INDIFFERENCE TO INTERNET –Apathetic state #censorship

Javed Anwer | June 2, 2012, TOI Crest


Two weeks ago, millions of perplexed internet users in India woke up to discover that they had been suddenly cut off from a clutch of very popular file-sharing and video websites. This was ostensibly done to ‘protect copyright’ and involved an Indian film body, a court order and internet service providers (ISPs). Indian cyberspace erupted with indignation. As later reported, there was much that was arbitrary about the action. It also raises some fundamental questions about regulating the internet in India.
In this latest instance, there were also, initially, no clear answers as to who cut off access to these websites? A notice telling users that ‘this website has been blocked as per DoT orders, ‘ appeared first. DoT apparently meant Department of Telecom. After a couple of days the message was changed to ‘the website has been blocked as per a court order. ‘ DoT later clearly denied it had issued any such order. And here lies one part of the problem.

No internet service provider (ISP) bothered to explain which court order, or what the issue at hand was. In fact, Indian ISPs have been blocking and unblocking websites on the basis of broad and rather vague court orders against piracy for a while now. This is clearly problematic, as there appears to be no system or detailed governmental guidelines in place to do such things.

At first glance, it seems logical. A court ordered the blocking of some websites and lawabiding ISPs complied. But it is not so simple. This whole saga is also a sordid tale of how casually the Indian government and ISPs treat the issue of web access in India, perhaps a fundamental right of sorts across the globe now. It also shows the lack of a proper system of wellthought out state oversight over the very firms tasked with connecting Indians to the internet.

In this case, the Madras high court only issued an order against a specific case of piracy. It didn’t order that websites be blocked. CERTIN, the nodal government agency in question, did not issue any directives to ISPs in this case. And the Chennai-based firm that filed the lawsuit later claimed it never asked anyone to block complete websites – only that access to some specific web links on these sites be cut off.

Clearly, ISPs seem to wield arbitrary powers in India, either due to poorly-framed IT rules that were notified last April, or because of the apathy that the concerned ministries seem to display on the matter. ISPs (most of whom are also big telecom companies) behave this way because they neither seem to be accountable to consumers nor to the government, on the vital matter of free and unfettered access to the net (bound by reasonable restrictions, of course) which is what consumers are paying for.

Blocking websites is a serious matter. Done the wrong way, it is tantamount to trampling on free speech. The UN has said that free and open access to the web is a human right. Countries like Finland have even made it a legal right for their citizens. And free speech matters greatly to mature democracies tackling similar issues. Consider how when US legislators were debating their Stop Online Piracy Act, which allowed for something like what ISPs did in India, President Obama threatened to veto the act if it was passed.

No one denies that there are problems with the web. But the solution to these problems does not lie with our ISPs being willing to play trigger-happy cops. The internet is inherently disruptive technology. Copyright piracy, for instance, is a serious issue and must be dealt with carefully. In the digital world it is very difficult to sort issues out in a black and white fashion. That’s the main reason why the same websites blocked in India continue to be available in most other countries, including the US – where the most stringent copyright and anti-piracy laws in the world are enforced.

But in India, state indifference to understanding the internet appears to be the biggest problem. Besides, the government keeps going off on other tangents. For instance, Kapil Sibal, our telecom minister, has been going on about how the web should be regulated. Shouldn’t he be talking about how the web in India can be kept free instead? His ministry, instead of devising ways to monitor social media websites, should be working to create a framework where intermediaries like website owners and ISPs don’t abuse the power they have over users. Instead of worrying about Twitter, shouldn’t the government be working to create institutions and net watchdogs (on the lines of TRAI perhaps) that make sure Indians can access the internet freely?

If websites had been blocked arbitrarily in the West, ISPs would have been sued or penalised by government watchdogs. They would have been hounded by courts for abusing a just order. But not in India – a pity for a country that claims to be among the world’s most vibrant democracies.

Immediate Release-Abujmaad—the living conditions of the adivasi

Press Release, June 2, 2012


This Press Conference has been called by the Concerned Citizens’ Collective(CCC) consisting of the following members: 1. Dr. B.D. Sharma, IAS(Rtd), Former Commissioner for SCs and STs; 2. Prof. Amit Bhattacharyya, West Bengal; 3. Prof. J.P.Rao, Hyderabad; 4. Vijay Lapalikar, Maharastra; 5. Zulekha Jabin, Chhattisgarh; 6 Rona Wilson, Delhi; 7. Jatinder Singh, Punjab; 8. Dr. Ritupan Goswami, Delhi.


The main purpose of the CCC was to get first-hand information about the concrete reality of Abujmaad—the living conditions of the adivasi peoples living there from times immemorial, whether changes for the better had taken place in their lives during the last sixty years after the end of colonial rule. The field investigation took place during May 24-29.  The areas visited by the members are Shonpur, Orchha and Kachchapal.


