Tag Archive for 'Kapil Sibal'

Does this cartoon offend you?

On Friday, India’s Lok Sabha was disrupted by MPs protesting a 60-year-old cartoon drawn by Shankar that shows B.R. Ambedkar, Pandit Nehru and the Constitution. So great was the furore over the cartoon which has featured in class XI NCERT text books since 2006, that Human Resources Development minister Kapil Sibal had to issue an apology. By the end of the day two senior NCERT advisors, Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar had resigned. But no one had an answer to the question: what exactly is so offensive about this cartoon?

The “free” in free speech

Outlook magazine cover

The story so far: Kapil Sibal, India’s telecommunications minister, last week asked Internet companies and social media sites like Facebook to pre-screen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online. [More here in NYT and here a round-up of censorship in the country]

Yesterday, in a column titled “virtual reality” in The Asian Age, Shashi Tharoor defended Kapil Sibal:

And yet this very freedom is its own biggest threat. It means anyone can say literally anything and, inevitably, many do. Lies, distortions and calumny go into cyberspace unchallenged; hatred, pornography and slander are routinely aired. There is no fact-checking, no institutional reputation for reliability to defend. The anonymity permitted by social media encourages even more irresponsibility: people hidden behind pseudonyms feel free to hurl abuses they would never dare to utter to the recipients’ faces. The borderline between legitimate creative expression and “disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content” becomes more unclear.

Mr Sibal’s main concern was not with politics, but with scurrilous material about certain religions that could have incited retaliatory violence. People say or depict things on social media that might be bad enough in their living rooms, but are positively dangerous in a public space. The challenge of regulating social media is that the person writing or drawing such things does so in the privacy of his home but releases them into the global commons. My own yardstick is very clear: I reject censorship. Art, literature and political opinion are to me sacrosanct. But publishing inflammatory material to incite communal feelings is akin to dropping a lighted match at a petrol pump. No society can afford to tolerate it, and no responsible government of India would allow it.

That position has got me almost as much hate mail on the Internet as poor Mr Sibal. But I’d rather stub out that match than close down the petrol pump. {Read the full column here]

Here Nilanjana Roy demolishes Sashi Tharoor’s column:

This has been an inescapable feature of the Internet since the 1990s, so why is it a problem now? And why is the nature of the Internet itself being used as an excuse to press for government regulation of the Internet? The most effective networks (Twitter, Facebook), web encyclopaedias (Wikipaedia) and forums online do not depend on silent censorship or overt censorship to be comfortable spaces for the average user. They rely on a combination of internal moderation–Twitter is ruthless about blocking fake and spam accounts, for instance, personalised screening, where every user sets his or her privacy levels, and the group’s own, evolving standards of what is acceptable behaviour. What is acceptable on sites like Grindr, for instance, are highly sexual images; on sites like 4chan, abuse is part of the conversation; but Twitter would very quickly kick off users who attempted to recreate the ambience of those sites.

Mr Tharoor’s real problem might be something that we all struggle with–the Internet in its present avatar requires much more from users than the passive consumption of news. It requires all of us to make choices about what we want to pay attention to, and the kind of communities we want to build, and it requires users to be active, responsible participants in their consumption of news and commentary. The state has no business taking over this mediation, or dictating how sanitised everyone’s web experience should be. [Full column here]

And Prayaag Akbar in The Sunday Guardian: Kapil Sibal is nobody’s fewl

Mr Sibal followed this up with a brief foray into the tumult of mass politics in India. After taking charge of negotiating on the government’s behalf with Anna Hazare’s team, he managed to alienate everyone involved in the negotiation with such alacrity (including, according to some reports, most of his own party members in the Congress) that he ended up arresting a 74-year-old man at the height of his national popularity. Finger firmly on the pulse of the country, he then proceeded to issue a series of statements defending his decision and maligning a person who — cronies aside — only wanted to do some good for India.

Now he goes and puts Internet India on trial. It is one thing to misread Anna’s Moment, but any fewl with a modem know there are three truths held self-evident by today’s Great Unwashed, the wired world. 1. The Internet shall be the greatest bastion of free speech history has known. 2. The man who fights the above (it is invariably a man) will be mocked, ridiculed, lampooned, abused and Photoshopped until his dignity lies as tattered as his logic. 3. WE MUST HAZ FREE PORN. [More here]

And Outlook cover story here

India asks Google, Facebook to screen user content

From NYT:

About six weeks ago, Mr. Sibal called legal representatives from the top Internet service providers and Facebook into his New Delhi office, said one of the executives who was briefed on the meeting.

