Free speech advocates and Internet users are protesting new Indian regulations that seek to restrict Web content that, among other things, could be considered “disparaging,” “harassing,” “blasphemous” or “hateful.” The new rules , issued by the Indian Department of Information Technology this month without much publicity, allow officials and private citizens to demand that Internet sites and service providers remove content that they consider objectionable by drawing from a long list of reasons.
Critics say that the new regulations could severely curtail debate and discussion on the Internet, use of which has been growing quickly in India. The list of objectionable content is sweeping and, for instance, includes anything that “threatens the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order.” The rules highlight the ambivalence with which Indian officials have long treated freedom of expression. The country’s Constitution allows “reasonable restrictions” on free speech, but lawmakers have periodically stretched that definition to ban books, movies and other material about sensitive subjects like sex, politics and religion.
An Indian state recently banned a new book by an American author on the Indian freedom fighter Mohandas K. Gandhi that critics have argued disparages the leader by describing his relationship with another man. Fewer than 10 percent of Indians have access to the Internet, but that number has been growing quickly, especially on mobile devices. There are more than 700 million cellphone accounts in India. The country has also established a thriving technology industry that writes software and creates Web services, primarily for Western clients.