Life is worth losing!

Unfortunately, we in India don’t have free speech. We have a nice illusion of it but reasonable free speech in India doesn’t exist. Poorly implemented unclear laws and a thriving and ever increasing number of self-appointed culture polices don’t help the situation much.

Till about a few years ago I used to believe that banning hate speech in a multi-cultural society like India was a good idea. But I guess I was simply drinking too much of the NCERT Civics text book kool-aid.1 These can-hate laws, as I like to call them, simply don’t work. If canning all the hate was the idea, why are the Modis and the Advanis of the world still roaming the streets? The ones that have these laws to blame for their jail time are artists and innocent couples. That kind of a track record can’t argue well for a bunch of laws.

What hurts me more is what we are missing because of all this. Look at this guy -George Carlin. He is a stand-up comedian – spiteful, offensive and even brutal. But he is good. He says it like it is. He is smart, charming and damned well knows how to get a point through. He once said something along the lines of the duty of a [stand-up] comedian is to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately. And he really does a good job when it comes to that. By these standards Indian stand-up comedy is in it’s infancy. In fact, it is more like a retarded infant.

My point is that when you allow hate speech, you can have a comedy show on HBO whose opening line is this -

[Warning: All videos on this page might be offensive to some and even NSFW. Viewer discretion is advised.2 ]

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

And then go on for an hour speaking your heart out against the primary religion of the country and it’s ruling party, it’s a whole new refreshing kind of freedom. I think that kind of a freedom is important for a country to grow and that you can only grow so far with these kind of restrictions on free speech.

Here is George Carlin on the Ten Commandments which was a part of his Complains and Grievances routine -

Life is worth losing is the latest routine of George Carlin. It’s good. And the whole of it courtesy Google Video.

There’s a lot more of Carlin around. May your favourite search engine be with you!

  1. Yea, I actually read them! They were mostly good but for being all too self-righteous and preachy and occasionally wrong.
  2. What else were you expecting? He is about the finest stand up comedian you will see.



Anshul is a geek and an entrepreneur. He loves math, coding and all things good.
This entry was posted in India, Opinions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Life is worth losing!

  1. Nice post here…

    I don’t know…what made me leave the Michael Chrichton authored ‘State of Fear’ for a while to check out my mails at 11:30 PM Sunday only when I just finished reading the actual meaning of the title from Professor Hoffman…that I stumble upon this very post by Anshul which kind a linked up with the PLM stuff in the novel and the stuff Anshul wrote here….I can’t clearly find any link between the two things but deep down me…subconsciously I feel Anshul id presenting another example of PLM – Politico-Legal-Media thing explained by Michael using the Hoffman character…Read the novel to make any sense…

    Anshul…You really read those Civics textbooks that seriously… I mean for me it was never more than 20 marks…Although I did love history…

    But the stuff with Indian Stand Up Comic being in infancy is what I agree with…and YES…we do need to remove these speech restrictions…

    Blogging is much effective tool to express until they get on to us…like they are doing out with Orkut these days…

    Until then
    Happy Blogging….

  2. Soumendra says:

    You speak after my heart, only more to the point.

    Yes, we never had a freedom of speech.

  3. Arghya says:

    It’s true that we never had it… but I am yet to see a place which has more of it.. (I don’t know about the situation in Scandinevia..)

    I would rather take the Modi & Co. head on than being dogged by the CIA and finally being killed and stuffed in some obscure manhole!! Actually it depends on what the institution regards as “sensitive”… I bate one can talk that freely about religion… but not about the recent policies of the US Govt. or the very fundamentals of US society or probably.. against Capitalism!!
    And about Europe… you will be jailed if you are found talking about the Holocaust too loudly in public places… including railway compartments and stations!!

    P.S.:- I don’t think I need to talk about the Red part of the world; even less about the Green part!!

  4. san says:

    Anshul,I would definitley agree with whatever you have written,mostly.Yeah we sure need to work a lot more on what you suggest,but after reading Arghya’s comment,I feel we are after all not that bad,as it looks prima facie.

