Guest post by ANANT MARINGANTI. Kapil Sibal may have unwittingly erased a whole historical geography of pre-windows software development in India. If the Times of India report on the release of Urdu fonts developed by National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language ( NCPUL) last week is accurate, Sibal said that India developed Urdu Software and fonts and thereby ended a longstanding dependency on Pakistan. This, according to him is beneficial to the 15 crore Urdu language users. There is a ‘pre-election Muslim wooing’ feel to the story which nicely blends with the ‘massaging of Indian (read Hindu) nationalist pride’ feel. The sense of triumph and pride at this historic achievement by Indian programmers would have been justified even if it could be read as symptomatic of the postcolonial condition that Amitav Ghosh captures in his recounting of the breakdown of conversation between himself and the Imam of Lataifa and Nashawy. Unfortunately however, Urdu language users in India were never dependent on Pakistan for software and fonts. This can be said in two different senses: first that Indian Urdu language computing originated in Hyderabad almost 25 years ago and has contributed significantly to local cultural economy. Second, to the extent that there has been exchange between India and Pakistan in Urdu language computing, the participants in that exchange have seen it primarily in terms of exchange. Afterall, people cannot help making language tools even if nation states do not pay them much attention. Continue reading Lok Sabha elections, software imperialism and the Urdu language: Anant Maringanti
Ironically, the random arrest of people for tweets or Facebook postings made some of us happy—happy that, at last, citizens have started showing concern about internet censorship. But lock-up gates had to clang at night on the faces of a few people before we realised that, in our pompous democracy, the might of the state is Ctrl-Alt-Deleting opinion with such serious zeal. The arrests have been made under Section 66A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, notified in October 2009. This section makes punishable with up to three years’ imprisonment anything that is perceived as “grossly offensive” but does not set out the parameters of how to decide on that—even if we were to believe that could at all be done. Questions about these arrests are deflected: the government blames the police, the police says a vague law is the problem, and those who file the complaints that lead to such arrests say that they are free to seek enforcement of an existing law.
Anyone can see that the section is not designed to nudge a case towards a conviction verdict. It is designed only to harass. Arrests, courtwork, bail. You are ground down, but the government spokesman is able to say, “The law is taking its own course.” The implication: “Aren’t you grateful you have obtained bail?” But the recent arrests have caused outrage. Taking up a PIL against the section, the Supreme Court had said in December that had it not been filed, it would have taken up the matter anyway. Despite this, the government defended the section in the Rajya Sabha, refusing to repeal it and merely adding guidelines that such arrests should be made by an officer of a higher rank—as if that would make it better.
Read more, here.
At last, the real anxieties lurking behind what has come to be called the “Ambedkar cartoon” controversy are out in the open. It is hideously clear by now that MPs “uniting across parties” are acting as one only to protect themselves from public scrutiny, debate and criticism. It turns out, as some of us suspected all along, that the “sentiments” that have been “hurt” this time are the easily bruised egos of our elected representatives.
(By the way, you may have noticed that “MPs unite across party lines” is not a headline you will ever see after a massacre, a natural calamity, brazen public acts of sexual violence against women and so on. Oh no. Such unity is reserved only for utterly self-serving and anti-democratic interpretations of “Parliamentary privilege”).*
Artist: Abu Abraham
Declared HRD minister Kapil Sibal – “Much before the issue came to parliament, I had already taken action. I called for the NCERT text books and I looked at other cartoons. I realised that there were many other cartoons that were not in good taste and disparaging in nature. They were not sending the right message to our children in classrooms”.
Recent debates on Internet censorship in India have focused to the allegedly free-for-all nature of the internet. Those of us who have argued against internet censorship have been somewhat misrepresented as arguing for absolute freedom whereby the reasonable restrictions laid down in Article 19 (A) of the Constitution of India don’t apply. Nothing could be farther than the truth.
