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Freedom of Speech and Expression—words written or a right implemented?

photo: blog.beruby.com

By Kanika Rangray

In the Constitution of India, there are few phrases which define to us our fundamental rights. One of these phrases talks about the “Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression.”

This right is also known as Article 19 of the Indian constitution and in basic terms it says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

But one question has repeatedly and frequently emerged—is this fundamental right actually implemented or is it just few words written on a piece of paper in a book called “The Constitution of India.”

Viewer discretion not sought

Photo credit: twitter.com
Photo credit: twitter.com

The most recent incident due to which this question highlighted itself again is the ban on porn websites demanded by the government. The ban on websites which relate to pornography was put forward giving the reason that such websites are one of the reasons behind the increasing rate of crime against women and children in the country.

The long and short of it means that you’re telling an adult what he can and cannot watch on the net, even if it is within the four walls of his room. This would call for encroaching not only upon the right of freedom of speech and expression but also on the right of personal liberty.

There are also other instances which question the grounds on which we claim to the world that we are the world’s largest democracy, in which all citizens have equal fundamental rights—the right to speak for themselves, the right to express our opinions with full freedom.

This move of the government fuelled quite an uproar throughout the country and provoked a nationwide debate about censorship and freedom.

Due to the continuous criticisms faced by this action, the government had to bow down and lifted the ban partially by lifting the ban on “sites that do not promote child porn.”

Photo credit: youtube.com
Photo credit: youtube.com

Fifty shades blurred

India’s censor board banned the release of a censored or toned-down version of the US film Fifty Shades of Grey. The erotic movie, which was an international box-office hit, was turned down by the censor board despite several expletives and nude scenes edited out.



Literature buried, never to be discovered

In 2014 Penguin India was made to destroy all unsold copies of ‘The Hindu: An Alternative History’, authored by Sanskrit scholar Wendy Doniger, in India. The destruction was done on the court’s orders which were in response to a petition filed by Shiksha Bachao Andolan or the Save Education Movement, a Hindu fundamentalist group which deemed the book insulting and threatening to Hindu culture.

Photo credit: hinduexistence.org
Photo credit: hinduexistence.org

These self-appointed guardians of Hindu religion deemed the author’s treatment of ancient Hindu myths as human creations rather than divine truth, insulting and also called it a crime.

Paint all black

Photo credit: wordpandit.com
Photo credit: wordpandit.com

Famous Indian painter, the late M.F. Hussain, was forced into self-imposed exile in 2006, after his canvasses—some of which depicted Hindu deities naked—were vandalised by right-wing Hindus, once again self-imposed guardians of Hindu orthodoxy.

Such a long journey forced to end

An award-winning 1991 novel, Such a Long Journey, authored by Rohinton Mistry was removed from the University of Mumbai’s curriculum, after the late Bal Thackeray, leader of the rightwing Shiv Sena, objected to how he and his party were depicted in the fictional level.

Photo credit: slideshare.net
Photo credit: slideshare.net

Say no to Facebook

And speaking of Bal Thackeray, it is essential to talk about the Facebook controversy which erupted after his death.

Near riots took place in Mumbai because of a facebook post after his death, which questioned the Mumbai bandh which was declared to mourn the death of Bal Thackeray.

The girl, who made the post, simply said that we do not mourn the death day of martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, freedom fighters who earned respect and love by their actions. But a Mumbai bandh was called to mourn the death of a person who was respected and loved because people were afraid of him, afraid of the consequences of raising a single voice against him.

This was her opinion and she voiced it out loud, but the consequences were such that now you even question what you have written before you click the “post” button on your account.

Photo credit: myhapilife.blogspot.com
Photo credit: myhapilife.blogspot.com

After recalling all these incidents above, is it even wise to write out this article, is there still the freedom of speech and expression to question the implementation of Article 19 of the constitution or has that also been curbed.

