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5

The porn debate is hitting public consciousness (read browsers) with a vengeance. Even as the Chief Justice of India's refusal to pass an interim order banning porn made reassuring headlines, reports of porn sites being inaccessible started hitting social media.

Chief Justice of India HL Dattu had said in early July, "Such interim orders cannot be passed by this court. Somebody can come to the court and say ‘Look, I am an adult and how can you stop me from watching it within the four walls of my room? It is a violation of Article 21 (right to personal liberty) of the Constitution.’ Yes the issue is serious and some steps need to be taken… the Centre has to take a stand... let us see what stand the Centre will take.”

There is no official stand from the government, yet several porn sites are reportedly becoming inaccessible for some users over some networks like MTNL, BSNL, Vodafone, Spectranet and ACT with users getting a blank page or a message saying "The site has been blocked as per the instructions of Competent Authority." Legally India and The Mint have independently verified, citing anonymous sources, with one and three ISPs respectively that the blocks on an unprecedented 857 websites were notified on Friday by the government and should be implemented Monday onwards.

This is problematic on several levels.

Lack of transparency in governance

The secret bans of websites are a non-transparent and undemocratic undermining of the rights of citizens of a democracy, with rules about what is allowed and what is not allowed decided and implemented in secrecy and with no opportunity for citizens to be notified or to have a dialgue on the subject. It is yet another mark of a "Pvt Ltd" government's contempt for democracy that fits in with a pattern of arbitrary restrictions imposed on people, ordinances replacing laws voted on by representatives of the people and serious and unscientific fudging of national data to create perceptions favorable to he government's image.

Violation of citizen rights

As pointed out by Chief Justice Dattu, such blocks are a violation of a citizen's right to personal liberty as enshrined in Article 21 of the constitution. That the government not only violates the rights of citizens, but does so in a manner that leaves citizens no opportunity to object is an alarming indication of authoritarian and arbitrary impositions of morality as defined by undisclosed persons.

Encouraging a culture of sexual repression

I have pointed out in another piece that a society that represses sexual expression ends up encouraging stress, frustration and aggression among citizens. Sex is a fundamental urge and a culture of taboos around sex is detrimental to self actualization and contentment among citizens.

The need to mitigate harms of certain kinds of porn without violating the freedoms of citizens

It is true that certain kinds of porn can influence people into seeing harm to another as acceptable entertainment. Rape porn, revenge porn or child porn in particular comes to mind. Porn with unusual object insertions can result in self harm as well as additional injury during rape. A person's freedom ends at another person's nose. However, there is also plenty of porn that is little more than harmless eroticism and even more that can enhance the sexual lives of people by providing them with ideas to pleasure their partners - something a sex-phobic culture of ours never allows dialogue about, even as they teach young adults about how to be a good husband or wife. Well, sex does make or break marriages very often, and perhaps regressive sex-phobic orthodox leaders can take comfort in knowing that their sacrifice may help keep the marriages they so revere, happier.

If something has the "potential for causing harm" and should be banned merely on the basis of that potential, we'd probably need to ban driving and elections altogether. They have both got way more potential to harm people than porn.

The need is to mitigate the influence of porn that can lead to potential crimes, while respecting the right of people to privately engage in whatever activity they will, as long as it harms no other. It isn't as impossible as it sounds, but it will take more effort than a lazy dismissal of citizen rights.

Can something be done to prevent harm of porn without banning it?

I think it can. Here are some suggestions.

Porn is a personal matter and not government business for the most part. Porn does play a constructive role in the sex lives/education of many people. However, there are harmful types of porn that can and should be regulated – not necessarily banned, but mandatory warnings added, etc. “The following actions are illegal in most countries” is not unreasonable to expect before rape or child porn in a country where smoking depicted in a film requires absurd disclaimers.

Ads like “single moms want sex” should not be allowed – they create an extremely dangerous perception about single moms at large – for example – ads should explicitly advertise either sex workers or sex products/services and not identities as a whole that may not be associated with a default of public sexual permissiveness.

A country the size of India has tremendous clout – if we legislate that porn depicting acts of violence or pedophilia must carry mandatory legal warnings or that extreme insertions type porn carries “don't try this at home” type warning, it helps viewers in a country with next to no dialogue on sex get a more realistic understanding of what the acts mean beyond jerking off. If we legislate that failing to provide such warnings, the site will get blocked, all sites doing business will not want to lose it to competition. It will be more effective than banning porn at large, as the availability of healthy porn and appropriate caution with violent porn will help shape public perception toward a more consensual view of sexuality as a whole.

The nation will be encouraged to have a far healthier view of sexuality if, instead of panicking over every instance of sex, we can encourage a healthy Sex Industry that educates, affirms rights of all, and protects from exploitation.

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.

2

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.

While Jammu and Kashmir has always had among the lowest suicide rates (0.3% of all suicides) in India, statistics show a rising trend (44.3% more in 2012 than 2011) as opposed to a slight decline (0.1% less in 2012 than 2011) in the overall national figures. The dramatic increase is concerning in a state where the ongiong conflict creates a volatile situation or the youth.

