Learning by Proxy | Free Speech

We all wish to express ourselves but how far can we go when the 'word' knows no boundaries; the only antidote to terrorism is development; Trade never flourishes with restrictions.

I had written an edition about the Internet titled Splinternet a few months ago. The internet knows no boundaries and every country has its own laws on data security and this is making it impossible for businesses. As a result, the European GDPR has become the default for all sites across the world, unless companies wish to build fundamentally different products for each country.

Similarly, the spoken and written word knows no boundary. Everyone around the world does not have the same sensibilities. How do you regulate this? How do you defend the sensibilities and sentiments of all involved while still permitting each to speak as they wish?

Free Speech

The libel was codified as illegal as far back at 130 AD in the Praetorian Edict in Rome. They said talk about the character of a person but not with an intention to cause injury or insult. Almost every country in the world has some version of the libel laws. Depending on how open or closed a country is, the law is utilised in different ways.

Also, the law only sees intention, not the outcome. This is part of the reason a person can plead insanity and be absolved of even a murder. It was not what was intended! How do you determine if the intent is to injure or insult?

A month ago I had mentioned the Tanishq ad which caused a furor in India. An advertisement that promoted unity under the title ‘Ekatvam’ was pulled down because Hindu nationalist groups started trolling the ad as promoting love jihad. To me, the ad did not in any mean to insult or injure anyone. People chose to be insulted or injured. I am leaving the link to the ad below.

Prashant Bhushan was pulled up by the Supreme Court of India for contempt of court. All that for a tweet! The case got front-page coverage as well. Eventually, the court let him off with a token fine of Rs. 1 ($ 0.01). In legal terms - Now that precedent was set, that too by none other than the highest court of the country;

A Judicial Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Nagpur on Monday allowed the application filed by Nagpur police seeking Sameet Thakkar's custody. Thakkar was arrested after he allegedly tried to evade the police after being summoned in relation to proceedings against him for tweets against Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and his son, the State Tourism Minister Aditya Thackeray. 

Source: LiveLaw

This is but one instance of several such arrests that have been made across the country on account of tweets!

The same Prashant Bhushan commended the court last week when it passed an order. 

Concerned by the growing trend of police in different states summoning individuals from far corners for social media posts allegedly defaming political dispensations, the Supreme Court on Wednesday sent out a loud message to state governments: “We cannot have citizens hauled from one corner of the country to another for a social media post criticising the government.” 

The stern warning was prompted by Bengal Police issuing summons to a Delhi resident who had criticised the state government for non-enforcement of lockdown norms. 

Source: Times Of India


All democracies provide freedom of expression as a fundamental right. I was looking for laws that allow for restrictions on freedom of expression. While Libel is one of the laws, India has a law on Hate Speech. Ostensibly meant to prevent discord between ethnic and religious communities, this law is one that can be most easily weaponised. 

The laws allow a citizen to seek the punishment of anyone who shows the citizen disrespect "on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever". The laws specifically forbid anyone from outraging someone's "religious feelings".

Source: Wikipedia

This law seems to have been weaponised because everyone is offended by everything these days.

On October 19, Rajawat had tweeted a cartoon, contrasting women safety with Devi pujan offered on Navratri, with a caption "Irony". The picture juxtaposed two scenes: in one scene, a man touching feet of a female Hindu deity during the nine-day Hindu festival of Navratri; in the other scene, with the header other days, a man is aggressively holding both the legs of a woman. […]

Rajawat has stated that she posted the said tweet "with an objective to raise voice against increasing rape cases in India and condemn people who bring atrocities on Women".

Source: LawLive

What was the intention, you decide!

And this brings us to the story that has rocked India in 2020. Not the coronavirus, not the economy, not the Indo-China border tensions, not the US presidential elections - The Sushant Singh Rajput NOT murder; or as the rest of the world likes to call it - suicide.

This story has been a testament to how freedom of the press can be abused. Rhea Chakraborty was implicated in a murder that did not happen, she was said to have been involved in a drug ring. Evidence that should have been used in the court was aired on television every day. There was trial by public opinion that resulted in the arrest of Rhea. She was released after one month in custody after doctors at AIIMS certified that the cause of death was by hanging and no murder was involved. For Rhea Chakraborty, her media career is finished. No producer is going to be willing to risk hiring her, for fear of attracting undue attention. Was freedom of speech exploited in this case to injure and insult? Or perhaps even drive personal gains?

The one news agency that led the assault against Rhea Chakraborty was Republic. Editor in Chief, Arnab Goswami, spent several nights haranguing Indians in their living rooms about the sensational discoveries that they had made. He was himself arrested this week!

Police said the Republic TV founder was being investigated for his alleged role in the death of an architect who designed his studio.

Anvay Naik took his life in 2018 and his wife accused Mr Goswami of not paying his fee.

Mr Goswami and Republic TV network deny the allegation.

Mr Naik and his mother were found dead in May 2018 at their home in Alibaug region of the western state of Maharashtra. Mr Naik's wife said he left a suicide note in which he blamed Mr Goswami for his death.

Source: BBC

There was an immediate outcry to ensure freedom of the press - By the BJP!

Irony died silently.

African countries on the other hand have been all too happy to cut off access to the internet to cull the spread of discontent and to keep the country under their tight fist. Most countries in Africa have been under the same "Democratic Leader" since before the internet. Ah! those good days.

Nigeria has been ravaged by protests over the last few weeks with the youth calling to end SARS. SARS stands for Special Anti-Robbery Squad. If you read about them, they sound like the equivalent of SS under the Nazis. They have been sick of the overreach of this organisation and want an end to it. The protests took off thanks to the hashtag #EndSARS. Those protesters are now bracing for the government to attempt to regulate social media.

