Public decency and morality

This is what Supreme Court of India had to say when petition was filed to lift a ban in 1964 on Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence:

It is convenient to set out s. 292 of the Indian Penal Code at this stage:

“292. Sale of obscene books etc. : Whoever- (a) sells, lets to hire, distributes, publicly exhibits or in any manner puts into circulation, or for purposes of sale, hire, distribution, public exhibition or circulation, makes, produces or has in his possession any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, painting, representation or figure or any other obscene object whatsoever, or

(b) imports, exports or conveys any obscene object for any of the purposes aforesaid, or knowing or having reason to believe that such object will be sold, let to hire, distributed or publicly exhibited or in any manner put into circulation, or

(c) takes part in or receives profits from any business in the course of which he knows or has reason to believe that any such obscene objects are, for any of the purposes aforesaid, made, produced, purchased, kept, imported, exported, conveyed, publicly exhibited or in any manner put into circulation, or

(d) advertises or makes known by any means whatsoever that any person is engaged or is ready to engage in any act which is an offence under this section, or that any such obscene object can be procured from or through any person, or

(e) offers or attempts to do any act which is an offence -under this section,

19(1) All citizens shall have the right-

(a) to freedom of speech and expression; (2) Nothing -in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of public order, decency or morality”

No doubt this article guarantees complete freedom of speech and expression but it also makes an exception in favour of existing laws which impose restrictions on the exercise of the right in the interests of public decency or morality.

Condemnation of obscenity depends as much upon the mores of the people as upon the individual. It is always a question of degree or as the lawyers are accustomed to say, of where the line is to be drawn. It is, however, clear that obscenity by itself has extremely “poor value in the-propagation of ideas, opinions and informations of public interest or profit.” When there is propagation of ideas, opinions and informations of public interest or profit, the approach to the problem may become different because then the interest of society may tilt the scales in favour of free speech and expression. It is thus that books on medical science with intimate illustrations and photographs, though in a sense immodest, are not considered to be obscene but the same illustrations and photographs collected in book form without the medical text would certainly be considered to be obscene.

“I think the test of obscenity is this, whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deperave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall. . . . . it is quite certain that it would suggest to the minds of the young of either sex, or even to persons of more advanced years, thoughts of a most impure and libidinous character.”

He wants us to say that a book is not necessarily obscene because there is a word here or a word there, or a passage here and a passage there which may be offensive to particularly sensitive persons. He says that the overall effect of the book should be the test and secondly, that the book should only be condemned if it has no redeeming merit at all, for then it is “dirt for dirt’s sake”, or as Mr. Justice Frankfurter put it in his inimitable way “dirt for money’s sake.

We need not attempt to bowdlerize all literature and thus rob speech and expression of freedom. A balance should be maintained between freedom of speech and expression and public decency and morality but when the latter is substantially transgressed the former must give way.

The taboo on sex in art and literature which was more strict thirty-five years ago, seemed to him to corrode domestic and social life and his definite view was that a candid discussion of sex through art was the only catharsis for purifying and relieving the congested emotion is.

“The law seeks to protect not those who protect themselves, but those whose prurient minds take delight and sexual pleasures from erotic writings.”

via | Ranjit D. Udeshi vs State Of Maharashtra on 19 August, 1964

The word “obscene” in the section is not limited to writings, pictures etc. intended to arouse sexual desire. At the same time the mere treating with sex and nudity in art and literature is not per se evidence of obscenity.

Exception. – This section does not extend to any book, pamphlet, writing, drawing or painting kept or used bona fide for religious purposes or any representation sculptured, engraved, painted or otherwise represented on or in any temple, or on any car used for the conveyance of idols, or kept or used for any religious purpose.”

This was I think long back, but the views have not changed ever since the. The idea that somethings are bad for everyone is something which all cultures adhere to, and it is very hard for people, especially people in power to let this notion go. This is another way of controlling people. This is what is common to fundamentalism and democracy. The notion that our past was a golden one, and anything new will harm it and jeopardize the future of the culture. From what I feel is that there was no golden past, it just was.