Freedom with “reasonable restrictions”

In a bid to curb blatant opinions being voiced out without care of the feelings of a person or a group of people or a community, and without paying any heed to consequences, the Indian constitution introduced Article 19(2) which cites certain ‘reasonable restrictions’ to the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Under these restrictions, the legislature is allowed to monitor free speech in the following conditions:

  • Restrictions can be put on free speech if it is in the interest of the security of the state.
  • The State can put reasonable restrictions if it could in any way hamper friendly relations with foreign states.
  • To maintain public order- this means public peace, safety and tranquillity. This amendment was called after the Romesh Thapar vs State of Madras case in 1950 where the supreme court said, “Freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations, for without free political discussion no public education is possible.”
  • Decency and morality: In the Indian Constitution, the word ‘indecency’ is equivalent to ‘obscenity’ and according to this restriction the State can charge “if the tendency of the matter charged as obscene can deprave and corrupt the minds which are open to such immoral influences.”
  • Contempt of Court: It refers to civil contempt or criminal contempt of courts, and no attempts should be made to impair the administration of justice.
  • Defamation: This restriction prevents any person from making any statement that injures the reputation of another. It has also been criminalised in India by inserting it into Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code.
  • Incitement to an offense: This restriction prohibits a person from making any statement that incites people to commit offense.
  • Sovereignty and integrity of India: This prohibits anyone from making statements that challenge the sovereignty and integrity of India.

After reading through all eight “reasonable restrictions” mentioned in Article 19(2), what remains—can we call it freedom of speech or should it be freedom of guarded speech.  

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Saffronart- Auction House Conducts Online Art Auction for COVID-19 Aid

A 24-hour online art auction will be conducted by Saffronart on the auctioneer's website on April 29-30 .

Art auction
The auction will contain works by artists like Ram Kumar, F N Souza and M F Husain etc. ( Representational Image) . Pixabay


Mumbai-based auction house, Saffronart, is all set to conduct a 24-hour online art auction to funds to contribute to COVID-19 relief efforts.

The no-reserve art auction will feature 52 works of modern and contemporary South Asian art, donated by collectors, gallerists and artists to support the cause. It will take place on the auctioneer’s website on April 29-30 .

As per Saffronart, the proceeds from the sale will be donated to three non-profit grassroots organisations – Goonj, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) and Stree Mukti Sanghatana (SMS) – that have set up initiatives to support and rehabilitate the most vulnerable communities affected by the health crisis.

Online auction
The art auction will feature 52 works of modern and contemporary South Asian art. Pixabay

The sale will be led by a 2018 installation titled ‘A Swim Suit for You’ by foremost Bangladeshi contemporary artist Tayeba Begum Lipi, estimated to fetch Rs. 7-9 lakh. Krishen Khanna’s charcoal work ‘Who Has Touched Me’ and an untitled painting by Thota Vaikuntam from 2019 are estimated at Rs 6-8 lakhs each.

Other top artists featured in the auction include modern masters such as Ram Kumar, F N Souza and M F Husain, and leading contemporary artists including Arpita Singh and Shilpa Gupta.

“In today’s visually based, image-laden world, art possesses the immediate power to mobilise and galvanize people to make a difference and has the capacity to fuel our collective empathy and remind us that we are all in this together. So why not use art to inspire people to come together and help our neighbours?

“Here in India, as the government and the healthcare system continue to battle the spread of the deadly virus, a vast section of those living on the margin, the daily wage labourers and the poor are facing the irreparable loss of homes and livelihoods in this uncertain future. The immediacy of their need, however, is simple survival through access to food, hygeine and protective gear,” Saffronart co-founders Minal and Dinesh Vazirani said in a message.

Read More: COVID-19: Roseate House Shares Live Camera Access to it’s Kitchen

They added: “As we do our bit to support organisations doing this important work, we hope to see the community rally for the cause and help those most affected by the crisis to rebuild their lives”.

The auction house has previously conducted a Kerala flood relief fundraiser auction in August 2018 which raised an amount of Rs 36 lakh, among other fundraisers.(IANS)

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This AI System Can Evade Censorship In India, China and Kazakhstan

Researchers develop an AI tool that evades censorship in India, China and Kazakhstan

(AI)-based system automatically learns to evade censorship in India, China and Kazakhstan. Pixabay

Researchers have developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based system that automatically learns to evade censorship in India, China and Kazakhstan.

