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5

Varying accounts report between 9 and 18 deaths in 15 days and 800 instances of poisoning and 25 losing vision among farmers and farm labourers after spraying Profex Super pesticide on their Bt Cotton crops in Yavatmal. While most mainstream media is content to attribute the poisoning to farmers not taking adequate safety measures while spraying the crops, this blithe explanation doesn't quite cover what went down. The government needs to investigate the crisis immediately.

Local farmer leaders agree that there is inadequate regulation of manufacturers of pesticides and are angry that the farmer is being blamed for his own death as though they don't know how to spray pesticides on their own crops. An incident of this sort is unheard of for them as well.

'Profex Super' insecticide - contents, toxicity

Profex Super insecticide by Nagarjuna Agrichem (not linking because Google indicates the site may be hacked) contains Profenofos (an organophosphate) 40% + Cypermethrin (synthetic pyrethroid) 4% EC and its toxicity profile is between moderate to severe. Both are neurotoxins and have been implicated in harm to environment and other insects and animals. Both are dangerous to humans in high enough doses. However, a pesticide formulated for use on crops is formulated with the knowledge that there will be some inevitable human exposure and deaths from exposure like spraying do not seem to be a normal effect of a pesticide.

Failure of Bt Cotton?

Bt Cotton, promoted because of the inclusion of theBacillus thuringiensis gene in a genetically modified version of cotton, was intended to be lethal to various insects that feed on the foliage while being harmless to other life forms. It is known for a long time that pests have developed a resistance to the Bt strains used and thus, a crop intended to lower the use of insecticides instead is making headlines for farmers dying of insecticide exposure from spraying them.

If a company can collect money from patents for genetically modified seeds, it should also be responsible for the damage caused by its products not acting as advertised. But no one is speaking on behalf of farmers. The massive testimony they gave the All Party Parliamentary committee resulted in little more than the banning of one company. In the meanwhile, farmers are naively investing in useless seeds and still fighting overwhelming infestations on their crops.

Dubious logic to blame farmers

While the city based authors of articles on agriculture may see the possibility of farmers having inadvertently killed themselves through inadequate protection, it is worth mentioning that this is hardly agriculture's first prom when it comes to pesticides. Farmers have been spraying pesticides on crops for decades now. In fact, they have also been using pesticides to commit suicides when things get hopeless. It is rather naive to think farmers don't understand pesticide exposure or can just accidentally poison themselves to death. Even without adequate protections, the symptoms of exposure would include skin irritation, numbness, nausea and various other low key symptoms way before absorption through skin reached lethal levels. This is not a newly invented pesticide.

In fact, among the recorded deaths from Cypermethrin includes an accidental exposure that resulted in the death of one man when a 10% solution of Cypermethrin was accidentally used instead of cooking oil and consumed. One man died. Another recovered after being treated in hospital. Similar studies exist for other pesticides. Any pesticide with the potential to cause inadvertent death from absorption through the skin would not easily be released for spraying on crops!!!

Why only Yavatmal?

It is hardly like only farmers in Yavatmal use pesticides. So why has this crisis happened only in Yavatmal? The pesticide used by the farmers needs to be investigated. Was there a bad batch that got distributed to Yavatmal?

Was the pesticide formulated as per the claims on the labels?

Organophosphates are among the most lethal toxins invented by man. While they are widely used in pesticides, depending on formulation, they can also be lethal to humans in small quantities - think nerve gas, Sarin. If a pesticide is not being manufactured with adequate quality control, it can cause serious issues for lives, health, environment. Spraying of pesticide on outdoor crops, while still toxic, should not result in mass deaths and hospitalizations unless there is something wrong with the pesticide. This pesticide most certainly does not sound like it contains what it says on its labels. Either the contents are more lethal than disclosed or the quantities are.

