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“The more they censor the internet the bigger we become” – An interview of Anonymous India

June 1, 2012

In which I interview “Anonymous India” who have organised a massive protest against internet censorship across 11 Indian cities on 9 June.

Some say such attacks (hacking and defacement of Web sites) could be used by the political class to actually strengthen their argument in favour of control and regulation of the Internet. What do you say to that?

Anamikanon: People on the ground are vulnerable to people with a lot of power and no problems misusing it. Anonymous can’t be found to defame, threaten, suppress, stall…. wrong means? Ok. Worth it.

Netcak3: I say the more they censor the Internet, the bigger we become. We strive in users from across the world. Pro tip: Once an idea has been made, you cannot kill it.

Anamikanon: In my view, these are the means that can be safely used without risking life, limb, careers, reputations, family…

Gummy: Defacing is like posting a nill which is illegal and can be removed. Like people post their advertisement bill (poster) at the back of buses and other public places.

Anamikanon: Except we post it in inside their drawing rooms! [Read the full interview.]

8 Comments leave one →
  1. suresh permalink
    June 1, 2012 9:03 PM

    While I agree with the objective of resisting censorship, I am not sure I want this group defending my freedom(s). Sample what they say:

    We have cops beating up protesters. Do they get arrested for using the wrong means for *whatever* ends? The fact is that the government sabotages dissent.

    So, one crime justifies another? That aside, what is the government of India being compared to? The Nazis? The British raj? If the space for dissent was non-existent or close to it, there’d be a point to adopting such tactics. However, we are not there as yet.

    Defacement gets the message out to all users of the Internet fast. Think of it as wildfire, you hack a Web site and one person finds out. That one person then tells another person and from that you now have the message spreading.

    And what is that message? That it is okay to hack and deface web sites provided you can give a positive spin to it? Once you go down this route, then you cannot prevent others from employing similar tactics in defence of causes that you may not find appealing. The end result may be something that leaves all of us worse-off.

    At independence we inherited a pile of censorship laws from the British raj. One would have thought that over time we would get rid of them. Not only have we not done so, we have added to them. Some of them are just insane. This is what Mallika Sarabhai says about — oh, yes, the shining state — Gujarat:

    You may or may not know that Gujarat is one of the very few stats in this country which has its own prude system for theatre – over and above the guidelines for performances laid down by the Center. Each public presentation of a play needs a script approval. NO guidelines are provided. But an unsees set of eyes and unseen minds arbitrate, and often arbitrate as late as a few hours before a performance, to decide on the fate of the play.

    A few years ago there was a celebrated play on Maulana Azad touring India. The then PM Vajpayee declared it to be one of the best plays he had seen in a decade. We were going to present it at Natarani. The cast and crew had arrived. The script had been with the authority for weeks. And then the axe fell, on the afternoon of the show. “AISA koi Miyaka natak thode kar sakte ho?” No written fatwa, just a verbal brush off. The distinguished cast stood outside the gats and turned away the thronging audience with a gentle – permission has not been granted!

    Three years ago, when Darpana started its nationwide student motivation project with UNSUNI, both the Hindi and English script went to the SNA. One of the real characters portrayed in the play is Narayani Amma, a manual scavenger from the south who has since become a fiery activist. In her own words she talks of the stink from the skin when one carries human excreta on the head every single day. But he censors in Gujarat had their own take on it. Narayani was disallowed from saying “Tatti” in Hindi but allowed to say “shit” in English! Our sensibilities are offended by a woman who carries human shit saying the word shit, but we remain unbothered by the fact that she has to carry shit!

    A few years ago, I am told, a local theatre company was producing a play called Sambandh. The script came back with a note, “Approved as long as the character called Sophia’s name is changed. There is an activist called Sophia who might object”! Wah Sophia Khan. The censors are afraid you will make trouble!

    And so back to our Aktors Theater Festival. They have had two innocuous plays cancelled. In the first, an ugly woman who is unable to get married and is insulted by a string of suitors, gets into a sexual relationship with an elderly neighbour and then decides that as society will never leave her alone, commits suicide. Alas not an uncommon or unheard of incident in real life. Censored because it will disturb the ”suruchi” of the audience. The second has a hero with a physical defct, whose girlfriend leaves him to get married to someone else. He spends the play imagining the violence he will commit on her and her new husband, till in the end he admits that it is in fact he himself who has sent her off with another man. Censored because “it will incite violence”.

    Sadly, Gujarat is by no means the exception. This lunacy seems prevalent in all states and in all political parties. We have to fight censorship alright and the fight is not going to be easy. In my opinion, though, tactics like those advocated by Anonymous India are not going to be helpful.

