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Even without adding #NetNeutrality to the mix, the relationship between the average consumer and any telecom services provider in India is a tetchy one at best. Irrespective of whether you opt for prepaid or post-paid services, you seem to be forever haggling over available services and the pricing thereof, and, later, about the quality of said services. What makes it worse is that most telecoms have been overzealous to cash in on a vastly viable opportunity without investing in consumer awareness. Thus, most consumers are left arguing with customer care executives who are themselves rarely well-informed about the products and services offered.

Into this already bubbling cauldron falls the fresh bone of contention which has been dubbed the #NetNeutrality debate. Before launching into it though, I must admit to not being an expert in this domain, and am only offering my own understanding as a consumer of these services. In essence, the debate has everything to do with the Internet, as may be surmised, and how it is packaged as a product. When we sign up for data services offered by a telecom company, we agree to pay a certain fee for a certain amount of data downloaded and/or uploaded to the Internet via that company’s network. Now, many of these data service providers threw in such freebies as offering free access to certain websites along with certain data plans. So if you purchased data services for your phone from Company X, you might not be charged for the data consumed on Facebook or Twitter or WhatsApp, for instance.

While this seems like a fairly innocuous marketing strategy – we are all suckers for freebies, this idea has its flipside, which is what the #NetNeutrality debate is centred around. Now, telecom services are suggesting they will charge more for data used towards certain services, specifically those using Voice-over-Internet-Protocol, (e.g. Skype, WhatsApp, Viber), which allow users to call each other for “free”. It is important to note that “free” is not actually “free” –you may not be paying for the call itself, but you are paying for the data transferred over the Internet, whether on your mobile or other Internet connection.

The rationale offered by the service providers is that, with consumers making calls through these applications, they are losing out on call revenues. This cleverly sidesteps the fact that consumers may be paying less for voice, but they are using and paying more for data services. Given that voice and video services generally consume a fairly large amount of data, it can very well be argued that the gain in data revenues will more than compensate for loss in voice revenues. But the argument is about far more than economics. As the adage goes, it is not about the price, it is about the principle.

And the principle is that those offering data services at cost should not be concerned with how that data is utilized, for the simple reason that it infringes on the personal choice of the consumer. This aspect is highlighted by the perversion of the freebie idea; telecom companies can support one product over a competing product for, say, online entertainment, and force their consumers to use the free product rather than pay extra for the product of their choice. This has the potential to create a cartel of services which can then monopolize consumer “decisions”, and, so to speak, break up the internet.

Underlying this debate are the varying perceptions about the Internet – for the consumer it is a medium, like television or radio, through which to access much more than just information or entertainment. But for the service provider it is a product that can be packaged many ways. Already, Internet packages are offered based on quantity of data (300 MB, 1 GB, etc.), type of data network (2G, 3G, etc.), and even time of access (night-time specials, etc.). As already mentioned, avid users of Facebook, etc. can even purchase data packs tailored to give them free access. Such packs also violate net neutrality, and perhaps consumers should have wondered about the catch before queuing up for the freebies, but then the Internet has always conjured up visions of Utopia.

So what happens now? Are consumers supposed to just bend over and let telecom service providers stomp over them simply because they forgot that there are no free lunches? Fortunately or unfortunately, there is a consultation happening in India, hosted by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, as a lead-up to which a public discussion is raging on – where else? – the Internet. For the average consumer, the issue may appear to be too overwhelming, but, unfortunately, it is the price for lunches already eaten without regard to cost. Hopefully, this will be a one-time payment that settles not just the debt but also the debate for the foreseeable future.

If you are still wondering what on earth is happening, here’s the low-down. The Internet has become the proverbial goose that’s laid far too many golden eggs and now those seeing themselves as its owners are salivating at the thought of cutting it up. You can raise your voice and prevent this from happening, thus preserving #NetNeutrality. The villains in this story include some very familiar names, like Airtel and Vodafone and Reliance. But unlike Bollywood movies, no one hero or heroine can step up and take on them all. On the Internet, we are all heroes and heroines; equally, we can all become the villains or the sidekicks. The choice is ours, to write a story that sounds something like that of Appu and the bus operators.

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Decades and decades of censorship using reasons of political violence have allowed the same ones engaging in political violence to brainwash the country into believing that there is only a narrow band of legitimate views. Support for censorship has actually started increasing among those it harms, because the information available to them to make informed choice in the first place is controlled that creates paranoia about other citizens behaving in a largely harmful way. So in theory it is free choice, but in reality, there are two things told. One - what they want you to choose. Second - its extreme opposite. The remaining is gone. One good, one evil, and if you don't choose good, you are evil. Free Choice. hmm?

It is ironic that most of the rioting and violent protests in the country have been at the hands of political parties, followed by peaceful protests converted into bloodbaths by police and armed forces. Yet the fiction that a citizen is inherently violent and needs to be regimented by these very entities endures.