The government needs to move IMMEDIATELY

The government needs to do the following:

  • Issue an urgent - red alert level - advisory publicized widely on all platforms to not sell or use any Profex Super pesticide till the matter is investigated.
  • Collect the used containers of the pesticide (and sprayers and such) from farmers who were affected and have them analyzed
  • Conduct post mortems on dead farmers to establish the cause of death and chemicals involved.
  • Depending on the analysis, remove the warning about the Profex Super pesticide or call for a complete withdrawal and action against the manufacturer.
  • Analyze samples from sprayed crops for toxicity and destroy if found toxic (cottonseed oil is used for commercial snack foods frying!)
  • Develop strong safeguards on use of dangerous chemicals in agriculture, educate farmers on safe use of chemical inputs, provide free and mandatory face masks and gloves along with containers of pesticide (we do it for freaking hair color!)

3

The government of India doesn't seem to be interested in getting security vulnerabilities fixed. A CS engineer, Bhavyanshu Parasher, has been spending his time understanding the current security standards deployed by the government of India in most of its data-critical apps and websites. Last year, in September, he disclosed a security flaw in Prime Minster Narendra Modi's web API that exposed user identifiable information like e-mail addresses and also that there was no proper authentication check for API endpoints. During that disclosure, he faced challenges because it was difficult for him to get in touch with concerned authorities. He mentioned on his blog that e-mail address mentioned on Google's Play Store were not working. We had to contact @buzzindelhi (the handle used by BJP's Arvind Gupta on Twitter) to help him get in touch with the concerned authorities.

"The e-mail address provided on Google's Play Store returned a response stating “The email account that you tried to reach is over quota”. Had to get in touch with authorities via Twitter."

Now, the same thing is happening again. He wants to disclose vulnerabilities in two major applications deployed by the Government of India but he is struggling to get in touch with the concerned authorities. He has published a post on his blog about it though he has not mentioned the specifics of the vulnerabilities yet, as he is hoping the government will patch them before he discloses them. However, this may be rendered moot, as our searches showed that at least one of the vulnerabilities has already been publicly disclosed, but not by Bhavyanshu. That security flaw is in an unpatched version of server software and there is a CVE assigned to it. Fix has been rolled out but developers are not aware of any of this. But then why wouldn't it be so? UIDAI website still uses SSLv2 and SHA1 encoding in a world where SSLv2 has been phased out for over a decade now, and even free SSL certificates like the one used on this site come with SHA2 encoding because SHA1 isn't considered secure. You can go to the UIDAI website and check this for yourself in your browser details for the SSL certificate.

UIDAI ssl fail
UIDAI SSL fail

Bhavyanshu sent emails on March 24 and then again on April 4, but he hasn't received any response. This time @buzzindelhi isn't showing much enthusiasm in getting the vulnerabilities fixed either. In response he just directed him to the public Twitter handle of Akhilesh Mishra (Director, myGov). Hardly an acceptable process for initiating discussion about security breaches!

https://twitter.com/buzzindelhi/status/714658965703958528

One would expect Mr. Mishra to contact Bhavyanshu immediately, but the truth is that even he isn't interested.There is, as yet, no reply from him.

It is cases like these which make the whole concept of Digital India look ugly. There are no dedicated e-mail addresses for security response teams. Official e-mail addresses don't work and the apps are poor on security. It is a goldmine for unethical hackers and a complete deterrent for ethical hackers who would like to help the government fix security leaks. There is no way for the researchers to get in touch with the concerned authorities. A concept like Digital India, without guaranteed user data security and user privacy, should not be promoted by the Government of India as it puts many people at risk.

Considering the complete lack of interest in securing the vulnerabilities, we cannot provide too many details. However, people looking to exploit government data would already have found these and would be using them by now. This isn't exactly rocket science. What data is vulnerable? Let us just say that I have seen e-mail addresses, Aadhaar numbers (where provided) and street addresses and can confidently say that a malicious hacker could write a script that replicates the data for all profiles. And before you think that such things are not done, just today, Madhu Menon posted a link to the hacked and leaked Turkish citizenship database.

