Can we not see parallels between the judgement that IPL critics dish out and the guilty-mercy complex that emanates from Section 66 A?

In today’s real-time, where mass media has reached its natural end-state wherein we broadcast our lives through Twitter rather than live them, it seems almost sacrilegious to write of anything but IPL and its extended externalities.

Consequently, there is a small pleasure in being able to identify both the vitriol public response to the recent IPL ‘fixing’ scandals and that foul demon, Section 66 A, as classic characteristics of a system that restricts true freedom and has just a hint of totalitarianism thrown in. 'Symptoms’ that cannot be allowed to spread.

The backlash to the arrests of Sreesanth, the emergence of the nefarious bookie (does anybody else think of cookie when this word comes up?)-escort nexus and the crowning of the ‘Cover-up Super Kings’ have unsettled that particular ethnic substance of our society—habits.

The labryinth of habits

The natural order of things, both online and offline, relies on a vague network of informal rules that tells us how we are to relate to one another; how we are supposed to apply a certain set of rules to each other; to what extent these are to be taken seriously and so on.

We knew that when we were young, we were supposed to address our friends’ parents as ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle’ for instance. Or that you take off your shoes when you enter a house. Or a more Brahminic example – one must drink water from a cup without sipping from it. We also realise that certain offers of help/money, even though offered vigorously, are meant to be turned down, as taking up the offer is a violation of a societal norm.

The IPL has systematically broken down this set of habits—for the most part, as it is not immediately clear on how one is supposed to react to the spot-match-bookie-escort-fixing scandal. This is, of course, not for a want of people telling us how one should relate to it. TV channels would have us believe that a billion people feel cheated; others tell us that ‘ambitions debt has been paid’; some feel that the ‘upwardly mobile’ middle class is responsible for it; a few would have us believe that the IPL is a snapshot of today’s corrupt society and so on.

The whole matter is a curiously grey area – are we to feel shame? Are we responsible for it? How are we to tread from here? Are we to boycott future IPL games? Most importantly, do we not see similarities in this breakdown of the normative habit system elsewhere? Traces of it can clearly be seen in the warpath that Section 66 A has left on the Internet.

With the introduction of Section 66 A, the complex and unwritten rules that sustain our social edifice has slowly started to break down. We can no longer tell what specific legal regulations we can afford to ignore and which we cannot. Is ‘liking’ a PUCL activist’s status message a crime? What about letting your little brother log into your Twitter account and post something nasty about the BCCI or N. Srinivasan?

Societal breakdown

A number of the so-called ‘totalitarian’ regimes of the past have exploited this breakdown of social habits to their advantage. One of the strategies of such regimes was to have laws of the land framed in such a way that, if taken literally, everyone would be guilty of something or the other. The Government could, at that point, turn around and appear to be merciful by not fully enforcing this law.

Something like: “You know, we’re really being nice by not charging you with this..”. But at the same time, making sure it hangs over everyone’s head, much like a guillotine: “Do not think you have full freedom, at any moment I can enforce this law.”

Does Section 66 A not appear to fall under this category—it has made into a crime any text that is of ‘grossly offensive, menacing or false character’ or sending any electronic message for ‘the purpose of annoyance or inconvenience? The second definition, by the way, which appears to be very self-relating. The very fact that the Government is charging you with Section 66 A, does it not in itself mean that the message you sent ‘was annoying or one of inconvenience’?

This confluence of total guiltiness (whatever you are doing is possibly a crime) and mercy (the fact the regime in question lets you live your life in peace not because you are innocent, but because the Government has decided to be lenient) shows that truly Section 66 A is an act of mercy, and is all the more dangerous for it.

The wave of criticism following the IPL scandals is the same—on one hand the public is accused of engaging in sleazy entertainment notwithstanding the costs that are incurred. “Watch, watch you filthy beasts…God knows how you view this as entertaining!,” screams one faction, condemning us guilty. The other faction extends the hand of mercy—“do not tolerate this anymore, let us return to the exalted sport of gentleman cricket,” they tell us.

The viewer/reader is morally-shamed into a state of malleability— a problem that has consequences as grave as the victims of Section 66 A.

This guilty-mercy complex restricts true freedom, and is a result of the breakdown in social habits. When we can no longer navigate society through the system of informal rules, we will be forced to conform without thinking.

The Internet cheered a few weeks ago when the Supreme Court upheld the Centre’s directive that required police officers to get prior permission before using Section 66 A. That is not nearly enough, coatings of paint will never be enough. Immanuel Kant once called for the public use of reason, never has it been more important to use it in rejecting both Section 66 A and the detractors of the IPL—wholly and whole-heartedly.