Law of Social Censorship

The Iconoclast has proposed McCullagh’s Law:

As the certainty that legislation violates the U.S. Constitution increases, so does the probability of predictions that severe harm or death will come to Americans if the proposal is not swiftly enacted.

I propose the corollary in the Indian context as the Law of Social Censorship:

The extent to which {something} exemplifies individual freedom, determines the extent to which it will be opposed on ‘moral’ grounds.

The only prerequisite to oppose something on such grounds is that someone’s sentiments must be affected. Examples:

  • India was the first country to ban Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. The ban is still in force, even after many other countries have repealed their bans.
  • Majority of state governments have banned sex education in schools.
  • Forget gay marriage. Being a homosexual is a criminal offense in India.
  • There have been widespread attempts to ban Google’s Orkut – the most popular social networking site.
  • M. F. Hussain’s paintings – India’s highest paid painter – have often caused controversies leading to his house being destroyed by a mob.
  • There are many, many examples. This Hindu op-ed discusses the social censorship scene in India with many more examples.
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  • same is happening with the POSCO deal, Reliance fresh etc. etc.
    india is a true anarchy

  • @ Mahendra: Good post. The reality however suggests that individual freedom wins even if by stealth.

    Banned or not, I bought a copy of the Satanic Verses not on the pavement but in a shop in Bangalore last year (to replace mine, which has gone missing).

    Banning sex education does not keep people from learning to reproduce. I wish it would!

    The UK only repealed the homosexuality-is-a-crime thing in 1958 (I think). Since this is a legacy of the British, and they are gone, we have to do our own work now…

    MF Hussain’s paintings are controversial not for social censorship reasons but also for dual standards of his fellow Muslims. Much might have been forgiven if he were Hindu – hypothetical but I would put money on it.

    @ Ankur: The concept of ‘organised anarchies’ better describes India. It is a legitimate and widely studied concept in decision sciences in management studies 🙂

  • Mahendra’s Law sounds good. Congratulations. You just made history!

  • Like Shefaly points out laws in India exist only to be flouted. 🙂
    problem is that being a democracy we have to ban and please and scrape and bow and ofcourse…deal. try to deal with the Rights and manage their wrongs, deal with Leftists and bear their wrongs.

  • nice corollary.

  • //Being a homosexual is a criminal offense in India

    Dude, slight correction: IPC 377 classifies unnatural sex as a crime. 377 is a ‘broad picture’ law under which “all carnal intercourse against the order of nature” are banned. That includes oral sex, sodomy, bestiality among others – something that is applicable to heterosexuals as well.
    So, (unlike Iran,) being a homosexual is not a crime in India.

    I like your Law, it puts in one sentence what I’d take a paragraph to express! India was such open country until some hundred years ago. What went wrong?

  • Priyank,
    Nehru and Indira Gandhi happened.

  • Oh and I forgot to say, please do copyright this law 🙂

  • Ankur: Thanks. Yes…it does seem so indeed!

    Shefaly: Thanks. Even though individual freedom may get through via illegal means, that doesn’t make me proud about India at all.

    //Banning sex education does not keep people from learning to reproduce. I wish it would! //
    True. But the lack of sex education is leading to many young girls being naive enough to be abused, many couples who actually do not know what sex is all about, and the increased transmission of diseases like AIDS.

    //MF Hussain’s paintings are controversial not for social censorship reasons but also for dual standards of his fellow Muslims. Much might have been forgiven if he were Hindu – hypothetical but I would put money on it.//
    Interesting thought. It was the Bajrang Dal who destroyed his home with the support of the Shiv Sena. They have been known to act violently irrespective of the dual standards of Muslims. Take the vandalism and carnage perpetrated on the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI). Where were dual standards of fellow Muslims involved?

    //The UK only repealed the homosexuality-is-a-crime thing in 1958 (I think). Since this is a legacy of the British, and they are gone, we have to do our own work now…//
    Yes, and no one in Government seems to think so.