A similar database of MyGov.in users could prove devastating to BJP, given that their supporters are disproportionately more likely to have signed up. And while Bhavyanshu stresses that he would not do it, it isn't outside the realm of belief that more malicious hackers not just could, but definitely would. And there seems to be no way to prevent this short of raising a public stink, because a government that claims to be interested in a Digital India does not seem to have the foggiest on digital security and the need to have developer teams rapidly rolling out fixes in the event vulnerabilities are found.

"Seems like the government doesn't have dedicated security team for projects that need immediate attention to security flaws. Instead, people who wish to disclose vulnerabilities have to rely on Twitter handles to get in touch with them. I am doing a lot of volunteer work like this because I like the concept of Digital India but I don't want it without data security and privacy. I have written a web app that will help eliminate this communication gap between researchers and authorities but whom to contact? Who are the concerned authorities after all? Don't give me another Twitter handle!" , Bhavyanshu told me when asked about the current status of vulnerability disclosure. He also pointed us to privacy policy of MyGov and why people should push government for better data security.

The page for MyGov.in on HackerOne - a bug bounty program by security leaders of top internet companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Google (that rewards hackers for finding and reporting vulnerabilities so that they can be fixed) says it all "There are no known guidelines for reporting potential security vulnerabilities to this organization." Even the fact that the app has no known process for reporting vulnerabilities is an immediate flag. It tells hackers that there is no one keeping an eye on it or worried about security. The most beginning programmer puts a working address on Google Play for contacting the developer. Yet, the official application of the largest democracy in the world fails to do it.

Contrast this with the Hack The Pentagon challenge that is actively rewarding hackers to break in and expose security vulnerabilities so that they can be fixed. This is the country where, a few days ago, our Prime Minister gave a speech at the nuclear summit on April Fool's Day explaining the need to fight terrorists using 21st century technology with modern technology.

Yet, his government seems supremely unconcerned about unauthorized access to confidential information. As the UK just saw, in a country that uses technology extensively, a security breach can be used as an attack vector, when hackers hack into the water supply and change the composition of chemicals put into the tap water. A more famous example to recall could be the Stuxnet worm that damaged Iran's nuclear facilities. Yep. Code resulting in real time damage to equipment. We have, in the past seen that banks too can be hacked. We have seen that election equipment can be rigged. What will it take for us to wake up before our money, our vote, our voice and even our physical location is compromised?

It is completely insane to push for a Digital India and inaugurate three websites a month without having the requisite push to secure the data that will now be vulnerable to theft, or facilities to access. If Digital India must be, then it must be preceded by a culture of taking technology seriously or the whole country will inevitably suffer.

MyGov privacy policy claims to protect user identifiable information. Below are the excerpts from their policy page.

1. "MyGov do not sell or share any personally identifiable information volunteered on this site to any third party (public/private). Any information provided on MyGov will be protected from loss, misuse, unauthorized access or disclosure, alteration, or destruction. MyGov gather certain information about the User, such as Internet protocol (IP) address, domain name, browser type, operating system, the date and time of the visit and the pages visited. MyGov make no attempt to link these addresses with the identity of individuals visiting our site unless an attempt to damage MyGov has been detected."
(https://mygov.in/simple-page/terms-conditions/)

2. "Please note that MyGov do not share any personally identifiable information volunteered on this site with any third party (public/private). Any information provided to this website will be protected from loss, misuse, unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, or destruction."
(https://mygov.in/mygov-faq/)

Turns out that like many other things, this privacy policy is a jumla as well.

3

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar converted to Buddhism on 15 October 1956 at Deeksha Bhoomi, in Nagpur. Around 8 lakh followers converted in his steps. At this time he took 22 vows, more like open declarations. These are a rejection of Hinduism as unequal and something that the upper dominant public "memory" rarely remembers. We'd like to begin and end Ambedkar with the constitution and a few photos.

has now withdrawn a book about Dr Ambedkar from school syllabus, because it contained this "objectionable" content against Hinduism. The publisher had added them in the blank space left after the content of the book - not entirely an inappropriate choice given that these are perhaps 's most influential words ever as a part of the 's largest religious conversion.