  5. Abhishek says:

    Nice post, Anshul. I completely agree with you (in fact I was going to make my next post on the same subject!) and especially your observation that free speech must be total for it to work.
    Arghya, I have lived in the USA for the last three years and can say categorically that free speech is something real here (or at any rate, much more real than in India). Yes, you can criticise capitalism, you can criticise the policies of the US governement and you can criticise the country itself (or burn its flag for the matter). Ever seen a television show called ‘South Park’? Watch it and ask if such a show would be allowed to exist in India.
    I love India and more than that I love freedom. The destinies of countries are often determined by single events of paramount importance. Governments have a natural tendency towards repression (and corruption). The freedom revolution in Europe began with the French revolution . The seminal event in the history of the US was the framing of their constitution, in particular the enactment of the First amendment. The freedom of speech guaranteed is as total as it gets, and it is this single fact that is responsible for the freedom of speech we have here. (The US had a lot of other things that I hate, but this post is not about those things)
    When India was making her constitution, there was a golden opportunity to put in a clause that would guarantee absolute freedom of expression, but we missed the bus. The makers of our constitution, in their well-meaning but myopic ways, put in a caveat, one that demanded we put ‘sensitivity’ before freedom of expression, one that crippled this fundamental right of ours and gave rise to the present scenario where, at least on certain issues, no reasonable freedom of speech exists in our country, one that ensures that certain holy cows live on (if I had the means, I would slaughter them :there are no holy cows in a land of true freedom ).
    But there will be another bus and we won’t miss that!

  6. Samik says:

    Why do you think that America has much more freedom of expression than India? For example in the interiors of Texas or Pennsylvania minus Philadelphia the situation is much worse than that of India. And we should remember that writing something in the constitution does not change the people’s mind or where they come from. What applies in America may not necessarily be applicable in India. The problem with our judgement is that we take ideals from the western world and say that they are right and that they should be implemented in India. India is a different country with different problems the solutions to which will not be found in the history of the western world. In the end we must understand that we do not want to ape the west but preserve our own culture. I don’t think that we are deprived of freedom of speech in India. Just that we don’t have any corny comedy shows does not mean that people cannot speak out their mind. There have always been methods to voice opinions when they are needed

  7. I personally never suffered from lack of freedom of speech in India. I lived in WB and criticised CPM for all my life. I was always allowed to declare that Nehru ranks high among the worst Indians ever.
    While on the other hand, in US, I constantly speak in politically correct terms. I have to, or else I shall be deported. The only reason people are allowed to criticise the government is because there is a strong opposition. People are never allowed to protest against stuff which both the parties support (like democracy).
    I personally think India has way more freedom of speech than many other countries (incl. US).
    A complete freedom of speech should allow people to criticise freedom of speech itself, and while I can do that in front of an Indian, I shall never do that in front of an American.

  8. A complete freedom of speech in India (or anywhere else) will lead to this:

    Cocksucking arseholes support a fuckload of freedom of motherfucking speech.

  9. Abhishek says:

    Samik: Putting something in the constitution of a country that has a strong judicial system makes a difference. It means laws that violate it can be overturned. It has happened many times in the US.
    Saying things against Jesus or America or Republicans in the interior of Texas won’t make you popular, but you won’t be persecuted for it. In the unlikely event that you are, the law will be on your side. And that makes a big difference.

    Sucharit: If you criticise freedom of speech in front of a American, he will disagree with you or think you are nuts. On the other hand, in many parts of India, if your speech or art ‘offends’ religious sensibilities you may be physically attacked or even killed. Meanwhile, the culture police (often supported by the real police) will harass you (and often do much worse) for perceived obscenities like celebrating Valentine’s day or holding hands.
    On another note Sucharit, *who* defines what constitutes ‘motherfucking speech’?

  10. Samik says:

    Which place has a strong judicial system? India? Definitely not. The strength of India lies in its social structure not in its constitution. In fact it is probably one of the biggest bullshit documents in Indian history.

    A few points here- if you tell something and people start avoiding you because of it then you will avoid voicing the same opinion again. Even if you are given the right to it by law. Is this the freedom of speech you wish for? Can you make racist comments in America and get away with it? You definitely can in India in the right places.

  11. As Samik beautifully put it, India has an amazing social freedom of speech, while the freedom of speech in US is just constitutional. One of them allows me to crack Sardar jokes and criticise South Indian cultures, and the other one forces me to classify people as African Americans, Chinese Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans and so on.
    I personally would rather be persecuted by the law than be ostracised by the society. Being the Howard Roark that you are, I guess you should care about neither.
    I guess it is fashion now-a-days to declare that we have got nothing in India, and life is not worth living. In a country where people starve to death, I guess there are bigger problems to think about, than what your fake intellectual lamenting can comprehend.

  12. And this one for Anshul.

    You criticise Advani for Babri Masjid demolition. It is pretty clear that he neither destroyed it in person, nor organised it. He gave a speech which instigated the demolition.

    So while criticising Advani, are you supporting total freedom of speech, or are you opposing it?

  13. Abhishek says:

    Sucharit and Samik: Contrary to what you may believe, cracking Sardarji jokes in India are not all that harmless. You can be arrested by the police for that.

    And yes, if for expressing my opinions I have to choose between a) prosecution by the law b) disapproval of people who believe in ostracising those whose opinions dont match theirs, I will choose the latter. Always. But you know what- cultures where the law is firmly on the side of freedom of expression, tend to have a lot of people who see the beauty of it.