  2. suresh permalink
    June 1, 2012 9:33 PM

    I am sorry to post again (feel free to delete) but I cannot resist giving this link on censorship in Bihar:

    If you haven’t heard of an income tax raid on the residential premises of Nitish Kumar’s close aide and treasurer of the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U), Vinay Kumar Sinha, you are not alone. Thanks to the local media, it took a while even in Patna—where the house is located—for people to get to know. This, incidentally, is the same place where Nitish Kumar used to live until he became Chief Minister of Bihar. In the aforementioned raid, which took place in the third week of March, tax sleuths seized sacksful of cash, nearly Rs 5 crore of it, and ownership papers of 50 flats located in different parts of Patna, among other things. But in the next morning’s newspapers, this news was either missing or buried deep within as a single-column or brief item on an inside page.

    “Not that it was not big news, it indeed was,” says the editor of an English daily in Bihar, “But, you see, that’s how it is.” The helplessness of this editor, who speaks anonymously, is a feeling shared by several other journalists. They talk ominously of controls placed on the media in Bihar. Yet, what is most striking about this awkward truth of the state is the determination with which this ‘control’ is being exercised on the media. It is a carrot-and-stick mechanism that is unparalleled in the modern history of Bihar.

    What this tells us is that that our various governments have a number of tools at their disposal for controlling dissent. In our middle-class obsession with internet censorship, we should not forget the others. Personally, I think internet censorship may not even be the most important one.

  3. Ravi permalink
    June 2, 2012 3:34 AM

    Suresh,

    The rule of law should be absolute in any democracy. There is no question about it. However, in certain democracies, such as ours and that seen in the United States, what happens when the rule makers are the rule breakers? In fact many laws are made so that what used to be illegal or at least immoral becomes legal. I can give you many many instances of such laws at least in the United States. The might of the powerful becomes so overwhelming that a common man has no chance to fight against injustice and win. A very simple example: as an individual do you believe you can take a mighty corporation, say Walmart, and win in a court? You will simply lose because you can never meet their deep pockets and the lawyers cost a pretty penny. So the government is supposed to be on your (common man’s) side and they are supposed to appoint public prosecutors to fight your case. It seldom happens in practice because of the lobbies. The same lobbies then go and have the laws rewritten so that even the courts can’t help you.

    Obviously the best way forward is to choose our representatives wisely. That seldom happens either in India or US. In India they play caste politics, violence and what have you so that the same villains get elected again and again. In the US, they play money politics, remap the districts and two party politics and it is the same story all over again.

    The movements like the anonymous and occupy are nothing but the popular expression of helplessness against the loaded die. Until something drastically changes, these movements will grow and I think they are as legitimate as, say the rebellion against East India Company rule in 1857 or the Arab spring of 2011.

    -RK

  4. June 2, 2012 4:05 AM

    Yes Suresh there’s all kinds of censorship and control of dissent in India at all levels but I diasgree that internet censorship is not important. This is a crucial time to guard the Indian Internet as the rules, written and unwritten, made today will set the course for the future. If allowed to get away with brazen censorship of the Internet today, it may become a norm tomorrow that may be difficult to challenge as it may be taken for granted – like some of the instances you cite, or like the Censor Board for films. It seems that your problem is that the internet is a “middle class” medium – until some years ago it was said to be elite. That anything which concerns the elites or middle class is evil is a view held perhaps by a few radicals in the Maoist jungles of India or a few guilt-ridden Indian academics in US universities. Which one are you?

  5. Shama Zaidi permalink
    June 2, 2012 11:35 AM

    deface every illegal poster put up by a politician or a political part which are all defacing our neighbourhoods. also protest the free publicity politicians give themselves by putting huge advertisements in newspapers displaying their pictures while ostensibly publicizing some government scheme which does not need such publicity in the first place and is a waste of public money.

  6. suresh permalink
    June 2, 2012 1:57 PM

    That anything which concerns the elites or middle class is evil is a view held perhaps by a few radicals in the Maoist jungles of India or a few guilt-ridden Indian academics in US universities. Which one are you?

    1. I don’t hold this view. Why should I when I belong to the same class? I only made the point that there are other forms of censorships which are, arguably, more dangerous and we ought not to forget that.

    2. My problem is not with the protest against internet censorship but against the particular tactics that Anonymous India advocates. Surely that is clear? My point is that if you legitimize this tactic then others can do the same in defence of causes that we might not like.

    3. Whatever we do, the fight against censorship is going to be a long drawn one. This is not simply because our government is “evil” though that is there too. However, I think the presence of censorship also reflects the fact that we are not as yet a liberal society where freedom of speech is accepted as a general principle. In particular, I don’t think many accept the idea that freedom of speech necessarily means the right to say things that may offend others.

    Too often, various groups in our society are quick to draw offence and demand that something or the other be banned. So the fight against censorship is also a battle to transform attitudes in our own society and that is necessarily going to long drawn. I therefore think that the choice of tactics becomes important. Of course, you might well disagree.

Trackbacks

  1. Open Letter from Anonymous to the Government of India « Kafila
  2. AnimalFarm.org » The more they censor the internet the bigger we become” – An interview of #Anonymous #India http://t.co/Rg1a7mIobF

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