Long live thin-skinned India

Long live thin-skinned India
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First Published: Sat, May 07 2011. 01 15 AM IST

Silence please: French cartoonist Michel Cambon satirized curbs on free expression on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.
Silence please: French cartoonist Michel Cambon satirized curbs on free expression on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.
Updated: Sat, Jul 02 2011. 02 39 PM IST
Clearly the bureaucrats who came up with the country’s new set of Internet rules last month have never lived in online India. They have never encountered an Internet Hindu, an Orkutiya or that most vile of species, the Anonymous Indian who under the guise of his anonymity can wish you are raped, your new baby girl gets AIDS and dies, or that your helicopter meets the same fate as your chief minister colleague’s did.
If they had they would never have come up with the absurd Information Technology Rules, 2011 that require the hosts or owners of websites to take action on “objectionable content” within 36 hours of receiving a complaint. The new rules say that content should not be “grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever”.
They might as well ban every website and shut down our online world.
Content providers can certainly not shoulder the responsibility of reining in anything and everything that any Indian user might find “objectionable”. We would be left only with the stock prices.
Silence please: French cartoonist Michel Cambon satirized curbs on free expression on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.
Indians are notoriously thin-skinned. We routinely object to books without reading them; we throw a tantrum when the buzz words cricket, Kashmir, Pakistan, Ram, Gandhi, manoos, sex, cattle class, cow, Hindu, Muslim and Arundhati Roy are used in almost any context; we object more virulently when anyone outside India critiques any aspect of the way we live and think. When I wrote a satirical column on my relationship and frustrations with India last year, the appalling reaction from readers even included one death threat.
And what about the people who conjured these rules? Our rulers are so thin-skinned that political humour doesn’t even exist in this nation.
They could learn a thing or two from politicians in the US and UK. Take Barack Obama. Even after he released it, the US President’s birth certificate has provided so much fodder for late night comics in that country. “President Obama released his long-form birth certificate, proving once and for all he was born in this country. But you know, it never ends. Now Republican leaders are saying they want to see the placenta,” said television host Jay Leno.
Obama’s reaction to megalomaniac Donald Trump’s sustained attack on his nationality was simple. After he made his birth certificate public, he cracked a couple of great jokes about presidential-hopeful Trump at a high-powered White House dinner that the latter attended. Then he announced that his team had killed Osama bin Laden. Case closed.
I wonder if our bureaucrats even understand the implications of these new rules? Who will regulate these complainants? Already, Indian creativity struggles to combat the dark shadow of wasteful Public Interest Litigation (PIL); our film industry is the worst hit.
Recently, the Goa high court dismissed a PIL alleging the depiction of Goa and its culture in the film Dum Maaro Dum. Previously, courts have dismissed PILs objecting to the titles of Slumdog Millionaire and Dhobi Ghat; they have shooed away a PIL asking for a ban on chartbusters Munni badnaam hui and Sheila ki jawaani and another that demanded the court do something about the film Guzaarish as it “promotes” mercy killing. And who knows how many PILs have been dismissed against Bollywood’s biggest star, Shah Rukh Khan.
The new rules, if implemented, will only serve as a chastity belt for our writers. If at all anyone needs protection in cyberspace, it’s the writers who ignore the scum of the subcontinent and continue to analyse and dissect an India changing at the speed of light—and a country that is still weighed down by its mucky baggage.
In 2002, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan once asked: “Why do we celebrate those who complain? Why don’t we celebrate stoics who can take it? They’re the ones who move history forward.” The question is still valid.
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First Published: Sat, May 07 2011. 01 15 AM IST