Following in the wake of the declarations of the well known Internet idiot, who doubles as the honorable minister of telecommunications of the Union of India, an esteemed additional civil judge of a Delhi court has also decided to issue an ex-parte order commanding Social Media networks, Facebook and Youtube to remove 21 (or is it 22?) ‘objectionable’ websites that ‘offend religious sentiments’.
This has been done in response to please entered by a ‘journalist’, a certain Mr. Vinay Rai, and a certain Mufti Aijaz Arshad Qasmi, who also delivers online fatwas on a variety of subjects, ranging from the very intimate to the magnificently cosmic. It is wonderful to behold the learned court acting with such sensitivity to the joint plea of two honorable Hindu-Muslim worthies. Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isai – busybodies of every stripe seem to have little other work to do than police and control what can and cannot be said online, shown in a film, performed in a play or depicted in an art work. And our ‘secular’ civil society, and the lower ranks of the judiciary faithfully acquiesce to their every demand.
Of course there is a glorious judicial precedent, just a few months ago, a court in our neighboring country, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, ordered the government to remove several Facebook pages, on the same grounds. The Delhi court’s prompt order has an impeccable pedigree.
But it is unfortunate that the censorious zeal that this decision represents is never carried through to what should be its logical conclusion. Someone should enter a plea asking some court somewhere to ban the religious scriptures of all the major religions – because they are all, without exception, along with wise, lofty and humane thoughts, also full of instances of undisguised and explicit contempt for other faiths and for people deemed impure, and full of content that can be deemed ‘objectionable’ by some body or the other, because they hurt some sentiment or other.
Perhaps there is a reason why this is never done. Perhaps, no one, let alone the people who are constantly entering petitions to remove this or that kind of content ever takes their scriptures seriously. Perhaps they do not even read them. Because if they did, all believers (not just the few zealots who take piety to be a sanction for hatred) would be constantly rioting against each other. Clearly this does not seem to be the case.
All right, maybe they (and millions of others) do read them. And in our part of the world, they often read them out aloud, not just in the privacy of their rooms, but with loudspeakers, in public places, with great fanfare in ‘Akhand (unbroken reading) Paths, Quran-khwanis, Shabad-kirtans and Gospel-Witness meetings. But if they do, and if those that read them, and those that listen, take the words that rain damnation and abuse on other faiths and other ways of life seriously, and we still remain relatively insulated from apocalyptic religious wars or random acts of pious violence, then clearly, mere exposure to hateful or contemptuous or abusive speech is not sufficient cause for mayhem. If this is so, then why would a few Facebook sites and Youtube videos (that you can’t access if you don’t want to in the first place) be such grave provocation ?
So, when the learned and esteemed judges, and their wise petitioners, examine the matter at hand, we should remind them, that if we are to take their ruminations seriously, they should ban, not just 21 Facebook pages, but a few (may be all) holy books as well. Then we would have a just solution to the vexing problem of hurt sentiments and objectionable content floating about for thousands of years in the public domain.
The only sane response to the presence of objectionable material (be it online or in physical space) is to make more efforts to create grounds for dialogue and understanding, to undertake vigorous criticism, even in the face of what may seem to be irreconciliable differences. Banning such material only only drives it underground, where it usually circulates with much greater velocity. Those that call for bans on objectionable material hardly ever realize that they act as the best publicists for the material that so offends them.