(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
On a brave January morning in the fifty-fifth year of the last century, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Poschim Bongo witnessed a miracle that would change its future forever. The clouds parted, the birds lined up in the sky as if practicing for a parade and the guy who plays the background music during such occasions put on some Rabindra sangeet. The stork responsible for delivering Bengali babies punched in his card and began to start making his deliveries. When he reached his workstation, he saw that the first baby he was to deliver was giving a fiery speech to the other babies around her who were crying and peeing in appreciation. He tried to get the baby to stop talking so that he could get on with his day but the baby threatened to go on a cerelac-strike until the conditions in the baby producing machines were not improved. After 26 hours of hard negotiations, the stork was finally able to deliver the baby. While the Gods watched this journey live on GodTube, they all nodded in agreement that this baby was one day going to lead her people onto the light. Then they all went back to their day job playing supporting characters in Rajnikanth movies.
Flash-forward to 2012. The fiery baby has now turned into the chief minister of Poschim Bongo. You can recognize her thanks to her old-school tantrums. Some things never change! This week she committed the most egregious crime in the history of the world; she tried to punish someone for posting stuff to the internet. How dare she! Didn’t our politicians get the memo? You can lie, cheat, steal, rape, pilour our taxes, bend the rules for your own personal benefit, but don’t you dare try to take away our ability to make semi-amusing jokes about you or we’ll treat you the same way the United Nations Security Council treats rogue countries who repeatedly violate international law: send you a strongly worded letter requesting you to stop.
Governments in this country have always tried to censor its citizens under one lousy pretext or another. They passed a draconian act making themselves kings of the internet, even though they did not need a new law to stifle dissent. Whether it is through tax raids or humiliating enforcement directorate ‘interrogations’ or using their stooges in the media to brand someone ‘anti-national’ to negate their criticism, they love making examples of people who ‘cross the line’ so that others self-censor themselves. However, their old methods of censorship are useless on the internet. Even if they manage to get something removed from a particular website, it will pop-up at a dozen other websites. Just like you can’t keep an alcoholic away from his drink no matter how many ‘dry-days’ you announce, you cannot keep information hidden on the internet from those who seek it.
Since they can’t get rid of the content, they do the next best thing. Punish the person who posted or shared it. And like with everything else they don’t understand, they try to ban it. The commitment of our government and government departments to make things difficult for legitimate users of things never falters. Simplicity is for countries with a weak digestive system. Tough countries complicate everything beyond recognition. If you like it then you can’t put a ring on it. A few people have a drinking problem? Raise the permissible age limit to get a drink to a number so high that it only makes sense to a person too drunk on power. Some people are using paypal and other online payment services to cheat on their taxes? Ban paypal. Are service providers refusing to share information about every user citing privacy concerns? Threaten to terminate their services until they budge. Privacy in India is treated with the same contempt that is usually reserved for an uninvited dinner guest who likes to share details of his bowel moments while everybody else is eating.
And if they can’t find any real reason to censor something, then they can go back using their most faithful excuse. National security. Those two words are a pre-emptive strike against every question. Sorry buddy, we need access to all your emails, text messages, tweets, facebook status updates and details about every second you spend on the internet. What do you mean your privacy is important to you? National security, boss. What are you, some kind of communist? Or a terrorist supporting liberal hippie? Privacy is for important people whose drivers accidentally record them in compromising positions. Not for schmucks like you.
Now please excuse me while I politely deal with this nice police officer at my front door who wants to know why I was using ‘private browsing’ between 4 and 5 am last Friday.
See you next week.