Censorship showdown in India

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on June 15, 2007

Gangs on the rampage, issuing threats to owners of some Internet cafes and attacking others, tearing up places that allowed users to access information via the Net that some zealots say insults their religious beliefs. Sounds like Gaza, right? Think again. This is happening in Mumbai, commercial capital of tech-savvy India. While many Indians like to think of their country as a high-tech superpower, some members of the Hindu group Shiv Sena apparently haven’t gotten the memo. They’re going after Internet cafes that haven’t sufficiently clamped down on a Google-related social networking service called Orkut. They find it offensive because it has given critics the chance to attack Shiv Sena and its leader, Bal Thackeray. “Orkut is used by many destructive elements to spread canards about India, Hindus, our gods and cultural heritage,” the India Daily last week quoted Abhijit Phanse, president of Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena, the student group affiliated with Shiv Sena, saying in explanation for the group’s pro-censorship stand.

There’s something especially perverse about attacking Internet cafes in a country like India, where so many people rely on public computers for their online access. While the PC market is growing nicely in India, of course, most people still don’t have access to computers. Take out the Internet cafes and you cut many of them off from the Net. Not the best development model, needless to say. Here’s what Ashish Saboo, president of India’s Association of Public Internet Access Providers, had to say as reported yesterday in the Economic Times: “The Internet cafes are the only source of IT education for many people who cannot afford a personal computer at home. Attacks on cyber cafes will force many owners to shut shop. This will have an adverse effect on business and IT awareness.”

So what will the Indian government do about this? We’ll see in the next few days. According to this report from Zee News, the top regulatory agency in charge of the Internet is looking into the pro-censorship complaints: “We are examining the request from Maharashtra police (with whom Shiv Sena has filed the complaint) from all angles. We may take a few days to reach a solution,” Controller of Certifying Authority (CCA) N Vijayaditya, whose division is looking into the issue, said. Let’s hope that the government is planning nothing more than a symbolic slap on the wrist. Internet freedom is one area where India has a real chance to distinguish itself from China, which of course is notorious for its extensive censorship of the Internet. Internet companies in India are still in their infancy, and as I wrote in this Asiatech post, blogging has yet to take off in India. More censorship is not the way to solve that problem.

Reader Comments

ak

June 15, 2007 6:13 PM

Tchk! Tchk! Poor Bruce.

Please try and blog about something more irrelevant (with underlying India-bashing theme) in a desperate attempt to get somebody...anybody? to read/comment on your on your posts.

Indian

June 15, 2007 6:19 PM

Hold your horses Bruce. Geez. It's important for people to know that Indians still hold their values pretty high. Unlike the westerners who has lost it all in the name of personal liberation. India is till young Bruce. Look at the positive side

Dilip

June 15, 2007 10:20 PM

There is a lot of anti Hindu propaganda on various internet sites, including Orkut. Google would be well advised to do something about Orkut being used for such propaganda.

Freedom in internet is fine, but freedom must not be abused to spread hatred.

Uday

June 16, 2007 6:26 AM

It is absolutely foolish to compare MUMBAI with the likes of Gaza. I know the ground reality in Mumbai because I stay there and rule of Law prevails.It is as safe as any other city in the developed world.

U r a Fool

June 16, 2007 8:29 AM

Bruce, seriously man

they r politicians
what u expect them to do??
look at USA politicians, the president lead the country into a war, jus so that he can fill his own pockets!
India is a technology superpower, i have seen it for myself with my own eyes!
ok so a couple of politicians asked cyber cafes to bann orkut, big deal!
i would rather live there, then live in USA with fear of a war, and 9/11.

as for india in technology, u can't even compare it with usa.
some of the gadgets that are available in india are no available here, the amount of knowledge even a college goer in india has about technology is far more than the average us kid.
i dunno which world u live in, but when even the likes of Microsoft and IBM are hailing india as a technological superpower, why in the world is a person like u cricising such a small issue??

Arjun

June 16, 2007 1:10 PM

Here goes the clueless Dhimmi- when anybody says facts about Muslims that is Islamaphobia or the media goes into self imposed censorship out of fear.