Democracy has been reduced to a label, because in the absence of transparency, people cannot rule effectively. If you do not know most of the things happening, your "informed" choice is limited to the things shown to you. These things are typically without any foundations in logic leading up to them, so an individual's ability to examine becomes severely restricted.

As people's movements worldwide hold governments accountable, governments long used to running aristocracies in the name of democracy are fighting back. Worldwide, there is a kind of civil war to consolidate control over the masses and retain a base of power, because the speed of information has now made the gaps in the fairy tales governments spin increasingly visible.

In India, it manifested as scams and people's protests. In the US, it manifested as privacy issues. In the middle east it manifested as the demand for the right to rule, by overthrowing dictators and turning to democracy. In each case, the governments have responded with an attack on the one tool that makes dissent possible. Information. Censorship laws are mushrooming everywhere, by and large ignored by a citizenry already conditioned into not questioning governments, and fierce battles are fought in corners where people who understand the significance of these restrictions and the erosion of fundamental rights and democracy that they mean.

Be it the SOPA in the US, PECO in Pakistan, or our IT rules. The end result being aimed for is exactly the same. Creating the legal framework for arbitrary and extra-judicial silencing of content the government wishes to silence.

To keep a long story short, there is no evaluation or neutral moderation needed before you are legally required to take down content on the basis of something as subjective as "hateful" or "offensive". Since there is no evaluation, the complaint doesn't even have to be true for taking down your content to be legally required of you. Within 36 hours of receiving the notification (email works too). If I know the ugly minds of our government, you'll get notified after courts close on a Friday, and your 36 hours will be up before they open to just make sure that they have you nailed. It is how they operate.

Basically, anyone can complain and get anything taken off. No, I'm not writing an imprecise, emotional, juvenile rant. That really is how widespread the rules are designed in their power to silence. No questions asked. However, in practical life, it won't happen like that. You will not be able to take this act itself off the net because it is hateful, offensive and promotes violation of the rights of the people. You will not be able to touch the hate speech of anyone who can burn buses on the street in real life. Your request will not be complied with, and considerable legal tangles and evaluation will finally prove you in the wrong (or forever mired in government spite). However, if you get a notification of your content violating the rules, you are not the government. Non-compliance will get YOU in trouble. I suppose eventually you'll be able to contest legally any false take downs against you, but till then your content is killed.

In other words, the rules are framed so that they uphold no right, give widespread rights for arbitrary censorship, and do not require any legal process, oversight or any authority to ensure that they are not being misused. This is deliberate. This is a weapon for silencing being created and has little to do with whatever claim they will wax eloquent in the parliament. If this succeeds, you are guaranteed to have lost all touch with anything the government wants to hide from you, unless you go abroad and follow news on India. The only truth you know will be what the government mandates - the ones the government is not interested in will be determined by who has better organized attacks. And if you have been alive for the last year, you know how much the government cares about what is actually good for you.

Some think that these rules will regulate bad behavior. Not true. There is no kind of speech protected by this law. There is absolutely no moderation needed between a take down request and taking it down 36 hours later. This is a tool to kill online life, not regulate it. Like using an AK47 to disperse a peaceful crowd. Sure, bad content will be killed, but then, so much content will be dead, that it might as well have died of old age. This is NOT regulation. There is no evaluation, there is no process for consideration, there is not even the slightest acknowledgment that *any* content at all deserves to not be deleted.

Corporations will be able to sell you harmful products by the simple virtue of silencing any harmful news of their product. As "independent and individual" complaints of course. Anything you protest against will have the button to shut you up.

Here is why any party not currently ruling party should be very worried. Any criticism of the government can be complained about and removed. Of course, the vice versa can happen too, but a ruling party has many other weapons to deploy once it finds a target. Worse, it seems to be the preferred mode of operations for ours.

To be safe, you will have to not be seen by ANYONE as offensive, hateful, derogatory, etc etc. This is impossible. You can also be hated for being perfect. In other words, if these rules pass in the parliament, we will enter a new low in our human rights history.

The time to act is now. Write to your MPs. Call them to task, or ask for assistance - depending on how supportive of human rights they are. Demand that this law must not make it through the Parliament at any cost. I am not joking. Have you ever heard me speak so unconditionally opposed to anything? that is how serious this is.

Blog about these rules. Read the document, describe it to people who haven't read. Explain the rules. Explain what you see as implications. Lampoon thoroughly on social media. Get lampooned on National and International media for the rampant abuse of fundamental rights that they are. Surround homes of MPs till they agree. Go on hunger strikes, protest, burn a few buses if you have them... whatever. Someone wake up JanLokpal gang!!! And whoever else may be useful. STOP THESE RULES NOW.

Act now. It may be late later, and it may become very very much more difficult to simply disagree with anyone in our future "coming up next"

Without transparency, democracy is dead, because people know only what the dictators tell them. They choose within those limits - all of which are naturally acceptable to the dictatorship. I am not joking. Save India. Stop this silencing being organized.