Censorship on the internet in India is now, finally a widely debated issue, thanks to the growing awareness amongst the 100 million Indian internet users who are directly affected by the Government’s dictates. Although control or suppression of information available on the net is nothing new to the country, Indians rarely knew about it till the recent months. When one could access all the pornographic sites in the world, the average users never really believed that there could be censorships too! For example, when all Yahoo groups were dysfunctional in India for about 2 weeks in September 2003, most of the Indian users did not even know that it was because of the Government of India banning one Yahoo Group called Kynhun, associated with Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council, the Khasi separatist militant outfit from North East India. Likewise when the Indian Government banned several websites hosted on the Geocities and BlogSpot in 2007 (most of them related to groups who had declared war against the Indian state such the ULFA of Assam), we had not a clue.
When the Arab Spring rose to global attention last year, media Jihad was extensive too. When one activist in Egypt finally tweeted, saying we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world, the Governments around the world, including India starting shaking up. In India, with the Anna Movement getting more and more popular in the Internet, the Government of India started to realise the potential danger of this online demon. With 100 million users now using Social Networking sites and other forms of Internet, the Government understood well that a movement on the net can easily topple the state. All it needs is some fuel to kick-start and some strong online activist to give the movement a right shape. The means to control the press or the Television media was already there, but the Internet had taken the Government on the back foot. It was then probably the Government decided enough is enough; – let’s stop this internet menace even if it means killing the Fundamental right to freedom of speech. With a lawyer, who has now proved that he knows nothing about Internet, being the Minister for IT the war over the net has already started and there is clear sign of it getting worse.
The Pandora’s Box and the Liar Minister:
The great Indian war on over Internet censorship started last December with Kapil Sibal, lawyer turned IT Minister of Indian Government confirming a New York Times report that Government of India had directed many social media sites and search engine sites including Google, Facebook and Yahoo, to pre-screen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online! Sibal, typical of any Indian Political leader, tried manipulating the event by using the age-old method of “We are doing it for best interest of Indian culture to safeguard religious sentiments”, etc. He went on to claim that the government wanted to remove pornographic content and so had advised Google to take down certain sites. But Google confirmed that they had received requests from State and Local Law enforcement agencies to mostly remove content that included protests against social leaders. As per the Google Transparency report, out of 358 items that Google was asked to remove by Government of India, 255 were those which criticized the Government and only 3 were related to Pornography! The numbers were self-explanatory. The Government’s intentions were clearly not to improve people’s lives or social or religious protection; but their own self-protection, – basically to prevent anyone from criticizing the Government publicly (online).
Plan B becomes Plan A:
With the Government’s intentions becoming clear, it became difficult to implement the censorship directly and now Plan B has become Plan A. The Plan B was to support the International proposal to regulate Internet content, which came for discussion at the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva on May 18. The proposal is regarding government control over the Internet through a United Nations Committee on Internet Related Policies (CIRP) comprising 50 bureaucrats from the UN Member countries. India’s concurrence with the CIRP is now been criticized. Independent Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar has written to the Prime Minister stating that no public consultation with multi-stakeholder groups was done by the government before supporting the CIRP and that by doing this, India would group together with Countries like China, Saudi Arabia and Cuba who are nowhere associated with Democracy.
If India indeed succeeds the censorship on Internet, it would in most likelihood fall in the list of Internet Enemies, a list of countries prepared annually by Reporters sans frontiers, a Paris-based international NGO that advocates freedom of the press. This list includes 12 countries currently such as Bahrain, Belarus, Myanmar, China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The list itself tells about the state of freedom of Speech and basic human rights in those countries and now India is trying to get itself into the same group, thanks to our great UPA Government. Our Government could ban Ambdekar’s 60 year old Cartoon from a textbook at the slightest complaint, but would not stand back from destroying the Freedom of Speech given to us as a Fundamental right in the same constitution written by Amdedkar. The Indian Constitution in its article 19(2), which speaks about limiting freedom of speech only permits Reasonable Restrictions (In the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence).
Our Rulers wants to prevent everything that might lead to lose their chair of power and the Control over Internet is a big pushback against the Aam Admi, preventing us from raising our voice, criticizing policies or even offering sarcasm over Government’s blunders. They would not want to control menace like pornography on the net because some of them uses it for killing time in the assembly, they would not want to control courts to make law judgements fast, they would not control the rise of child trafficking, foeticide killing or corruption. They just need a way to stop us from bringing them down at the cost of our basic rights and freedom.
Alas! Our Leaders lack the vision and has got plenty of fear of losing elections, for most of them know that they do not deserve to be where and what they are. Keeping alive our right to speech is the most important aspect if we want a developed India, a super power in the future. Are we going to let them win again and allow our Rulers to become Tyrant-Dictators? Well, maybe we should start thinking about changing the system.
Priyankan Goswami is a member of the Executive board of Times of Assam.
A Mechanical Engineer by academic, Priyankan Goswami is now a famous name in Indian media.