Stop "Harming" Me!

“Do what you want if you don’t harm anyone else”. This is the foundation of India’s Constitution.

Isn’t it easy to “harm” someone these days? Look at these examples:

  1. Parents are “harmed” when their children marry against their wishes. So they kill them.
  2. People are “harmed” by Khushboo’s remarks on pre marital sex. So they take her to court.
  3. Society was “harmed” when homosexuality was legalized. So homosexuals are outcasts.
  4. People are “harmed” if a book on Shivaji is written. So the book is banned.
  5. Someone is “harmed” when M F Husain paints something offensive. So they threaten to kill him.
Can some paint on paper really "damage" you?

Can some paint on paper really "harm" you?

It seems everyone can choose to be “harmed” by what other people do – even when it doesn’t really affect them. Convenient isn’t it? There’s only one problem. It just doesn’t make sense!

The only type of “harm” which is acceptable in court, is one which causes measurable damage. The key word is “measurable.” So if someone hits me, the force of the blow, the ultimate effect on my body etc are all factors that can be determined from outside. If I’m robbed, the amount of money I lose is measurable. Every law exists to limit measurable damage to others.

But when khaps and parents claim for example, that their “honor” was besmirched because their adult children married against their wishes, that does not qualify as harm. In the first place, “honor” is a subjective word that defies measurement. Secondly, there’s no proof that any “damage” is caused when a person’s honor is taken away. These are intensely personal issues. They need to be dealt with in a way that doesn’t break the law of the land.

Why this focus on measurement? Because justice needs to be applied consistently and to everyone in the same way. If something cannot be measured in a way that is obvious to everyone, the law can’t punish someone over it.

However even so, there are some imperfect laws which seek to punish people for subjective and dubious “harm.” Laws relating to offensive books for example. But even here, the Indian legal system has set the bar very high for proving “harm.” Not every Tom, Dick and Harry can go around claiming that their delicate sentiments have been harmed by a book.

When the Indian Supreme Court struck down the ban on Shivaji’s book, here’s what it said:

“The effect of the words used in the offending material must be judged from the standards of reasonable, strong-minded, firm and courageous men, and not those of weak and vacillating minds, nor of those who scent danger in every hostile point of view. The class of readers for whom the book is primarily meant would also be relevant for judging the probable consequences of the writing”

Those who claimed they were “hurt” by M F Husain’s paintings fall into the latter category of “weak minds.” After all, strong minds are much more resistant to damage caused by simply viewing a pattern of paint on paper. Strong minds aren’t damaged by hearing the views and opinions of other people no matter how different from their own. Strong minds aren’t hurt when their adult children choose to take charge of their own lives.

So the next time someone tells you that society is being “harmed”, that “marriage is being destroyed”, that “People’s sentiments were harmed” and that “children are being corrupted,” just ask them one question. “Show me who exactly has been harmed, and precisely how much damage they’ve sustained!”

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  1. Insecurity is the root cause of all misery. Add to it possessiveness , ego and blind love.


    • In reply to Lakshmi rajan

      the way we live our lives depends on the ' ideas ' we have about how things should be. sometimes these ideas are necessary to motivate us into action. for example if an employee is to work effectively they should not be demotivated by having someone else do what they have been allocated to do, especially if they are doing it well. it will lead to low self esteem and the quality of their work will decline, not just because they were insecure about their performance or possessive about the work allocated to them, or that they are egoistic, but because interference from another who has not been on the job and therefore has no clear picture of the situation and who tries to make irrelevant suggestions and insists that they be implemented, may result in the breaking up of something that took years to build.

      now if this is not demotivating and harmful, then tell me what is ?

      so there are harmful situations and it does not always imply that the one who feels harmed is weak minded.


    • In reply to Lakshmi rajan

      Couldn't agree more. Insecurity is really the root of it all…


  2. this is irrational.. when some one paints the gods of a particular section in obscene way, it affects the people.. how do you measure it?

    For example, is some one paints one's mother in nude form and display it in public, does it harm him or not?

    Or if some one paints a person and his wife naked and copulating, does it harm that couple or not?

    Btw, who are the courts to decide what is a harm or not?

    When a daughter who elopes and run away, and the parents commit suicide, had it harmed them or not? how do you measure it?


    • In reply to senthil

      For example, is some one paints one’s mother in nude form and display it in public, does it harm him or not?

      Only the mother has the right to complain. The children or the husband have no business complaining. The mother has the right to complain, because she owns her own body and painting it nude and displaying it in public is a violation of privacy – a right guaranteed in the Constitution of India.

      Btw, who are the courts to decide what is a harm or not?

      So who will decide? You? If the matter is one of punishment, only the courts have the right to decide.

      When a daughter who elopes and run away, and the parents commit suicide, had it harmed them or not? how do you measure it?

      Parents choose to commit suicide. No one forced them.


  3. Agree all the way. This idea of someone else doing something that they want 'harming' me has to change. And if your faith in something is so strong, how can something as trivial as a painting affect it? God needs you to protect her/him? :-D


  4. I think we are mostly in agreement, but

    "…making provocative statements should be punishable for causing distress…"

    introduces an additional layer of subjectivity. Emotional distress can be clearly perceived when the speaker issues threats to cause direct physical harm to the targets (even in the absence of any such act) and then down is a smooth continuum towards "harmless jokes" etc with no clear inflection point visible to me.

    I kind of understand the "reasonable man" (person?) stand adopted by courts in these matters. I dont envy them their job.

    As an example, consider a person making lewd and indecent comments at a lady and she, or a 3rd party then reacts by thrashing the speaker. The physical harm was effected on the perpetrator of a verbal offence! (who initiated the offence). Does he have a case against the lady or 3rd party? Or, are they "equally" guilty? Is the lady guilty at all? Is there a threshold of violence beyond which she can be charged ( imagine she breaks his arm, or stabs him dead).

    Lots to think about… but we're dragging this out already. quite okay if nobody wants to respond :-)




  5. Harm right I am ‘harmed’ by this post, cause its really excellent :)


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