Preliminary Findings by the Concerned Citizens’ Collective(CCC):

A)    The overall wellbeing of the Abujmarias is under severe threat. Malnourishment of the people there who are around 35,000 as per the 2011 Census has almost pushed them to extinction.

B)    Reducing agrarian circle of Penda(shifting) cultivation from roughly about 70 years in the yesteryears to less than 5 years resting in the loss of the soil.

C)    Whatever expansion in the form of settled agriculture in the region is without any state support  from government departments like agriculture, irrigation etc.

D)    The easily available resources like bamboo which can be developed into cottage industries has been left underutilized.

E)     The dwindling PDS system in the form of essentials like rice has become dearer for the tribals with restricted availability from distant centres at Kurasnar and Kokanjhar.

F)     Lack of availability of drinking water even after 60 years.

G)    Limited educational opportunities notwithstanding commendable efforts from institutions like Ramkrishna Mission.

H)    Lack of electricity in almost all the villages.


The issues we have highlighted are nothing new. Yet they remain the same. This is indicative of the fact that the miserable living conditions of the adivasis are going from bad to worse. In such a scenario, the situation cannot be salvaged without keeping the adivasi at the centre of whatever planning the government initiates.




Sd. by Dr. B. D. Sharma on behalf of the Concerned Citizens’ Collective (CCC)

Faking Happiness: Activists Strike Back at Vedanta Ad Campaign


by Freny Manecksha, CorpWatch Blog
May 30th, 2012

Vedanta Resources, a UK based mining and metals company with numerous projects in India, is attempting to claim to be social responsible via a huge advertising campaign. However activists have struck back by effectively using social media tools to counter Vedanta‘s claims.

“Creating Happiness” – a series of short films about Vedanta that aired on 37 TV channels – was an advertising campaign conceived by India’s ad guru Piyush Pandey of Ogilvy & Mather. It was launched earlier this year with a technically slick film that focused on the apparent happiness of Binno, a small girl in Rajasthan, when she discovers that she can get an education from the anganwadis (child day care centres) set up by the company.

The company announced an initiative for students at media and film institutes to produce short films about the company that would then be judged in competition by a heavy-weight jury consisting of Pandey, actor Gul Panag and noted director Shyam Benegal who had championed “art cinema.” (Benegal’s early films realistically depicted feudal conditions in rural India).

Vedanta was already well known in India but for very different reasons. Several years ago, the company applied for a license to mine for bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills of Odisha and to set up an accompanying refinery. The refinery was set up at Lenjigarh but the manner in which the company flagrantly flouted laws regarding land acquisition and displaced people and did not adhere to environmental norms aroused huge anger among the local population.

In 2010 the license to mine for bauxite was denied after an impassioned protest by these populations and especially by the Dongria Kondhs, an indigenous population, who believe the mountain is their god. The protest was given weight because of a damning report by the high-level Saxena committee that was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Vedanta appealed and the case now rests in the Supreme Court in Delhi.

In March this year shortly after Vedanta launched its public relations campaign, things went off the carefully planned script. A few caustic comments on social networking sites fuelled anger against Vedanta which then went viral.

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, a human rights activist from Mumbai, penned an open letter on the Web to film maker Shyam Benegal whom she hailed as “a voice for the voiceless.” The letter appealed to him to pull out of the jury of the competition because “Vedanta is not creating happiness but it is faking happiness.” Embedded in the online letter were several videos made by activist Surya Prakash Dash that captured the anger and anguish of the Kondh community.

Critics charged that Vedanta’s attempt at burnishing its reputation – spearheaded by Priya Agarwal, the 22 year old daughter of the company’s executive chairman Anil Agarwal – had been timed before the crucial final hearing in the Supreme Court on April 9, for Vedanta’s appeal to be allowed to mine bauxite. (A decision is expected this August)

An online petition was launched on to Ambika Soni, the information and broadcasting minister, was launched demanding that the film be pulled from TV, attracting dozens of angry comments and thousands of signatures.

“Vedanta Creating Happiness…this is as true as Iraq having Weapons of Mass Destruction,” wrote Sushil Yadav. “It’s like Hitler pretending to be Mother Teresa,” added Reboni Saha.

Ashok Thurai, another commenter, noted that parallels between Vedanta’s action in central India and the film Avatar which pits the (fictional) indigenous Na’vi against the RDA corporation mining for nobatium people on planet Pandora.

Following the activist onslaught, Benegal and Panag withdrew from the jury saying they were unaware of Vedanta’s role in the competition.  “My bad. Just got full details. I wasn’t aware that the competition was past of #vedanta glorification/PR Have pulled out]” tweeted Panag.

Activists also struck back with their own competition asking for creative content on the topic of “Faking Happiness.” Blog posts, short films, cartoons and spoofs poured in on Facebook and YouTube that charged Vedanta with falsehoods.

One film – by Nakul Sawhney – focused on disadvantaged young children like Binno whose parents’ rights to land, forests and pure water water had been snatched away. It was interspersed with interviews with actual villagers from the Niyamgiri hills like Kurmali Majhi of Simlibhatta who spoke of community lands being acquired by brute force.

