There is much anguish in progress right now on Indian Twitter over a government order that lists several YouTube, Facebook, and blog URLs to be blocked. Also included are several Twitter handles. Presumably this blocking has been done to prevent ‘hate speech’ on the Internet from inciting violence that has affected Assam and Mumbai. Without getting into the whole muddle of ‘speech isn’t hateful, actions are’ argument, this government order begs the question whether it is legal or not.
The Constitution of India states freedom of speech as one of the rights granted to its citizens (the government cannot ‘grant’ but merely ‘affirm’ but whatever). But..but, there are certain caveats to this whole freedom of speech thing in India. What are those caveats?
“These rights are limited so as not to effect – the integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”
Ever see a more succinct yet all-encompassing list? So on constitutional grounds, you really don’t have any freedom of speech rights since your rights can easily be infringed upon using any of these restrictions. ‘Decency or morality’ and ‘defamation or incitement to an offence’ are my favorites. If I was a government babu, I bet I can classify anything you say as under those exceptions.
So however angry we are, let us not be mistaken that our Constitution is in anyway protecting us. On legal grounds, we have violated this ‘right’ many times. All it boils down to is begging the government to not block our URLs or Twitter handles. The government can start by, say pretty please. I have been to this dance before where then-bloggers took up arms against a flimsy third-grade management institute. Ultimately in the long run, the management institute prevailed. This is the government of India. There is no winning here; especially if it has the Constitution on its side.