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Indian businessman sparks debate on Internet freedom in India

Zafar Anjum | Feb. 20, 2013
Government moves in to challenge gag order on IIPM-related blocked URLs

A Chaudhuri

Arindam Chaudhuri (Photo courtesy

Freedom of expression on the Internet has recently sparked debates in India-first in the state of Maharashtra and now in Delhi.

In November last year, when two teenage girls in Maharashtra criticised the statewide bandh (strike) following the death of the Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, they were arrested by the state police. Police had cited their Facebook comments against the bandh as the reason for their arrest. This invited widespread condemnation from Indians.

Former Supreme Court judge and Press Council of India chairman Justice Markandey Katju condemned the arrest in the following words: "To my mind it is absurd to say that protesting against a bandh hurts religious sentiments. Under Article 19(1)(a) of our Constitution freedom of speech is a guaranteed fundamental right. We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship. In fact, this arrest itself appears to be a criminal act since under sections 341 and 342 it is a crime to wrongfully arrest or wrongfully confine someone who has committed no crime."

When the police realised the absurdity of their action, they released the girls on bail.

The IIPM controversy

People had barely forgotten this incident when an Indian businessman stirred the freedom of expression debate in India one more time.

At the centre of this ongoing controversy is a pony-tailed entrepreneur Arindam Chaudhuri. Chaudhuri runs a number of businesses, ranging from management schools to film production. In the eye of the storm is his chain of private business schools-the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM). Based in Delhi, he is the dean of this popular business school.

What is Chaudhuri's crime? For years now, there have been complaints against the IIPM "mainly around the fact that advertisements about the institute have not made it clear that it is not recognised or that it cannot confer MBA and other degrees". Chaudhuri finds such criticism defamatory.

Earlier this month, a court in Gwalior granted him the permission to block "defamatory" URLs on 70 websites and blogs in India, including mainstream magazines and newspapers. The blocked URLs include content from The Indian Express, The Economic Times, The Times of India, The Wall Street Journal, Outlook Magazine, FirstPost, Rediff, and The Caravan, among others. The gag order was carried out by the Indian Department of Telecom (DoT) that asked the ISPs to block the URLs related to Chaudhuri or IIPM on 16 February.

This gag order has riled up the Internet activists and attracted the ire of publishers of the affected websites. They have told media that "they had been neither informed of the verdict, nor asked to defend themselves in the lawsuit brought by Mr Chaudhuri".


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