My say in India – and its importance?

I pride myself on the freedom of expression of opinion that India gives. If I am unhappy about something, I can freely write to a newspaper or magazine criticizing the people involved, blog about it, or go with a bunch of people and hold banners and march down the roads. I am happy that our newspapers brim with diversity of opinions and news. I am glad I can shoot a movie the way I want without pretty much getting a lot of it censored. I can shoot a movie about the political party I want to support and play it on TV. With a very few exceptions, I feel the government is quite doing well in granting me the freedom of expressing myself. But at what cost?

It is my fourth year in Singapore, and from the beginning of my stay here, I have been vaguely amused by the media and law here. My feelings have only become more appropriate now, in my final year, as I learn media law and read the hundreds of statutes that define seditious content, the word ‘obscene’ and party political films. As ever, I guffaw at what I consider a sad state of affairs when it comes to freedom of expression. There is only one noteworthy national newspaper, which likes the ruling government. Laws make sure the opposition is not anything to take note of. State television channels are a farce, as the government seems to have an invisible hand running it. People here do not really have many avenues to openly express what they feel, and in fact, not many even have anything to say. Three guys who blogged about an issue with ‘racist’ remarks were punished appropriately. Singapore is cautious, treading each step of its way with utmost concern, giving the government an absolute hand at handling people’s opinion, so that no situation arises that threatens the nation’s harmony and co-existence of the various races.

So on the one hand, we have India, that grants all its freedom, and is going far, yes, but still has way, way long to go in terms of development. On the other, we have developed Singapore, which has pretty much everything you need to lead a comfortable life – minus the privilege India grants. Even though I vehemently support the importance of having freedom of expression in my class, a doubt keeps creeping into my mind – is it worth it? India has achieved a great many things by granting this right, no doubt, but have we achieved what this right is for – development, peace? Have we taken for granted the right to speak up that seems to be running in our blood for centuries, been happy and smug about it, getting us pretty much nowhere in terms of the glorious vision of India as a developed nation?

Some answers please… a discussion could be enlightening!


Raj said...

I confess...I visited this site now expecting anything but a blog to ponder! :D But yeah, my immediate thoughts:

Iam in the US, which is a developed country. From what I came to know about Singapore from your blog (I dont know much about Singapore otherwise), I dont think that US has a similar situation. In my opinion (mind you, Iam not a journalism just another of those countless Comp Sci students out I dont know what the actual journalism rules here state), US has much more freedom of expression than Singapore and it is developed too. So, if I got your subject of debate correctly, you said you have Singaopre, a developed country, with its heavy restrictions on the one hand and India, a developing country, with its freedom of expression on the other. Where would you want to place US, which is both developed, and has a lot of freedom of expression?

My 2 cents...

Raj said...

In other words, I dont think development is hindered by freedom of expression. In India's case, there are a lot of factors hindering its growth. The basis would be the diversity: language, caste, culture, religion, etc. Illiteracy is also a major factor. If a majority of the people become literates (as in the US/Singapore), the other factors mentioned earlier can be overcome to a certain extent. There are also these politicians, who either only care about swindling as much money as possible or about the "development" of their own caste, etc. They take advantage of the regional feelings, furthering the divide amongst the people (of late, lots of new states have been formed and quite a lot of parties are still directing their energies to form more new states).

One factor that made US/Singapore developed nations is an underlying zeal amongst the citizens to develop the nation. And the people in these countries worked towards this goal. I dont see this factor in our country. People are more worried about rivers, castes, political parties, etc

If a majority of the Indians stopped worrying about these hindering factors and worked towards the common goal of a developed nation, we would be on track.

2 more cents from me! :D

akila said...

I don't see any direct relationship between freedom of expression a country gives to its citizens & its development status.
In my opinion, the freedom of expression is rather being a deterrent in the growth of India. No 2 ppl can come to a common decision easily. Imagine the many voices in India (with the freedom of expression) !!
On the other hand, good leadership in Singapore based on the only goal of developing the nation + some restrictions has given it the mark it has in the world map.

Apart from this, I have always felt "small is manageable"
If the states of India are given autonomous rights & if they have good leaders, we would probably develop ! Not that we don't have or have'nt had good leaders.

rsubras said...

hey vani..amazing....

just as i almost made up mind to comment that vani had come up with a boring post..some boring lecture about freedom of speech...... there was a twist in the tale..... :)

i will join the argument later..... as of now... from a post perspective...... hey it is a good post yaaa :p

btw, the years of journalism study and a fruitful internship did not rob ur story telling skills rite? esp ur paati kadhais :p

Vani Viswanathan said...

thanks for reading the post, haha! what you said is definitely right - india has a lot other factors other than press freedom hindering its progress, but what i was wondering was if we could probably progress faster if we don't have it - we have political parties investing time and money in the press claiming to give the 'true' side of the story instead of doing anything helpful.
agree with you on the literacy factor, and that what most indians are bothered about are caste, river water and politics! and with all these spreading over to the next generation as well, do we have any hope in sight?

