The judiciary – not the government – should determine whether online content is censored, argues Amitabh Lal Das, the India general counsel of Yahoo!
India’s constitution guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression limited only by reasonable restrictions. However, questions about such freedom were raised by the media recently when the Indian government attempted to impose censorship on the internet. The government was reportedly unhappy about caricatures and cartoons of some of its members. It demanded that internet companies that provide platforms for public comments ensure that such caricatures never appear on their websites. Reports say the same action was later extended to content on the internet that could hurt religious sensibilities.
Of course, everyone who visits Indian social media websites saw the caricatures of the politicians but no one aside from those who typed in keywords to search specifically, deliberately and intently for anti-religious content came across a deluge of material devoted to religious hatred.
The government’s sudden urge to censor came hot on the heels of Anna Hazare’s mass protest against corruption, during which the Indian public’s mood of cynicism and disenchantment with their political leaders was strongly felt. It also came in the wake of the Arab Spring. Some analysts have therefore speculated that the move was a knee-jerk reaction driven by the government’s insecurity as it watched other governments totter under internet-fuelled revolutions.
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Amitabh Lal Das is the India general counsel of Yahoo!. The views expressed in this article are personal and do not in any way represent the views of Yahoo!