Exhibit A: A girl from Mumbai is arrested for merely liking a post on Facebook. The author of the post who questions a city shutdown on the death of a popular leader is arrested too.
Exhibit B: A West Bengal professor forwards an email with a spoof against a Chief Minister and is arrested and undergoes through a harrowing experience.
Exhibit C: A cartoonist is arrested for drawing hard-hitting cartoons against a particular party.
Exhibit D: A Mumbai restaurant prints something on a bill that is found offensive to the ruling coalition and all hell breaks loose.
These are all stories from the previous Central Government's regime and they were soundly condemned. Twitter went berserk, Facebook ranted against it and blog appeared all over expressing strong solidarity with those targeted.
The authorities beat a retreat and things became quiet. However an important thing to be noted is that none of the laws changed: And therein lies the rub. What this means is that at any time any policeman, lawyer and judge can still pull up anyone and be very much in constitutional rights to do so.
The matter is like a volcano which may be dormant from time to time but will explode eventually. What is needed is to make the volcano extinct, which means that the laws have to be rewritten and that is the job of the legislature.
Things have suddenly become quite grim again. The staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine laid down their lives defending the right to free speech. A tribute edition came out and the cartoons were reproduced and the Editor of the "offending" publication was arrested in Mumbai.
Strangely there wasn't a murmur of protest against this and things became really bizarre when the newsvendors who distributed the publication were picked up by the police. Go one step forward and a question that can be asked is: Could you be arrested for reading the publication on the road. People passing by may object to seeing the offended cartoons and call the police.
Then another incident followed. Comedy group All India Bakchod conducted a Celebrity Roast that featured all the obscene jokes you could think of.
Now you can very well hate AIB & Co for doing this. You can rubbish them and even boycott them. But they definitely do not deserve to go to jail for "criminal conspiracy". This is precisely what has happened.
If you don't follow the news regularly you may be surprised because that is exactly what has happened. A court has ordered an FIR to be filed against the Bollywood
Celebrity Roast participants Karan Johar, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor.
Also against the comedian Roast Panel Rohan Joshi, Tanmay Bhatt, Gursimran Khamba, Ashish Shakya, Aditi Mittal and Rajeev Masand.
The organizers have also been included.
What is interesting to note is that there are two more names: Bollywood stars Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt who were members of the audience!
If it sounds bizarre, then you should know that it is backed by law and you could be hauled up for contempt of court if you protest too much.
We may outrage and maybe the charges will be dropped and maybe all the above people will get off the hook. But then who's to say such a thing won't be repeated again (and again)?
In 1951, the First Amendment was enacted where freedom was subject to "security of the State, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, decency or morality". What a sweeping curb on our freedom of expression by our founding fathers!
So what stops a politician or religious leader finding anything "indecent" or "immoral"? He can cite the Constitution. What stops a policeman, lawyer or judge from citing "public disorder"? They can cite the First Amendment.
To make matters worse UPA's Section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000 says...
"Sending any information through an electronic message that is grossly offensive or has menacing character and might cause insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, etc. or sending such mail intended to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages" can me met with 3 years' imprisonment.
But that's not it. There are also other sections in the IPC that can crack down on perceived obscenity.
The truth is that till we have a major reform in laws relating to freedom of expression, things have the potential to get much worse.