And thinking about morality, though they say that there are some universal principles, everyone does not subscribe to same ones. In his theory Kohlberg, outlines these differences. But that said, he does not talk about obscenity, which I think it is highly cultural. For example a burqa clad woman is a common picture in certain Islamic communities, or a woman with ghunghat is all but common in certain Hindu communities, but at the same time some people might be find it too restrictive. And a woman in short skirt might be a common scene in the urban areas in certain countries, but it might be a great taboo for some others. There are no universal standards for what counts as moral or decent.



Free Press and Democracy

A free press is an essential part of a democratic system. In a society like ours, with its stark inequalities, only a media free of government and corporate pressures can ensure that the voiceless are heard. What we are seeing currently is not just blatant collusion between the media and big business but also a deliberate obliteration of much of what happens to the millions who live on the margins.

via Economic and Political Weekly

This is what Media Lens has to say about the BBC which is supposed to be in public interest and impartial.

Instead of providing responsible, public-service journalism, the BBC acts as a conduit for government propaganda. It is particularly noxious that the organisation relentlessly channels the state’s supposedly benign intentions abroad. This is the diet of daily bias and distortion we are all fed. When will BBC heads roll for that?

But isn’t this true of the media in India also? Or elsewhere in the world for that matter. Tehelka reports that many of the barons of power also control the local media in newly formed state of Chattisgad. And what is the use of controlling media when they are not used for gains. When the so called free media becomes a part of the political parties we cannot be sure of what they report.

If the Congress has Naveen Jindal, the BJP has Ajay Sancheti. If the Congress has the Lokmat, the BJP has the Hari Bhoomi. Barring coal, in which both the Centre and the states had their hands in the till, in the case of other mineral resources, the real corruption lies in the states.

It is not that people do not use media for their own gain, media is used for spreading ideology, there are many mouthpiece outlets for political parties and others which propagate the ideas. But what is worst is that the masquerade that many media houses put on themselves claiming to be honest and working in public interest, and people at large believe them, being obliviousto the fact that these very media houses are the ones who are power brokers and very much in the filth as corporates and politicians. A recent example of this was the Radia tapes.

The complete blackout of the Niira Radia tapes by the entire broadcast media and most of the major English newspapers paints a truer picture of corruption in the country than the talk shows in the various news channels and the breast-beating in all the newspapers about the 2G, CWG, Adarsh, and other scams.

via|G. Sampath – DNA

It was not until the non-main-stream media began to show up too much, there was some coverage given. But the very fact that the accused are in complete denial of what happened is what is disturbing. We usually held names like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi well but these tapes just show how much they are in the filth of what they pretend to expose. From then on, I have given up on NDTV as a reliable source, which earlier I thought it was. But then what do you trust?

At the same time, it is worth noting that neither Barkha nor any of the other journalists whose names have come up have denied that those conversations took place. So why not let the reader or TV viewer read or listen to the transcripts and decide whether Dutt and Sanghvi’s conversations with Radia are a part of “normal journalistic duties” or amount to pimping for politicians and business houses? Or perhaps they were doing social service for the Congress? Play the tapes on your show, na, Ms Dutt, instead of tweeting about them? Why not let ‘We, The People’ decide, instead of you deciding for us all?

via|G. Sampath – DNA

The media blackout of particular events is what I find disturbing. What it shows the kind of camaraderie that exists between different media houses and their corporate and political cronies. That basically means that the news, sorry the Breaking News that you see is like a managed play, with directors and writers deciding what people see, hear and think. In Marathi novel (Ithink it was Swami (स्वामी) by Ranjit Desai) I had read a sentence which fits these situations well, it reads:

मी मारल्या सारखे करतो, तु रडल्या सारखे कर.

( I will feign to hit, you feign to cry.)

This creates an illusion about real problems. Most of the News channels that are beamed in India follow this line. Put all the focus on some non-issues, or twist them from certain angles so that why all this happens remains oblivious to the viewers. If our media was after all serious about the issues that they present, they would have seen to it that things are done.

