One of the rallying cries of those who bat for India over China, is "...but India is a democracy". In the last issue, I wrote about the ludicrousness of the government's entire argument in support of snooping on corporate emails. One apologist for the government explained to me that the rationale behind the decision was to spot if someone "goes rogue". I think that is bizarre, since there is no guarantee that "someone" in the government will not go rogue. And if Julian Assange's latest allegations made on a news channel are to be believed, several Indian politicians have already gone rogue by ferreting out billions of dollars of their ill-gotten wealth to Switzerland.
But still more bizarre is the government's intention to control Internet access. This is clear from the Internet Control Rules. They were posted by Nikhil Pahwa on medianama.com and are available at http://bit.ly/indiainternet. The really interesting bits are in sub-rule (2): "Users shall not host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share any information that is grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating to or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever."
Pahwa asks an interesting question here: does India even have a 'blasphemy' law? Forget that, will this mean that Internet users will not be able to post Santa-Banta jokes since they are racially and ethnically objectionable? What if Khushwant Singh does so? Even a rule such as this could possibly be okay if there was a clear path of seeking legal recourse to sort these things out. But there is not. And this is not all. To get an idea of the sheer absurdity of it all, just read on.
"The intermediary, on whose computer system the information is stored or hosted or published, upon obtaining knowledge by itself or been brought to actual knowledge by an affected person in writing or through email signed with electronic signature about any such information as mentioned in sub-rule (2) above, shall act within thirty six hours and where applicable, work with user or owner of such information to disable such information that is in contravention of sub-rule (2)."
So, if I am impacted by a disparaging statement, then I can take the material off the Internet even if it is true? If someone wrote 'Kushan is a fat, sweaty slob', I could find it offensive and disparaging. But the one who wrote that is entitled to say that, because I do not believe that statement is libellous.
Calling me other things might be libelous and defamatory and I have a right to legal recourse. But not this. What if I found the statement "hurtful", wrote to the concerned authorities and had the website shut down? And who determines if a complaint is genuine and not by some crazy fanatic who is objecting to something that he thinks is objectionable?
If Narendra Modi were to say that all the Left-wing articles against him were "hateful" and had them taken down, wouldn't we all be crying censorship? I do not know what has happened for India to suddenly move towards becoming a scary Orwellian society. Over the years I have heard people praise our democracy, and lately even politicians have defended it to counter Anna Hazare and his cohorts.
I believe in democracy and the rule of law as well, but India's proposed Internet Control Rules are patently undemocratic and absurd.