Freedom of Expression and a Few Hypothetical Situations


In recent times intense debates have raged over the extents to which two almost antagonistic rights should be allowed – freedom of expression against avoiding emotional hurt. Law, as many say, is an ass. Some call justice blind. It would be very tempting to then consider the Judiciary a blind ass, and I used to share this view, too. But, since last few years I realized, the offhand judgments we pass to consider something as ethical/unethical, or allowed/disallowed are too instinctive and visceral. To pass such offhand judgments is easy, but to justify them under an accepted framework of principles and rules is extremely difficult.

I will present a few situations. Person ‘A’ is the victim and claiming to be hurt because of freedom of expression exercised by person ‘B’. For convenience A is a woman, and B is a man. I have enlisted the reasoning that could be given by A to complain and by B to defend his freedom of expression. I would like the readers to state if they feel B should be punished, with reasons if possible, and notwithstanding what the law in India says. One thing I would like to urge the reader is that irrespective of which of the two antagonistic rights (of freedom of expression and right to avoid emotional hurt) gets precedence in your judgment, it should be consistent across all the situations to the extent possible. If the reader makes an appeal akin to “it is widely accepted to be offending”, then it must be applied to all situations. Basically, whatever grounds used to hold B guilty or not guilty must be employed in every case to maintain consistency. For, what is justice if not consistent.

I must also add that some of the situations are similar to recent events, but to point out the different standards to judge them that few people had employed is not my intention. And please disregard a few zoological details! 😉 Even if some of the situation might sound funny, I am enlisting them here in earnest.

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Situation 1

B draws a painting of a goddess who A worships. The goddess has been labeled and shown to be copulating with frogs. B displays the painting in an exhibition. A goes to the exhibition and sees the painting.

A: I worship that goddess, and the way she is depicted hurt me. So B must be punished for drawing and exhibiting such a painting.

B: I felt like drawing, so I drew it. It’s my freedom of expression. A had the choice of not seeing the painting.

A: But I had no idea that the painting could hurt my sentiments!

B: Still A could have avoided going to watch the painting. After all if one wants to see paintings, getting hurt in the process has to be an acceptable risk.

Situation 2

B draws a painting of a goddess who A worships. The goddess has been labeled and shown to be copulating with frogs. B displays the painting in an exhibition. The painting becomes controversial. A goes to the exhibition and sees the painting.

A: I worship that goddess, and the way she is depicted hurt me. So B must be punished for drawing and exhibiting such a painting.

B: I felt like drawing, so I drew it. It’s my freedom of expression. A had the choice of not seeing the painting and moreover, she knew that those worshiping the depicted goddess had felt hurt on seeing the painting. So why did she go and watch the painting?

A: But how could I be sure that your painting could have indeed hurt me!

B: Still A could have avoided going to watch the painting. After all if one wants to see paintings, getting hurt in the process has to be an acceptable risk.

Situation 3

B tells A, “The goddess you worship copulates with frogs”.

A: What B said about the goddess I worship hurt me. So B must be punished for saying that.

B: I felt like saying it, so I said it. It’s my freedom of expression.

A: But B never allowed me an opportunity to not hear what he said!

B: If anyone wants to enter any sort of conversation, getting hurt in the process has to be an acceptable risk.

Situation 4

B tells A, “Your religion has many dangerous superstitions. It is very cruel to sacrifice cats on every November 31. What kind of goddess could be so cruel. Also, you people amputate the left little finger of your girl child. How disgusting is it! Why do you people forcibly kill husbands upon the death of their wives? You don’t find all this barbaric and primitive to follow?”

A: What B said about my religion hurt me. So he must be punished for saying those things.

B: It was my compassion for cats, the girl child and widowers that made me point out those things to A. My only consideration was the welfare of those wronged through religion! And moreover, it is my freedom of expression. I felt like saying it and hence I said it.

A: But B never allowed me an opportunity to not hear what he said!

B: If anyone wants to enter any sort of conversation, getting hurt in the process has to be an acceptable risk.

Situation 5

A is going for a movie. As she walks along the road and passes across B, he whistles in her direction.