Many a times what I have also found reading reports on various different news services is that they are same. I mean many a times they are word to word same, as if the reports have been written at one place and distributed. I do not have links right now, but will update this post when I do. This again creates a picture that what news we see is heavily filtered, and sometimes flavours are added to create sensationalism. And the icing is that we all think this is genuine, with “Free Press in A Democracy”. Orwell had a foresight about this as well:

Of course, print will continue to be used, and it is interesting to speculate what kinds of reading matter would survive in a rigidly totalitarian society. Newspapers will presumably continue until television technique reaches a higher level, but apart from newspapers it is doubtful even now whether the great mass of people in the industrialized countries feel the need for any kind of literature. They are unwilling, at any rate, to spend anywhere near as much on reading matter as they spend on several other recreations. Probably novels and stories will be completely superseded by film and radio productions. Or perhaps some kind of low grade sensational fiction will survive, produced by a sort of conveyor-belt process that reduces human initiative to the minimum.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

The only reason I see that India is feudal and corrupt is that the so called Free Press was never able to take up the challenge to the nexus, and ultimately now has become a part of it.

In our age, the idea of intellectual liberty is under attack from two directions. On the one side are its theoretical enemies, the apologists of totalitarianism, and on the other its immediate, practical enemies, monopoly and bureaucracy.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

Though there are dissidents here and there, this now has become global phenomena, with the Indian media people just following the suit. And if this is the case, what difference does it make whether you are living in a democracy or a totalitarian state?

And Orwell wraps it up thus:

A totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist. Already there are countless people who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook, but would see nothing wrong in falsifying an historical fact. It is at the point where literature and politics cross that totalitarianism exerts its greatest pressure on the intellectual.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell


Freedom of Expression in India

This is a meta blog, as it is a blog about this blog.

About 10 years back the GoI decided that there were a lot of dissident voices from the North-East on Yahoo! Groups which were harmful to the health of the nation. The result was that there was a blanket ban on Yahoo! groups. Then people who were using Yahoo! Groups other than what GoI thought was harmful, suffered too. It was a classic case of complete misunderstanding about the nature of how the internet works. Of course then as now people had means to go over the blockade. That was 10 years back, net penetration was not that much, so we could forgive the bureaucracy over such things. Claiming disease called ignorance.

10 years have passed, one would have expected that the babus and their political masters would have learned (something) about how this new technology works and how it is fundamentally different than other mass media. If not the old babus, the somewhat younger generation which replaced them. (Oh, but I heard babus never retire they are kept on the job as part of this or that committee.) In a sense of deja vu, this time also the trouble was in the North-East. After the violence there, and its strange aftermath in Bombay (Middle-West) thousands of kilometers away and also in Bangalore (Down-South). Then began the blame games and it was discovered that the social networking sites were the culprit. So what is the quick fix solution? Ban all of them.

ना रहेगा बास ना बजेगी बांसुरी .

So this blog and my other blogs were not accessible through my humble Photon+ conncetion. It just refused to open these sites. I thought it was some problem with my connection. Only today I came to know the grim reality, that they had actually blocked WordPress, completely! Though other ISPs as of now have not, but it may not be long before they do that. This is akin to banning all printing presses as someone prints something objectionable to someone. And in a democracy, someone will get offended by whatever you say. But it might be just that the babus are also executing their freedom of speech, by giving orders to ISPs for blocking other people’s Freedom of Speech. Here we are in paradoxical situation.

Can Freedom of Speech of one person supersede the Freedom of Speech of other? But the constitution says that all people are equal, then how is this possible?

Orwell comes to our rescue then when says:

All are equal and some are more equal than others.

This cuts the knot for us, and we can perfectly make sense of the things that are happening around us.

Maybe someone needs to  put up a PIL in SC against such blanket bans in the future, to uphold the Right to Free Speech! And I sincerely hope that person who makes such a PIL is more equal than others.
And may be not all of you will be able to read this, as wordpress is blocked…

Let us Respect The Flag, Respect The Nation?

Recently I got a forward email…

It read thus:

Dear Indian!
Greetings on Independence Day!!

The National Flag is a symbol of the Nation’s respect and pride. There is a liberal use of the flag on Independence Day and Republic day. There is a new trend of selling flags made up of paper and plastic, which is incorrect.

