Category Archives: The Caravan

Gag reflex

Published in the October 2012 issue of The Caravan.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT to the Indian Constitution, passed in 1951, allows the government to impose “reasonable restrictions” on a citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression, in order to protect “the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”.

The means to impose these “reasonable restrictions” are described in several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc). Section 298 of the IPC makes punishable words uttered “with the deliberate intent of wounding religious feelings”; section 504 addresses “intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace”; section 153 makes punishable speech acts that lead or could have led to rioting; section 295A could land you in jail for three years over “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings”; section 153B permits the punishment of speech acts that question any social, religious or linguistic group’s allegiance to the Constitution of India or that such a group be denied Constitutional rights. Continue reading

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Web of deceit

Published in the July 2012 issue of The Caravan.

THE ONGOING STRUGGLE to protect the Internet from censorship in India has begun to attract much-needed attention, and not a moment too soon. But a series of recent developments that has placed the issue on the radar of the national and international media also reveals the increasing complexity of the issue, and the ease with which interested parties can manipulate an opaque system to block access to sites of their own choosing—the dawning of a new era of “private” censorship.

Previously, it seemed that the principal obstacle to online freedom of expression in India was our own government, which has for several years ordered blocks on allegedly “controversial” websites and exerted pressure on companies like Google and Facebook to remove content that government officials deem “defamatory” or “inflammatory”. But it is now clear that the government is only one of several hurdles to free expression online, along with entertainment companies, courts, Internet service providers (ISPs) and even Internet companies themselves. Continue reading

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An election in Matsura

For The Caravan, 1 August 2010

IT’S EARLY FEBRUARY in Matsura Gram Panchayat in Rajasthan’s Dholpur district. The Matsura Panchayat, a collection of 11 rural settlements, is holding a historic election. Its 2,700 voters are about to elect their sarpanch. Panchayat sarpanches, in a few states also called panchayat presidents, are the leaders of the smallest administrative units of the decentralised democracy. Continue reading

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