Vani Viswanathan said...

of course, there is no direct relationship between the press freedom and the development of a country, but i just feel if it's an unnecessary privilege we are getting in india in the name of 'discussion for development' when we could be doing a lot other things.
and autonomous states sounds like a good idea! but we'll probably start having armies for each state, then! :O

glad you liked it :) and no, my story-writing skills (!) aren't gone.. i'm in fact honing them right now!!

Raj said...

hey vani,

if we had the present system minus press freedom in India, it seems very scary! Atleast now, we have a few (atleast 1 or 2) newspapers/TV channels/other media, that are not attached to/dont support any political party per se. So, we get some sense of the nonsense that is happening out there. Also, the opposing parties and their own media/supporting media make sure they highlight the errors of the ruling party. If all this were to go...the ruling party will be on a rampage here. Agree with you and akila that all this pluralism (if i may use that term here) is causing a lot of distraction and is not letting us concentrate on the development of the nation. And iam also ok for one leadership (or even dictatorship). But leadership that imposes restrictions needs to be good and work towards developing the nation. If the leadership is bad, it could worsen things...I think there is/are some countries suffering under such bad leadership in Africa. Pros and cons both ways. Autonomy or giving any more power to all the states than they already have, will only create more confusion, as you (vani) pointed out. It would be like several pseudo-nations...all trying to break free or worse, rule neighboring pseudos!
Alrighty! Iam getting dull now! :D I reiterate that for the current scenario, stifling press freedom will only worsen things.

iCitizen said...

This is an interesting comment i heard about the Singapore government. And I think that speaks for most of the people in Singapore.

If I am right this was from the opposition party at election time.

"The government is doing whatever that needs to be done. We are very happy. There is nothing more that anyone can do".

This should sum up well and contrast with what ever is happening in India.

ChronicWorrier said...

Hi Vani,
Chanced upon yr blog while looking for a Wiki entry on Singlish!

Abt yr post- I think anyone who's new to S'pore finds this rather amusing (other cause for amusement- democracy). I know I did. But if u look at the system and realize that it works, then atleast to a foreign mind, esp one that comes from a "third-world country", everything starts to seem justified. Sure, it might not be freedom in the real sense of the word, but if that means an economically-developed, crime-free society, then maybe it's all worth it. And sometimes we gotta admire the spunk this country displays! (Like the execution of Nguyen) Comparison with India is probably not fair since we are talking totally different scales here. Like u aptly pointed out, what has the freedom of expression got us really?
Having said that, I come across locals everyday who have something or the other to complain about. So yes, the people might not be happy about the lack of freedom, but once u question them about how much it affects their everyday life, they quieten down. Life is generally comfortable, so why complain about minor issues.
Having said that I can understand how this must affect you personally considering the line you are in! Good luck!
Apologies for hogging all this space!

dante said...

"I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it."

I think that should sum up your debate about freedom of expression and free speech. Free speech is an impartial double-edged sword. A racist has much rights to voice out his views as a pacifist has to his. Well is that a good thing? Not necessarily but it’s how the whole concept of free speech works. In Singapore, this is not how it works. Here we are trying the novel concept of having our cake and eating it too. Singaporeans do believe in the right to voice out your views as long as it toes the line and does not incite hate or violence against an individual or a group. You must understand that Singapore is very much a country run on Confucian ethics and principles thus the need for a singular head of the family or country in this case and an obliging family or people who follows the rules of the head of the family without much complaint. Thus allowing for a country without much natural resources to prosper so much in the small period of time. Like the saying goes “Too many cooks spoil the broth”.

In India, it’s the exact opposite. It’s huge and multi faceted. Everyone has their own view and they will rather die than give up their voice or at least it seems that way to me. Thus you have the communists, socialists, pacifist, hindu radicalists, conservatives etc. Each of them has their own view and agenda therefore neither one takes the time to hear the other one’s views and thus the voice of the many drowns out the voice of sanity. Case in point, President Kalam (whom I think was a great man) was not re-appointed cause the communists and the hindu conservatives did not like him. Well even though the mass of people wanted him to stay on, what happened in the end, the voice of the many drowned out the mass. Even in the newspapers, you do have to read between the lines to get the real stories for journalists are people too. And by definition people are flawed by their biases. Well that’s my two cents on the topic. Guess I have argued for and against the topic and ended up sitting on the fence at last. It’s an uncomfortable place to be but at least it allows me a nice view of both sides. *grin*

iamyuva said...

as with anything- you will feel the need when you miss something. i remember singapore blocked business magazine since it published case study which stats singapore might not have better economy future.

personally- no justification can be given (specially singapore govt) for lack of freedom of expression. which only means govt. has lack of faith in people and system..

bk said...

just floating thru...

you cant have it both ways. With freedom of speech and expression, you have to accept what you may not like. Tolerance of everything is the way to go in that case..except for criminality of course.

The opposite is a strictly run country like signapore where your needs are met but people live like programmed robots.