Suicide - warning signsDr. Raminder Jit Singh knows loss personally. Every decade of his life had been dotted with people he cared about logging out of life, leaving behind bewildered families. His cousin's suicide left behind a wife and three children, and it was the impetus that led him to start The - Sara.

'The - Sara' is the first Registered Non - Profit Organization  working in the field of Suicide Prevention & providing Emotional Support in the State of J&K. 'The - Sara' is a non-religious, non-political and non-sectarian Organization formed by a group of like minded professionals, Health Care Givers, Business people, Artists, Homemakers, Engineers, Teachers and Retired Government Employees dedicated to the cause of Suicide Free Society.

 Recent Activity - 'The - Sara' in March 2013 carried out a Pamphlet Campaign on an issue "How to deal with Exam Stress". This initiative was supported by Companies/Brands like AOC India, Jammu & Kashmir Bank Ltd., Vodafone and Simula Infra Development. (Pamphlet attached)

Present Activity 
- at present we are working on a Project "Epidemiological Study of Suicides in Jammu" in co-ordination with J&K Police. (Permission Proof attached)Upcoming Activity - Continuing with our commitment towards our cause and Society 'The - Sara' is planning to carry out Pamphlet Campaign with the Theme "Learn Suicide Warning Signs". These Pamphlets will be distributed in various parts of Jammu & Kashmir.
Future Activity - we have moved Proposal with IGP Jammu Zone for establishment of "Suicide Prevention & Emotional Support Center". DGP of J&K Police has agreed to take up this Project under Civic Action Programme. This S.P.E.S Center shall provide On-line, Telephonic and Face - to - Face Counseling Services. This proposal is facing numerous glitches. (Proposal Proof attached)
https://aamjanata.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Proposal-to-PHQ.pdf

Since Suicide Prevention is accorded little priority in India therefore is no 'Grant in Aid' Scheme of Govt.of India to support Suicide Prevention Organizations/NGO's. Henceforth, we are carrying out our activities through donations of few well wishers including some Police Officials & through sponsorships of our campaigns. "I am fighting a lost battle." says Raminder Jit Singh. "Jub Tak Hai Jaan the show must go on."

If you think this is an important cause, do contact @abdullah_omar, the CM of J&K and ask him to explain what is goingr. Why would the state not support an NGO wrking on a subject of concern?

14

After I published my last post on the Airtel saga with the latest threats, things kind of escalated. It got picked up in social media, Airtel Presence got in touch with me again. And a reporter from Midday contacted me to cover the story.

She made calls to verify the story with Airtel.

I got calls from Airtel not to tweet further on the matter and that they were working to resolve it. I agreed to do so for a while till I saw what progress was being made.

Then I got a letter from their official address this time.

Letter of settlement from official Airtel address

This time, it mentions the amount payable without any discounts as opposed to before. Full amount.

I replied to that email asking yet again for details of my gprs usage.

No reply.

Then I got a call from the Airtel representative Kunal again, and he wanted to include someone called Rahul. They told me that the amount I got billed for is correct and to pay the balance.

I again requested for the bill with usage details. This time, after five months of asking, I got them. (more further below)

I told them that I wanted to complain against the treatment I got as an Airtel customer from their representatives making the threatening calls. It was as important as my festering problem with my Airtel bill That started way long ago, when Airtel SMSd me to tell me my usage exceeded my limit.

They replied that they would send me the bills I had requested for. I asked them if they had heard what I said. They said yes, I would get the bills.

So I repeated that I want to make a complaint against the employees making threatening calls to me.

They again replied that they would send me the bills I had asked for. I asked them if they heard what I said. They said I would get the bills.

So I said "I want to complain agains the employees who made threatening calls against me. - Did you hear this"

They replied that they had taken care of the calls and I would not get them again.

I said, "No. I said I want action against those two specific employees and to know what was done about them"

They replied that I would not get any more threatening calls.

I said I want to make a complaint and with complaint number and all.

They replied that first they will solve my billing issue, then address anything else.

I find this inspired deafness most intriguing. Why the refusal to acknowledge a request of complaint of harassment at all? Why not address an urgent harassment issue immediately?

The only guess I can make is that if it is routine practice and accepted to threaten customers as a part of recovering payments, then how can they target only two for action? Action that is regular practice? They were doing their jobs, no?

In the meanwhile, I checked my bill. I am being billed an astonishing Rs.7580.70/- for what amounts to 492MB of data. For a general reference - you can hit this usage in a couple of days by watching a film or two on youtube and checking email (your mileage may vary). Here's the bill.

Notice the difference.

In the meanwhile, information is flooding in on many, many such instances of overbilling and unhelpful customer support. People are contacting me to tell their own stories. And it seems it is not only Airtel. Many people speaking about Vodafone, a few about other providers.

After all, if everyone is stinking, then no one is stinking, right?