The draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill of 2016 is so perfectly ridiculous that one can only hope that it falls off the map before it can be tabled in the House. Publishers the world over have learned, to their bewildered amusement, that India censors maps of itself. Now, to strike fear into their anti-national gizzards, the government has invoked an official map censor, a babu-led organisation whose prior permission will be required to publish geospatial information, which is newspeak for maps. Failure to correctly depict the borders of India could attract a fine of up to Rs 100 crore, before the poor offending bozo is dragged away to the cooler for seven years. With this draft, the government has embarked on a journey without maps, which must rapidly become directionless.
The terminology of the draft is psychotically comprehensive. “Whoever depicts, disseminates, publishes or distributes any wrong or false topographic information of India” can be held to account. Apart from printers, publishers, media and filmmakers who depict maps in their productions, this would include private citizens posting on social media, and even village children scrawling maps with chalk on their slates. But wouldn’t the last two be culpable even if their maps were reasonably accurate? They didn’t take prior permission, did they? Off to the cooler with them! The ambit of speculation opened up by this bill is limitless. Now, can we please sue the estates of Vasco da Gama and Marco Polo for embarking for the East with wildly inaccurate maps? Is Alfred Wegener culpable for identifying the forces of continental drift, which slowly but inexorably alter land masses? Continental drift will one day cause Uttar Pradesh to vanish under Nepal, which is clearly an anti-national act, on par with the loss of Aksai Chin. But what about erroneous maps which enlarge the land mass of India instead of whittling it down? Will the map of Akhand Bharat see the RSS in the dock? Should expansiveness of the spirit be penalised thus?
Once upon a time in the history of the nation, it was considered normal to harbour pointless anxieties about Aksai Chin. Indeed, it was the nationalistic thing to do. But now, we know that maps are supposed to depict real boundaries on the ground. They demarcate the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. They delineate geography, not history, and putting ugly purple censor’s stamps on them when they differ from our conception of the ideal world is a sadly ineffectual, purely gestural, way of trying to correct historical wrongs. The only saving grace is that it is better than the traditional stratagem which governments use to alter maps — war.