Tuesday, July 18, 2006

India Blog Ban?

After the Mumbai blasts, I sent a "We Feel Your Pain (as Karachiites)" mail and blog post to some lists I am on with Indian activists and friends. This even got picked up by Outlook magazine in India, with them running it on the front page of their webzine. But there were still people taking the "You are evil, we are the victims" line--on both sides. But then, along comes the blog ban in India, providing yet more proof that the people, and societies run for the benefit of the people, are ALWAYS the victim. And what is evil is oppressive goverments--anywhere and everywhere.

What I really wanted to do was write another mail that ran just like the first one and said:
We in Pakistan have seen our share of mindless governmental oppression. And as the news comes in this morning, we pray for our friend, our friends to the East...
But let's start with a round-up of what's been happening on the issue. You can skip down for my own commentary, if you're already familiar with what's been going on.

There are varying reports of people not being affected by this, but as of yesterday, it appeared that India had taken, or briefly took, Pakistan's lead in blocking/banning Blogspot.

I heard about this first on the mailing list for the "Society Against Internet Censorship in Pakistan", but there's now a separate group monitoring the situation in India:

http://groups.google.com/group/BloggersCollective

That group is also working on a Wiki Resource:

http://censorship.wikia.com/wiki/Bloggers_Against_Censorship

One of the major groups following this and related issues is Global Voices. Their site (I think they like to think of it as a collaborative blog) is at:

http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/

[Their "For the Media" page is at:

http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/top/info-for-news-media/ ]

They also have a Wiki (a collaborative site) at:

http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/wiki/article/Main_Page

Which includes a "Bridge Blog Index":

http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/wiki/article/Bridge_Blog_Index

It was interesting following the issue during the course of yesterday. Various thoughts went through my head and various things happened. Among them:

One of the first things folks realized was that the easiest and fastest way to get around the block was to use the website:

http://www.pkblogs.com

It warmed my heart to see a resource developed to help solve a problem in Pakistan be also useful to our neighbours, as well. As I keep saying, we're all in this together.

There was discussion of what motivated the ban. And what it meant. Personally, I think this is a matter of, as Niemoller said, "Them" finally "coming for me". What is getting lost in all this is that the Indian Government already does (or tries to do) a lot of information control; we in cyberspace are only noticing this because it has obvious impact on our daily lives. Read the HT story at:

http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_1746690,000600010001.htm

and some of the more informed discussions, especially between bloggers, and others, about what is being blocked. There is casual mention of there being a list of things to block and so on. The assumption is that gag lists are a part of life; they are an accepted and "normal" part of the way the Internet operates in India. I'd like to see more discussion about that aspect of the story; about what exactly "Situation Normal" is. I am not very well-informed about this and don't have the bandwidth or the resources to go after the story. (Unless someone is willing to step up and fund a sabbatical for me...) I would love some full-time journalists actually digging up and presenting a more complete picture. Or maybe a blogger will...

I, of course, also joined the list devoted to discussing/following the ban in India. At one point during the day, someone started a thread for conspiracy theories on that list. Here's what I contributed:
Here's one. What made me thing of it is the headline I just saw in my
mailbox that said: "Is Pakistani state sponsoring terrorism in India?"

My theory is this: Pakistani Agents who have infiltrated the Indian establishment are the ones to blame for this ban. Who else would support something so obviously against the interests of the Indian people?
I think the opposite could be said about the ban in Pakistan, too, no?

Personally, and this might be an unexpected point of view for a Pakistani to expres, the fact that there's a large democracy next door is, at least for some of us Pakistanis, in some ways a reassurance; that people just like us can have one, and make it work. But in all the rhetoric of "the world's largest democracy" and so on, it is important to look beyond the labels. The point is how well a government and a nation lives up to the nice, enlightened rhetoric we all like to mouth.

In closing, a request: Could folks please help me/us (there's a discussion on the "Bloggers Collective" list and I am sure others will be interested) find groups in South Asia and the diaspora specifically devoted to Free Speech?

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