Another film – by Manasi Pingle – remixed a Coca Cola jingle and visuals with public data to puncture the myth of “sunshinewali asha” (hope for sunshine). For example the film noted that for every Rs. 6 (12 US cents) that the government spends on health and family welfare, it gives away Rs 95 ($1.90) in tax relief for corporations.

At the end of the day, Vedanta’s PR campaign appears to have backfired badly. “(I)t would appear that Vedanta is less the leader in sustainable development and social responsibility in India’s universe of corporations, and more the black sheep of that world,” concluded novelist Chandrahas Choudhury in an editorial written for Bloomberg.

Invitation: AP Shah Committee report release on Koodankulam and Democracy- 4th June


Release of Justice AP Shah Committee report of public hearing on Koodankulam and Democracy

LIVESTREAMING OF EVENT: koodankulamshah?t=227743

WHEN: 4 June, 2012. 11 a.m. (Monday)

WHERE: Madras Press Club,
Near State Guest House,Wallajah Road

Prof. Vasanthi Devi,
Former VC, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University to receive first copy of report

Adv. Geeta Ramaseshan, Member of Panel
Prof. Prabha Kalvimani, Member of Panel


On May 14, 2012, a committee led by Justice (Retd) A.P. Shah (Retd Chief Justice, Madras High Court) and comprising Adv. Geeta Ramaseshan and Prof. Prabha Kalvimani heard a public hearing on Koodankulam and State Suppression of Democratic Rights. The hearing was prompted by the unlawful efforts by the governments of Tamil Nadu and India to prevent any discussion critical of nuclear energy in the wake of the 19 March decision of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to withdraw her support to the anti-nuclear movement and declare her consent to commissioning the nuclear plants. Before that and since then, numerous cases — more than 247 FIRs — have been filed against innocent people charging them with grievous offences such as sedition and waging war against the state. Other forms of repression — such as intimidation, oral directions to printing presses and auditorium owners discouraging them from lending their services for activities critical of nuclear energy — have characterised the State’s attempt to manufacture consent and suppress dissent.

For more information, contact: Nityanand Jayaraman:             9444082401

Aruna Shanbaug 39 years in semi-comatose condition #Euthanasia

Aruna Shanbaug


Another birthday in a locked room. Another birthday — the 39th — to not feel any sun on her body. Another birthday to be fed mush through a nose-tube and pass it out on the bed. Another birthday without being given medicine to calm her down when she is “agitated”.

It’s important that atleast some of us remember that such a woman still exists in both, a physical and legal vacuum. Both, because of those who claim to “love her”. She is permitted passive euthanasia – a fact not known to most media — her minders have to approach the Bombay High Court. Will collective cowardice, once again, continue to condemn this woman to a living hell?

 A woman in Bombay, India called Aruna Shanbaug turns 64 on June 1 (today). This would make it 39 years in this semi-comatose condition after she was sodomised and left for dead in November 1973.

She has the world’s most dubious distinction of being the longest-known such case.

She is, according to hospital records from that time and re-confirmed since, also blind, unable to speak words, given to either howling or grinning or being catatonic, irreversibly brain-damaged.

She is also, presumably the most horrific human rights violation on an individual ever. She is not given medication. She is not even on cathetor to collect body waste. Her bed is soiled and she lies like that till her care-takers — the nurses and ayahs of the municipal run hospital in which she languishes — clean her.

What makes it a tragedy is that Passive Euthanasia is now allowed in India. All it will take is for her feed to be tapered off — as per international norms governing the process — while introducing pain-management medicine into her nose-tube through which she is fed directly into her stomach.

Aruna’s even greater irony is that while she and Pinki Virani have catalysed the Law on Passive Euthanasia it has also been deemed for her — a matter not known to most — albeit as follows: The Supreme Court said the hospital was her “next friend”, not Pinki Virani (the incident happened in 1973; the Author knows her from 1982 when she was a cub-reporter). The Supreme Court then indicated — in the open court — that another specific plea could be filed in the Bombay High Court “should they change their mind”. Please crosscheck with any of the lawyers present in the court that day; the room was jam-packed with both, lawyers and media. Please cross-check by reading the judgement for yourself as well.

“Should they change their mind”. Are they likely to? Especially since they feel so noble about taking care of her while she suffers so horribly.

Did this startling fact even come to light — that all it will take is for some municipal employees (since that is what the nurses and doctors are at that particular BMC-run hospital) to approach the Bombay High Court?

[In March 2011, the Supreme Court of India, passed this historic judgement permitting Passive Euthanasia in the country. This followed Pinki Virani’s plea to the highest court in December 2009. The corollary of this same landmark judgement is that there might be a boost in organ donations, once again positively helping millions of Indians. (The judgement provides clarity on the definition of brain-death since healthy vital organs are wasted while arguments rage over the medico-legal definition of brain-death.)]

-Pinki Virani


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June 2012
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