, the world has changed and surrounding himself with yes men or even being one himself is no longer going to protect egos from the reality of how people feel about him and his colleagues across all party lines.
'Broom' is the co-founder of Gaysi (www.gaysifamily.com) who wants to ensure that her right to be irreverent and offensive continues to be enshrined in the constitution.