A: B whistled at me and I felt offended. He must be punished for whistling.

B: I felt like whistling, so I whistled. It is my freedom of expression. A just happened to pass by.

A: But B never allowed me the opportunity to not listen to his whistle!

B: If anyone wants to walk on the road, hearing a whistle has to be an acceptable risk. Moreover, A could have avoided walking on the road.

Situation 6

A wears a revealing nightie and enters her bedroom. B, who is her husband whistles at her.

A: B whistled at me and I felt offended. He must be punished for whistling.

B: I felt like whistling, so I whistled. It is my freedom of expression. A just happened to enter the bedroom.

A: But B never allowed me the opportunity to not listen to his whistle!

B: If A wants to walk into my bedroom, listening to my whistle has to be an acceptable risk. Moreover, A could have avoided entering the bedroom.

Situation 7

A is going for a movie. As she walks along the road and passes across B’s house on the first floor of a building, his pressure cooker on stove develops sufficient pressure and as the valve releases that pressure, A hears a whistle.

A: The pressure cooker that B was using whistled at me. I felt offended and he must be punished for it.

B: But I never intended to hurt A. I felt like cooking food and the pressure cooker whistled. Moreover, it is my fundamental right to cook food, the way I want in my house.

A: B never allowed me the opportunity to not listen to his pressure cooker’s whistle.

B: If anyone wants on walk on the road, hearing a whistle has to be an acceptable risk. Moreover, A could have avoided walking on the road.

Situation 8

B, who is A’s coworker says, “Hi, how are you?”.

A: B said “Hi” and asked me how I was. That hurt me. B must be punished.

B: But I never intended to hurt A. I felt like greeting her. That is how I greet everyone. Moreover it is my freedom of expression to have greeted her the way I wanted.

A: But B never allowed me the opportunity to not listen to his words!

B: If anyone wants to go to workplace, being greeted has to be an acceptable risk. Moreover, A could have avoided coming in front of me knowing that is how I greet everyone.

Situation 9

Colleague B circulates an email among office workers, wherein he writes in great details the past sexual encounters of A (whether the details are true or not is irrelevant). He does not send that email to A. However, a female colleague ‘C’, out of concern tells A about the doing of B.

A: B and C hurt my feelings. So they must be punished.

B: I never sent the email to A; I only sent it to other people. Moreover, to write and send whatever I want is a part of my freedom of expression. So nothing of what I did was directly responsible for A’s hurt.

C: I told A about B’s deeds out of concern. It was not my intention to hurt. Moreover, to tell her of the happening was my exercising freedom of expression.

A: But C never allowed me the opportunity to not hear the offending news!

C: If anyone enters a conversation being hurt by the information has to be an acceptable risk.

Situation 10

A is a twelve year-old class topper who had fallen sick just before exams. She could not prepare well and does poorly in exams. Her teacher, ‘B’, writes her an email with subject: “You should be ashamed of yourself!”. The body of the email also contains equally harsh words, and conveys to A that she would be scolded in the class also before all the class mates. A becomes reticent and aloof in the class. Upon being scolded a few more times in the class she becomes tearful. The matter goes to the school principal who warns B against treating A insensitively citing the fact that she is just twelve year old. Yet, B continues his behavior. A commits suicide.

A’s parents: B’s insensitive behavior led to our daughter’s death. He must be punished.

B: I felt like scolding her because of her poor performance and I did just that. To do that followed from my freedom of expression.

A’s parents: But B never allowed our daughter an opportunity to not hear his scoldings!

B: Wrong! My email had contained clearly stated that I was to scold her in the class. She could have avoided being scolded by me by not coming to my class. If one wants to attend school, being scolded and feeling hurt have to be acceptable risks.

—–

With this, the ten hypothetical situations end. I want to point out that we all enjoy freedom of expression, but what curtails it many times is not being physically stopped from expressing ourselves, but the fear of consequences including litigation and ensuing punishment. So by extension, any liability attached with freedom of expression hardly amounts to freedom.

