In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the government of the day masters doublespeak, has a Thought Police which believes in mind control and cracks down on even thought crimes.
In Twenty Twelve, the Indian governments have also mastered doublespeak, have a Section 66A through which they are attempting thought control in cyberspace and crack down on the most inane of comments.
Consider the following cases…
1. A man is arrested for forwarding a spoof of a chief minister via email.
2. A cartoonist is arrested for spoofing our national emblem and posting it online.
3. A Tweet about a cabinet minister’s son’s alleged wealth sends the Tweeter in jail.
4. A Facebook status message questioning a city’s shutdown following a leader’s death is a punishable offence.
5. In a new low, even liking/sharing the above Facebook post is an equal crime.
Welcome to India Twenty Twelve, or #Emergency2012 as some Tweeple have called it. The most frightening part is that millions and millions of common Indians can now be arrested, for they would have indulged in any one of the above “crimes”!
These arrests have taken place in West Bengal, Mumbai and Puducherry, involving the parties: Congress, Trinamool and Shiv Sena. No Indian citizen is safe in the online world. Every politician in India has a new weapon of terror.
They talk of religious sentiments and the dangers of communal violence, but refuse to crack down on all the hate that is floating on the Net. The target is always: Criticism, criticism and more criticism.
Perceived online micro “crimes” are much greater than offline mega crimes.
In the olden days in communist countries, if you spoke against the government, then someone would report you to the police and you would be jailed. Well exactly the same thing is happening in the online world in India.
So why do things seem to be getting worse and worse? Well, for one, nobody is interested in fighting the case of the common online man.
The dreaded Section 66A of the Indian IT Act allows politicians to throw you in jail even if you “annoy” them. Most of the media let this pass by, because it is by and large hostile to social media.
The journalist in India is only worried about the freedom of speech of the journalist and not the common man, let alone the online man.
You can see it in the way senior journalists handle their Twitter accounts. They do not fall short of posting abusing statements themselves. Yet all criticism against them is dubbed abuse and they even threaten to report the so-called “trolls”. Sounds a bit like the common Indian politician?
In other countries there are strong online groups who fight the battle in cyberspace. India is also quite weak on that front.
Finally it is many politicians themselves who take up such causes in other countries. That is not possible in India. 99% of the politicians are not computer savvy and are only too happy to have social networkers thrown into jail.
In the remaining 1%, you have people like union minister Shashi Tharoor who have 1.5 million followers on Twitter. But Tharoor is too petrified of his own high command to take up the cause and even shamelessly supports government high-handedness in public forums.
The only person of some authority who has come out strongly against the police arrests is Press Council of India Chairman Justice Markandey Katju, but he seems to be a lone dissenting voice.
That leaves the cyber citizens of India themselves who will have to fight their own battle.
For one, Section 66A just has to be repealed. A public interest litigation has already been filed in the Madras High Court to that effect, but that is not enough and more pressure will have to be applied.
We need more specific online campaigns, the collection of online signatures, Facebook groups and the like. Hashtags like #Emergency2012 are still trending and more like #RepealSec66A may have to be created. Bloggers will have to take up the causes and some offline legwork may have to be required.
In 1990, Lotus MarketPlace, which would have shared the private information of more than 100 million US citizens, was recalled because of a mass E-bulletin board and email campaign undertaken by thousands of online users.
Today, social networking sites are much more powerful and have greater numbers. They have seen greater success all over the world.
One hopes that something similar happens in India, whereby many online campaigns gain strength and become successful.
There are some fights that the Tweeple have to fight for themselves!
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