Do’s and Dont’s

  • Hoist the Flag at a height in a suitable manner.
  • Do not let small children use the National Flag as a toy.
  • Do not use or buy plastic Flags.
  • Do not use paper Flags to pin up on shirt pockets, etc.
  • Take care to see that the Flag does not get crumpled.
  • Do not use the Flag as a banner or for decoration.
  • Take care to see that the National Flag is not trampled upon or torn.
  • Do not let the Flag fall on the ground.
  • Do not join cloth pieces to resemble the National Flag.

What do you say? Do you agree? Of course, most of us would. But why? Why does the respecting the National Flag mean respecting the nation? I do not agree completely though…

I will elaborate what I mean to say…

For most of us Indians, The Flag represents The nation. The Flag is an iconification of our national pride. We like to have icons for everything that we respect. That channels our feelings towards the thing respected. The Flag is just like the idolization of many things, you respect the idol, you respect the thing. National Flags project the identity of a nation, they represent and foster the national spirit. The unique designs and colours the flags embody, reflect a particular nation’s character and declare the nations’s separate existence. It is the identity of The Nation. Thus it is but natural that a national flag has a great amount of significance. The respect and dignity of the flag needs to be fostered and maintained, for which explicit rules have been laid down. The rules provide against the burning, mutilation and destruction of the flag. The above mail was a sort of Flag Hoisting for Dummies which contained do’s and dont’s derived from such rules. Respect for the National Flag would mean that the you are respecting the values for which the national flag stands for. The history and the various protocols related to our National Flag refer to the Wikipedia entry, very comprehensively written.

Our flag, therefore, is both a benediction and beckoning. It contains the blessings of all those great souls who brought us to freedom. But it also beckons us to fulfil their vision of a just and united India. As we confront crucial challenges to our security, our unity and integrity, we cannot but heed to the call of this flag to rededicate ourselves to the establishment of that peaceful and just order wherein all Indians irrespective of creed, caste or sex will fulfil themselves.
R. Venkataraman

“[The National Flag is] a flag of freedom not for ourselves, but a symbol of freedom to all people who may seek it.”
Jawahar Lal Nehru

“…while this is a symbol of our past, it inspires us for the future. This flag flies today as the flag of the nation, and it should be the duty and privilege of every Indian not only to cherish and live under it, but if necessary, to die for it.”
Frank Anthony

More than an object the National Flag is an emseble of ideas, which form our nation. National Flag indisputably stands for the whole nation, its ideals, aspirations, its hopes and achievements. It gives you the feeling that you are an Indian.

The importance of a National Flag does not depend on its colour, its bands or its other parts. The flag as a whole, is important and other things-the colours etc, that it contains- are immaterial. The flag may be of a piece of white cloth or of any other insignificant material but when it is accepted as a National Flag, it becomes the emblem of national self-respect. It becomes an expression of the sense of freedom of a nation.

Goving Malaviy

The points that are raised in the quotes above, all of us would surely agree. The Flag played an extremely vital role in India’s struggle for freedom and its adoption was one of the indications of the culmination of that struggle. But today, in the light of the present society, The Flag should be something much more than a mere symbol of freedom.

From time immemorial, people have laid down their lives for their flags. Indeed, there is something so compelling in this piece of cloth, called the National Flag, the people make even the supreme sacrifice for its sake. The National Flag stands for the whole nation, its ideals, aspirations, its hopes and achievements. It is a beacon showing to its people the path hen their very existence is threatened. It is at this time of danger that this much length of cloth inspires people to unite under its umbrella and urge them to defend the honour of their motherland.

Let me ask you another question. How many of you have your own National Flag? When I was a child I, people were allowed to hoist the flag only on certain special days, otherwise you could be jailed for hoisting your own National Flag in your own country. People were afraid in their own country to raise their own Flag. And the police are found to be extra alert for locating and taking action on any disrespect for The Flag. [If they could just show equal enthusiasm for implementing the other laws as well!] What kind of free country would not allow its own citizens to raise The Flag? If we were still under the occupation by the British, this would be understandable, but we were not…
It took maybe 50 years for people to realize this, and kudos to Naveen Jindal for fighting the case in Supreme Court on people’s behalf. The result of this PIL is is that now…

Right to fly the National Flag freely with respect and dignity is a fundamental right of a citizen within the meaning of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India being an expression and manifestation of his allegiance and feelings and sentiments of pride for the nation;

But even after this people are afraid, when I bought my Flag, people asked me, What will you do with it? I mean this is just plain ignorance, what do you do with a flag? Another few suggested that I could land in trouble [read jail] if The Flag was “disrespected.” And all of these call themselves patriotic…

But is it just that? Just respect The Flag according to the Flag code and you are done. Is there nothing beyond this? The point that I want to raise here is that respecting The Nation does not start at respecting The Flag nor does it end there. It goes much more beyond.