I have deliberately made the situations very extreme and ludicrous. One of the aims was to point out how neither of the two above mentioned freedoms could be allowed to fullest degrees without legal liabilities to maintain a functional society. But another much more important one was to try to determine what all are the possible factors that have made the law enforcers take a view that they take of freedom of expression (especially so in India).

Personally, I do not consider the laws in India perfect. But I also acknowledge the fact that India does allow much greater freedom of expression than many other countries both through legal and social acceptability, apathy or inaction.

But neither do I agree with sanctuary that religion is provided as a ground to feel hurt. I quote here one of the statements by a Karnataka High Court judge (click) from an order he had passed, which summarizes the view taken by the Indian Judiciary of religious sensibilities. It must be remembered that this line of reasoning might be used as precedent to be followed by all the lower courts throughout the country, and may not be challenged unless and until someone from a higher court goes out of his/her way to substitute it with another reasoning. The portion that I find most frightening is in bold-face (especially, if juxtaposed with situation 4 above):

While considering the case, the Supreme Court has laid down the scope of Section 295 stating that, Section 295 has been intended to respect the religious susceptibilities of persons of different religious persuasions or creeds. Courts have got to be very circumspect in such matters, and to pay due regard to the feelings and religious emotions of different classes of persons with different beliefs, irrespective of the consideration whether or not they share those beliefs, or whether they are rational or otherwise, in the opinion of the Court. The Supreme Court has held that, to find out whether an offense is made out under Section 295-A or not, the susceptibilities of persons of different religious persuasions or creeds is relevant and the Court has to give due regard to such feelings in consideration of the case.

Above rationale is codified in the section 295-A of the Indian penal code (click):

Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

Lastly, this post was written with a lot of ideas I arrived at after having exhaustive discussion/debate with The Quirky Indian – Of Freedom of Expression and the Right Not to be Offended (click).

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18 thoughts on “Freedom of Expression and a Few Hypothetical Situations

  1. woah! Being a blogger myself (who is too passive to be called a blogger) i must say this article is awesome… considering the kind of effort n time it must have taken… good job! Situational scenarios…well described.. good work again! Keep writing!

  2. Amazing post ….

    Well freedom of expression is something I do respect .. but with respect to your post I dont think it would not be fair to pass a unified judgement for all the 10 cases .. While judging a person’a action its very important to find the “intention of the person” thats what differentiates accident and purposeful crime ..

    In the first few situations where the painter does not draw the picture to purposely harm the sentiment of A , he paints because he wants to do so… where as in the later situations B purposely expresses something to hut A this is to be condemned…

    Keep Writing such meaningful posts… 🙂

  3. Good start but you still have some way to go. You should study why section 295 was introduced in the first place in the IPC (Rangeela Rasool case and its aftermath, etc.), what are the constitutional grounds to restrict speech, how free speech right has evolved in our country as compared to others and why it is threatened here more than in the West. The scenarios are interesting but only a few are likely scenarios for censorship or a court challenge. Good luck.

    Pilid
    cbcnn.blogspot.com

  4. Some of the situations are half baked and half cooked but you have tried to hit it right.
    A line has to be drawn to control all such things, men will get offended and if a ban is put on the freedom of expression then good things will never turn up. There are so many people in this world and drawing lines will become the only business if freedom of thought has to be exercised according to ‘some more’ laws and rules.
    To please everyone is not possible and creativity lies in the free mind only, so putting a ban or curbing FOT will not be an advisable act.
    Going to movie , exhibition are all individual decisions of a man/woman and if one wants to go and exercise his right to watch everything, he/she must be ready to get offended because it may or may not please him/her.
    The best way to do is that Men must be ready to find something new in movies/paintings and if they find something offensive, they must think why the hell the painter/creator thought so, he must be having some point 😉
    Whistling a girl is not FOT, it is sexual frustration, I guess 😛

  5. Ketan:

    Since you asked me to comment on this post, here I am.

    You begin by asserting: “In recent times intense debates have raged over the extents to which two almost antagonistic rights should be allowed – freedom of expression against avoiding emotional hurt.”

    I am not sure I quite understand what the “right to not be emotionally hurt” is. One can commiserate with someone who is hurt, and if the hurt can be objectively verified, I can understand that one can assign responsibility for the hurt and seek redress.