At the meeting, Mr. Sibal showed attendees a Facebook page that maligned the Congress Party’s president, Sonia Gandhi. “This is unacceptable,” he told attendees, the executive said, and he asked them to find a way to monitor what is posted on their sites.

In the second meeting with the same executives in late November, Mr. Sibal told them that he expected them to use human beings to screen content, not technology, the executive said.

The three executives said Mr. Sibal has told these companies that he expects them to set up a proactive prescreening system, with staffers looking for objectionable content and deleting it before it is posted.

The executives said representatives from these companies will tell Mr. Sibal at the meeting on Monday that his demand is impossible, given the volume of user-generated content coming from India, and that they cannot be responsible for determining what is and isn’t defamatory or disparaging. More:

Also in NYT:

‘Chilling’ impact of India’s April Internet rules

The most stringent government push came in April, when the “Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011” were introduced. The rules require “intermediaries,” companies like Facebook, Google and Yahoo that provide the platform for users to comment and create their own content, to respond quickly if individuals complain that content is “disparaging” or “harassing,” among other complaints. If the complainant’s claim is valid, these companies must take down the offensive information within 36 hours.

So, what impact have these rules had so far?

A yet-to-be-published study by the Center for Internet and Society in Bangalore concludes that free speech on the Internet in India is already being curtailed in a “chilling” manner. More:

India’s demographic boom, or is it a disaster?

By 2025 India will be the world’s most populous country. Will this demographic boom become an engine of growth or will the government fail to meet the challenges, asks Simon Denyer in Washington Post. 

Pedestrians weave their way through a sea of cars, rickshaws and motorbikes, a desperate scramble for space just making the gridlock worse. The sidewalks are swallowed up by stalls and piles of garbage. The smell of open drains hangs in the air while overhead a web of electric cables crisscrosses the sky.

India is one of the main engines of global population growth, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the crowded northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people. The world’s 7 billionth person will be born on the last day of this month, according to U.N. estimates, and Uttar Pradesh, which added 33 million people to the global population in the last decade, is already staking its claim to be the birthplace of that child. more

Can’t get into DU, can make it to the Ivies

Ridiculously tough admission standards in Indian universities and an ambitious middle class that won’t settle for second best has resulted in the increasing enrollment of Indian students at top American universities, reports Nida Najar in New York Times. 

Moulshri Mohan was an excellent student at one of the top private high schools in New Delhi. When she applied to colleges, she received scholarship offers of $20,000 from Dartmouth and $15,000 from Smith. Her pile of acceptance letters would have made any ambitious teenager smile: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard and the University of Virginia.

But because of her 93.5 percent cumulative score on her final high school examinations, which are the sole criteria for admission to most colleges here, Ms. Mohan was rejected by the top colleges at Delhi University, better known as D.U., her family’s first choice and one ofIndia’s top schools.

“Daughter now enrolled at Dartmouth!” her mother, Madhavi Chandra, wrote, updating her Facebook page. “Strange swings this admission season has shown us. Can’t get into DU, can make it to the Ivies.” more

Whatever happened to India’s $35 laptop?

In July 2010 the Indian government proudly unveiled the prototype of a $35 laptop. Over a year later there’s still no sign of India’s ‘answer to MIT’s $100 laptop’ says Pamposh Raina in NYT

The Indian government promised the world a $35 laptop a year ago. In a few weeks it will deliver, said Kapil Sibal, minister for human resource development. “All the naysayers will be unpleasantly surprised,” Mr. Sibal said during an interview in his New Delhi office. He said he already has a version of the dirt-cheap laptop. What’s it look like? Well, unfortunately, it was at home, not in the office, he said. “I must be able to work on it.” Unveiling the prototype of the laptop a year ago, Mr. Sibal flaunted the gadget as his answer to Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (O.L.P.C.) project, which aspires to develop a $100 laptop. Currently there are three million children across 41 countries using the XO laptop developed by O.L.P.C., said Satish Jha, the India head of the project. But the current price of each laptop hovers around $200, he said. more

India seeks to admit foreign universities

From the Wall Street Journal:

India’s new minister in charge of higher education said he will push legislation to let foreign universities establish independent institutions in the country, potentially opening a huge market that schools from the U.S. and elsewhere have been clamoring to enter for years.

“I would hope that come 2010, universities around the world will be sprinting to come to India,” Kapil Sibal, minister of human resources development, which includes higher education, said in an interview Wednesday. He said he wants to open the market because India, despite its 1.1 billion-plus population, has an acute shortage of educated workers that threatens to inhibit economic expansion. More: