Facebook And Digital India: Bedfellows In Online Censorship?

14/11/2015 12:22 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have been posing like two peas in a pod, with my dewy eyed brethren cheering them on with their tri-coloured display pictures, a sinister act of digital censorship is being played out on Facebook.

In June 2015 the Indian Atheists Facebook page was blocked out. The ban was revoked within 48 hours after the story was featured by mainstream Indian media outlets.

The black-out occurred at a time when the admins were critical of IIT Madras for its gag on the Ambedkar-Periyar student circle, and the way the college management patronised religious shamans and evolution-deniers such as Jeeyar Swamy, and other Vedic-science quacks, by giving them the dais on campus.

Since 10 November, the Indian Atheists Debate Corner on Facebook has been rendered inaccessible to users in India. However, the page is available to users logging in from elsewhere. An online campaign is gathering momentum to lift the embargo.


A nondescript error message greets those who try to access the page using Indian ISPs.

According to this media report, Facebook blocked over 5000 pages in India in the year 2014 alone; more than any other nation in the world.

Ironically, a cursory search through Facebook reveals that a number of hate pages, filled with racist propaganda, are thriving unchecked. Take this Brahmin-power page for instance, that is full of casteist bigotry and anti-Muslim rants.


Hate groups like these don't seem to offend the fragile sensibilities of either Facebook India or the Indian government. Rationalists, freethinkers and critics of pseudo-science are the only casualties in this arbitrary and Stalinist practice of suppressing free speech.

If this is the price we Indians have to pay for upward mobility, we might end up trading away a lot more than just net neutrality; it might cost us the very essence of what holds leaders in the world's largest democracy accountable -- the right of its citizens to question, to criticise and, if necessary, to dissent against populist opinion.

Update: The Indian Atheists Debate Group was reinstated at midnight on November 13. However, other freethinker groups continue to remain blocked.

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