So much for the claims of Buddhism being "a part of" Hinduism. Unless their Brahmanical symbols are respected, they will not allow the words. So this Brahmin publishes them with pride on my blog and states that there are still Brahmins who manage to be human beyond indoctrinated prejudices of birth. And there must be more.

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar's contribution to the deprived classes of has given him the status of a God among them. Over half a century after his , people come from all over the nation in his memory by the lakhs - something no politician alive has managed beyond rigging up paid crowds and transporting them by bus.

I say his words have legitimacy and deserve to be read. Here are his 22 vows.

  1. I shall have no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh nor shall I worship them.
  2. I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna who are believed to be incarnation of God nor shall I worship them.
  3. I shall have no faith in ‘Gauri’, Ganapati and other gods and goddesses of Hindus nor shall I worship them.
  4. I do not believe in the incarnation of God.
  5. I do not and shall not believe that Lord Buddha was the incarnation of Vishnu. I believe this to be sheer madness and false propaganda.
  6. I shall not perform ‘Shraddha’ nor shall I give ‘pind-dan’.
  7. I shall not act in a manner violating the principles and teachings of the Buddha.
  8. I shall not allow any ceremonies to be performed by Brahmins.
  9. I shall believe in the of man.
  10. I shall endeavour to establish equality.
  11. I shall follow the ‘noble eightfold path’ of the Buddha.
  12. I shall follow the ‘paramitas’ prescribed by the Buddha.
  13. I shall have compassion and loving kindness for all living beings and protect them.
  14. I shall not steal.
  15. I shall not tell lies.
  16. I shall not commit carnal sins.
  17. I shall not take intoxicants like liquor, drugs etc.
  18. I shall endeavour to follow the noble eightfold path and practise compassion and loving kindness in every day life.
  19. I renounce Hinduism which is harmful for humanity and impedes the advancement and development of humanity because it is based on inequality, and adopt Buddhism as my .
  20. I firmly believe the Dhamma of the Buddha is the only true religion.
  21. I believe that I am having a re-birth.
  22. I solemnly declare and affirm that I shall hereafter lead my life according to the principles and teachings of the Buddha and his Dhamma.

High time India knew more about Dr. Ambedkar than the carefully controlled "wrote the Indian constitution" which is about the limit of what our upper caste dominated public space has carefully caged him in.

For the curious, Google up why Ambedkar resigned from the cabinet. Spend some time thinking about it, and what it means for concerns we face today. A great leader doesn't deserve to be shoved into a closet of cliches.

5

Porn has come under extensive criticism from feminists as well. I find this scary. Accusations vary from porn resulting in rape to porn being born from an exploitation of women. I disagree with a lot of these accusations and agree with a few, but do not see blocking of porn as an answer. More importantly, I find it alarming that feminism can selectively abdicate interest in the agency of women.

Who decides whether and what porn should be banned?

A large part of the feminist view is that men deciding what harms women is a problem. A sizeable chunk of feminists also thinks porn should be banned because it harms women. Very few people actually ask porn watching women or performers. In my view, people who don't want to watch porn are not required to watch it, just like people not interested in cricket are not forced to follow scores on cricket websites. Thus, there is little question of porn being imposed on people and the primary stakeholders would be producers, performers and viewers - mostly not consulted in deliberations on bans. Other stakeholders could be law enforcement, social workers and doctors working with the industry and so on. Few, if any women enjoy porn that is violent, but there are women viewers as well as performers who like rough sex porn. Our efforts to figure out a way to reduce the harms of porn don't consult them. In my view not only is this authoritarian, bypassing stakeholders is unlikely to result in effective ways of dealing with the issue.

Can porn cause harm?

There is harm related to porn including addiction, unhealthy expectations about sex and violent or non-consensual sex. On the darker side is a sordid saga of drug abuse among porn performers, sexual abuse and allegedly, trafficking women to make porn, blackmail and more. Extreme and hardcore acts or object insertions can result in people injuring themselves. Those added to a rape can result in serious injury and worse. They can give men all sorts of misconceptions about what women like during sex. And this is "legal" porn (as in not depicting criminal acts) - not even necessarily violent porn. There is also little doubt that a lot of mainstream porn is too aggressive and disrespectful of women for women's tastes.

