Indian artist jailed for anticorruption cartoons

Published on 10 September 2012 in The Christian Science Monitor.

NEW DELHI — A political cartoonist in India has been arrested on charges of sedition, violating an online content law, and insulting national honor for a series of cartoons sharply critical of corruption in the government.

Aseem Trivedi’s arrest Saturday took place nine months after he displayed the cartoons at a demonstration in Mumbai calling for the creation of an anticorruption ombudsman in the Indian government to punish officials for graft. Continue reading “Indian artist jailed for anticorruption cartoons”

This troll has a very long nose

Published in Outlook magazine, in the issue dated 21 January 2013.

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. Continue reading “This troll has a very long nose”

India’s skewed internet censorship debate

Published on 30 August 2012 in

Recent debates on internet censorship in India have focussed on 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. Continue reading “India’s skewed internet censorship debate”

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 “Gag reflex”

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 “Web of deceit”