Slowly but surely liberty is being curbed

I count myself lucky for not being frog-marched to the nearest police station and slapped with a host of non-bailable offences when the Government of India deemed it fit to censor my presence on social media by blocking my Twitter handle in August this year. Others have been less fortunate. For instance, S Ravi, who owns a small enterprise in Puducherry, was tracked down and arrested for tweeting about Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram. Stunningly, the police sought two weeks custody of Ravi to ‘interrogate’ him. Thankfully, the judge ordered his release.

We are now informed that a young woman was arrested and charged with “hurting religious sentiments”, among other things, by the police at Palghar, some 90 km from Mumbai, on Sunday after she posted a statement on her Facebook page that read “With all respect, every day, thousands of people die, but still the world moves on. Just due to one politician died a natural death, everyone just goes bonkers. They should know, we are resilient by force, not by choice. When was the last time, did anyone showed [sic] some respect or even a two-minute silence for Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Azad, Sukhdev or any of the people because of whom we are free-living Indians? Respect is earned, given, and definitely not forced. Today, Mumbai shuts down due to fear, not due to respect.”

Her friend who ‘liked’ the post was also arrested and similarly charged. Both have been released on bail but the charges have not been dropped. A clinic belonging to the woman’s uncle was ransacked, allegedly by Shiv Sainiks, who are yet to face the wrath of law.

Earlier, a cartoonist was thrown into jail for lampooning the decay in our parliamentary system of governance on account of rampant corruption. We are also told the Government over the past six months has asked Google to remove 596 pages with ‘offensive’ content; Google has complied with 64 per cent of these demands. It is not known whether information has been sought and received about the ‘offenders’ which can be used for harassing and persecuting them.

It would be easy to describe these and other instances of brazen censorship as disparate incidents not worthy of collective concern. But that is precisely where the danger lies. Slowly but surely liberty is being curbed, especially on the Net, as freedom of speech is curtailed with each passing day. Inventive reasons cannot put a gloss over this abuse of authority by those in power — we must see the war being waged against liberty for what it is.

The weapon of suppression that is being used is the IT Act, a law which is fit for tin pot dictatorships and banana republics, and not democracies. What makes the law particularly obnoxious is Section 66 A which gives sweeping powers to the police. It would have made Beria proud.

Must we meekly accept such a law? Or should we robustly fight it to uphold freedom of speech? The choice should by now be clear to those who believe in democracy and liberty.

— The writer is editorial director,¬†NiTi Digital.¬†

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