Bloggers, it should be obvious, care a lot about freedom of speech. We are drawn to the medium for a variety of reasons, but none more important than the fact that it puts the tools of publishing in our hands, that we can express ourselves as we wish without the filter of an editor or an organisation or a censor. You can imagine the horror of bloggers in India when, over the last weekend, we discovered that all blogs hosted on Blogspot and Typepad were inaccessible, as well as all Geocities sites.
What had gone wrong? Well, the Indian government had apparently given a list of sites to internet service providers (ISPs) in India to ban. Some of these were Blogspot blogs. The ISPs went and banned the entire Blogspot domain.
Naturally, there was a hue and cry about this. Bloggers came together and set up a wiki and a public-access email group. Many Indian bloggers are journalists, and they got to work on getting the mainstream media to work on the matter. Some are lawyers, and they got down to preparing a public interest litigation. Others filed Right to Information applications. The technology experts among us publicised ways to get around the ban. And many, many bloggers voiced their protest.
Well, I’m glad to inform you that we won. The government got rattled by the negative publicity, and ordered the ISPs to block only those sites on their list, and not entire domains. Slowly, the ISPs have started restoring access to the blocked domains. All seems well for now.
There were two issues in all this. One, the technological ineptitude on the part of the ISPs. Two, the censorship involved, for even the handful of sites on the government list should not have been blocked. And had the government felt a strong need for those sites to have been blocked, it should have been transparent in the matter, and stated their reasons clearly.
The first battle seems to have been won. (I could be wrong, of course, but I hope not.) The second remains a longer-term fight, and one that many bloggers will continue.
And no, this was not a post about Mumbai, or at least about Mumbai alone. But there is one tenuous connection I can find: Mumbai is a city that I’ve always thought gives people the freedom to be themselves, a metropolis in the true sense of the term. And blogs give us the same freedom. The bloggers on Mumbai Metblogs care about that freedom, thus, doubly. And we will not give up this fight.