The Flag code is just a ritual, but the meaning of it goes much deeper than the rituals associated with it. From what I see The Flag code is just a hollow ritual, which prevents you from seeing things that lie beyond. If you really respect the nation, there are much better ways to do it, rather than giving too much respect to a piece of cloth so revered.

I ask you another question, of all the bureaucrats and the politicians who “officially” enjoy the privilege of The Flag, how many actually deserve it? Even with MPs who have dozens of cases pending against them, can boast having a flag. This I find the worst possible disrespect for The Flag. This offence is much more grave than one in which a person does not follow The Flag Code.

What I mean here is that see beyond The Flag Code, and try to understand what it implies in our actions. If you are following The Flag Code strictly but are corrupt or promote corruption, or do not follow the rules [lets say even trafic rules], not pay the taxes, etc. etc. You are dishonouring The Flag more than you could do by doing away with all the rules in The Flag Code.

Just a passing remark…
The Flag Code [3A vi] in particular mentions a punishable offence:

lettering of any kind shall not be put upon the Flag;

Then what do you say about this:


Citation : 2004 SOL Case No. 069
Before :- Brijesh Kumar and S.B. Sinha, JJ.
Civil Appeal No. 2920 of 1996. D/d. 23.1.2004
Union of India – Appellant
Naveen Jindal and Anr. – Respondents
[Available online here.]

The Flag Code of India
[Available online here.]

The Problem of Raj

Now that the dust is settling over the issue of `north indians’ in Mumbai, the central character in this issue Raj Thackrey has become known to more people that he was before.
The point I want to emphasize is that all of the media channels whether in print, electronic or otherwise have at most presented the half side of the story.

Most of them begin from the `provocative statements’ made by Raj, without mentioning the background with which they were made in. I am in no way supporting anybody, but then presenting a dialog as a monologue is is cheating on the people. What happened was unfortunate, but the way media portrays it is so bad, that as if the entire law and order situation in Mumbai has go bad. But this was not the case I was out on all the days in which the incidents took place, apart from the areas mentioned life was as usual in the other areas.

But the replaying of a 1 minute film of 1 incident 100 times does not mean that 100 incidents happened. This is what most of the people don’t understand, when a video clip is shown repeatedly they this is happening continuously, just enhancing the worries and tensions. Is this what media wants? To take the public in a rage; if the incidents were reported in a proper manner the mania around them, and characterization of Raj as a monster would not have happened. Media is behaving as irresponsibly as it can in this case. And the kind of `intellectualism’ that is being done is doing no good to the problem itself.

Let us take a look at the problem itself, which has caused this trouble. People from the `undeveloped’ parts of India come to Mumbai and other metros in search for the livelihood. This is most clearly seen in case of Mumbai, which also happens to be the financial hub of the country. So it is `natural’ for people to come here in large numbers. But why is this so? Since people in home states do not have enough employment opportunities they come here. So who is at fault here? Are the people in Mumbai at fault for the non-development of regions elsewhere? So my question is who is at fault?

Comments made by Raj has made a lot of people in lot of sections uncomfortable. Why is this so? His comments have exposed a lot things, about the `other’ states. If people call these events as failure of constitution in Mumbai, then what about other states. Going along these lines it seems that the constitutional machinery has failed people of these regions time and again, by not being able to provide them with ample and decent oppurtunities for employment. Thus the very politicians who are slamming Raj left and right are the real problem makers. If they being in power for so long like Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh could not do anything about their own state [like they wanted to ] what moral right do they have to call the situation in Mumbai a constitutional failure?

People who know this are the ones who are most uncomfortable…