It has been said that the internet can be used to incite violence, particularly inter-communal violence, and there needs to be a mechanism to prevent that. Communications minister Kapil Sibal wants internet giants to “self-regulate” for this reason, denying that he wants to censor political dissent on the internet. Following on the heels of his expression of such concern in December 2011, Mufti Aijaz Arshad Qasmi and journalist Vinay Rai filed cases against various internet companies for similar material that is religiously offensive.It needs to be pointed out, however, that the cases filed by Qasmi and Rai are under the Indian Penal Code and do not even invoke the Information Technology Act. So if the Indian Penal Code can be used against religiously offensive material why do we need any new mechanism to “regulate” or even “self-regulate” the internet? Continue reading Unpacking India’s Internet Censorship Debate
Guest post by RAM KRISHNASWAMY
HRD Minister Kapil Sibal seems to be getting a lot of flak from so many quarters on Jan Lok Pal Bill, HRD Computer Tablet Aakash and now his backing of ISEET, one common national entrance exam for science and engineering. Now as HRD Minister he has inadvertently attracted the wrath of over 1,75,000 IIT alumni globally; as also faculty and students of all IITs who are opposed to his idea of killing IIT-JEE and replacing it with a common national exam called ISEET.
Yes, Kapil Sibal is the HRD Minister but he is a lawyer and a politician and is not a technologis. It appears that he is being advised by technologists who are misleading him and telling him what he wants to hear, as opposed to giving him solid advice in the interest of the nation.
Let us just look at IITs and JEE alone.
Let us see what truly is wrong with IITs & JEE and what recommendations the HRD Minister has received and from whom.
If we were to simplify the problem with JEE as it is administered in 2012 they can be listed as follows (not a comprehensive list):
Aseem Trivedi is a cartoonist in Kanpur. Or was. He has, for some months, been a full-time activist against internet censorship in India. As 2011 was turning into 2012, the Maharashtra police got his domain registrar to suspend his domain, http://cartoonsagainstcorruption.com, which was in support of the Anna Hazare-led Lokpal movement. His website wasn’t blocked, but the domain name suspended – the equivalent of shutting down a printing press. This was done in no time, and he wasn’t given an opportunity to defend his content. This was done thanks to the IT Rules 2011, a simple FAQ about which can be found here. Today, 1 April, Trivedi celebrated “Kapil Sibal’s Day,” calling the Communications minister the fool that he is. In the image below, taken at Delhi’s Rajghat today, Trivedi is standing on the extreme right. For more on Trivedi’s campaign, see http://www.saveyourvoice.in.
Hindi Press Release:
This FAQ has been put out by the Delhi-based SFLC.in
The Central Government notified the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 in April, 2011. The rules which seek to control the intermediaries end up controlling the actions of users. As these rules attempt to cover a wide range of activities through a duplicate, complicated structure, neither the industry nor the end users are able to understand the boundaries of their rights and duties.
This FAQ aims at making these rules easy to understand and at sensitising the beneficiaries to the problems that the rules raise.
Guest post by PRANESH PRAKASH
The Indian government wants to censor the Internet without being seen to be censoring the Internet. This article by Pranesh Prakash shows how the government has been able to achieve this through the Information Technology Act and the Intermediary Guidelines Rules it passed in April 2011. It now wants methods of censorship that leave even fewer traces, which is why Mr. Kapil Sibal, Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology talks of Internet ‘self-regulation’, and has brought about an amendment of the Copyright Act that requires instant removal of content.
