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 Objectivism in Perspective
Against Censorship
Liberty Institute, India Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Shanu A
The ban on pornographic websites is just a symptom of a much larger ideological problem. Our individual freedoms are at stake. Today they ban pornographic sites. Tomorrow they might ban ideological websites and books. What begins with a pornographic website ends with a philosophical treatise.

The Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, who is about to step down, said the government could place restrictions on websites that exclusively circulated pornography and hate speech. “They (websites) can also be used to circulate offensive content such as pornography, hate speech and defamatory material. In many cases the Intellectual Property rights of artists are violated by unauthorized circulations,” he said. However, he was of the opinion that Internet intermediaries should not be punished for the “wrongdoings” of specific individuals.

Internet censorship is not new to India. India has a long history of Internet censorship. It all began when the website of Dawn Newspaper was blocked by VSNL after the Kargil war in 1999. Soon people found ways to bypass the block. A ban targeted against a particular Yahoo group resulted in the ban of all Yahoo groups for two weeks in 2003. Several websites including blogspot.com, typepad.com and geocities.com were banned in 2006. But, people found ways to bypass these regulations within hours. The government of India has an agreement with Orkut to remove defamatory material. Twenty websites were shut down in India in the past decade. In June 2009, the Indian Government banned Savita Bhabhi, an internet porn star as a result of a complaint received from a women's group in Maharashtra.

All these violations of individual liberty are not surprising at all, as the right to free speech in India makes so many exceptions like “the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.” As a saying goes, "The first amendment to the American constitution upheld freedom of expression, whereas the first amendment to the Indian constitution killed it”. People are so used it to that they hardly protest. Some voices of protest were heard, especially when the blogosphere was blocked, but still such a mentality is not widespread. The editor of techgloss filed a Right to Information request to find out the reasons behind the government ban of Savita Bhabhi. "We have terrorists to chase. “We are a developing country. Why waste energy and resources pursuing an adult cartoon site? Somebody wanted to make an example of Savita.” said Mr Varma of techgloss. The libertarian blogger, Amit Varma wrote in his blog, "This is arbitary, this is wrong—and it could happen to any of us tomorrow." But, such protests are exceptions, not the rule. Even after imposing such monstrous regulations, politicians assure people that nothing is wrong. In June, after the ban of Savita Bhabhi, Sachin Pilot, minister of state in the ministry of communications and technology, said "Indian cyberspace is very free. It's through what prism you see it. It’s hard to justify pornography on the Internet.” “We don't want to be in the business of banning web sites.” he added. 

In the eyes of many, the ban on an internet porn star is something which doesn’t matter to them in one way or the other. The ban on pornographic websites is just a symptom of a much larger ideological problem. Our individual freedoms are at stake. Today they ban pornographic sites. Tomorrow they might ban ideological websites and books. What begins with a pornographic website ends with a philosophical treatise. All innovators will be punished, as they are mostly anti-authority. Once that happens, we will be taken straight into a totalitarian cage.

It might not be inspiring for many to protest against a ban on pornographic websites. Ayn Rand’s words in “Philosophy: Who Needs It” might be relevant. “In the transition to statism, every infringement of human rights has begun with the suppression of a given right’s least attractive practitioners. In this case, the disgusting nature of the offenders makes it a good test of ones loyalty to a principle. The alleged limitations on that power, the conditions of when, where and by whom it may be exercised, are of no significance-once the principle that the Government holds such power has been established. The rest is only a matter of detail-and of time.”

The crucial point, however, is that it is completely irrelevant whether pornography would have good or bad effect. It might have any of these, as the case might be, but it is not relevant at all for public policy. The law should get out of the business of enforcing morality. If it does so, instead of punishing violence, it becomes an initiator of violence. It is obvious that people can’t be forced to be moral.  In the words of Ayn Rand, “An attempt to achieve the good by force is like an attempt to provide a man with a picture gallery at the price of cutting out his eyes.” It might be true that at least in some cases pornography and hate speech, for instance, would incite people to violent acts. So what? Why should other people be held responsible for their actions? The proper function of the law is to punish such individuals. As an economist wrote, “Coercion deprives a man of the freedom to choose and, therefore, of the possibility of choosing morally.


This article was published in the Liberty Institute on Wednesday, May 12, 2010.
Author : Shanu works with Liberty Institute as a Research Assistant. He blogs at http://austrianeconomist.net
Tags- Find more articles on - censorship | internet | K.G. Balakrishnan | liberty | Orkut | pornography | savita bhabhi

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