A few days ago, there was a hue and cry raised in the blogosphere and in Indian media about the Government blocking access to blogspot, typepad and geocities. Slowly it was revealed that the Government had little to do with the blocking. They had merely passed on a list of 18 “web sites” to all ISPs, demanding that they be blocked with immediate effect. The ISPs, obviously manned by ill-informed and technically inept people, went ahead and blocked entire domains. Bloggers raved and ranted, the media picked up on the blockade, and the story came out. Now, a few sites remain blocked, but all the main blogging sites are back.
There are two sides to this story. The first is the Government side. Some bureaucrats decide what they see on some web sites is not good for the country. These are people who are perceived by the administration as being tech savvy, for the simple reason that they can actually browse the internet without help from others. So, they print out a few pages, take it to their higher ups and get an order issued that these should be “blocked.” They have no idea about the power of the internet, and issue the order.
This brings us to the second side of the story – the ISPs. They are served with the order, and rush to comply. This is because if they do not, they will be slapped with huge fines, and will suddenly find operating very difficult. As always in such cases, they clamp down first and fire-fight later. What is the simplest thing to do – block the domains. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance of the internet will be aware that there are thousands of people who blog, especially on the blogspot and typepad platforms. Then, is it not obvious that the decision to block these domains was taken by someone with zero familiarity with the Internet.
After this, the whole circus happens, and finally, once the domains are accessibl again, everyone pats themselves on the back thinking a victory has been won for free speech. The media goes to town, congratulating itself on its “victory” and praising the land of free speech where they operate. In all this, what is lost is the real debate on free speech.
Real democracy, and consequently real free speech, exists only when opposing viewpoints are allowed to be expressed. India, often touted as the world’s largest democracy, is sadly lacking in the freedom of expression department. Simply, all one has to look for is information from or about any separatist movement – whether it is Kashmir or Khalistan, Nagaland or Telengana, Tamil Homeland or Sikkim – and one is confronted with a wall. No media covers it, and none is allowed to. This is but one example of how the so-called free media is merely a propagandist extension of the state-government-industry system. There is no conspiracy – it’s just the way things work.
So, coming back to my point, what blocked the blogs was not government control, but the hamhandedness of the ISPs. What the media and blogosphere claim as a victory is nothing but a mare’s nest. In the ensuing confusion, no one is asking which sites were banned, and why.