Power of the Internet and Freedom of Expression
The Internet, as anyone who has ever experienced the wonder of going online would know, is a very different communications platform from any that has existed before. It is the one medium where anybody can directly share their thoughts with billions of other people in an instant. People who would never have any chance of being published in a newspaper now have the opportunity to have a blog and provide their thoughts to the world. This also means that thoughts that many newspapers would decide not to publish can be published online since the Web does not, and more importantly cannot, have any editors to filter content. For many dictatorships, the right of people to freely express their thoughts is something that must be heavily regulated. Unfortunately, we are now faced with the situation where some democratic countries are also trying to do so by censoring the Internet. Continue reading Invisible Censorship – How India Censors Without Being Seen: Pranesh Prakash
Guest post by SHALINI SHARMA
It hardly needs any corroboration that the Bhopal Movement led by survivors of the world’s worst industrial disaster adheres to the principles of non- violence as dearly as they adhere to their demands of justice and accountability. However, on the 3rd of December 2011, as thousands of Bhopal gas victims walked towards the city’s railway lines they had little idea that their act of civil disobedience, marking the 27th Anniversary of the disaster, would be sabotaged by the government and that they would be treated like a violent mob.
Anniversary actions are usually treated as rituals by the media. This occasion was different because even though chakka jaam (block the road) has been organised on several previous occasions, the call for blocking the trains or rail roko was an unusual decision. These survivor-led groups were asking the State government to provide the Supreme Court with the right data related to the number of deaths and actual extent of injuries due to the gas exposure.
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.
A few days ago a friend asked me if I knew someone who had the ability and inclination to help out a certain department of the central government with using social media. My friend did not name who the prospective employer was, but clearly, with even Digvijay Singh on Twitter, the Congress party is worried about social media. No surprise that this should happen in a year when the UPA government’s popularity has taken a nose-dive.
The New York Times revealed on 5 December that Kapil Sibal summoned Facebook officials and showed them a Facebook page that allegedly maligned Congress president Sonia Gandhi and said that this was unacceptable. While HRD officials refused to reveal much in that NYT copy, they must have realised that shit has hit the fan, because the next morning’s Indian Express the spin doctoring was clear: there was now a mention of allegedly derogatory pictures of Prophet Mohammed along with the Prime Minister and the Congress President (who are no doubt as sacred in his books as Prophet Mohammed).By the time he held his press conference yesterday, it became about things that Hurt Our Religious Sentiments. On the 19th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, it is very interesting to see a Congress minister using religion to cover up power politics. Continue reading What Kapil Sibal does not understand: the internet
I urge you to write KAPIL SIBAL IS AN IDIOT as your Facebook status message, use the hashtag #IdiotKapilSibal on Twitter, and write a blog post with the above title, because there may soon be a day when he may prevent you from doing so.
The New York Times reports:
The Indian government has asked Internet companies and social media sites like Facebook to prescreen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online, three executives in the information technology industry say.
Top officials from the Indian units of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook are meeting with Kapil Sibal, India’s acting telecommunications minister, on Monday afternoon to discuss the issue, say two executives of Internet companies. The executives asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media on the issue.
About six weeks ago, Mr. Sibal called legal representatives from the top Internet service providers and Facebook into his New Delhi office, said one of the executives who was briefed on the meeting.
At the meeting, Mr. Sibal showed attendees a Facebook page that maligned the Congress Party’s president, Sonia Gandhi. “This is unacceptable,” he told attendees, the executive said, and he asked them to find a way to monitor what is posted on their sites. [Link]
“Ask the Home Ministry, because this is a security issue.”
That is what India’s Minister for Communications and Information Technology said recently when asked about the lack of transparency in the blocking of websites in India.
Now, one of the websites blocked in India is Savita Bhabhi, as also several mirror websites of the same. Savita Bhabhi, as you doubtless know, was a soft-porn web comic. All I want to ask Kapil Sibal is: How is Savita Bhabhi a threat to India’s national security? Wait, I have another question: Continue reading How is Savita Bhabhi a Threat to India’s National Security?
Kapil Sibal said the following at a conference on social media in Delhi recently:
We’ve seen the power of the medium in the last six months or so seeking to perform a transformational role, but in the absence of a balance… this is really the danger of sites like these. What happens in the process is that all kinds of opinion get both elicited and taken forward, without the necessary wherewithal, and there’s a great danger, because this, I believe, is a part of freedom of speech. Continue reading Here’s what India’s Communications and IT Minister thinks about online freedom