Frederick Douglass (d. 1895), the renowned American abolitionist wrote, “Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them . . . The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” I used that quote in my book, Transforming India, (click for a free download). Indians will submit to a lot, and have done so for centuries. The current oppressors are “democratically” elected. Allow me to quote from the book:
Liberty and Democracy
A large country like India cannot be ruled without some degree of popular consent. That the population gives that consent despite the enormous harm the tyrannical government does to them would be inexplicable but for the fact that the rulers make sure that the population does not ever become informed enough to know that they are living under a tyranny.
India has been a democracy for a long time. But India has not been free since very long. Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out over two centuries ago that liberty and democracy are not the same thing. Indeed, there is sufficient evidence over the centuries that democracy has existed to show that democracy can be the enemy of liberty. We must keep in mind that a despotic dictator like Adolf Hitler was democratically elected.
Tyranny and Democracy
India’s government is elected by the people. But being popularly elected as a democratic government does not mean that it cannot also be a tyranny and deny the people freedom. The subjugation of the population can be as real in a democracy as in a despotic rule. As Murray Rothbart wrote,
“… every tyranny must necessarily be grounded upon general popular acceptance. In short, the bulk of the people themselves, for whatever reason, acquiesce in their own subjection. If this were not the case, no tyranny, indeed no governmental rule, could long endure. Hence, a government does not have to be popularly elected to enjoy general public support; for general public support is in the very nature of all governments that endure, including the most oppressive of tyrannies. The tyrant is but one person, and could scarcely command the obedience of another person, much less of an entire country, if most of the subjects did not grant their obedience by their own consent.” [From the introduction to the book by Étienne de La Boétie “The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude” (1576)]
It is popularly believed that Indians have freedom of expression, and to some extent they do. But slowly and surely, the government is tightening the screws. The Congress party is a past master of the game, having taken over the mantle from the British. The British had a good reason to do it: to keep the Indians under control. The Congress/UPA government also has the same reason to suppress expression that it finds unpalatable.
Antonia Maino, aka Sonia Gandhi, does not like it when the natives poke fun at her and her family. She has directed her minions to go after cartoonists. She’s a 1-person fatwa issuing authority when it comes to the UPA.
Anyhow, I bring all this up because on July 6th, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations voted on a resolution that calls for “individuals to have the same rights online as off. The resolution could have a lasting impact on how the Internet is controlled, and censored, the world around.”
The resolution attracted some 85 state co-sponsors, 30 of which sit on the Council. The United States, along with Nigeria, Sweden, Turkey, and Brazil presented the bill. There were opponents, including India, China, and Russia. As you might expect, countries that have a history of repressing free speech both offline and on, formed the resolution’s detractors.
According to The Australian, Tunisia found the passage of the bill to have more than symbolic import. Its ambassador, as quoted by the paper, stated that “the most important result of the Tunisian revolution is this right to freedom of expression [making the passage of the resolution] very important at the moment.” He went on to note that the freedom of expression online is a “major tool for economic development.”
The resolution matters as it begins to craft a legal framework to protect dissident voices. As The Hill notes, Sweden’s editorial in the New York Times makes the case for such protections: “We cannot accept that the Internet’s content should be limited or manipulated depending on the flavor-of-the-month political leaders.” [Source.]
Let’s see. India is in good socialist company — China and Russia — in opposing the resolution. Like them, India has a “history of repressing free speech.”
Will Indians wake up and smell the stench of government repression and censorship? I would not hold my breath. Indians don’t have the stomach for freedom of expression. As the saying goes in Hindi, कुत्ते को घी नहीं पचता है |
[Hat tip: Raja Sekhar Malapati for the link to news item.]