MYOB: What to know when art meets activism

This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photostream of Nattu
This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photostream of Nattu

Socio-political activism, art and culture share an extremely fascinating relationship – a relationship that has produced some amazing works of art and movements. Using your art to express an opinion can be extremely fulfilling and inspiring, but needless to say it does bring its share of difficulties too. Not everyone sees things from your perspective, and sometimes this can get you into a bit of trouble with the law – here are a few things that you might want to remember while cheering on your cause.

Why should anyone stop me from expressing myself? Don’t I have rights?

Now while it’s true that as a citizen, you have the right to freedom of speech and expression – it’s not unconditional. Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India talks about this right to freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right, but according to Article 19(2), the State can actually put in place reasonable restrictions to the exercising of this right – all in the interest of security, public order, decency, morality and some other reasons as mentioned in the Indian Constitution. Now there’s a lot that’s been said and written about the right to free speech, expression and the reasonable restrictions clause (ask anyone interested in Constitutional law, and they’ll tell you), but here’s what you should remember – the right to free speech and expression is hugely debated, which is why it’s difficult sometimes, to figure out whether you’re in the right or wrong (legally speaking, of course) by saying, publishing, writing or doing something. Another thing to remember – there’s no real definition of reasonable restrictions, which means that once again, it’s open to debate. In other words, always remember that your right to free speech and expression is alive, but guarded.

What about Section 66A – what’s that?

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 has been in the news a lot lately – it’s probably because of the slightly weird arrests made under this law that’s made us all sit up (in case you don’t remember, this was one of the provisions that cartoonist Aseem Trivedi had been arrested under). Section 66A basically deals with punishing someone for the offence of sending offensive messages through communication services – in other words, this is for the offence of using a computer or a communication device to send information that is grossly offensive, is of a menacing character, is false, is misleading and in turn is meant to incite danger, obstruction, injury, criminal intimidation or hatred. Section 66A is being debated big time because of the way in which it’s being misused by the police. Misunderstandings about what constitute grossly offensive or dangerous has led to a lot of confusion about how Section 66A needs to be implemented – recent incidents seem to suggest that sharing, uploading or posting some material is reason enough to get yourself into trouble under this provision. Even liking a facebook status update has gotten people into some serious trouble with the police!

Is there other legal stuff I need to consider before putting up a show?

The truth is, there are tons of ways in which the police can try and break up your show of activism – just a few months ago a few theatre artists had been arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Others have been the subject of police cruelty that’s been justified under the latter’s efforts to breakup a group of people who have been trying to disrupt peace and order in society. Defamation is another thing to be wary of – say your efforts of political critique sound rather accusing of one or two people, then it’s possible you might end up having to justify how your statements were more akin to the truth, and less about damaging someone’s reputation.

Right, now that you’ve told me about all this stuff, what do I need to remember?

Well no – some of the most powerful movements in our country have been led by the efforts of creative individuals who chose to communicate ideas across wide sections of society through their innovative modes of expression. What you should remember is to really read up on the consequences of your actions – make sure you’re aware of what kinds of action you may face, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a trusted friend well versed in the law, to help you in case things go a little awry.

On a day like today, it’s good to remember the different ways in which art and culture has contributed towards changing the socio-politico system around you. If you have something to share, then do leave a comment or get in touch.

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