So are many Bollywood films. I'd argue songs like "Khambe jaisi khadi hain" starring the conscience of the nation, Aamir Khan, with "heroes" pursuing reluctant actresses, heartily idolized by cheering and jeering mob of sidekicks have inspired more non-consensual  sexual pursuit of women than porn films ever will. Catcalls and whistles from the balcony during rape/molestation/erotic scenes are embarrassing cinema traditions. When the heroine can slap the hero for harassing her, and discover at the end of the film that she was wrong for misjudging him. I would argue that public figures and people in positions of authority that excuse rape and hold victims responsible for "asking for it" do more harm than porn. Because these are cultural influences, rather than private activities.

What are the things already being done about "bad" porn?

Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection, Internet Watch Foundation and FBI track and seize servers that run child pornography. Google does not want revenge porn to appear in search results. There are other initiatives by ordinary netizens like Anonymous who are relentless in their efforts in their pursuit of child abusers and child porn. Efforts like feminist porn, Porna porn or sex-positive porn are growing rapidly as more and more people turn toward more "real" depictions of sex rather than aggressive porn that "gets off" on humiliating women. Bishakha Datta puts it well in her fine article on the porn ban, "If we applied the free speech argument to porn, we wouldn’t ban porn. We’d fight porn with more porn, make more porn for women." She is planning to create a porn-o-meter service to rate porn for being child, women and law friendly that depicts women enjoying and controlling the sexual action as well. Top rated videos of most popular sites are increasingly of the kind where women participate and enjoy the sex.

Above prejudices and ethics is hard business

A part of the problem is also the "quality", as a pragmatic porn performer who does not want to be named, told me. If a director fails to convey pleasure and emotional connect it can look alarmingly indifferent to a woman's pleasure. A woman's pleasure can be more subtle to portray and capture than a man's very visible orgasm. It is also no coincidence that most films with good production values and acting and direction also have sex that looks enjoyable for all participants.

While the audience was mostly men, this did not matter so much, but with the rise in viewership by women, this has started mattering. If women friendly porn has demand, it will be created. And it should be, because as Pu La Deshpande had said in his speech celebrating the 75th show of the outrageous Sangeet Vastraharan, "There is only one answer to inappropriate things and that is doing what is appropriate in an excellent manner."

Here is Erika Lust, who makes porn videos talking about the need for porn to change.

Porn is hardly a new concern. Other countries already have laws that the biggest sites have to comply with to remain accessible to viewers in order to profit. Any porn site with noticeable viewership already explicitly requires performers to be of adult age and to sign consent forms. They remove reported criminal porn - because they are here to do business from the desires of people, not protect criminals at the cost of their own business and reputation. The question of why aggression with woman turns men on - whether as a fantasy or in real life is a question beyond the scope of this piece.

Does porn symbolize crimes against women?

Meena Kandasamy, a feminist has published an article in which she argues against the porn ban, yet declares porn to be against women's rights (then why should it not be banned?)

I do think that the pornographic industry overwhelmingly represents NOT freedom but its opposite, the enslavement of women's bodies, the casualisation of paedophilia, the trivialisation of rape, the culture of trophy videos of rape, and all this, on top of being one of the most exploitative global sex industries that has trafficking, forced prostitution, abuse and near-slavery ingrained in it.

I invite anyone to check out the top porn sites to see if pedophilia or rape is present at all (whether casualized, trivialized or in another form) let alone "overwhelmingly represents". Women who participate willingly in BDSM cannot be considered to be "enslaved" beyond the sexual role play. I dare say that if the top visited sites don't carry it, most porn viewers never come across it. If you specifically search for child or rape porn, you will find it regardless of blocks, because if there is something you can find on the internet, you can find it around a block as well.

