At 2AM one night, my friend from Harvard University called me, to debate the recently introduced acts, SOPA and PIPA, dealing with internet piracy and protection of intellectual property. During the conversation, I felt compelled to defend the remarks of our Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology, and also unsuccessfully attempted to convince him that the ideas of blocking websites in India, a la China were just speculations and were not a directive from the court and certainly did not represent the mindset of the Indian society at large.
I feel that we, the global Indians, have yet to discover a way to win debates without using the “we are the world’s largest functioning democracy” card! We need to find the underlying merits of our nation’s actions and be able to defend them conclusively based solely on those merits. I suppose that is why we get intensely bothered when a politician, jurist or bureaucrat twists the concept of Democracy to either suit their needs or justify their actions.
I may not be qualified to comment on the whole issue of the proposed censorship of social media, but I certainly am entitled to raise a question about the timing of this furor. How is it that a subject, long orphaned by the political establishment, suddenly finds itself in the midst of a throng of caring and concerned ‘adoptive’ parents?
That 2AM debate and my own reflections post that discussion prompted me to write an open letter to the Chief Justice of India.
Chief Justice of India, New Delhi
CC- Chief Justice, Delhi High Court
Bcc- Indians All Over World
I am on vacation at the moment in Delhi, and as I write to you, the television in front of me is playing a hit American show, ‘Sex and the City’. I am sure the irony of this situation is not lost on you – an Indian TV channel broadcasting a risque American show at the very time that our courts are hearing arguments re: ‘how Google searches the term sex’ and other such hot button issues.Talking about American TV shows, I want to bring to your attention two other popular American TV shows of 2000s (now also shown on Indian TV) called “Rules of Engagement” and “The Big Bang Theory”. Both shows are comedies and have a character of Indian origin in a lead role. Both the characters Timmy Patel (a geeky assistant) in “Rules of Engagement” and Rajesh Koothrapalli (a socially awkward Astrophysicist) in “The Big Bang Theory” have few things in common. Both live in USA, use the same English dictionary once used by Queen Victoria (when she was still young), aren’t good looking, and have low levels of confidence and self-esteem. Despite this foolish and negative caricature of the Global Indian, nobody cried foul as we all knew that we as Indians were still growing up as a global society and the world was still getting used to our presence on the global stage. In fact, people celebrated the mere fact that there was an Indian character on a foreign show. But now, we, i.e. my generation, do not find this to be a point of joy. We can and do compete equally with everyone else, of any society, culture or nation. We also do understand that our equal status now is a result of a lot of hard work done by generations past. And the recent statement by our union minister seeking to censor the internet strikes a blow to those efforts as it puts us years behind globally. The last thing we would want to see is an American comedy TV show featuring an Indian coming to USA and searching ‘SEX’ in Google because Google is restricted in India due to internet censorship laws!!
Indian social media population is expected to reach 20 billion users by 2014, the time of the next elections. This begs the question: Is the political establishment worried about its authority being eroded by a medium that is truly independent and democratic at its core? Is the establishment worried about its inability to control or influence such a large and intrinsically individualistic group? And if the answer is NO, then why is it that these zealous guardians of moral values seemingly have turned a blind eye, thus far, to the prolific amounts of child pornography, illegal drug trading, online prostitution rings that abound on the ‘net? Oh, and lets not forget the multi-billion dollar anti-piracy industry that has managed to grow at an exponential rate all this time. These issues existed long before the evolution of youtube, facebook and twitter but never before have we witnessed such enthusiasm from a union minister on this issue, nor did we hear about any petitioner approaching the honorable courts. Even now, the target is not the websites that have been breaking laws by selling child porn and drugs but the social network websites which essentially don’t allow such materials to be published. Which once again begs the question, why the social networks and why now?
Coming from a small village of the not-so-developed state of Bihar, I had to work hard at convincing my friends that I could be as advanced and sophisticated as any other from anywhere. It was challenging and time consuming to establish my credibility. However, this challenge is nothing compared to the one we face when we compete with the best in the world on a global stage. Whether we like it or not, we ARE global Indians and its up to us as to how we present our image to the world today.
Your honor, neither can we treat the plea to censor the internet in isolation nor can we, as a country and society, live, prosper and develop in isolation. Hence, we need to put each argument in perspective and once we do so, we see only two things; first is an insecure and worried political class that would try every trick in the book to control the masses and retain its power and second is an irreparable damage to the image of prospering and emerging Indian who feels that its time has come.
A student of Indian origin at Oxford, United Kingdom.