Guest post by VRINDA GOPINATH
Well, Information and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal’s prickly suggestion to pre-screen content on social networks like Google, Facebook and Twitter, has invited such derision from the internet world that it has given him a tag to his name – Idiot Sibal. For iSibal, it’s not his status on Facebook that should bother him, but the ruinous unmasking of the minister in status-anxiety New Delhi. Sibal, after all, prides himself in belonging to the elite movers and shakers of the Capital – educated, connected, and gold card holder of the Stephen’s Old Boys Network. For the status seekers, this is a world of privilege and entitlement, cosmopolitanism and tolerance.
Now you would wonder what came over the blue-stockinged Technology Minister to make such an ill-thought out statement. Sibal’s liberal snobbery is not always what it seems to be, for there is a lurking autocratic and despotic streak, even archaic at times, that has surfaced time and again. And it is this aspect that has largely been ignored in the bedlam over his latest decree to social network companies.
Consider this: in September 2007, as Science and Technology minister in UPA 1, Sibal was the most vociferous critic of a proposed amendment to the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, which would have made the client of a sex worker also a criminal. At the Cabinet meeting, Sibal banged on about legalisation of prostitution, which would license and regulate prostitution, while ignoring that in the absence of such legalisation, the amendment would at least ensure the law is fair, by targeting both the sex worker and client.
Then again, in August 2009, as HRD Minister, Sibal had challenged activists up in arms for denying them inclusive education. In his much-acclaimed Right to Education Bill, Sibal struck off children with severe disability saying provisions must be made for them in special schools. Nor did he include autistic and cerebral palsy kids, and it was only after sustained protests all over the country that he finally conceded to their demand.
Of course, his contempt for the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement of April and August 2011, was barely concealed, when he persistently poured scorn on Team Anna’s proposed anti-corruption law and even mooted the idea of Anna’s arrest. As the government’s points-person for negotiations with Team Anna, Sibal barely showed any tack and reserve, so much so he was pulled out after failing to make any headway with Anna’s team.
Sibal’s faux modernism and scientific temper seems to be a sham too. It is with socialist gusto that Sibal decrees his edicts to the People. It is now evident that Sibal first summoned Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo! to his office three months ago to convey his deep displeasure at the Facebook pages about his venerable party President, Sonia Gandhi. Like some autocratic party apparatchik, Sibal shook with rage saying, “This is totally unacceptable,’’ and demanded the network bosses pull out the offensive pages and pre-screen content before it was uploaded on their sites. It was only later, to cover up his fawning, that Sibal brought in the ban on abuse of religious imagery on the net.
And like some Orwellian nightmare, Sibal has decided he will herd the misguided masses with forceful government coercion, to what can be read, said, hated and loved on social media. What he fails to see is the practical failure of such policies, which is so routine as to be hardly worth mentioning. The much larger point to be made is that a ban punishes citizens for the failure of government to enforce the laws that already exist. Suddenly, the globalizing mantra of cheerleading liberalisers like Sibal, seems to have flown out of the window and some weird puritanism and control-seeking has crept in.
There is a lurking feeling that Sibal is being tempted to rein in the “clicktivists” (read Anna & Co., et al) at some later stage, after the successful British operation to crack down on Facebook rioters of August 2010? Two men from Cheshire, Jordan Blackshaw, 21, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, were jailed for four years each for using Facebook to incite disorder during riots in England, though there was no real evidence to show people rioted based on their posts/messages.
Even more inspiration for Sibal must come from the British Home Office, which had promptly summoned representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry, in the wake of the English city riots, to hold “constructive” talks, aimed at preventing violence being plotted online! Prime Minister David Cameron had also declared the police may need extra powers to curb their use. Ah, Mr Sibal, he seems to be warming up to the idea of colonising the social network world, just like the imperialists once did to us.
(Vrinda Gopinath is a journalist and political commentator based in Delhi.)
More on internet censorship in India from Kafila archives:
- What Kapil Sibal does not understand: the internet
- Kapil Sibal is an Idiot
- Your government is removing your YouTube videos and you don’t even know about it
- The Day India Will Shut Down the Internet
- Here’s what India’s Communications and IT Minister thinks about online freedom
- Get Ready for India’s Blogger Control Act
- Crazy internet censorship time in India, again
More on Kapil Sibal from Kafila archives:
- Sunalini Kumar: Teacher-Veacher, Union-Shunion…Kya Bakwaas Hai Yaar?
- Vrijendra: Divide in Higher Education in India