Conditions of porn performers

There are porn performers who reach the top of name and fame as performers and go on to produce their own content and there are those that do a brief stint and reach a dead end - like the bulk of acting and modeling work. There are plenty of "stars" speaking candidly about the profession, including their sex lives on and off screen when their partner is also a co-star; interacting with fans in an extremely candid manner, including doing Reddit IAmAs, where anyone can ask them anything and answering questions on Quora. There are candid Reddit IAmAs of partners of porn performers who speak of dedication to their work and career; the "work" of porn and sex being different things and even being committed to monogamy off screen.

Technology is killing mainstream porn but empowering the talent. It cuts out the middle man and let's almost anyone work from home. ~ Tory Lane

It is a career choice with its occupational hazards. Not all that different from a film star talking about how it isn't all about glamour but days of slogging doing retakes after retakes.

A construction worker abuses her body for far less money and comfort. Do we call for bans on construction work or coal mines because workers fall to their die, get health problems or abuse their body beyond endurance for a pittance? Is it not supremely ironic that feminists who would otherwise object to a woman being measured by her vagina end up condemning entire professions chosen by women because the part of the body overworked is the vagina? Is being a woman all about being a vagina then, that breaking your back ferrying gravel and cement is no reason for a ban but a far less brutal life as a sex performer is? Or is it that there is nothing to be outraged about a woman's sexuality unless she happens to earn from it?

This is not to say there is no ugly side. There are sex performers who get exploited, who face rude costars and suffer unpleasant sex from both the physical stress of postures for camera rather than comfort as well as brutal partners with usually larger than average penises. They speak of the abuse and humiliation of derogatory co-stars, being penetrated roughly, of drugs and exploiters. Why does the "victim" return to do another film? Performers make compromises they later regret because of the lure of money, like any of us. Women have had sex in ways that strips them of dignity for all kinds of reasons ranging from promotions to desperate attempts at preventing husbands from straying.

Defining the whole by a part

But more importantly, it is not so different from the million other people who "bitch" about their jobs, even as they continue to do them. Go to a corporate office, there will be bitter sense of victimization by colleagues and seniors considered to be manipulative, exploitative or otherwise unfair. Of bosses who will push employees beyond endurance to get the "work" done. Of work pressures that lead to suicides. Students commit suicide from exam pressures. Farmers commit suicide because they cannot afford to live. Bigggest common factor in cases of marital rape is marriage. Ban marriage? Every profession, occupation has a terrible side, but porn and prostitution appear to be two where a professional cannot talk about a bad day at work or problems they face without it becoming the "truth" of the industry.

What about the agency of women?

Whatever happened of the power of women to make choices including their own mistakes? If a woman chooses to wear skimpy clothes and walk on the streets of Delhi at midnight and gets raped, do we ask for roads to be closed to public after dark? If a porn performer faces abuse, why is it that instead of insisting that criminals be brought to book, we act like the ministers we condemn and condemn porn instead of the specific criminals? There is some preference within people to prevent porn, just like there is a preference to prevent women out on the streets among those who would deny them agency.

Concerns about Indian porn performers

That said, while I have no data, my perception is that the Indian porn performers do much worse than those in countries where it can be produced legally. I believe this is because performing contracts, mandatory health checks, legal status allow legal porn performers to build proper fan followings and improve  working conditions in ways that they find safe in ways Indian performers cannot. Indeed a lot of Indian porn I have seen appears to be little more than a shoot of a sexual encounter with a prostitute with little production values or direction beyond showing sex. If porn performing were legal in India, many prostitutes would be able to move out of prostitution and dictate who they would have sex with for an income and on what terms. They would be able to create and sell their own porn instead of being videotaped by profiteers who exploited them for their own profit. They would be able to choose producers who offered working conditions that did not exploit them.

What can the government do?

