By Lawrence Liang, Legal Researcher
IT IS a truism that the Internet has collapsed our worlds; and I don’t mean it in a dramatic end-of-all-boundaries way, but in the simple collapsing of conversations into tweets and social interaction into the press of a like button. It is, therefore, surprising that we have not evolved a new improved miniature language for our favourite emotions. Love and hate — those strong passions take far too much time and energy in the post-140-character world, and what we need is an understanding of micro hate and micro love.
A ‘micro hate’ would cover so many practical aspects of our lives — we don’t want to incite hatred against a community and we certainly don’t want to provoke riots, but we may nonetheless want to register our annoyance and irritation. And since the draconian laws in India cover almost every aspect of speech acts within the generous net of ‘hate speech’, we may, perhaps, be spared of the inevitable legal action that can be taken against us.
Would the existence of a ‘micro hate’ category have spared Shaheen Dhada from being arrested and charged with the violation of Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for wondering whether the shutting down of a city was called for when Bal Thackeray passed away, or S Ravi from being arrested for violation of Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act for speculating about Karti Chidambaram’s wealth? Both these cases seem to suggest that the length of one’s post or its innocuousness does not matter when measured with the long tape of the law. (Just for the record, Section 66A of the IT Act consists of 1,069 characters and Section 505 of the IPC has 2,100 characters — no tweeting of these laws, at least.)
So, I personally don’t think that using a category such as ‘micro hate’ will help our situation; we will only see an increase in ‘micro hate’ crimes. But I still find it useful as a pedagogic device to instruct the powers that be on the basics of emotions, and since it doesn’t yet exist in our otherwise reliable Oxford English Dictionary, here goes: ‘micro hate’ = mere annoyance, gentle expression of a state of irritation, expression of frustration bordering on anger.
Thus, for instance, if someone wonders about whether a city must come to a standstill when a leader dies, they may be expressing any of the above states of being without intending to hurt anyone, let alone incite hatred or physical harm. This is what ordinary communication consists of and this is what ordinary citizens do when they feel this way. It is only when the government and police arrest ordinary people for these actions that their speech becomes a heroic act, and the victims (yes, that’s what they are) become martyrs to the cause of freedom of speech and expression.
But just as hate speech is too large a category to capture something as small as a ‘micro hate’, free speech is too large a cause to capture our ordinary banal opinions. No, we are not under any illusion that the Internet transforms every ordinary citizen into a powerful news broadcaster, though after being treated as disciplined students of one-way media for a long time, we do want to pretend it is true. But, perhaps, we have been mistaken all along in our presumption that we were at least entitled to ordinary views and concerns.
After all, we assumed that the big business of hate, which usually involves being in politics or having a lot of musclemen to act on what you say, is way out of our league. Bal Thackeray in 1992, Varun Gandhi in 2009 and Pravin Togadia almost every second year, have all been charged with hate speech. That’s a serious big boys’ club. What do the Shaheens and Ravis of the world have to do with this? Let us and our micro havens where we engage in our micro hate be, and if you really want some dirt, go play in the corner with the big boys.
(The views expressed in this column are the writers’ own)