    If B breaks A’s leg, clearly harm was done and can be objectively verified by a third party.

    If B says A’s mother wears combat boots, it is hard to figure out the extent of the damage. It could be that A finds nothing scandalous about it; or A finds it emotionally upsetting; or A just ignores B’s statement.

    Maybe A’s mother does indeed wear combat boots. So B is merely stating a fact. If A is disturbed by that, it’s A’s concern and going after B for damages is silly.

    If A’s mother does not wear combat boots, then B can be prosecuted for libel. Case closed.

    If B says “The moon is made of rock” and that hurts A emotionally since A believes that the moon is made of cheese, then A should be advised psychiatric counseling.

    If B says “A’s god is a retarded psychopathic pedophile”, and A feels hurt, there is nothing that A can do. Unlike the broken leg or the constitution of the moon cases, this is a statement about a non-existent entity. So case closed.

    Freedom of expression is elevated to the status of a non-negotiable right in some societies. And there are others where the right to take offense is elevated. The former societies prosper, and the latter stagnate or regress.

    It’s a choice that societies make — to make freedom of expression non-negotiable. That choice dictates society’s prosperity to a large extent.

    Section 295-A of the IPC (which you quote above) is silly. It is non-enforceable anyway.

    For instance, Islam proclaims that all religions are false except Islam. They profess this five times a day from every mosque in India. I am forced to hear it. If 295-A had any teeth in it, someone would have stopped the mosques from the mullahs saying things that hurt the sentiments of some non-muslims for sure.

    Finally, I will quote what I posted on my blog the other day. It is by an author, Philip Pullman, who said this in response to someone who claimed to be offended by Pullman’s shocking writing:

    “It was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if you open it and read it, you don’t have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don’t have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or bought, or sold or read. That’s all I have to say on that subject.”

    That’s all I have to say on this subject.

  6. Very interesting, and thought-provoking. I had just such an incident where someone ( good friend) mentioned something inher blog which made it sound as though I was being a particularly nasty person towards a mutual friend.

    Granted, she has a right to express whatever she wants. That is her right.

    HOwever, I and this mutual friend were emotionally upset by her expressions.

    What annoyed me most is that she knew that we would read it, and that her blog was most definitely NOT anonymous. Other friends of ours would read it and assume certain things about the characters of both myself and our mutual friend.

    Which brings me to the question of freedom of expression versus being mean.

    I don’t feel that those two are mutually exclusive in the realm of close friendships. Close friendships sometimes have to operate with sensistivity and tact, which have no bearing on one’s right to freedom and expression. They simply have a bearing on the future stability of that friendship. If one has a total disregard for one’s loved one’s feelings, then by all means go ahead and express your right to say whatever you want, but then one cannot claim freedom of expression when you do not understand why the subjects you berated/insulted/shamed are upset with you.

    The person expressing those things needs to understand the risk they are taking by expressing themselves, and be ok with the consquences, just as Pullman has said so succinctly.

  7. To add another twist in the tale, I inquired badly about the topic and got some more news, which you may or may not have seen before.
    The all tide was created because of Hussain and his paintings.

    I saw a mail, which showed a list of his works:
    His Mother—Dressed and fully Clad
    Fatima–Muhammad;s Daughter–Fully Clad
    Hanuman-His hips are visible
    Seeta,Parvati-naked
    Mother teresa – Dressed
    Lakshmi in sexual union with Lion

    In one of his interviews, Husaain said that he hated Hitler and that’s why he had painted him nude in one of his paintings to give him what he actually wanted.
    Now In another interview he said that he likes it to be nude, as nude is pure. A lesser mortal can change his sentences but an artist of his stature can not and will not.
    So, it gives a hint that he likes Hindu God’s naked and nude but not the Muslim and Christian ones.

    P.S: I do not have any close/special affinity towards any religion, but this is what I wanted to share with you

  8. Secondly, if I paint something and keep it with myself then it is mine, my absolute property.
    When I put it on a public exhibition, it becomes open for Public opinion, which I actually want to gain praise/feedback/comments.
    There comes the concept of Fundamental Rights and Duties as well.

