Creative professionals go on hunger strike to protest against Internet censorship


GATHERING MOMENTUM:Save Your Voice activists sitting on a hunger strike.Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

GATHERING MOMENTUM:Save Your Voice activists sitting on a hunger strike.Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

The possibility of a scenario where the government not only has access to every Indian citizen‘s Facebook posts, Skype conversations, private photographs and can also censor tweets, blogs and online conversations has created outrage among citizens, particularly ‘netizens’.

The most recent attack on freedom of speech and expression has been in the form of the Information Technology (Intermediary Rules) 2011, which require that intermediaries, such as a website host, including social networking sites and search engines, do not host, display, share or publish information deemed as objectionable. On receiving a complaint by an aggrieved person, the intermediary site is liable to act within 36 hours and remove the content, without prior notice.

A group of like-minded individuals, who have come together under the ‘Save Your Voice’ campaign, are on a hunger strike protesting against IT Rules 2011.

The group, comprising writers, artists and musicians, had earlier organised a protest and sat inside cages set up at Jantar Mantar on April 22, with the slogan ‘Freedom in the Cage’, symbolising how the IT Rules ‘caged’ the freedom of the people granted by the Constitution.

“The empowerment that social media provides has begun to be seen as threatening. This is an attempt to clamp down on an individual’s right to dissent and his freedom of expression,” said journalist Alok Dixit here on Saturday, continuing with the fourth day of hunger strike at Jantar Mantar According to Mr. Dixit, the rules would also force the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to create vast databases of sensitive information about an individual which would then be available to the government.

The group is attempting to create awareness regarding the censorship inherent in the IT Rules and gather support for the annulment motion filed by Rajya Sabha MP P Rajeev against the rules. The motion is expected to come up in this budget session. Mr. Dixit said: “No site will run risk of being dragged to court to protect the rights of an individual. The Government is holding the intermediaries responsible so that it can exert power over the citizens in an indirect, insidious way.” The campaign was launched after cartoonist Aseem Trivedi’s website was closed down, without any prior notice, by Big Rock, the web portal that hosted his website.

On further investigations, it was discovered that a complaint against his site had been lodged with the Mumbai Cyber Crime Cell.

Mr. Dixit said: “We understand that the Government deems certain content as capable of inciting violence and as being against national interest. But every site has always had mechanisms to deal with such content. What aggrieves us is the draconian way in which it is trying to clamp down on any form of free expression or dissent. Such regulations also do not allow an individual to understand why certain content has been termed objectionable or what an individual can do to retrieve his site. An individual’s intellectual property should not be tampered with in this manner.” The campaign for free speech and expression has gained momentum after the recent case where a professor from Jadavpur University was arrested and booked under the IT Act for posting an “objectionable” cartoon on a popular social networking site.