The test of democracy is freedom of criticism.
I often wonder, What if I wake up one morning and find myself dumb? Unable to express myself. Gesticulating for a cup of coffee. Not being able to talk. That would be the scariest nightmare, the crummiest thing to happen. Gives me goose bumps. Yet I know such a thing may never happen. These irrational fears are only figments of one’s naïve imagination. Well…that almost happened! Nearly.
The largest democracy in the world nearly took the right of expression from thousands of its citizens, overnight. In what can safely be alluded to as ‘Censorship’ of the worst kind, a stupid Indian government order asked Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to several blog sites. The nervous ISPs blocked not only the websites but entire services. Reputed weblog publishing systems like Blogger owned by Google went blank, in a jiffy.
Now technology can at best of the times be misunderstood. The ISPs, in an ignorant gesture, pushed India in the same bracket as some communist regimes like China, North Korea, an autoritarian Russia, several repressive middle-eastern countries and so on. The infamous list is long and really infamous. We joined them briefly last week. At least a serious attempt was made to club India with all intellectually bereft nations of the world.
The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion. But India, being India, the media never let the guard down. Next quick phone calls went to the political leadership.
International attention followed. People began asking questions in US and Europe. India, many taken aback, banned blogs!! Are you serious, my American friends asked? "A lot of people are saying, 'Wait a minute. This can't be happening in India. China, yes. Pakistan, understandable' The Tribune, USA ran a headline. Across the Atlantic all major newspapers and TV channels carried commentaries. BBC world to New York Times. India was in news, for all the wrong reasons.
Half sleepy, the Indian government was clearly caught off guard. What is the noise? Suddenly some silly official realised the fallout of the stupid, incomplete order. Another swift order went: Lift the ban. We are the world’s fastest growing economy. Numero Uno investment destination. Mecca of Technology. LA of outsourcing. In a globalized world, how can we impose Censorship? Well, they say, you can cage the singer but not the song.
In a jiffy, the services were restored and your loyal blogger is back. I knew we are not North-Korea.
Long live India. Gosh, that was close!