Stop "Harming" Me!

September 28, 2010

“Do what you want if you don’t harm anyone else”. This is the foundation of India’s Constitution.

Isn’t it easy to “harm” someone these days? Look at these examples:

1.Parents are “harmed” when their children marry against their wishes. So they kill them.
2.People are “harmed” by Khushboo’s remarks on pre marital sex. So they take her to court.
3.Society was “harmed” when homosexuality was legalized. So homosexuals are outcasts.
4.People are “harmed” if a book on Shivaji is written. So the book is banned.
5.Someone is “harmed” when M F Husain paints something offensive. So they threaten to kill him.

It seems everyone can choose to be “harmed” by what other people do – even when it doesn’t really affect them. Convenient, isn’t it? There’s only one problem. It just doesn’t make sense!

The only type of “harm” which is acceptable in court, is one which causes measurable damage. The key word is “measurable.” So if someone hits me, the force of the blow, the ultimate effect on my body etc are all factors that can be determined from outside. If I’m robbed, the amount of money I lose is measurable. Every law exists to limit measurable damage to others.

But when khaps and parents claim for example, that their “honor” was besmirched because their adult children married against their wishes, that does not qualify as harm. In the first place, “honor” is a subjective word that defies measurement. Secondly, there’s no proof that any “damage” is caused when a person’s honor is taken away. These are intensely personal issues. They need to be dealt with in a way that doesn’t break the law of the land.

Why this focus on measurement? Because justice needs to be applied consistently and to everyone in the same way. If something cannot be measured in a way that is obvious to everyone, the law can’t punish someone over it.

Even so, there are some imperfect laws which seek to punish people for subjective and dubious “harm.” Laws relating to offensive books for example. But even here, the Indian legal system has set the bar very high for proving “harm.” Not every Tom, Dick and Harry can go around claiming that their delicate sentiments have been harmed by a book.

When the Indian Supreme Court struck down the ban on Shivaji’s book by James Laine, here’s what it said:
“The effect of the words used in the offending material must be judged from the standards of reasonable, strong-minded, firm and courageous men, and not those of weak and vacillating minds, nor of those who scent danger in every hostile point of view. The class of readers for whom the book is primarily meant would also be relevant for judging the probable consequences of the writing”

Those who claimed they were “hurt” by M F Husain’s paintings fall into the latter category of “weak minds.” After all, strong minds are much more resistant to damage caused by simply viewing a pattern of paint on paper. Strong minds aren’t damaged by hearing the views and opinions of other people no matter how different from their own. Strong minds aren’t hurt when their adult children choose to take charge of their own lives.

So the next time someone tells you that society is being “harmed”, that “marriage is being destroyed”, that “People’s sentiments were harmed” and that “children are being corrupted,” just ask them one question:

“Show me who exactly has been harmed, and precisely how much damage they’ve sustained!”

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