By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO
NEW DELHI: Paradoxically, the attempt made by Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal to consider censoring certain social networking sites has given a new boost to anti-corruption drive of Anna Hazare and his team members. This was reflected at the token fast undertaken by Hazare last Sunday (December 11) at Jantar Mantar. The Anna-team lashed out at the government, including Sibal stating that his censorship-agenda aimed to â€œcontrol their anti-corruption movement.â€ Irrespective of whether Sibalâ€™s â€œcensorshipâ€ â€“move takes off or not, it has certainly provided his and his partyâ€™s rivals sufficient political ammunition to target the government with.
Undeniably, Sibalâ€™s move has not been received favourably in most circles, even though he has gone overboard to justify the need to censor â€œdangerous materialâ€ from some networking sites. In Sibalâ€™s view, if the material he views as dangerous is not blocked, it can incite communal violence across the country. As evident, his censorship-plan has been viewed differently by others. The Anna-team, for instance, regards it as Sibalâ€™s move to check their anti-corruption movement. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to analyse Sibalâ€™s censorship-agenda from his perspective.
If Sibal does go ahead with censorship agenda, would it really contribute to check communal violence in India? Considering the controversial debate ignited by Sibal considering such a policy, one is tempted to deliberate on whether it can turn out to be counter-productive? It may incite those opposed to Sibalâ€™s moves to become more active in promoting their agenda through Internet, as seems to be intention of Hazare-team. This also raises the question, whether Sibalâ€™s agenda will prove to be effective in actually censoring â€œdangerousâ€ material? Besides, even if Sibal succeeds to an extent, is there any guarantee that this move would check and prevent other means of communication from provoking violence? Also, it is pertinent to focus on whether Sibalâ€™s censorship-motive is seriously directed towards banning â€œdangerous materialâ€ that can provoke communal violence across the country?
The last point demands evidence of â€œdangerous materialâ€ that has actually contributed to provoking communal violence or has the potential to do so in the coming days. Undeniably, the recent years have been marked by a new importance gained by these websites. The same period, however, has not been witness to any one or more incidents of communal violence being provoked and/or spreading across the country. Before networking sites had gained importance in India, the major incidents of communal violence had been provoked by elements based in the country and their using other means of communication. This point is supported by Gujarat-carnage as well as nation-wide riots provoked during 1990s over Ayodhya-issue and demolition of Babri Masjid.
Ironically, Sibalâ€™s comments suggest a parallel increase in dangerous material on websites and risk of communal violence in the country. This point, as indicated earlier, stands defeated by virtual non-existence of such a link. Besides, rather than wait for a censorship-policy to be activated, the Indian government should start giving greater importance to taking legal action against those promoting dangerous material and also the ones who are being influenced by the same.
It may be noted, Sibal has also voiced Indiaâ€™s inability to check elements and their dangerous intentions, if they are based outside India. In other words, even if the Indian government goes ahead with blocking dangerous material from certain networking sites, the country cannot take action against the ones who may continue to indulge in these activities from outside the country. This implies, the external elements would retain option of using other networking tools or means of communication, including fax and telephone to continue with their communal designs. Even if Sibal succeeds in activating his censorship-agenda, it does not guarantee a check on spread of dangerous material which may provoke communal violence across the country.
Irrespective of who is responsible for using dangerous material to create communal chaos in the country, the Indian government remains legally committed to control, check and prevent the same from assuming the nature of communal violence across the nation or even in few places. There is no denying that some extremist elements with a strong communal prejudice are still on the look out for opportunities to incite riots against minorities in India. The recent past has, however, been witness to common people adopting a passive approach to these elementsâ€™ intentions. This also means that they no longer retain the influence, which they earlier had, to provoke mobs to stage of communal frenzy. In other words, whether these elements use Internet or other means of communication, their impact is dependent on whether the Indian public choose to be influenced by them or not.
The last point may also be made about Sibalâ€™s actual intention being to block criticism of the government on the Internet, though he has talked more about censoring dangerous material that can engulf the nation in a stage of communal violence. A substantial percentage of the list of â€œdangerous material,â€ the government is keen on being censored, reportedly includes government criticism. Whether Sibalâ€™s censorship-agenda is directed towards preventing criticism of government or to check provocation of communal violence, either ways, it is time that it is understood that the Indian public is too smart to be fooled by his intentions or the ones â€œpropagatedâ€ through the Internet.