For its part, the Nigerian government claims to be committed to accepting protesters’ demands for accountability and justice. But the government also appears keen to proactively undermine the possibility of future protests by targeting social media and online expression.

Indeed, key government actors, from the minister of information to a raft of state governors, have made recent, high-profile calls for the regulation of social media in the wake of the #EndSARS protests. The recurring rationale for these calls revolve around to stop the spread of “fake news” reports that may “destabilize” the country.

Source: Quartz

Moving on to France. A professor was beheaded last week and then a church congregation in Nice was attacked by an individual. All for a cartoon that Charlie Hebdo had published. The French see this as their freedom to express themselves.

Plantu says the current debate about whether France’s cartoons should be toned down for the sake of tolerance and in the name of security, saddens him.

“I am ashamed - we speak a lot about humiliation. I am humiliated. For the idea that I have about my democracy. I love my country. I do. But I am humiliated because a handful of jerks who believe they represent a religion but who represent nothing at all can do this,” he said.

Source: Euronews

This has also allowed irrelevant Muslim dictators to make an issue out of it.

Turkey said on Wednesday it will take legal and diplomatic steps in response to a caricature of President Tayyip Erdogan in the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which officials called a “disgusting effort” to ”spread its cultural racism and hatred”.

Turkish anger at the caricature added fuel to a row between Turkey and France about cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, which flared after a teacher who had shown pupils the cartoons in a lesson on freedom of speech was beheaded in France this month.

Source: Hindu

But as I mentioned earlier, the word rarely stays within your border anymore. To be fair Charlie Hebdo has published a lot of insanely explicit material about the Christian religion as well. But if at all there is one thing that we have seen, religious sentiments are not all equal. I think ultimately, we all have as much religious sentiment as we can afford to have. More succinctly put

For all of its shortcomings, this is probably one place where the US stands out. The fact that every late-night comedy show can crack jokes about the sitting President, call out his lies, and make fun of citizenry is the true reflection of freedom of expression. In a lot of the non-western world, although we profess to be following democracy, this is not true. Agreed, the same freedom allows for a sitting president to lie with impunity and get away with it. But it also provides others with the freedom to call those lies out. 


In mathematics, the opposite function of integration is differentiation. That is how the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been in India. Differentiated by law and by the rights provided to people. The Indian government changed that through the passage of a law last year in August. 

To clamp down on any unrest that may arise, India went ahead and imposed a curfew and cut off the internet. The upshot, very low number of COVID 19 cases (only 96,000 to date). The downside, it destroyed the industry that was developing in the region. For a region that is known for its local art forms and farm produce that was embracing the internet, it was a huge blow. These are the kinds of policies that send youth right into the arms of a terrorist organisation.

Things have been slowly normalised and then

In a gazette notification in Hindi and English, the Ministry of Home Affairs has made several changes to the land laws, including allowing the use of agricultural land for setting up facilities of public purpose.

The most important tweak has been made in the Jammu and Kashmir Development Act that deals with disposal of land in the union territory as the Centre has omitted the phrase "permanent resident of the state" from Section 17 of the law.

Source: Livemint

My opinion is that it is important to bring the tech industry to the valley, make it possible for hotels and other tourism outfits to flourish; if wealth is to be brought to the region. While I am completely opposed to the way integration was carried out; if investments are not able to find its way to the valley, it will never prosper and will always remain fertile grounds for terrorism and more importantly division to flourish.

People have to have something to lose. 

You whip my back, I’ll whip yours

Sort of describes how trade is being worked out these days. The trade goes two ways, it is built into the word. India decided to go ‘self-reliant’ amid the pandemic. Why? Our currency is not strong enough to print the equivalent of 10% of the GDP and put it in the hands of people. What followed was a very strange saga of twisted policy-making which started moving us more towards Nehruvian India rather than the promised lands that Modi has always talked about. Production quotas, import quotas and licenses on all imports. All of it to make the country self-reliant. Going down the path any further was going to guarantee isolation and tremendous suffering for businesses.

I let out a sigh of relief when I read this

The government proposes to slowly phase out the hike in Customs duties levied earlier for protection of domestic manufacturing. High, arbitrary Customs duty rates breed inefficiencies and there is a need to have “judicious use” of Customs duty, Finance Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey said.

“…we will ensure that on the Customs duty front, we have very judicious use of Customs duty. Having arbitrary high Customs duty breeds inefficiencies and the consumers, as well as domestic manufacturing, suffer. So, what is required is a reasonable amount of Customs duty for a level playing field, and it has to also be phased out slowly once a sector has developed,” Pandey told 

Source: Indian Express

When it comes to trade, the most prosperous countries have been the ones that have been as open as possible. This sword cuts both ways.


The US (actually, Trump) has been piling on a lot of insults on China and on several fronts he has been pinching them with duties. China is starting to hit back in a very calibrated manner. Cutting off access to the rare earth metals supply chain. Turns out, you can mine it in Congo but you have no way to process it, but for China. Read more

“Humne Hindustan ko ghus ke maara,” said a senior Pakistani minister last week. Pakistan is on FATF list for supporting money laundering for terrorists. They are not doing themselves any favours by making statements of this nature; especially when their Prime Minister unnecessarily roiled himself in a mess by making statements against Macron and France. 

Last week I had mentioned the blockbuster IPO of Ant Group which was supposed to mop up USD 30 Billion. It was oversubscribed 700X when the Chinese government decided to step in and stop the IPO. They want Ant Group to make changes. China has maintained tight-fisted control over all aspects of Chinese lives, they are not going to allow a privately owned company to be able to upstage the government-owned banks.

Carbon is the ultimate salvation for the battery crisis that is unfolding. Graphene is a material that I have often mentioned. Scientists are finding a way to make Carbon nanosheet based batteries out of Spinach!

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What we think, we become ~ Buddha