To check spread of rumours which has led to exodus of north eastern people from certain states, the Indian government banned bulk SMSes and MMSes from August 17 for 15 days across the country. This step was taken after reports came in that SMSes and MMSes containing (misleading) information about the Assam violence were being sent out in huge numbers, thereby increasing the threat to people of north-eastern origin in other parts of the country.
One notable inconsistency was the surprise (super) implementation of this order by telecom companies. The government order stated that no one would be able to send out more than 5 SMSes in “one go” or more than 20KB worth of MMSes in “one go”. The telecom companies, instead, took this very seriously and put the limit of 5 SMSes per number “per day” and no MMSes whatsoever. Ironically, they then claimed a 7-8% revenue loss due to the government order.
Anyway, the purpose of this post is not to talk about the super-efficient telecom companies we have, but rather the controversy’s roots itself. There was (and still is) an entire fuss about the origin of the SMSes being in Pakistan, and how it is utterly irresponsible and ill-willed of that entire country to try wage war within our country through our own people. About this, I will only say this: no one can make you fight someone if you don’t want to, to begin with. Yes, this statement may be idealistic and certainly not true in our personal lives, where misunderstandings and misinformation makes us to things we don’t intend to, but to blame one human being sitting in another country to have enough power to destabilize an entire region of a country through an SMS (and not through any other, more sophisticated equipment) is merely a cover up for one’s own weakness (es).
Yes, it is true that doctored videos, threatening messages and the like will certainly raise high levels of emotion and create panic amongst the people concerned, but two larger issues emerge- one of the original level of the lack of tolerance that resides in peoples’ minds, and second, the much-talked about issue of freedom of speech. The former is a relatively more complex issue, where measurements cannot be made at all and (probably) only a feel of things can be judged. It isn’t the first time that a region is being targeted within the country through false propaganda. Rather, we witness incidents very similar and much more public on a very regular basis here. For example, the CM of Bihar not being allowed to celebrate the state’s formation festival in another state, a political leader in Maharashtra publicly announcing that his party will throw out ‘outsiders’ from the state, and even the CM of the national capital Delhi publicly complaining immigrants from Bihar coming into town portrays what almost all of us for the last 60-something years have been denying- regional loyalty and hatred sentiments exist at a very high level in a large number of people in India. It may sound politically incorrect and almost unpatriotic of me to write it, but a problem such as this cannot be solved unless it is first accepted as a problem.
In the next two posts, I shall break down the issues that I have mentioned here, including the issue of censorship of the internet, means of communication (very prominent in this particular incident) and if the right to freedom of speech and expression can ever practically be implemented as an absolute right.
(Aashish Mandhwani is a musician-student based out of New Delhi, India and currently pursuing his MPhil in Political Science at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. When not writing/performing with his band Fire Exit or drowning himself in tons of political theory he believes the world can live without, he writes on current social, political and economic issues. If not born a musician, he believes strongly that he would’ve been born a friendly fat tom cat. )