But when it comes to infidels be it Hindus, Christaians, and Jews a reaction against pictures showing Hindu gods/godesses engaged in bestaility is magnified, and characterized as censorship.

Einhorn is typical coward scribe with double standards one for Jihadis, and one for the infidels. Or maybe his just trying to help his Islamist friends at Orkut responsible for this situation.

Vijay

June 16, 2007 1:57 PM

1. Important to distinguish between (a) these small-time "goons" who perform such acts to get into the good books of the some zealot political honchos so as to get the next election ticket and (b) a systematic, government-based clampdown on the usage of net - that will never happen in India. India - where democracy means unbridled freedom (sometimes a little too much "freedom" for some of the fringe-political idiots - people need to understand freedom comes with responsibility and they can't go about harming others just because they got offended!).
2. I dont understand why these Shiv-Sena do not form a website talking about the virtues of their leaders or whatever it is they feel is being incorrectly represented. They can ask all their party workers to create profiles in Orkut and create a web-link so that Orkut community can get both versions and decide for themselves - these guys need a lesson or two in how to counter/play cyber-opinion games.
3. Lastly, this is more of cheap publicity than anything else (join the dots with point#1 above) because by their own admission not too many Indians have access to the net, so we are talking about "corrupting" only a few Indians anyway.

India will never become China from a "freedom of expression" standpoint. Of course, we would be better off if we can learn a thing or two about focus, and discipline from our neighbours.

Cogito Ergo Sum

June 16, 2007 2:45 PM

Bruce Einhorn plays vintage 'firang' by stirring up obscure garbage on Asia (usually China and India) and watching 'em unwashed Asians squabble, eh?

Not the first time it would happen, either.

But diminishing returns to that tactic are setting in, IMO. No posts here at all, yet?

Bruce ought to find a new way to generate interest in his pet peeves, seems like. Even 'em Asians are catching on to his rabble-rousing.

/Sarc off.

Andy

June 16, 2007 3:06 PM

Government censors media is one thing, but when the society does it, it gives a different level of it. In India, democracy stops when you step into religion issue. The obvious example is the Caste issue. The Caste system is one of the last remaining discrimination systems that still exist today.

Maxim

June 17, 2007 3:07 AM

A very thought provoking article. The Internet does provide a space for anyone to vent their feelings, including hate and misinformation about just anything one wishes to flame. That is the essence of the Internet, essentially uncensored. While anuthing goes in the virtual world, responsible organizations in the real world are quite likely to feel the need for action. It would be good if further research is conducted about the exact cause of the situation.

paul

June 17, 2007 11:56 AM

ban shiv sena...!

Jun

June 17, 2007 9:35 PM

I don't get his argument. Einhorn pulls this stuff about the lack of people blogging in india as a indicator of the lack of internet freedom india is facing? uhhh. could it be just because the indians are less interested in yaking about their lives than the rest of the world is?

and i agree with everyone who says that the whole article is about such a small issue. there is no way that india is gonna become a another overly-censored china if the government were to ever decide to tighten up censorship.

Guest

June 17, 2007 9:54 PM

To all thos who post hear...will yu pleace have someone proofreed youre wriiting before you poste your respons?

YinduAsan

June 17, 2007 10:25 PM

U r a Fool:
India a technology superpower? Who you were trying to be kidding? Rest of us or yourself? BOP and coding aren't right qualified as any hi tech.

YinduAsan

June 17, 2007 10:29 PM

Bruce,
Why don't you do Indians a favor? Indians like to be flattered and pampered. They like to imagine India is a superpower and Indians are the master of the world, like "I have a dream! One day..."

zubin

June 18, 2007 2:01 AM

@YinduAsan,

Good that you are an ignorant fool.... Just believe that India is not a tech superpower.... You are the human version of ostrich!

@Bruce,

I am an Indian and I do agree we do have problems with the word religion. The problem comes not because of favouritism but the fact that we have tolerance for many of them. I dont like the fact that Siv Sena has gone on trying to block social networking sites like orkut. Maybe they should censor TV, media, Newspaper and ofcourse the internet.They are just being stupid to think in this negative way...Why dont they understand that as much as it will give neagtive sentiments, it can be used to increase the spread of there principals if they want to!