  14. Anshul says:

    [quote comment="4843"]So while criticising Advani, are you supporting total freedom of speech, or are you opposing it?[/quote]

    In a better India, I would criticize Advani for what he said in that speech but defend till death his right to say it.

    In the present India, he enjoys no such right that I can defend.

    I would much rather live in that better India. Wouldn’t you?

    [quote comment="4824"]A complete freedom of speech in India (or anywhere else) will lead to this:

    Cocksucking arseholes support a fuckload of freedom of motherfucking speech.[/quote]

    And I would gladly live in that world. I would have the complete freedom to not hear/read that and ignore it if I heard/read it anyway.

  15. Anshul says:

    Samik, social freedom of the kind you are talking about is enjoyed by pretty much everyone in the world from the US of A to Taliban. You say/do stuff they don’t like you will be ignored/troubled. And you can make racist comments in the right places in there too. Racist speech is not outlawed in the US, racisms is.

    It is the necessary counterbalance and protection provided by the laws and the constitutions that allow societies and cultures to grow and move forward. Without them, the western world would still be living in an apartheid racist regime and ours would still have widespread child marriage and Sati.

    The power of these minor things like constitutions cannot be undone. They are social contracts that say that go ahead and do whatever you want. Even if it’s unpopular, we will protect you just as much as the next guy. Through this, constitutions can and do change people’s mind. They are slow but they do work.

    These ideals of freedom of speech that we are discussing are not western ones. They are human ones.

    And the existence of bigger problems does not mean that we shouldn’t discuss these. As Hans Rosling said, wealth and education are not the goals of progress, they are the means. The goals are culture and human rights.

  16. Samik says:

    Abhishek- I really cannot argue when it comes to a question of belief. We have different ideologies here. I believe that society is more important than law and you believe otherwise. The thing about making laws banning sardar jokes on the internet has not been passed. Even if it is, its exactly the thing someone in America would do. People do file lawsuits when they are hurt by some guys in media. Where does freedom of speech come in here?

    Anshul- Firstly I want to say that my point here is not that freedom of speech is a lesser problem. It is a problem at in India as much as it is in the rest of the world.
    I don’t know about the social freedom in the rest of the world but I only know about the social freedom in the 2 countries I lived in- India and America. In America, if you make racist comments then you are branded as racist and in society that means that there is a big problem with you. In India people make racist comments all the time and they are accepted as part of life. Everyone is racist in his thoughts and everyone makes judgements on people and their habits by their race. This becomes wrong when you feel that your race is more superior and deserves to have more priviledges than others. Although the reactions to racist comments are not written down in law it is ingrained in the mind of the people. And to me that is more important.
    Secondly about the constitution- I never said having a constitution is wrong only that our constitution is bullshit. It is something framed by looking at the constitutions of the western world, not at our needs and problems. For example the word secular. It was very necessary for the western world to be secular when the church was doing all its atrocities, when there were all the crusades. But there was never any such problem in India- India has never faced any religious war. And your comments about sati- remember that sati was banned in India after the bhakti movement, it was reestablished by the British.
    And lastly I would say that you cannot deal different cultures using the same ideals. It is natural that freedom of speech in America, Europe and India will all be different because all the people are different.

  17. Are you guys really advocating a complete freedom of speech? Where exactly (if at all) will we draw the line? If someone gives a speech which instigates violence, will that be a part of his freedom of speech? If someone orders people to murder a race of people, will that be a part of his freedom of speech?

    To quote an extreme example, was Hitler’s Nuremberg speech an example of your complete freedom of speech, the right (and not hopefully the content) of which you will “defend till death” in an “ideal world”?

    If that be so, then we really have nothing to discuss. I hope to live in a world where the right to live is more important than the right of free speech, and I believe that if any speech violates someone else’s right to live, such speech should be banned.

  18. Abhishek says:

    I agree that we have different ideologies, though it can probably not be summarised in the simplistic way Samik described. Anyway, it is unlikely that many new thoughts or issues will come out by further discussion. Still, I am writing this post to clarify my stand on questions raised by Samik and Sucharit. This will probably be my last post in this thread.

    Samik said “Even if it is, its exactly the thing someone in America would do. People do file lawsuits when they are hurt by some guys in media.”
    Wrong. No one has ever been sued for merely saying things that hurt others in media. People have however been sued for ‘defamation’, which is expressly different from causing hurt. Defamation means you publicly make a *false* statement about someone else that denigrates him. Expressing an *opinion* on any matter, however hurtful it may be (for instance cracking jokes against blacks, or saying that christianity is a stupid religion) has never been grounds for a lawsuit. However because mass media is watched by everyone including children, there are certain codes they need to follow. So if an American family channel shows someone stripping, the channel will be fined, the person stripping however won’t be.