  9. A small case that came to my mind. It was a news item some months back in various TV channels. A book, which was supposed to hurt religious sentiments was banned, and the shop selling it was demolished to pieces (in Maharashtra, as far as I can remember) stating that it offended regional / religious sensibilities. Number of people arrested or involved were in thousands. Number of books sold was less than 500. That too over a period of couple of years. I seriously doubt if any of them would have read that book or those who read understood the entire context.

    They probably were emotionally hurt by what was written.

    Often, in the guise of freedom of expression, people clearly rake up issues to gain whatever political mileage or “one-up” on the other (for non politicians). Some sort of superiority.

    The entire idea of freedom of expression seems, to me atleast, an easy way to get away from being punished for intentional mudslinging and offending whatever sentiments. I firmly believe, MF Hussains painting falls only in this category. He is a celebrated ass, as far as I could see. And often shudder to think that he is being given so much importance over lot of genuine issues. And today, he has become a poster boy for “Freedom of Expression”. Lots of our country men toe along his expressions / anguish / statements, simply because he is an overrated celebrity.

    I cannot offer any answers or conclusions or uniform answers to all the solutions. The legal position, despite being law being called an ass, is highly logical. Challenge is in implementation. Law speaks about “intent” and stresses on the “intent / deliberate” for avoiding maximum punishment. Killing another person due to “sudden provocation” is not an offence. How to prove that? Thats the real challenge.

    Solutions to the situations you have highlighted (they are certainly not “just” hypothetical, atleast to me, I have faced few of such instances) can be obtained only in two ways – Apathy or Better Socio Education System imparting better sensitivity and respect for fellow humans (This sounds like a rhetoric. But that is the only solution)

    In NCC, as a student, I was told that your freedom extends only as long as you can swing your arms in tandem. Else, you get hurt because you made a mistake. The other person also gets hurt, because you made a mistake. So measure your steps and also your swing. And I should add, the mouth as well.

    Cheers

  10. Some very good situations and I congratulate you for trying to present the debate in all possible situations. As you said, the task is to find a framework that is consistent across all situations.

    Situation 9 I feel is different from the rest. Though there isn’t yet an ironclad way of deciding it, we need to balance the freedom of expression with the right to privacy which is an equal right to life under the constitution. The other situations you’ve put up don’t have this issue of privacy violation.

    And of course, situation 10 is a problem because a non-adult doesn’t have freedom of action and can’t choose not to go to school. In that scenario, B is misusing his position of authority and isn’t behaving the way a teacher should.

    In all the other eight situations, the freedom of expression wins out without conflict.

  11. lost scotoma,

    Thanks!

    Arnav,

    One of the problems with trying to intent is that it can only be guessed, though I believe, we could guess it with some accuracy in many cases. But another problem is – what is more important intent to commit a particular act OR the consequences of an act? It seems, that law in India (and perhaps elsewhere, too) tries to gauge both. E.g., unintended harm may not be punished (a patient dying in an operation), and if intent to harm is proved in any case, then the punishment is much more severe.

    It is for this reason that the Court judges get to use a lot of discretion. There are cases where, based exactly on same evidence and arguments, HC would have awarded death penalty, but the SC would reduce it to life imprisonment. So intuitively, I feel intent and circumstances around an act should be considered while judging the seriousness of a crime, this brings in a lot of inconsistency also.

    I believe, in near future it would not be difficult using techniques like brain mapping to determine whether a person is lying, and if he/she had intended to do what he/she did. But I do not know if judiciary will allow for incorporation of such aids, and nor am I sure if that would be a good idea.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    Pilid,

    Welcome to the blog and thanks! Though, I do not agree with the section 295-A, I understand the practical difficulties of protecting freedom of expression with such low police:citizen ratio, and also the fact that police personnel and judiciary can themselves have their judgments tinged with religious affinities. What I find most discomforting about the law is the manner in which it has been interpreted by the Karnataka HC – especially the part that I emphasized on.

