Speaking Out

It has been cricket, cricket and more cricket in the news for the last one month. It let up only when India got knocked out in the semi finals and even then the discussion has only changed tracks slightly to consider whether the presence of Anoushka Sharma distracted Virat Kohli from his game. Why blame the poor girl? After all it’s the girls who are turning out to be the saving grace of the country. They seem to have taken it upon themselves to bring about change. There is Saina Nehwal who is now ranked World No1 in badminton; Sania Mirza who is in the top three in the women’s doubles ranking for tennis. Not to mention the scores of young girls at law schools, medical schools, business schools, engineering colleges, in the armed forces, the police, filling your car tank at petrol pumps, sending you to the empty slot in parking lots, driving taxis, buses, metro trains. You name it and there they are, studying, working, speaking out and speaking up. At least in the urban areas.

And why not? Is it not about time? We do however, wonder about the reasons for the outspokenness at this time. Is it generational, the education, social media, television, or all of them? The internet is probably the most significant factor. In all other media the opinions are edited and paraphrased before you hear them, but on the net you hear what a person has to say in their own words. This ability to speak and be heard has become, not only a platform but also a right. A right insisted upon by people like Shreya Singhal, the law student, who filed a Petition in the Supreme Court challenging Section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000, on the grounds that it violated her right of free speech under Article 19(1)a of the Constitution of India.

The section was brought in to the ITAct in 2008 by the politicians and for the politicians and gave the police the power to arrest any person who had posted anything on the internet which was considered, to be ‘grossly offensive’, or electronic mail sent for the ‘purpose of causing annoyance’. It failed however to define offensiveness and of course practically anything can annoy some one or the other. Since our politicians are notoriously thin skinned, they in particular can be severely annoyed at the least instance.  So, we have had ridiculous instances of people being arrested for forwarding cartoons of politicians, questioning politicians and basically saying anything about politicians other than the fact that they love them with all their heart and soul. Imagine the grief a lactose intolerant politician could have caused the people posting cheesy recipes on the net.

It was a victory for the vociferous and opinionated ‘gen next’ when the Supreme Court on 24th March 2015, agreed with Shreya Singhal and a host of other petitioners, and struck down section 66A. The Court felt that the section invaded the right of free speech and the right to dissent and as such was arbitrary and excessive. The politicians are making politically correct noises while probably planning on how reword an alternative. But for now the section has gone.

There was a time when people disagreed with a lot of things and complained about them, mostly with friends and family, if they were understanding. But beyond that, there was resigned acceptance, particularly amongst women, of the way things were. This seems to be undergoing a change and the girls are bringing it about. It is also perhaps because the lines between the public and the private have blurred. Everything said on social media sites for one’s ‘friends’ is also visible to other people. Outspokenness and having opinions is therefore the order of the day even if it gets you fired, arrested or brings you ridicule. Anything said is judged by social media itself, whether right or wrong, true or false, there will be any number of comments, ‘likes’ or vilification for which, people who have grown up in the last ten years, are ready. This is the nature of their existence and their way of being. Which is why they will and do openly and widely object when something is unacceptable.

Here, therefore, is change. Democracy in action, which cannot be controlled by the corridors of power. And we can say to young people like Shreya, “You go girl.”


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