The Great Indian Blog Ban - Signs of Hope
The Buddha Smiled
The Indian government's decision to block several blogs and websites earlier this week has been met, across cyberspace, with outrage & anger. This is perhaps the latest episode in a chain of events where government action has not been met with indifference, but with a different reaction.
The public reaction to the blog ban is worthy of analysis itself, but for me it is more important to examine it as a continuation of a trend that is increasingly visible in India - the emergence of a younger India that is no longer willing to let the political ruling class escape accountability. I also believe that this development is a good thing for the country as a whole. In many ways, India has been a post-colonial establishment for the past sixty years. We are still a people that is emerging from the shackles of colonialism, and the control of national discourse has not yet fully transferred completely to a post Independence generation that is able to articulate its own wants and desires without having to refer to the trauma of rule by another. This transfer is already underway in the media & in business, which can and have more easily espoused values of free choice and the rule of merit, but it is taking much longer in the arguably most influential sphere - politics. We therefore can view our national discourse as being dichotomous - one half dominated by a young India that has no need to seek validation against an external former authority, and an old India that is unable to operate without utilising the rule of the other as some benchmark, either to emulate or reject.
The latest blog ban and its reaction are therefore both merely manifestations of this contradiction. On one side you have a medium that is primarily used and run by people below the age of 40; people who have seen the last sixteen years of economic liberalisation and have also felt its benefits. The average Indian who uses the internet is young, had some form of tertiary education and is also the product of a free India, with no colonial memory or anguish. Compare this with the people who work in the Department of Telecommunications: bureaucrats usually inured to competitive pressures and the need for efficiency at work, subservient to a political class that is corrupt, ageing and unable to understand that there the India of today is no longer willing to let them escape accountability. For the average government mandarin, banning an internet website (or indeed, thousands of them as has happened with the block on blogspot) is perfectly acceptable, and is a regular tool of colonial (read tyrannical) administration. However, this becomes increasingly unacceptable to a young democracy which values its freedom of speech and is no longer willing to take at face value whatever is doled out to it from the government.
2006 has been the year of a young India rising up and staking its claim in a political discourse. Long accused of indifference and a lack of concern, a young India has stood up to be counted this year. Starting with the vigils at India Gate for Jessica Lall, followed by the agitation against reservations in higher education, and more recently, the AIIMS medical strikes that saw a minister having to back down in the face of public anger - these are all good indicators.
The reservations protests were perhaps the best examples of how a young India, exposed to economic self sufficiency and no longer dependent on a national bureaucracy for a livelihood, and is now used to the benefits of capitalism, chose to take the government on. Unlike the protests of 1990, when a desperate youth took to self immolation, and was still not heeded by the government, this year the protests were not about using self -destructive methods to be heard. This year, young India seized technology. SMS, internet petitions, public marches, street protests, and also hunger strikes (we can't all forget our roots now, can we?) The government was forced to debate the issue, and even though as yet unsuccessful, the campaigns made the government wake up and take notice of this young country.
The blog banning issue is a continuation of this trend. Using new technology to subvert this ban, and also using legal recourse, the Indian public have shown that they are now no longer willing to let another Satanic Verses episode be repeated. More importantly, the government's claims that the ban was enforced in the interests of national security have also been met with vociferous protests. This is especially resonant in today's global geopolitical scenario, when we see "national security" used to justify the worst examples of human rights violations in the USA & Israel.
Where this movement goes from here is hard to say. However, I'm pretty convinced that the trend, by itself, is one of India's greatest strengths, and can help us transition from a post-colonial entity, ruled by Macauley's elite, to a true democracy, where neo-liberal principles of humanism, the rights of all people, freedom of speech and economic freedom can safely coexist.
Welcome to tomorrow!
The Great Indian Blog Ban - Signs of Hope
- » Published on July 20, 2006
- » Type: Opinion
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