    //Organized anarchies//
    😀 Very interesting…thanks!

    //Oh and I forgot to say, please do copyright this law //
    🙂 Thank you, Shefaly!

  • Nita: I agree that it is coalition politics that is increasing the frequency of social censorship. But that’s not true at all times. The Shiv Sena has carried out social censorship irrespective of whether it is in power or not. We cannot blame the whole state of affairs on just democracy and coalition politics. There’s much more out there that lies outside these boundaries and can be tackled if only there were legislation against it.

    I was reminded of your discussion with Shefaly on your Ganpati immersion and ensuing chemical pollution post, where you were saying that having laws is the first step towards controlling something, even if laws may be routinely flouted in India. I find myself in the same position here! 🙂

    Rambodoc, DotMom: Thank you!

  • Priyank: You are correct in quoting IPC 377, but how does that make homosexuality legal and not a crime? Various NGOs in India have tried repeatedly to repeal 377, in vain. The last occasion I know of was in Feb 2006.

    The reason I singled out sodomy and homosexuality in the post is because mentions of oral sex do not seem to offend our moral activists as much as homosexuality, and bestiality is too uncommon in statistical terms to come under public discussion.

    And regarding sodomy being a criminal offense and homosexuality not being one: it is like saying Hinduism is legal until and unless you do not go to any temple or perform any pooja. A somewhat interesting discussion of the law is here.

    //I like your Law, it puts in one sentence what I’d take a paragraph to express!//
    Thank you! 🙂

    //India was such open country until some hundred years ago. What went wrong?//
    Among other things, what Rambodoc has suggested! 🙂 It was interesting to read Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Priyank(a) in the same breath! 🙂

  • I think that’s pretty much a universal law, Mahendra. It could just as easily apply to the US as to India.

    I live in the same city as is headquarters to Focus on the Family, which employs 3,000 people in its effort to reverse any sexual freedoms that have been gained in this country since the 1960’s — and almost every argument it makes for reversing those freedoms is made on allegedly moral grounds.

  • Paul: Thank you. I was just waiting to see when someone would point out the universality of this law! 🙂

    But India takes the lead in its implementation – folks who oppose on moral grounds feel free to break all the other laws in the country! They’ll resort to mob violence and threats on life. Recently, a right-wing group put a price on the head of a politician because he refuted the existence of Lord Ram in public. At least that doesn’t happen in the US.

  • //it is like saying Hinduism is legal until and unless you do not go to any temple or perform any pooja.

    Ha ha, yes in the practical sense. But this subtleness or (loop)hole in the law is what keeps us (homosexuals) hopeful. I can stand on the street and say I’m gay without being arrested, you know what I mean? 🙂

  • PS: If we *are* eventually going to be loaded with another person from the dynasty, my choice would be Priyanka :p

  • Priyank: Standing on the street and declaring you are gay would be fine; not many folks are likely to do much about it.

    But try doing the same in an Indian talk show on television, and you’ll know what I’m talking about! 🙂

    I’m not as hopeful as you.

    Even Pakistan has had a transsexual on TV, but we do not have any such thing in India.

  • I am coming a bit late to this post…. and I would agree with a lot of comments and your law… sadly, the famous figures (read politicians, not social workers) leave no opportunity to increase their votebank, be it the matter of censorship…. the most basic of freedom of speech is given caste/communal colour and then banned… either everything is ok or nothing is.

  • Oemar: thanks. Yes, what you say is very true. It’s sad that that’s how things are in India.

  • trisha

    am almost five months late to the post,but wd like to add this anyway,lets leave aside sex and sodomy-just think if I went the mahabharat way and followed Kunti and Madri’s suit and had five sons from five maharathhis(and why shdnt I be able to decide the inheritance of my own child if my rights as a normal hetero woman is secure?)what then?and IVF is designer idea in medical science and legal right? organized anarchy?! we are so pretentious here.na gharka na ghatka.

  • so we need our Gokul till Kansha is slain. 😉