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LinkAsia | Feb 22
"Can a search engine succeed if you have no concept of the free flow of information?" That was the question posed by former Google China head Kai-F...
Now, moving onto the other big court case happening in South Asia. Just a few months ago, we reported on efforts by Indias Communications Minister, Kapil Sibal, to force websites like Google and Facebook to screen out offensive material. Well, an editor of a tabloid newspaper took up Sibal's cause and filed a lawsuit against over 20 sites like Google. A New Delhi judge has decided to hear the case. And our contributor Ajoy Bose has been following social media's reactions.
The recent move by a Delhi court to arm twist 21 social networking sites, including Facebook and Google, towards self-censorship has raised serious concerns here about India's credentials as the world's largest democracy. The case was triggered by a private complaint of a journalist against internet images he alleged offensive to religious sentiments of Indians. The legal proceedings are widely seen by civil rights activists to have been sponsored by the Congress party-led coalition government. Over the past year the government, which is facing serious corruption charges, has persistently sought, on some pretext, to stifle social media that has become increasingly the vehicle of protest by the burgeoning educated middle classes. Not surprisingly this has has caused outrage among bloggers and users of social media against the government, particularly controversial Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal. One of India's most respected blogs, Kafila, patronized by eminent academics and journalists has launched a fierce campaign opposing internet censorship. You just have to look at the titles of articles on Kafila to get an idea of the sentiment of bloggers: "Why ban just a Facebook page when you can easily erase a holy book or two (or more)?", "The Absurd Tyranny of iSibal", "What Kapil Sibal does not understand: the internet", "Kapil Sibal is an Idiot", "Crazy internet censorship time in India, again." On Twitter, the anguish of individual Indian citizens is about the fading of the country's most important asset, democracy. One tweet laments: "If India really values democracy, it needs to oppose the attempt to censor certain websites. It could be something else tomorrow." Another tweet asserts: "India has one thing that China lacks: Democracy and Freedom of Speech." The current move to curb the freedom of social media in India is being done in the name of preserving religious harmony in a socially conservative country with a history of communal violence. But there is no doubt that this sudden paranoia about the internet provoking social discord is linked to the government's own insecurity about the anti-corruption movement that threatens to bring it down.
Before you go Ajoy, there's another issue that concerns religious sensitivity in India: author Salman Rushdie and a literary festival starting today in Jaipur. What's that all about?
Well Rushdie wrote Satanic Verses almost 20 years ago and was sentenced to death by Ayatollah Khomeini for blasphemy, specifically for insulting the Prophet Mohamed. Earlier this month, a Muslim seminary, one of the most important in India, got wind of Rushdie's attendance at the Jaipur Festival and demanded the Indian government refuse to give him a visa because he had hurt the feelings of Muslims around the world with his book. Anyway, like the internet controversy, it's another example of how the internet is being used to curb democratic freedoms here.
Thanks Ajoy. Ajoy Bose is a journalist based in New Delhi.