    I read about the Rangeela Rasool incident. I could not make out what point you were trying to make through citing it. The author was murdered, but anyway it was not that the then Judiciary had taken sympathetic view of him; he had been prosecuted for his ‘crime’.

  12. Tarun,

    Thanks for commenting! Yes, you have made some important points, which incidentally I completely agree to. And whistling, even if an outcome of sexual frustration, should have an avenue for expression, right? 😉

    With regard to the news you shared about M.F. Husssain, I was again incidentally aware of the nature of his paintings and the argument you appended. I’m actually quite surprised that most atheists and religious skeptics have no problems pointing out that Hussain’s intentions were mala fide. I’m not referring merely to the manner in which he painted ‘Bharat Mata’, but a few other portrayals of Hindu goddess(es). It is the ‘liberal’ theists who labor under some kind of emotional baggage to try to justify everything he did citing freedom of expression. What is worse is they go on to even look for beauty in what he did, and perhaps where no beauty exists. I have seen better graffiti in public toilets to depict freak sex. But despite saying this, I maintain, I very much desire a society where he would have the freedom to paint and display whatever he likes. You said:

    “if they find something offensive, they must think why the hell the painter/creator thought so, he must be having some point ;)”

    I’m afraid, in many cases, the intent is only to offend the other party.

    I don’t like the hypocrisy associated with scrutiny of Hussain’s paintings. On one hand, when interpreting his works, we are urged to consider the ‘deeper meaning’ of his work, but on the other hand the government hounds the likes of Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen – why this double standard? Article 295 – A seems to have been used against both the authors.

  13. Atanu,

    Sir, welcome to my blog!

    Yes, the usage “right not to be offended” is a weird usage, but it was actually sarcastic. Because the frequency and authority with which people employ their being hurt as an impediment to expression by others, it has started looking like a right, indeed.

    You said: “If A’s mother does not wear combat boots, then B can be prosecuted for libel. Case closed.”

    But the problem here is that one would have to prove a malicious intent and that is where trouble begins. One is usually not punished for simply speaking a lie. So, it is this ‘malicious intent’ part in the law that creates so much ambiguity and margin to misuse (as far as freedom of expression is concerned).

    If you felt that through this post, I wanted to oppose or support freedom of expression, then that was just not the case. I simply wanted to point out that the way our law and even standards of behavior in the society stand, we are being extremely inconsistent in using principles of ethics. E.g., most who support freedom of expression of artists or writers, would instantly and instinctively agree that a guy whistling at a passing by lady should be severely punished (might I add here, some go on to the extent of prescribing castration or death penalty!). But through these examples above, I hope, I could prove that in reality there is nothing malicious that could be proved objectively about a guy’s whistling at a girl. It is simply that whistling as an act is conventionally looked down upon. So, why keep it punishable?

    I get your point about toothlessness of IPC section 295-A when it comes to Islam, but the unfortunate fact is BPC/IPC 295-A were used against Taslima Nasreen, and I suppose also against Salman Rushdie. So, yes the law is being effected quite inconsistently, but is not really toothless. And as you know, when it comes to religion, there is only so much logic one can talk. 🙂 The Karnataka HC itself has ruled subjective feelings and ‘faith’ as superior to reason.

    Yes, I totally get your point on greater freedom of speech being correlated with greater progress. I had read the Pullman quote before also on your blog I guess. I quite agree, nobody has a right to live without being shocked.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    blunt edges,

    Thanks for reading! The point of the post was that we use widely disparate standards of ethics in differing situations. E.g., a person painting nude goddess could fall under the gambit of ‘freedom of expression’ or be punished under IPC 295-A, but on the other hand, almost everyone would agree that a guy whistling at an unacquainted woman should be severely punished. What happens to the freedom of expression of guy in this case? And I am serious when I ask this question.

