|Illustrations: Sworup Nhasiju|
The dual nature of much of India’s policy towards the Internet continues to leave Chhetria Patrakar confused. That’s probably naiveté, though – hypocrisy is a characteristic of all sarkars everywhere. Thus, on the one hand, the Indian government aims to connect 160 million Indians to high-speed Internet by 2014; and, on the other, it passes draconian, and possibly the most lazily written, Internet rules, just to piss those same citizens off. The new rules, known as the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, says that any upload that is ‘hateful’, ‘harassing’, ‘blasphemous’ and/or ‘threatens the … integrity of India’, among other vaguely worded criteria, has to be removed within 36 hours of such material coming to the knowledge of the site owner, no allowance for appeal. Non-compliance on the part of the users will result in termination of access to the intermediary, such as Youtube, and a forceful removal of problematic content.
Understandably, these guidelines have irked activists, bloggers and even minority groups, raising fears that vested interests could misuse the highly subjective rules. Meanwhile, Internet firms welcomed the guidelines, since they exonerate them of liability as long as they are not active participants in posting worrisome content. They dub the rules ‘a large improvement on the old’ ones. Perhaps so, but CP mourns such slippery baby steps, and urges the government of India to take the rules down within 36 hours because they themselves are ‘harassing’ and ‘menacing in nature’.
The Taliban of Afghanistan, on the other hand, seems to be softening its stance on the use of Internet technologies, at least for now. Shifting its view on the Net from being ‘un-Islamic’ to being ‘a blessing of God’, it joined Twitter as alemarahweb six months ago, and has now begun to tweet in English as well. Its first English tweet read: ‘Enemy attacked in Khak-e-Safid, 6 dead…’ The NATO-led coalition has already tweeted back, expressing its surprise and calling the tweets ‘lies no matter the language’. So far, almost all of the Taliban tweets in English are victory feeds giving numbers of enemy tanks said to be destroyed or ‘invaders’ killed in attack. CP finds it sickening to read these feeds about people being killed, regardless of whether they are propagandist fabrications or not. If only the war was confined to Twitter.
Facebook has helped to fund a Bollywood movie themed on fear, after mainstream studios refused to do so. The film, I Am, by filmmaker Onir could not get financial aids from Bollywood studios because a section of the movie focused on gay rights. Onir, 41 and openly gay, then appealed to his Facebook friends, who donated USD 675,000 in total, a third of the needed budget. Onir’s previous movie, My brother Nikhil, about an HIV-positive gay man, had run into similar problems, with one potential backer asking why the virus vector could not be a Bollywood actress. Given that Karan Johar’s movie Dostana, about straight characters pretending otherwise, was a massive hit, the studio honchos seem to wish that Onir would do something similar (and lighter). How about gay men pretending to be straight so that they can room with a hunk? Or straight men pretending to be gay men pretending to be gay men … CP’s imagination positively boggles at the possibilities.
Bengalis in Bangladesh and West Bengal are infuriated by a book and a film by two fellow Bengalis. They are under attack for presenting a softer, less brutal picture of the Pakistani military during the War of Liberation in 1971. In her book, Dead Reckoning, researcher Sarmila Bose disputes Bangladesh’s official claim that half a million women were raped by 93,000 Pakistani soldiers during the nine-month civil war. According to her data – said to have obtained primarily through Pakistani sources – the number of Pakistani troops ranged between 20,000 at the beginning and 34,000 by the end of the war. Therefore, she concludes, the official figure of raped women is impossible.
While the book focuses on this purported exaggeration, the film Meherjaan, by Rubaiyat Hossain, attacks the stereotype that all Pakistani men were brutes during the war. However, by having a Bengali woman fall in love with a member of the Pakistan Army, Hossain only opened still-raw wounds – of Bengali women who were indeed raped during the war, and of their families and other members of society still reeling from the mass trauma of the times.
Although suspicions that the Pakistani intelligence commissioned these projects to disrupt war-crimes proceedings in recently set-up tribunals are mere conspiracy theories, CP does wonder whether a formal apology from the Pakistani military for its atrocities during the war might help. As for Dead Reckoning, denied spaces in bookshops in Bangladesh, CP wonders whether Bose understood that, just as victors can exaggerate atrocities, losers can also do the opposite.
In Bhutan, meanwhile, in a bid to preserve culture and promote tradition, the Bhutanese government has asked its filmmakers to stop being creative. Recently, the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) outlined a Filming Guidelines and Code of Practice for the Bhutanese movie industry. Among the 11 do’s and don’ts, filmmakers can no longer feature characters who speak increasingly popular Dzonglish (Dzongkha interspersed with English words) and wear ‘non-national dress’ in public. Furthermore, scenes with excessive violence, including depicting rape, are not to be shown. New films will also have to feature at least two bits of ‘traditional music’, whether it suits the story or not.
Predictably, the Motion Picture Association of Bhutan (MPAB) is unhappy with the new rules, and has asked the BICMA for revisions. In CP’s views, though, ‘revisions’ wouldn’t go nearly far enough. Wanting to promote an idyllic Bhutan is one thing, but slaughtering creativity in the name of homogeneity is, quite simply, unforgivable. The rules need to be put in the trash. It’s about time that the Bhutanese government realised that the country’s much-touted ‘happiness index’ cannot be larded with imagined happiness.
In mid-April, the Kathmandu Post regaled readers with an improbable, and rather mawkishly titled, story: ‘Nepali honesty that stayed warm in today’s cold affection’. According to the scoop, a 22-year-old woman from Bhojpur district in eastern Nepal, Anuja Baniya, had returned NPR 9.1 million in cash and a diamond necklace to its rightful owner, after finding it on a long-distance bus. In a somewhat sad reflection on today’s Nepal, every reader in the country went: Really? Nine million rupees in a bag on a bus and she returned it, that too without any reward?
Except for President Ram Baran Yadav, who phoned Baniya and congratulated her on her honesty. A week later, though, the Post confessed that the alleged bag-owner, one Purushottam, was nowhere to be found. Apparently, the whole story was concocted by Baniya, although it remains unclear why exactly. Either way, the daily duly apologised to its readers for making them believe this make-believe. Apology accepted, KP. Praiseworthy gullibility – oops, honesty. But CP suggests that in addition to fact-checkers, today’s dailies hire a few resident cynics.
An Australian designer named Lisa Blue has rather unpleasantly discovered that designing swimwear with images of Hindu gods – in this case, Lakshmi – printed on the garment do not necessarily boost sales. What the design has invited instead are protests across India, and legal notices to the Hindustan Times Group for publishing pictures of the offending swimwear. The Allahabad High Court has demanded that the Press Council of India makes its position clear in the matter as well. Although a blue Ms Blue reportedly has already apologised for offending Hindu sentiment (such a fragile thing, that), the Court wants more. It urges the Indian government to ask the Australian government to take action against the designer. Let this be a warning to designers out there: Hindu goddesses on (or in) swimwear do not go well together, at least for now.
Romila Thapar addresses invitees at the
Southasian relaunch of Himal Southasian,
IIC, New Delhi, January 2013.
Flickr / girl.from.melbourne
An early monsoon
On June 16 2013, the India Meteorological Department confirmed the early arrival of monsoon rains across the whole of India. Full coverage was not expected until the middle of July, making farmers hopeful for a bumper crop.
From our archive:
C K Lal discusses the fixation of Southasia's political leaders with 'monumental waterworks.' (September 2007)
Somnath Mukherji explores the sights, sounds, smells and feelings that monsoon evokes. (June 2007)
Venu Madhav Govindu notes the 'fundamental importance' of a good monsoon for both city and rural dwellers. (August 2003)