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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Peter links to a scanned version of the ACTUAL document that went out to the ISPs and Rediff tells us that the block on blogs (no, not the other sites) will be lifted in 48 hours plus notes on the kind of websites that have been blocked. [via Neha]

This is wonderful ... and a great testament to all our efforts at the Blogger's Collective Group and the Bloggers Against Censorship Wiki. It was wonderful to see 364 bloggers and supporters come together there, in 177 threads and countless messages, put the pressure on, as one voice. I got to 'know' and understand the perspective of so many bloggers from India, as a result. For the last few days, there have been times where there was almost an annoying mail-per-minute exchanged, resulting in some need for gentle moderation. The wiki was getting vandalised every second, so we had to get the front page locked. The media and a lot of influential international bloggers helped mount the pressure.

And now, that the ban will be lifted in 48 hours, one hopes we have all learnt from this. Yesterday, I was on a live debate called Face The Nation at CNN-IBN, where the Question of the Day - 'Should the Government step in the control the blogosphere' - where I shared the feeling that through the incompetent handling of the ban on the part of the government, and by the ISP's, they have done themselves a great disservice and us, a big favour. I know this is a sentiment shared by some bloggers - I was chatting to Peter on my way to the interview and we were talking about it.

Why do I feel that ... these actions showed us that neither the Government nor the ISP providers had any clue about how blogs work, the difference between blocking or filtering domains and sub-domains, and complete absence of transparency and communication with those affected, prompting bloggers to easily circumvent the ban with hacks, submit official queries and even consider litigation, which i feel must go ahead. Showing them we're not a bunch of idiots, we're not the ones that don't understand how these technologies work. And by their complete silliness in how they've handled the whole issue it has backfired on them - they've brought those blogs they wished to ban - see update 10 (why I know not still - some of them are completely innocuous) into the limelight - blogs we never knew existed - blogs we can access through proxies and anonymizers and RSS Feeds, blogs that can still be updated !

Why do I, like Dilip, feel they have done us a service ... because it has woken us up to the fact that this sort of arbitrary censorship is possible in India (yes .. believe it) and we must ensure that we protect ourselves. Dilip's suggestions:

"Part of that involves putting together workarounds for bans like these and making them public. Part involves finding out how this decision was taken -- maybe by whom too -- so we can work out how to stop it ever being taken again. The silver lining there is that we now have a tool -- the Right to Information Act -- to do just that. And part involves putting in place the laws and mechanisms that will prevent such a thing from happening in the future."

Another angle to this is, I have personally learnt so much about how to circumvent bans, how to participate in collaborative action against authorities. Things I wouldn't have dreamt of earlier or needed.

Lots of reflections are pouring in, not just on the goof-up but also, around the deeper issue of internet censorship in India. Early days for reflections ... Peter suggests in a mail to the Blogger's Collective "Much remains to be done. Remember, it could be your blog tomorrow, getting banned all by itself, with no horde of angry bloggers coming to rescue you."

Patrix airs some of these concerns when he says this is a dangerous precedent:

"What if tomorrow we wake up and everything is alright i.e. we can access Blogspot and Typepad without any hitch and can go back soon to our seemingly inane ramblings on the blogosphere. But on the flip side, the government gets all tech smart and manages to censor those "22 pages" of websites/blogs. Would that be an acceptable resolution to all concerned and involved in the current Bloggers Against Censorship campaign?

I am sure the majority of bloggers would accept that solution and go back to their normal blogging life. But thankfully, few blogger voices like Neha, Amit, Dilip [initially via email], and Confused have gone beyond the current scenario and examined the larger picture of censorship. As I mentioned yesterday, the act of censorship is as futile as it is self-defeating but it ends up setting a dangerous precedent that any speech - online or otherwise - if found unpopular can be stifled. It sets in motion a series of events that know no end as the parameters of censorship are widened each time to satisfy every section of the society."

Amit Varma says "there's no stopping free speech"

And Neha vents in Update 18:

" ... looking at Censorship as a whole. Weíve become relatively complacent in India. About how there is no censorship. Or that the state is at the most the eater of Bribes. Our mai-baap relationship with the Government ensures that we never really enter a more accountable relationship with the State. Irrespective of the content, censorship is indicative of fear. And of insulting citizens. That people cannot determine what is good for them."

A list of posts on censorship of blogs and websites is being compiled by DesiPundit.

Funny thing happened at the interview at CNN-IBN that brought that thought to mind ... there was this lawyer lady who really was talking vaguely about Govt censorship being ok if there were clear guidelines laid out. Anubha who was moderating the discussion, really ended the whole thing with a direct question to her ... "do you blog?" No prizes for guessing her response!

Final thought ... I think one of the issues here is the absolute lack of comprehension of this medium that is social media. What a blog is ... how blogs are not just individual journals but dynamic social communities. Communities that can do immense good in times of crises and work along with Governments, as we did in the case of MumbaiHelp. Communities that are passionate and compassionate. Communities that do far more good than 'evil'. There lies the power of this medium. And we must continue outreach programmes about these very aspects of blogging the best we can.

We can truly fight censorship once the government and the ISP's understand why we will not sit back and let it happen. Perhaps a tall order.

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