If we really want to do something about porn, in order to prevent exploitation of women, the need is not to ban it, but to legalize porn production so that working standards may be enforced, production companies can be formed and held accountable for the age and consent of performers in videos they produce and more. So that a porn performer may be able to file a case for rape just like any model can, if she gets forced to do things she has not agreed to do. I have often argued that instead of prudish bans on sex related activities like prostitution or porn, India needs to encourage a thriving sex industry that allows the government to crack down on exploitation and crime, because professionals will be interested in maintaining their licences to operate. Instead of fighting a token war against a tide of people interested in sex and profiteers thriving on exploiting women to provide it, the government can turn the bulk of consumers and providers on their side and really create conditions that deter crimes and exploitation.

[tweetthis]The only answer to inappropriate things is doing what is appropriate well. ~ PuLa[/tweetthis]

If porn is legal, it will become easier to monitor human trafficking, because the larger production houses that earn the most will have a vested interest in remaining legal and focusing on the money and they will have a way to be legal. Smaller operators in turn will not be able to earn enough from meager revenues from marginalized visibility to make the risks of crime worthwhile. It may not stop crimes altogether, but it will most definitely help to make them unnecessary as well as serve as strong deterrent for the vast majority.

One strength the government has, is the same one it exploits when it profits from FDI. The size of India's population is an asset when it comes to being a market. If the government can identify porn that encourages unhealthy attitudes about women and consent, it can pass a law requiring such content to carry disclaimers For example:

  • The following material is a fictional depiction of activities that are illegal in civilized countries - for enacted rape porn or "forced sex" etc
  • The actions depicted in this video can cause injury and are performed by practiced professionals. Don't try them at home - for extreme insertion porn.
  • The women in this video have consented to participate in a fictional depiction of dominance over women. Such actions without consent are illegal worldwide. - for rough sex, domination, BDSM, etc

Given the size of India's population, if sites that don't comply are blocked, it will result in a competition for the market share and allow the government to actively combat harmful messages potentially conveyed by porn.

The need is to not measure porn by the ethical standards of prudes with malice toward the industry, but by the standards of those engaging with it.

12

This post explains Net neutrality and the challenge facing it in India for all of you who can't exactly figure out what is going on. This is not intended to be comprehensive, but it gives you the bare bones of the issue and ideas on how to find out more to form your own opinion.

Net Neutrality is the idea that internet access not be manipulated to favor some websites over others. Unfortunately the user will still be limited by the internet package they purchase. Let us be upfront.

So why, if you don't have a website is this debate important to you?

When you surf the internet for entertainment or information or engagement, your freedom is at stake when you are manipulated toward using some sites over others. While some deals are transparent - in the form of packs - "100 MBof Facebook data free with 100MB 2g" or whatever, other deals may simply manifest as one website opening rapidly while another is agonizingly slow. So, your tendency to go with whichever is ready fast plays out over hundreds of thousands of users. Some sites make a windfall from your unintentional bias (that has been induced by technology) while others may become extinct. Do you intend to be biased?

So what if I am biased? I like fast websites, and they made the effort to be fast for me.

Not exactly. Throttling is more like other websites being made slower. But there are tangible disadvantages to you too. Let us begin with saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch. When Flipkart invests its money to get you on their site, it only does it because it earns more from your visit. When your network ties up with one operator, it is essentially like the taxi driver who takes you to the "cheapest hotel" and earns a commission for bringing you. You have nothing more than the driver's word that it is the cheapest.

If you are looking for a laptop and get an array of prices from Flipkart fast, while its competing sites will load agonizingly slow, chances are high that you miss finding the cheapest option, because you will be bored surfing slow sites while one blazing fast one is tantalizingly close. The difference in the laptop costs would probably buy you several data upgrades that could let you surf and find the best choice.

But I don't buy online.

How about Facebook (which has a history of offering user data to governments) being the only social network you can use because it is fast and even if you are willing to use a safer one, all your contacts are on Facebook, because it is fast.

What happens when you have to buy data packs and what looked like a FREE Facebook pack becomes a collection of 100MB packs each coming with something else free? One for WhatsApp, one for Google, another for youtube.... Would it be cheaper, really? It isn't cheap while you get the "free Flopkart" either. Only less visible, because you will easily use up the 100MB non-Facebook data and you're getting only one pack.

