D. Murali

A FRIEND tells me how some schools bar cell-phones on their premises, and that the rule applies not only to children but also to teachers and other employees.

There is a coin phone near the principal's room and one can use it in case of need, I learn, but what I fail to resolve is a nagging question whether we are trying to regress in pockets of community such as educational institutions, turning the clock backwards and making available limited means of communication that have long since become obsolete.

One may righteously argue that in the interest of education and discipline, you can't allow students to use cell-phones when the class is on, else they'd disturb others and so on. Well, that assumes the class is interesting and the teacher is able to grab the attention of students. But let me not get into a debate on that.

Yet, I'd plead for some liberty during the breaks, either between the sessions or during the lunch hour.

Even during other times, if the gadget you use is kept in the silent mode, what's the problem?

The reason is plain and simple: we live in a different world now, with the dad and mom in different corners of the city, and anxious to keep in touch with their kid. Variables that envelop us are far more than earlier, and most of them are uncontrollable, be it the vagary of weather or a public utility.

There used to be a time when long-distance call was reserved for emergencies, so the long, loud ring sounded ominous at the receiver's end.

Not so now, you'd agree, especially after tariffs have fallen drastically. When cost isn't a barrier, or technology a hurdle, whether we should succumb to artificial restrictions is the question.

I may need to ask law experts if what we need is an amendment to the Constitution, so that to the existing fundamental rights to equality, particular freedom, cultural and educational rights, freedom of religion, against exploitation and constitutional remedies, we add one more: A right to communicate. Maran may need to look into this!

"No person should be able to veto the use of another person's augmentative or alternative communication method that has been proven to be effective for that person. This includes all forms of alternative and augmentative communication, such as communication devices, gestures, sign language, and facilitated communication. In any instances where such use is forbidden, there should be recourse to the legal and protective systems. People with communication disabilities must be allowed to use the communication system of their own choice in all communication interactions in any setting," reads a para that I stumble upon in `the Right to Communication Resolution' posted at www.breaking-the-barriers.org.

"We must ensure: that all people have a means of communication which allows their fullest participation in the wider world; that people can communicate using their chosen method; and, that people's communication is heeded by others," reads its statement of purpose.

Though it is about people with disabilities, I guess the spirit of the resolution would apply to most of us at least with regard to choice of means of communication, if not to the wider world at least to those whom you'd like to stay in contact with, without in any way causing hindrance to the work of others.

Else, the progress we achieve in communication technology may be stymied by artificial restrictions that force us into incommunicado modes off and on.

Tom Peters avers, "Communication is everyone's panacea for everything." Even if communication is not the ultimate snake oil, I feel we need to have in our quiver of prerogatives a fundamental right to stay connected.


(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 1, 2005)
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