New Delhi: A debate over free speech - and the government's apparent complicity in curbing it - has been raging online. At the heart of the controversy is Arindham Chaudhari, the dean of privately-run business school Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM), which has branches in cities like Delhi and Hyderabad.
Since February 16, 78 URLs or web links have been blocked on the orders of the government by all internet service providers (ISPs). 73 of these banned webpages hosted material that is allegedly critical of the IIPM or its head. However, the government says that it had no choice - the ban on the web pages was ordered by a Gwalior court based on a complaint filed by a partner of Mr Chaudhari.
The blacklisted URLs include articles in leading and credible newspapers and magazines, as well as blogs. None of the publishers were reportedly informed about the court order against them or given a chance to defend themselves. The government did not contact them, they claim.
The controversy erupted on Twitter after a medianama report (<a href="http://www.medianama.com/2013/02/223-dot-block-iipm/" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Read</a>) on Friday shared a copy of the instructions from the Department of Telecom to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) asking for the web pages to be blocked. The University Grants Commission, a government organisation, also features on the list. It had published a notice highlighting that it does not recognize the IIPM as a university - information crucial for thousands of students, many would argue.
"Go and ask why in the first place they had shamefully put defamatory content? If the law says defamatory URLs should be banned, and that is how it is world over, everyone should rejoice because tomorrow they could be at the receiving end of a malicious campaign and they might want justice," Mr Chaudhari said on Saturday, according to the Press Trust of India.
Shashi Tharoor, junior minister in the Human Resources and Development ministry said today that he has asked Milind Deora, his counterpart in the IT ministry, to unblock the UGC link that was affected.
Mr Chaudhuri has been slammed on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. #IIPM has continued to trend on Twitter throughout the weekend and for a large part of Monday.
Some of the organisations and individuals whose links have been blocked are defiant. The Caravan magazine tweeted saying they were posting the blocked article at a new URL. "The article on IIPM's lawsuit against The Caravan, blocked by DoT, is now available on our website here," the tweet read.
Advertising professional Mahesh Murthy, who has over 52,000 followers on Twitter, also reposted his "bundle of IIPM links."