[tweetthis]Is "Free" really free? #NetNeutrality[/tweetthis]

What is the price we pay for free packs?
What is the price we pay for free packs?

Would the cheap packs still be free if you purchased them a-la-carte and added sites you use often one by one - for a price? You'd have to, because using them normally would give you the slow versions or be costly if you use them a lot. How many sites do you use in a month?

What if you are an activist or blogger?

If you get a whim to start a blog, you can just start one today. Without Net Neutrality, your blog would be like the tree that fell unseen, unheard - did you even make a blog if no one reads it? If people get bored waiting for it to load and find something better to do? This page loaded in 2 seconds. If it loaded in 8, would you have waited to read something that says "pay attention here"?

There are hundreds of blogs starting daily. Causes. Initiatives. Businesses. Someone finds a problem with degradation of environment in their area, starts a website to converge resources and information to fight it. Today, if you want to start a website, you buy a domain name that costs about Rs.300 for the first year and some webhosting space and you're in business. If you are like me, you already have a server and one domain name later, you add a new website to it. New initiative launched for a net cost of Rs.300 and some effort. What if all these people would be seen normally worldwide, but achingly slow in India, where their target audience is?

Or, the cost of starting a website just went up to Rs.300 + hosting + Airtel hafta + Idea hafta + Vodafone hafta...... 20 operators later, and most of your website running cost would be about PREVENTING artificial interference from driving away your visitors instead of whatever you are trying to do. Or, of course you can pray that all your visitors have the patience of a saint.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles="true"]Without #NetNeutrality most of the cost of website would be in preventing it being silenced by paying off providers[/tweetthis]

When the Net Neutrality debate was raging in the US, activists had organized a day when websites participating in the protest deliberately slowed down their websites to show people what the internet would be like without Net Neutrality. It was the 10th September - day after my son's birthday. I will remember it for a long time, because almost none of my visitors read a second page on any of the six blogs I had activated it on, on that day. From thousands of pageviews, that day was a few hundred. Who'd want to read another page on a site that just.wont.load? I did it deliberately. This would become my reality unless I was willing to shell out money for faster access.

There is a protocol coming up. Http/2. It is already released of sorts. Google and big sites implement it. By the end of the year, a very popular server called Nginx will be implementing it. Sites worldwide will become much, much faster. Except for sites that won't pay these middlemen - in India.

The Telecom industry has been showing huge profits.

This isn't about not being able to afford. It is about exploiting a ready resource for the profit of some cronies. I have said this before, during the debate on FDI and I say it now. We are not used to thinking of the Indian population as a national resource. Yet, if you can harness something that earns you a rupee from each Indian a month, you'll earn a cool 1.2 billion every month. Whether it is by opening the market so foreign companies can profit, or luring citizens to services you make deals with, so those services earn from it. And make no mistake, even if you buy nothing on Facebook, write nothing, even checking your notifications loads pages and earns Facebook ad revenues. Notice how the notifications are designed so that you can NEVER make out which post got the like from your friend till you actually click the link to find out. That's a page load.

I am not trying to be paranoid or even grudge anyone advertizing revenues. Only pointing out that your convenience is not the goal, the goal is revenue. But it wastes YOUR time. But other services that may be way more user friendly will not be able to compete with a network promoted by every telecom operator in the country. Even if you are willing to risk a slower network, people you network with will likely not.

In other words, this is a manipulation, and for all the claims of "giving Facebook free", as Rajesh Mathews put it, I have yet to come across a single free data pack on any mobile provider's website. You have to purchase data, and you get their crony for "free", which will be recovered from your hide in other ways.

Data is data. What you use it for is your business. When you purchase data, it is being sold because it is profitable selling it. The idea that existing data is not profitable and hence principles of equality must be ignored is discrimination and illegal.

The idea that there isn't enough spectrum and therefore existing services that are ALREADY MAKING MASSIVE PROFITS can hold India's internet hostage for their own windfalls is plain and ugly cronyism, if the government allows it.