As per the recent developments, it seems the mockery becomes hurtful and illegal only if the person being mocked at is powerful, pally with authorities, have near-psychotic follower base and can afford to strike back offline. It is high time that our honorable Supreme Court sits up to take notice that the cyber behavior law needs to be defined and educated in the country.
On 17th November 2012, Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray passed away due to illness. And, on 19th November two girls named Shaheen Dhada and Renu were arrested over their Facebook post that questioned Mumbai shutdown follwing the death of Shiv Sena chief. Here are brief details about what exactly happened.
Shiv Sena supremo passes away and Shaheen comments on Facebook, ‘People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that. Respect is earned, not given and definitely not forced. Today Mumbai shuts down due to fear and not due to respect?’ and Renu likes it. The party workers known as Shiv Sainiks get agitated and create a ruckus, thus, forcing the police to go ahead and arrest the two girls. As a result, both friends get scared and since then, have deactivated their Facebook accounts. This causes a huge hate wave on social networking sites and fear amongst the minds of people using Facebook. I myself know people who are now scared of posting things about Bal Thackeray on Facebook, fearing weird and legal actions against them.
In response to the arrest and the effect, it had on the common people, out of social responsibility and primarily to grab an opportunity to make a sensational news item out of it, our so called responsible and extremely aware media jumped into it to create a debate about it. But, only till the time they found another bigger story about Ajmal Kasab being hanged and Indian Parliament debating on FDI. News channels, papers and social networking websites got flooded with news items containing debates, comments, jokes, one-liners on the incidence.
There were quite a few things wrong in what all happened and is happening? Firstly, for Shaheen – the comment was harmless apparently but was surely in bad taste. Disrespecting Bal Thackeray could be a separate issue but relating anybody’s death with what is the big deal is insensible. Secondly, for police – why the arrest? On what ground? What was legally wrong with the comment? If it was actually an offense, then why not take a strong action to stop all such ‘hurtful’ comments, messages and pictures that are being circulated on social media every day? Why be selective? And thirdly, for media – despite limitation of time and space, creating one day sensation out of a news item doesn’t seem responsible. While it is understandable that the job of a media platform is limited to ‘reporting of the issue’, the overall social responsibility demands much more, why should we only debate about this?
The issue is neither unique, nor it is the first time that something like this is happening. Sometime back a cartoonist named Aseem Trivedi was arrested for drawing 'insulting' cartoons of National Emblem, Parliament, Flag and Indian Constitution. Indian Telecom and IT Minister Kapil Sibal pulled in Google and Facebook for discussion over hurtful pages/ communities against Sonia Gandhi and Prophet Muhammad. In April 2012, Mamata Banerjee got a Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra arrested for circulating 'anti-Mamata Banerjee' cartoons on the Internet. Examples like these are numerous and are increasing with every passing day.
Every now and then when we are dearth of any national breaking news and the government is devoid of some constructive ideas, we would find conspiracy theories generating around 'social media' and some Aseem Trivedi or Shaheen Dhada or Prof. Ambikesh Mahapatra becoming scapegoat, and issue of debate to get TRPs moving northwards. Yet, we seek no permanent solution.
While the common man continues to protest on the social media when any fellow participant is harassed and voices of self-proclaimed experts crop up supporting the cause of 'right to express', 'online democracy' and 'right to offend' - nobody actually reaches anywhere to create a concrete solution where such harassment will not happen in future.
Looks like till the time we have clarity on what actually is an illegal behavior in the cyber world, it probably is the common man's responsibility to use logic to define what can be hurtful to a larger sentiment. Though the entire thing of being hurtful is largely relative, yet for common man who will not enjoy the same limelight as Shaheen and Prof. Mahapatra, self-restraint on social media seems to be the only way out for the time being.