Amid the furore of another controversial arrest – of a young woman in Mumbai – under the draconian provisions of the IT Act, many people are recalling an exchange at the recent India meeting of the World Economic Forum in Gurgaon. A panel dedicated to developments in the online world, especially in terms of freedom of speech, featured the presence of Information Technology and Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, who has been the focus of many complaints about the increasingly oppressive nature of India’s online policing. At some point, Ajit Gulabchand of Hindustan Construction Company told him sternly that whatever he may or may not actually feel about the subject, “he was a different man once in the government”. The reference, presumably, was to Mr Sibal’s legal career outside the government, where he has famously defended several high-profile targets. Other members of his family have done so, too, for free-speech issues — his son was M F Husain’s lawyer when the painter was being accused of obscenity, and his father defended Saadat Hasan Manto against similar charges in pre-Partition Lahore.
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