The tool, called Geneva (short for Genetic Evasion), found dozens of ways to circumvent censorship by exploiting gaps in censors’ logic and finding bugs that the researchers said would have been virtually impossible for humans to find manually.

The researchers are scheduled to introduce Geneva during a peer-reviewed talk at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 26th Conference on Computer and Communications Security in London on Thursday.

“With Geneva, we are, for the first time, at a major advantage in the censorship arms race,” said Dave Levin, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Maryland in the US and senior author of the paper.

“Geneva represents the first step toward a whole new arms race in which artificial intelligence systems of censors and evaders compete with one another. Ultimately, winning this race means bringing free speech and open communication to millions of users around the world who currently don’t have them,” Levin said.\

censorship, AI
This AI system that evades censorship is called ‘Geneva’. Pixabay

To demonstrate that Geneva worked in the real world against undiscovered censorship strategies, the team ran Geneva on a computer in China with an unmodified Google Chrome browser installed.

By deploying strategies identified by Geneva, the user was able to browse free of keyword censorship.

The researchers also successfully evaded censorship in India, which blocks forbidden URLs, and Kazakhstan, which was eavesdropping on certain social media sites at the time, said a statement from the University of Maryland.

All information on the Internet is broken into data packets by the sender’s computer and reassembled by the receiving computer.

One prevalent form of Internet censorship works by monitoring the data packets sent during an Internet search.

The censor blocks requests that either contain flagged keywords (such as “Tiananmen Square” in China) or prohibited domain names (such as “Wikipedia” in many countries).

When Geneva is running on a computer that is sending out web requests through a censor, it modifies how data is broken up and sent, so that the censor does not recognise forbidden content or is unable to censor the connection.

Known as a genetic algorithm, Geneva is a biologically inspired type of AI that Levin and his team developed to work in the background as a user browses the web from a standard Internet browser.

Like biological systems, Geneva forms sets of instructions from genetic building blocks. But rather than using DNA as building blocks, Geneva uses small pieces of code.

By deploying strategies identified by Geneva, the user is able to browse free of keyword censorship. Pixabay

Individually, the bits of code do very little, but when composed into instructions, they can perform sophisticated evasion strategies for breaking up, arranging or sending data packets.

The tool evolves its genetic code through successive attempts (or generations). With each generation, Geneva keeps the instructions that work best at evading censorship and kicks out the rest.

Also Read- Ram Mandir Resolution should Help India to Reinvent its Nationhood by Creating New Sense of Unity

Geneva mutates and cross breeds its strategies by randomly removing instructions, adding new instructions, or combining successful instructions and testing the strategy again.

Through this evolutionary process, Geneva is able to identify multiple evasion strategies very quickly, said the study. (IANS)

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Facebook Won’t Remove Content for Being False

"Even if it is a horrible assertion of falsity, whether it's about the Holocaust or any other world even, we don't remove content simply for being false," Bickert, Facebook's Head of Global Policy Management added.

Facebook releases Messenger redesign on Android, iOS. Pixabay

Even as the world painfully takes notes of dangers of fake news spread on social media platforms, Facebook has said that it does not remove content simply for being false.

While the social network platform has in place rules against hate speech and takes personal attacks seriously, false content does not face censorship on its platform, Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management said on Thursday while participating in “Hard Questions”, a series that explores the most challenging issues Facebook confronts.

“We don’t allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment where people feel personally attacked, where they won’t feel comfortable coming and sharing themselves,” Bickert said.

“The one thing that we don’t remove is where someone simply asserts something false,” she said, adding that Facebook tries to counter the virality of such content or tries to promote or make visible other views.

We don't remove content for being false: Facebook
Rumours on social media have been linked to real world violence in several countries. Flickr Common

“Even if it is a horrible assertion of falsity, whether it’s about the Holocaust or any other world even, we don’t remove content simply for being false,” Bickert added.

The statement bears significance at a time when rumours on social media platforms have been linked to real world violence in several countries, including India.

Also Read: Facebook will not Remove Fake News- but will ‘Demote’ it

Facebook, Bickert said, also considers local regulations while blocking content on the platform.

“And we also block the speech where countries have told us, ‘this is illegal in our country’, then we will remove that speech in that country alone,” she said. (IANS)