Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Courts and Bans

A Mumbai HC Bench recently upheld a ban on the Book - Islam - A Concept of Political World Invasion by Muslims by R. V. Bhasin.

Firstly this anachronistic Judgment in the time of internet and e-books not only highlights the ineptitude of the Indian judiciary (not to mention its decades long prosecution delays and pilfering judges) but also raises the serious question of how the authorities or the nation itself which ever so tightly controlled the media and public information in the past handle the enormous sea of information that the internet offers! No form of information can be banned or censored as there are a million ways to avoid it. The publisher may not make money but the writer can simply email the soft copy to millions of people or upload it to a website or ask people to take printouts and distribute. The speed of promoting a fact has increased exponentially with the internet as propagating any information incurs minimal delay. There are millions of ways to encrypt, surpass censor, anonymize and promote any form of data. It is also very simple to cross check facts as most ancient manuscripts and documents are digitized and uploaded onto many independent websites which serve as evidence for any publication making it open to both scrutiny and critique.

While the hysteria and slander should be downplayed and discouraged as bad taste, the concept of banning information is dead. The court has little control over the internet. The internet provides a real platform for freedom of speech and expression free from any control. Even the Chinese Government has given up trying to run the Great firewall. The use of rotating proxies, onion routing, hacked boxes, encrypted/private browsing, anonymous remote sessions, P2P file sharing and TV, coupled with cheap printing, mobile devices, ever increasing network speeds and ease of access has downplayed all attempts to control the internet since it is so easy now to thwart censorship. The government cant shut down the internet as without it the communication systems and hence the economy will literally collapse.

Be it the Mohammed Cartoons, M.F. Hussains paintings of Hindu deities, Marathi play Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy, this book, Jaswant Singhs Book on Jinnah, movies Parzania or Da Vinci Code, no form of any human created work of art/literature/ciritique can be ever banned. It can be criticized, questioned, doubted, debated, shunned, downplayed or contested. But it cannot be banned. As Print media dies in the next few years (It will start in India as soon as 3G with cheap plans become a reality) and 3G wireless data network being unleashed in India in the middle of this year, there will be instant access to the internet via cheap netbooks and cheaper and powerful phones to millions in the country without connectivity. It wont take more than a few months before educated Indians will start using the internet like Americans do which makes them more likely to behave like them too. I wonder how will the Indian Government handle the sea of information on say the Islamic atrocities in Muslim India or say massacre of British wives and Children by the Mutineers of 1857 or the atrocities done by XYZ community or ABC person or millions of hate communities, online fraud, harassment, fake identities and criminal activity that it will unleash. While this sounds bizarre the real losers are the extremists (mostly Muslims) because they are the ones who quickly get indoctrinated over the internet faster than the world realizes the threat. With mobile internet it will become an even larger problem as extremists from any communities will start seeing/reading content focused and targeted at indoctrination and brainwashing being sent to them via Social Media/email/MMS/blogs/X-tubes/photos not passively but on demand on the minute.

Moreover the court should re-examine its own verdict which says that the book will incite violence, when in fact it should have questioned why books, cartoons or any publication should ever call for violent behavior from any group? The concept of a free civil society revolves more or less upon how serious the administration or constitution of the country is in protecting the rights of the people. Curbing freedom in any form is equivalent to not giving freedom at all which is similar to denying justice.

After All the Quran itself (which is nothing more than a 7th century goatherd's laments) call for violence against infidels (us free citizens), then why doesn't the court ban it? There are numerous lines in the new testament too that call for punishment of those who don't believe in the end of days too. If I published something like this satirical poster of Gay Jesus with Mohammed, or made lascivious jokes about Sita and Ravana  would the court say that I am inciting violence? Will it ban this blog? Will it recall all emails I send with this message (citing the actual verses from the official books)? Will it erase this from the minds of the people who read it? Well it cannot, let them try I can guarantee that they can't. Once I hit the publish button its there, archived and cached, stored securely in multiple hard drives, printed out by people who care, reposted, quoted, linked, copied, cited and debated. I hope our archaic ways of banning books and hiding truth or curbing debate are done away with for good! 

Update: The absurdity continues nearly 2 years since I originally wrote this with Kapil Sibal asking Google and Facebook to human screen every post. Sigh :(