@Arjun

I dont need to comment! I hope you read your post once again and see if you are making sense!

Anil

June 18, 2007 3:43 AM

hi bruce,

have you gone out of your mind? i can only say that you are such an ignorant guy who have no clues on what is going on outside the US. I guess all Americans are greedy, materialistic and jealous of others...stop spreading this capitalism s**t all over the place...

Yoga

June 18, 2007 4:28 AM

well, not only is there press freedom restrictions in developing countries, but i think western countries are still at risks when it comes to "freedom of expression"...

you can't really express your personal opinions/thoughts but will have to go according to those in power and wealth....is this freedom?

Ninad

June 18, 2007 2:58 PM

I do not understand the author's POV. He is trying to make an general conclusion about India's technology and its Internet future based on a minor incident. I think it is shameful that a respected magazine like BW allows this to happen.
Bruce, religion IS in fact a sensitive issue in India. Contrast that with terrorism and patriot act in US. Every phone call, email, blog entry is scrutinized in the US under the guise of terrorism and Patriot Act. Talk about freedom! Try to write something about that, and you would get "flagged".
Please find a sensible topic to write next time around.

matrix

June 18, 2007 11:17 PM

Bruce, interesting article, except living in US for last 7 years and 19 years in India before that, I must say you are way off dude. What you said about Shiv Sena is certainely true. They need to be educated, but come on do we have freedome of press here. When was the last time you got a count from Fox or CNN that so money Iraqi civilians have died in this most unpopular war, by a most unpopular President? Why did Don Imus get fired for expressing his opinions? With all these questions for you to ponder, let me hit you with this knowledge, do not take couple Shive Sena (probably consisting of 5 people or so) attacks as a scale for India's democracy, defined by over 1 billion people. Further, "blogging" does not suggest the level of freedom. Blogging is a way to vent, Americans prefer to do it in blogs while Indians do it throught face to face communication. My friend it is important that you realize that not only Shiv Sena that needs education, YOU can use some of it as well.

China Law Blog

June 19, 2007 1:16 AM

I know very little about India, but what I find so fascinating is in how many respects it is like China, though for very different reasons. In India internet cafes are shut done by the electorate and in China they are shut down by the government. There are countless other examples similar to this and they make me wonder whether the deciding factor in a country's overall situation isn't much more heavily weighted by its economic status than its form of government.

Jayant Patel

June 19, 2007 7:03 PM

I think the author is well-intentioned but these kind of stories can be heard anywhere. Religious fundamentalists want to change the science books to reflect their holy books? What, in Saudi Arabia? No, good old USA. These kooks think that the earth is 5,000 years old and want to teach this stuff as science. How about a 12 year-old being forced to marry a 60 year-old? How about a guy having 3 or 4 wiwes? yes it happens in the USA, while law enforcement looks the other way. It depends on how much spin one can put on it, I guess.

Steven

June 22, 2007 11:48 AM

Bruce told the truth: Internet censorships are happening in India.

But what I am arguing is that censorshpis are happening anywhere for some reasons. Do US allows kids to access porn sites? Florida is talking about unshelf books about Cuaba too.

Media should tell readers the balanced view about this world. How many US men really know about other countries? Few! What americans know about other countries are only the darkside. Is this reasonable?

Reasonable censorships are needed.

I don't think India is a tech power. As I read some articles, india only spends around US$6 billion in R&D. It can only be magic to make such a huge country by using such little money. Period.

Kesav

September 6, 2007 6:37 AM

Yindu Asan, You are really a big Idiot, an Educated Illiterate, you just go and look how the Indian government and State governments working with Technology. Most of the Central and State government departments functioning through Technology driven like IT, they offering many services through online. Look the Indian government websites.

www.india.gov.in
http://www.aponline.gov.in/apportal/index.asp
http://india.gov.in/citizen/indian_courts_websites.php
http://ghmc.gov.in/ips/todayreport.asp

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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