Until Nikhil Pahwa of Medianama.com informed me, I had no clue that India’s unjust and arbitrary internet censorship regime had finally affected Kafila. Medianama published on Friday 15 February a list of 78 URLs that the Department of Telecommunications had ordered ISPs to block. 73 of them were webpages critical of the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), whose Arindam Chaudhuri has a long history of complaining about the Internet.
The Kafila page in question is simply a copy of a 2011 press release put out by The Caravan informing the public that it was taking down Siddhartha Deb’s profile of Arindam Chaudhuri because of a defamation suit file by an associate of IIPM. I republished the press release here. The original source of the release on The Caravan‘s website has also been blocked; they have republished it as well.
Medianama managed to get a copy of the 14 February blocking order (.pdf here), which as you can see is marked restricted and instructs ISPs to not mention the URLs in their compliance letter – part of the Indian government’s (lame) efforts to make sure its censorship of the internet remains secret and thus unquestioned.
A few hours later, Livemint.com quoted Gulshan Rai, technocrat and chief architect of India’s draconian internet censorship regime, as saying that the blocking orders came from a court in Gwalior. This is part of the problem with internet censorship (or “regulation,” the Orwellian term the government prefers): not only did the court in Gwalior not give Kafila or any of the others a chance to defend itself. Thereafter, having blocked the content, neither the hon’ble Gwalior court nor the Department of Telecommunications thought it fit to inform those whose content was being blocked. Is this not against the principles of natural justice?
A data analysis by Medianama shows that of the 73 URLs, 26 are blog posts, 25 are news sites and 9 are satire. Amongst the blocked news items are this Indian Express report of a PIL against IIPM, this mild and unoffensive interview of Siddhartha Deb in the Wall Street Journal, and a Times of India report on a Karnataka High Court judge’s question about Shahrukh Khan’s association with IIPM.
The spoof site Faking News has published all their blocked articles about IIPM in one single page. The Unreal Times (which is funny enough to be blocked in Pakistan) has lampooned the government for the blocking. Their blocked article had made fun of Chaudhuri’s attempts to control his image on Google. Many other articles making fun of IIPM and Arindam Chaudhuri on that site have, however, not been blocked.
I had an encounter of sorts with Arindam Chaudhuri this afternoon at the CNN-IBN studio, in a Sagarika Ghose-hosted show that will be telecast tomorrow (Monday) at 10:30pm IST. I took him on against imposing such censorship. After the show, however, Chaudhuri explained that an IIPM “channel partner” (an agent who helps IIPM get students) in Gwalior had got the court order and that Chaudhuri himself had not looked at the list of URLs before the interim order was obtained. He said “sorry” to me for the blocking of the Kafila page and agreed with me that a mere press release about the lawsuit between IIPM and The Caravan should not be blocked, but added that he was not directly responsible for the blocking. He said that IIPM had now been asked to become a party to the case and would now tell the Gwalior court to order unblocking of the Kafila page in question, as also the satire sites and other URLs that he does not find are making “defamatory” claims against IIPM. I write this post partly to hold him to this promise. He said his press release yesterday had made it clear he was not against satire.
His main grouse is with the University Grants Commission; a notice against IIPM on the UGC website has also been blocked. Chaudhuri told me that IIPM has so far filed only four lawsuits against only four organisations. These are, The Caravan (along with Penguin India publishers and Siddhartha Deb), Careers360 magazine, the UGC and the AICTE. Two articles about IIPM on the Careers360 magazine that have been blocked can be read here: one, two.