How many times have you heard the following either on blogs or in blog comments?
- Freedom of Expression is not a priority for most Indians
- There are simply not “enough of us” to make the government care
- India has more important problems than Freedom of Expression
- Our voice will never be heard
I hear statements like this all the time. And over the past five years or so, my rights to free expression in India have been steadily eroded. The recent IT amendments allow anyone to take down content if they find it “blasphemous” or “offensive”. We bloggers have not been silent of course. We blogged about it. We’ve tweeted our hearts out. We’ve created Facebook pages and signed petitions.
But we have never… ever… made it an election issue.
Never once has anyone ever stood up and said “I will vote for the party that supports unqualified freedom of expression in India.” Note how many communities support freedom of expression as long as it is directed towards someone else. Recently, when Salman Rushdie was intimidated against visiting India and when the Jaipur literature festival wasn’t even allowed to have him on video conference, everyone seemed outraged. “Muslim fanatics are taking over the country!” “Freedom of expression is under attack!” Yet these same individuals lent their support to the thugs and goondas who hounded MF Husain out of the country for paintings that were “offensive to Hinduism”.
So I’ll just say what needs to be said. I will vote for the party which openly supports freedom of expression regardless of whom it offends.
I’m aware that my voice is small. I’m aware that I’m not a priority for politicians. But this is the least I can do. I have a voice – and I’m making use of it. By itself it will mean nothing. I know for a fact that many Indian bloggers agree with me. I have met several wonderful individuals who share my views on a wide range of topics ranging from equality of women, to freedom of expression. This interaction is made possible ONLY through the Internet. A medium which has no boundaries. For me, it goes much deeper than that. I rely on the Internet to earn my living.
I see no reason whatsoever why bloggers should not get together and vote as a bloc. But we must keep one thing in mind. We are INFLUENCERS. Our strength does not lie in numbers, but in AMPLIFICATION.
There are two examples of this. Remember the Nira Radia tapes? There was a complete media blackout of that whole affair. But the collective outrage of Internet citizens like us forced the media, the government, and the courts to sit up and take notice. More recently, Kapil Sibal’s idiotic statements about prescreening comments on social networks also drew our collective outrage. We forced him to take back what he said and the next time he will think twice before spouting such irresponsible nonsense.
In both cases, the absolute number of people engaged in discussing these issues was miniscule compared to the population of India. We didn’t organize any dharnas, strikes, or agitations. But we talked about them. We blogged about them. We tweeted and used hash tags. And we were noticed.
Bloggers, and Internet citizens need to take an electoral stand. For those of you who feel that there are more important parameters on which to choose a political party, consider this. There is no material difference between the Congress and the BJP. They have no economic ideology. Each repeats the actions of the other when they are elected.
“Freedom of Expression” on the other hand is an attitude. It implies tolerance. It implies open-mindedness. It implies maturity. Intelligence. Equality. Courage. It implies that one has control over one’s mind. Qualities that we as a people and our political class are sorely lacking in. Surely that is something worth voting for?
We need not have the numbers. We have the tools necessary to make our voice heard loud and clear. I repeat – our strength lies in AMPLIFICATION. For this reason, we cannot merely become “just another number”. For we will lose the numbers game. In terms of sheer votes amassed, we might not be able to match the traditional vote blocs. We cannot win a pure numbers game.
But here’s the secret – neither can the hardliners. THEIR power stems from being able to influence other people too. You really think those protesting against Salman Rushdie have even read his book? No. Someone else read it and told them how to react and how to behave. The hardliners also rely on amplification and not just numbers.
THIS is a battle we can win.
So how do we amplify our voice? We have to prevent ourselves from becoming “just another number”. For this reason, we avoid strategies which represent us as just “one more”. Such methods might leave you feeling satisfied that you done something, but I doubt if it’ll get us very far. Strategies like this include:
- Creating a Facebook page and asking people to “like” it (just click the “like” button and you do your good deed for the day!)
- Creating a petition asking people to sign it (I’ve never heard of anything come of these things)
Moves like the above reduce us to mere numbers. That’s not the game we want to play. In order to AMPLIFIED, we have to:
- Blog about our support to a party that promises unrestricted Freedom of Expression
- Post comments on articles, news items, and other blogs about this requirement
- Post your preferences on your favorite social networks. Encourage your friends to share it
- Use the #indiancensorship hash tag to consolidate our activity
- Many people like my mother still share using e-mail. Make use of it to reach those who don’t use social networks.
There would probably be other innovative ways to amplify our voices. Remember the pink chaddi campaign and what a massive impact it had? That was because the act of physically sending a real world object has an impact which the virtual world can’t compare with. Perhaps we too need to send a fitting representation to our political leaders :)
It’s time we stood up to defend the medium we all use, love so much and take for granted every day. Who knows? We might even get the ball rolling towards finding a viable alternative to the Congress and the BJP! That would be a huge boost for our country.
So what do you think? Is it time for Indian Internet citizens to vote as a bloc and demand that our chosen candidate support unqualified Freedom of Expression in India and all that it implies?