  14. Dr S

    Thanks for reading and commenting, and also coming with a personal anecdote. I completely agree with all you have said (and how would I disagree, you are such a mature person when it comes to interpersonal relations! 🙂 ). But there is a significant difference between what you cite, and when it comes to law. Friendships are usually based on mutual consent. There cannot be strong imposition or obligation in friendship (or close relations), otherwise the very purpose of these relations making our lives more wholesome would be defeated. So, if one of the friends finds other’s behavior not agreeable, they can always break the friendship (I am not saying that is a pragmatic thing to do). In this case, the person whose behavior is found disagreeable has an option to keep the friendship by slightly modifying the behavior. If that person decides to compromise, then there is a sort of gain (that is the friend is not lost). And alternatively, if the said compromise is not made then the friendship would be lost. But this the impact of this loss on life would not be too great. At most one might take one or two months to recover. But compare that with laws that curb freedom of expression. Being jailed and declared a criminal in any society has very severe ill effects on that person’s career and personal life. Between two friends, certain forms of freedom of expression might be considered unwise, but when it becomes illegal it comes with all sorts of baggage.

    While this is absolutely personal to you, but I did not very clearly understand your friend’s situation (one who blogged). It seems what she wrote was untrue/inaccurate, or at least your mutual friend also felt so. Then, the next logical questions would be what was the intent of your friend behind blogging something harsh that was also apparently untrue? If it was to try to create feud between your friend and you, then perhaps one should steer clear of such friends!

    Take care.

    Saimukundhan,

    Yes, you’ve said almost exactly same things that I used to always feel! 🙂 I guess, the Maharashtra book you’re talking of was on perhaps Shivaji or the use of word, ghaati (exactly translated, it means ‘one dwelling in the Ghaats), but is considered to be derogatory.

    I think, just like greater sensitivity, we also need greater tolerance. But I hope the society reaches a stage where we have to invoke tolerance less and less. This is only possible, when intent to deliberately hurt with no additional benefit to others ceases to be (of course, you have anyway said that in your comment).

    Thanks!

  15. Bhagwad,

    Welcome to the blog!

    Situation 9: As you yourself have pointed out, we do not have “ironclad way of deciding” what would fall under the purview of privacy. If instead of disseminating info (irrespective of whether it is true or false) on A’s sexual life, had B written that “A has changed lot of mobile phones in past five years. She is not stable with any single model. She has bought 15 mobiles in just as much time!”. This would seem weird sort of behavior and might gain people’s disapproval, but on legal front either it will not invite any punishment or it would be much milder as compared to discussing someone’s past sex life. What criteria were used to adjudicate to sex life as falling “more” under purview of privacy and mobile phone use as falling “less” under purview of the same? If one says that A felt bad, then the same appeal could be used universally in almost all cases (e.g., hurt caused on religious grounds). If one says that ‘by convention’ it is considered a breach of privacy, then ‘by convention’ it might be considered improper to speak ‘ill’ about about God (e.g., IPC 295-A and blasphemy laws where they exist).

    Situation 10: You said: “B is misusing his position of authority and isn’t behaving the way a teacher should”. It’s not that I disagree with you significantly in what you state, but aren’t you able to say this because of ‘benefit of hindsight’. At what exact point, did his behavior turn inappropriate – when he sent that email, or when the girl became upset, or tearful or when the Principal scolded? Had we said the said the same thing had the consequence of the very same act been something positive, e.g., the girl becomes more tolerant of criticism, emerges a stronger person emotionally and starts playing outdoor games – which makes her physically fitter (instead of committing suicide)? Should the severity of punishment for an action be based on consequences, which the one committing them had been unaware of?

    As an aside, there are many students in their early teens who nowadays commit suicide. Perhaps, their parents’ behavior is exactly similar to that of the teacher in above example. What is your opinion, should they be punished?

    Thanks a lot for your time and your thoughts!

  16. @Ketan

    Good points Ketan. Indeed, the question of why nude pictures is more acceptable than mobile phone is tough to answer.

    One can perhaps make an attempt and say that a person owns any photographic representation of themselves when they’re not in public. So circulating nude photos of someone (when they’re in the bedroom for example) is a violation of property rights.

    If someone is nude in public then, circulating their photo is much less of a problem. A neat solution no?

    Regarding situation 10, I think the language of the email along with the intention of “shaming” is inappropriate behavior irrespective of what the intention was. In any case, we assume that children are to be treated differently from adults. In our discussion, we’re discussing adults only.

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