    Sucharit said:”If someone gives a speech which instigates violence, will that be a part of his freedom of speech? If someone orders people to murder a race of people, will that be a part of his freedom of speech?”
    My position on this matter(which perhaps is different from Anshul’s) is, if someone directly instigates others under him to commit a crime, say murder jews, then he should be penalized. For instance if a political leader eggs on his supporters to go and burn Muslim homes, then he should be arrested. The logic is, he is then part of the conspiracy and legally liable for any damage that the Muslims suffer.

    On the other hand, if someone expresses an opinion, say in media (without a direct instigation to anyone to commit an illegal act) that a certain act should be done, or that a certain community is a nuisance, then that is his freedom of expression and he cannot be prosecuted by law for exercising it. For instance, if I write an article saying that Muslims are dangerous, or Sikhs are stupid, or girl-children are an economic burden, (without actually directly instigating to readers to go and burn Muslims, or harass Sikhs, or drown their girl-children) then I cannot be penalized. Of course it may happen that someone reads my article and decides the proper way to deal with dangerous Muslims is to go kill them, and he bands up with like-minded people and goes and burns some Muslim homes. That would be his liability alone, and I should not face any action on the matter (for I wasn’t part of the conspiracy).

    I believe my stand is consistent with laws in almost all Western countries

    btw, I am against all laws against free-expression wherever they exist, for instance Germany has a disgusting law that prevents you from declaring that the Holocaust did not happen. It is one of the most outrageous (indeed the only example I know of) anti free-expression law in the Western countires.

  19. Anshul says:

    And there you go proving Godwin’s Law!

    No, I am not asking for that “complete” a freedom of speech. Even if I stay clear of your extreme example, a complete freedom of speech will mean that one be allowed to shout fire in a crowded hall and that libel and slander be leagal. I am not an anarchist and that is not my point of view.

    I want a reasonable freedom of speech – both in the law and in practice. And my claim is that this is not available to me in either form in India. And that it is unlikely to become available to me till at least, the legal part of this situation is corrected. A reasonable freedom of speech for instance must give you the right to express your view without censorship or the fear of it. The exceptions to this right should be both minimal, well-defined and objectively testable (in courts). These “can-hate laws” need to be abolished. I have already argued most of these.

  20. Anshul says:

    I will perhaps add here that some reasonable candidates for “exceptions to freedom of speech” might be things like defamation, causing panic, incitement to crime and maybe even obscenity in a setting like India. However, the law needs to very accurately define what counts as defamation and what is obscene and how will the courts test that and who will bear the burden of proof for all these tests.

    Without a very objective and accurate definition, the right is almost useless. For instance any reasonable definition of obscenity must exclude anything that has substantial artistic merit. Checks and balances like that are absent in India. As a result, censorship in India is way outside of any reasonable limits.

    I didn’t quite see Abhishek’s post before posting the previous one because I was typing mine. Anyway, I have no idea how well my ideas align with western ideals or his but I hope that these are universal things. Thanks for your comments Abhishek. In fact thanks everyone for participating in a very insightful discussion, specially Sucharit, Samik, Abhishek and Arghya.

    San, Kamesh, Soumendra and everyone else, I am glad that you liked my post. San, thanks for linking back.

    Kamesh, thanks for your comment. I haven’t read State of fear and actually wanted to lay my hands on it before responding to you but I guess that will have to wait. Yeah, the Indian blogosphere seems to be reaching a critical mass of sorts and will likely play a very significant role in the years to come. Oh and I did read the civics textbook. :)

  21. beli says:

    Some websites that *they* wanted to block:

    Some blah about it:…of-the-nanny-state.html

    There’s nothing lovable about Maoist or Hindu (or any other kind of) extremist site, but blocking them is gonna hurt you and me, in the long run. They’re jobless enough to simply move.

    Btw, this live preview’s kinda cool :)

  22. Well written.
    I think the main issue with India is that .. there is no space for a parallel idea to exist. Also there is no room for criticism or dialogue. This pretty much means that if someone doesn’t like something and has the muscle power to push it .. they go ahead and push it and the rest of the country has to wait and watch.

    India’s biggest problem (extremely difficult to articulate this .. in a quick comment :)) is lack of law and order. When people break into newspaper offices, arrest innocent couples .. and do all the fun things .. they are essentially breaking the law. The only reason they do it .. is because they know they can get away with it. If the BJP or ShivSena .. break into the offices of a channel or newspaper .. Advani, Vajypayee or Thackeray should be immediately arrested, since they are the main people of that party.

    I would love to throw more in here .. but have to head back to work.
    Nicely writ, Anshul !!

  23. icq13219 says:

    wow ))
    its very reasonable article.
    Good post.
    realy gj

    thx :-)

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