Vantage point

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Let a thousand nutcases bloom

Not a single day goes by without someone finding something to get offended about and running to the courts with it. Sachin's cake making someone's indignance rise, Murthy's anthem decision striking a discordant note, Mandira's sari getting someone's panties in a knot, Gere's kiss leaving a bad taste in someone's mouth and arguably the most ridiculous of them all, someone's beef with Shastri's love for beef.

This has caused frustration among several bloggers and columnists. A lot of them write about growing intolerance in the society. It seems like people are getting crazier by the day. I think the problem lies in a different direction. Shivam Vij, writing about the guy who wants Orkut blocked, writes -

Marlapelle is like the kid who tinkers around in the science lab, mixing chemicals just to see if something happens.

An extremely accurate analogy. In most, if not all of these cases, those offended are in the legal profession or have easy access to someone in the legal profession. Agreed that they are nutcases. They are indeed like the stupid kid who tinkers around with chemicals. And the problem is, such nutcases are going to exist, no matter how tolerant we get as a society. In a country of 1 billion, it is extremely easy to find someone who will get offended by something or the other. And why just India, this could happen anywhere else.

The problem of "growing intolerance in the society" is a very real one. It has caused riots in several parts of the country and led to ghettoisation on several neighbourhoods. But even if the soul of Gandhi rained on the society and led to communal harmony, such cases will still persist. Because no matter how tolerant a society, there are always going to be nutcases.

The problem in this specific case of frivolous lawsuits, is with the laws, which are ambiguous at best and unnecessary at worst. These laws infringe on our fundamental rights, all thanks to the 1st amendment to our constitution, which diametrically opposite to the 1st amendment to the American constitution, gives the state rights to impose "reasonable" restrictions on our freedom of speech. The caveats listed for our fundamental rights take up more than thrice the space than the rights themselves. And they enable the state to come up with oppressive laws in which a person can be arrested for literally anything, as long as you find a judge publicity-hungry enough to find that it "hurts sentiments".

While tolerance in the society is a desirable goal for different reasons, this particular ailment can be solved only by abolishing the ridiculous laws which curb freedom of expression. However there is no constituency which demands abolition of these laws, so they remain on the books.

Brilliant, Einstein, you say? Tell us something we don't know, you say?

In a perverse way, I think maybe all these outrageous cases are a good thing. As their frequency keeps growing, "outrage fatigue" is bound to set in. Right now, the media covers such cases extensively because they lead to interesting news. People like you and me will watch these news reports, even if to shake our heads in disapproval and disgust. But the stupidity of these complaints is rising exponentially along with their number and sooner rather than later, an inflection point will hopefully be reached, leading to a reduction in their newsworthiness. The rising number of such cases is also bound to eventually irk the judiciary once their newsworthiness plummets, especially if one or few of them go up to the Supreme Court. That could lead to a judgement causing at least a change in the law.

In a Utopian society, the people would rise and demand the abrogation or at least defanging of these laws. But since we live in a Dystopianish society, our only hope is the overkill of such cases.

So with an eye on a more sensible future, I say, let a thousand nutcases bloom.