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An estimated 2-minute read

Thus Spake Sibal: Of blogosphere, Twitter and JS Mill

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Kapil Sibal the Telecom Minister of India has been on the news for all the wrong reasons, so to say. This time he spoke about 'gagging content on internet' thus setting a new wave of protests from people across the country and worldwide. What an idiot!

Nto soon after his infamous comment about the nation suffering only a 'zero loss' through 2G spectrum scam had died down, he uttered another 'unspeakable'. He called up social networking websites such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo and asked them to screen contents before publishing. He showed them some objectionable materials that appeared on their websites and that he said left many in the government (and in the party) in complete distaste. Why can't they show respect to the religious sentiments of billion-strong country as large as India and bother to remove such postings? - He apparently asked them point blank.

News reached the bloggers in a flash and they were up in arms (as if they were waiting for a politician to speak). They found the minister's intention was 'mala fide' and let loose (worldwide) 'what was in their mind and what not'. One senior blogger has suggested netizens in India to write about the minister's latest hara-kiri in as many words (unparliamentarily too) as possible on a 'predictive-title' called 'Kapil is an idiot'. Is Sibal really an idiot?

"NO", said Omar Obdullah, the J & K chief minister. Freedom of speech in a democracy should rather be limited than allowed, he sounded in support of Sibal. Shashi Tharoor his fellow MP too came to the minister’s rescue and was vocal in support of monitoring contents on internet that incite communal violence. Does freedom of speech in India allow anyone to say things that might harm or offend others’ fundamental freedom? One’s freedom of speech should not cause harm to the other, agree?

What does law say on this?

The father of civil rights John Stuart Mill has the following to say: “there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered”

According to Mill, there are two major clauses to free speech. The Harm Principle and the Offense Principle. The first is OK but not the second. Logic and Reason should only be the guiding principles to determine which one is harm and which an offense is. He argued that even if an opinion is false, the truth can better be understood by refuting the error. Majority opinions in his view were neither completely true nor abysmally false.

He pointed out that allowing free expression with competing views on a point of debate should determine the truth. He supported free speech on political grounds too, stating it is a critical component for a representative govt to have in order to empower debate over a public policy. He said eccentricity was preferable to uniformity and stagnation.

If a Galileo or a Dr. Zakir Naik or a Maoist rebel or an actor Kushboo or a painter M.F.Hussain or a civil society leader Anna Hazare or a model Veena Malik of Pakistan had not been allowed to say what he or she wanted to say, we would not have known the real truth about ‘earth and life’.

As Mill said, let's 'search for and discover the truth as way to further our knowledge' but welcome now Kapil Sibal for setting forth (on social websites) a new debate on personal freedom.

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