Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Life After Blockspot.com

Imagine this situation: a bunch of terrorists, after lobbing grenades on the motorcade of a VIP, take shelter in a multi-storey apartment. There are some 50 houses in the block, and over 200 people live there, and the terrorists are hiding somewhere among them. What do the security forces do? Their reaction would depend on how well-trained they are, but there is one thing they will certainly try to do: flush out the terrorists with minimum civilian casualties. And there is one thing they will certainly not do: blow up the whole building in order to kill a handful of terrorists.

But that’s how mindless the department of telecommunications – the government, in short – has been. In order to restrict a handful of ‘hate’ blogs, it has blocked all blogs under the Google-owned Blogspot, Typepad and Geocities. According to website of Business Standard newspaper: “(The Government) has asked Internet Service Providers to shut down some 20 'objectionable' websites and blogs. The order was received by the legal departments in some ISPs. The notice is believed to have gone out on Friday last week. The DoT is of the opinion that some of these sites were being used by banned organisations to transmit messages to their colleagues.”

It further said – and that’s the most noteworthy bit: “The sites that were asked to be blocked include hindunity.org and exposingtheleft.blogspot.com.” So could the move be political? The definition of “national interest”, after all, depends upon the ideology of the party in power. In hardcore communist regimes, a casual remark against the ideology can be branded as anti-national and become punishable. In fact, such regimes leave no scope for remarks or comments.

Remarks and comments indicate that you have a working mind, and in such regimes, your mind should work in no way other than prescribed by the authorities. That is why even a giant like Google had to kneel before the Chinese authorities to filter the search engine. And also in China, in certain provinces, internet users are greeted by online images of two cartoon-cops – they pop up just to remind you that they are watching.

Are we on the way to becoming another China? Now that might amount to stretching the paranoia a bit too far, because Indians have overthrown the mightiest of political parties and forces the moment they got onto the people’s nerves. They gave Indira Gandhi a taste of defeat just when she thought she was invincible. Vidya Charan Shukla, Indira Gandhi’s information and broadcasting minister, audaciously sought to gag the press during the Emergency. Since then, the same V C Shukla has been begging for media’s attention but no one has really cared. Rajiv Gandhi sought to bring a Defamation Bill but eventually had to make peace with the media.

These politicians never succeeded because Indians are fiercely protective about their freedom and freedom of expression. The two go hand in hand. What is the point in being a free citizen if you can’t speak your mind? OK, some lunatic might misuse this freedom to shower abuses on another religion – but you cannot use this exception to clamp down on the freedom of speech of the public in general.

But what I still can’t figure is that if the government wanted to shut down certain websites and blogsites, why should all the bloggers be made to suffer? Doesn’t the department of telecommunications have enough expertise to single out the blacklisted blogs and shut them, instead of blocking the entire blogdom? Or is it the typical babu mentality, where a bureaucrat (who has perhaps never even used his computer keyboard) receives orders to block certain blogs, and the bureaucrat, not willing to take chances, issues orders to block all blogs.

Unless you are a serious blogger yourself or are familiar with blogging, you wouldn’t even realise how frustrating it is. It has been two days now and I have not been able to open my own blog! Yes, my own blog, which contains all my creative and sentimental outpourings over the past one year. All these months I worked hard on it – giving it a certain look, a certain character, a certain shape. And then one fine morning I am not able to access it!

Imagine the plight of the people who have been blogging for years now and who have carved out an identity for themselves as blogger-journalists. Such bloggers are usually honest and well-meaning – and often they are the true conscience-keepers of the nation. I realised their usefulness during the recent Mumbai blasts, when several popular blogsites quickly combined blasts-related news and first-hand accounts and amateur videos to provide first-class coverage of the tragedy. Newspapers could not have provided such comprehensive coverage because they cannot update by the hour; and TV channels, even though they update every hour, are too engrossed in their own ‘exclusivity.’

What is worse is that the blogs blocked in India are accessible abroad. In other words, a friend can see my blog, www.bytheganges.blogspot.com, in the United States, but the creator of the blog, that is me, cannot access his own blog in India. And I know it is accessible in the US, or elsewhere abroad, because I get notified, on my email, every time someone posts a comment on my blog. What a farcical situation! Meanwhile, the intelligent Indian blogger has found a way out: while I am still writing this, my friend Paresh writes me an email saying “Try clicking on “www.pkblogs.com/bytheganges”. And lo behold, my blog is opening up on the computer screen. I am thumbing my nose at you, Mr Government!

But why this backdoor entry? I love my blog and I don’t write anything anti-national there. I better get direct access to it sooner than later. Or else it would be the beginning of a long fight, where I would be joining fellow bloggers against the gagging of freedom of expression. But I still hope that by Sunday (I am writing this column on Wednesday), the blocking of blogs would have passed off as a bad dream and bloggers, including me, would have returned to work.


Anonymous said...

I read this news. Govt. should stop. India is not China.It won't work. See the article on REDIFF.com

AWY said...

you can access your blogspot blogs using http://pkblogs.com/
pass on the message...


Ardra said...

indeed it is extremely frustrating...and I'm here thru another backdoor...

ravi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
in2mind said...

Now the CERT director has said that only some blogspot pages were asked to be blocked......

Looks like its our ISP's that botched out in unison - Either they didnt know the tech to block a few blogs of blogspot or were too proactive'& blocked all blogs to be on safer side .
|| I think its the 2nd one ||


dazedandconfused said...

Hey BG,

Now that I am taking so much trouble to visit your blog, you better post more frequently!! :)

Anonymous said...

Government does protect the freedom of expression of individual citizens, there is no doubt about it. As law abiding citizens we should also realize the constraints of our government which is trying to protect the lives of millions. At times it has to resort to such barbaric actions such as this one to carry out its responsibility.
While i do support blocking anything including blogs for security measures, i don't if it prolongs for more than few hours to days. This shows that our government is ill-equipped and techincally incompetent.
These issues need immediate address and we should stand by our government.

Comparing this action with that of China is going too far. Just my honest opinion.

Best regards