(image source: Boing Boing)
Couple of weeks back, Brazil insanely decided to ban YouTube for failing to effectively curb the spread of the Daniella Cicarelli sex-on-the-beach video. The order was issued after Cicarelli and her boyfriend filed suit in a Brazilian court. Of course, Daniella hadn’t envisioned that in spite of her celebrity status in Brazil, no one in today’s world of ubiquitous video would spot her having sex in broad daylight on a Brazilian beach. To have sex on a public beach and then react strongly when someone actually shot and posted the video on YouTube is simply hypocritical. I thought Brazilian courts would see through this faulty logic but they didn’t and ordered YouTube shut. Of course, even after YouTube removed the offending video, it reemerged in other forms and even transitioned to Google Video when I saw it. Of course, it was removed from there too but in today’s dime-a-dozen video sites, it didn’t take long to emerge elsewhere.
Little did I know that a similar case would play out soon in India. Except in this case, it was a unfunny comedy video that involved Gandhi dancing around a strip pole. I had initially ignored the issue but was surprised when the Indian I&B ministry took personal interest in the video and was purportedly ‘angered’ and wanted the IT ministry to ‘take action against YouTube’. There never was a better example of shooting the messenger even if the message isn’t all that popular. What’s more, since it can’t do anything to the comedian who committed the ‘offense’, it also was pissed off at the TV channels – IBN-7 and Sahara – for showing the video. Of course, the next natural act for an irrational government is to advocate for a ban on the entire site itself.
I have seen the video and although I didn’t find it particularly funny, I don’t see any reason to get all riled up and ban the ‘invention of the year’ completely. Of course, if you do, the Indian public will largely suffer and be bereft of the tons of cool videos that youTube has brought into our homes. But to expect the Indian government that had earlier banned Yahoogroups, Blogger, and even Orkut to contemplate rational thought over emotional appeal is expecting too much. Indians (on an average) cannot wrap their heads around extent of free speech and allowing for dissent or unpopular opinions. See this insanely funny Jesus Christ: The Musical video. I bet any ardent Christian would be deeply offended but in a largely religious-friendly White House administration, no one even mentions banning it. There might be thousand things wrong with the United States but their tolerance for free speech is unparalleled.
However in India, although everyone agrees with free speech in principle they also agree that there should be limits to free speech while totally unanswering the question of who would impose those limits. We’ll even go to the extent of inciting or threatening violence against people who have a different view of a man who in fact preached the opposite. No one would for a moment wonder what would Gandhi do. In fact, in the popular movie on Gandhigiri he addresses this question and encourages people to pull down his statues that dot every Indian town junction. There is no dearth of people in India who would get offended at the slightest hint of disagreement or humor that pokes fun at them.
After the Blogger ban, my brother strongly supported such a ban and said if it saved ten thousand lives such a ban is justified; after all who cares for a few blogs. Well, I was surprised considering he is an educated and rational individual. So now, I would ask him if banning YouTube is similarly justified because it saves hurting the sentiments of a few million Indians. Perhaps those millions wouldn’t have even heard of the offending video if the government hadn’t made such a ruckus. Trying to impose delicate sensibilities of few easily-offended officials on millions of Indians is highly undemocratic and even more dangerous is trying to control channels of communication that in fact empower citizen sharing and networking.
If this ban is indeed enforced, there is no stopping people who would be offended by other videos. Shiv Sainiks might burn a few more buses if a video making fun of Bal Thackeray popped up or even Sonia Gandhi fans might be offended by people who think that an foreign-born shouldn’t dictate national policy in India. Precedent is a dangerous thing in legal circles and otherwise; once set in motion, there is no stopping it and you never know where you might end up at. Yesterday, it was Blogger today it might be YouTube and tomorrow it might be the entire Internet itself. Are you ready to go back to the dark ages just because few pricks got offended? And if the I&B ministry was that interested in the affairs of YouTube then how come they never recognized or praised YouTube for bringing us rare Gandhi footage from our history?
Update: As you read this, yet another story is developing that might also lead to a controversy at least in India. Perhaps not because it has been revealed by his grandson. It seems Gandhi almost succumbed to personal sentiments:
“At the age of 50, Gandhi, a married father of four, came perilously close to succumbing to a temptation that threatened both his family, and his life’s work, after falling passionately in love with the beautiful Saraladevi Chaudhuri, three years his junior.”
Of course, Indians cannot see their leaders as being human or even having emotions that any normal human would have. This revelation even though made by Gandhi’s grandson as an effort to capture the real man in our Father of our nation is bound to offend some purists. What will they try to ban in this story? Or they will simply do like they do in Bollywood movies, paint the woman as a seductress and a slut in spite of the fact that Sarladevi Chaudari was a gifted, well-informed and a driven individual.
PS. Trust me, even if you were or are offended by the Gandhi video, you are going to click on the video links above if you haven’t seen them yet. Try not to.