Recent events in West Bengal and the role of the Internet

The sit­u­a­tion in West Ben­gal (the state in India I come from) is get­ting scary. A Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor was arrested (and beaten up, though not by the police) for for­ward­ing emails con­tain­ing car­toons that were crit­i­cal of the chief min­is­ter. While it’s wor­ry­ing and sad­den­ing to see this kind of bla­tant repres­sion of dis­sent and intol­er­ance towards crit­i­cism, to me, it is even more wor­ry­ing (and scary) to see the pre­text of the arrest. Accord­ing to news reports, a clause involv­ing “deroga­tory images” of the Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy act was invoked for the arrest. It is debat­able whether the images in the car­toon in ques­tion were deroga­tory or not, and also, it raises fur­ther ques­tion about the use of the some­what vague term to sur­press dis­sent and crit­i­cism of any kind. News­pa­per car­toons has been around for cen­turies, and it is wor­ry­ing to see a very dif­fer­ent bar being set for what hap­pens online. More­over, it also looks like the crime inves­ti­ga­tion bureau of the state (the CID) has asked for IP addresses from Facebookto fig­ure out the orig­i­nal uploader of the images. Again, very scary, since IP addresses rarely tell the com­plete story, and given the his­tory of the knee-jerk reac­tion of Indian law-enforcement, I wouldn’t be sur­prised if some­one gets harassed with­out valid rea­sons (assum­ing the some­what remote pos­si­bil­ity of Face­book actu­ally divulging the IP addresses).