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Ban Or No Ban: Why Twitter India Is The Conundrum Of The Coming Age

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Under the new digital rules (IT Act 2021), Social Media companies are asked to identify within hours the originator of a flagged message as well as to conduct due diligence. It has been over three months & yet Twitter refuses to comply with it. Are we looking at a Twitter Ban in India? Why shouldn’t a social networking site based in the US fight for Free Speech in India and much more?

Reading the trending news? Check.

Helping someone out? Check.

Spreading Awareness? Check.

If there is one social networking platform that expedites the proliferation of real-time information & offers tenable free speech, it’s Twitter.

India Faces Oxygen Crisis As Covid-19 Cases Mount
( Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Twitter has been extremely useful in finding resources during India’s second wave.

Let’s look at a few instances when Twitter proved to be an instrumental platform in India-

i) In 2015 when many Indians were stranded in the quake-ravaged Himalayan nation (Nepal), Twitter became the most effective tool for the government to coordinate relief or help people in distress.

ii) Amidst Heavy Floods in Mumbai in 2017, Sportsmen, Radio Jockeys, among others, took to the platform to reach out to their followers. This helped in conveying important messages & averted panic.

iii) India is, fortunately, continuing on a downward curve in the 2nd Covid Wave. It’s Twitter which yet again played an essential part in information transfer — allowing people to connect for help (Monetary, Plasma Donation, Oxygen Availability, etc..).

With such remarkable instances, one may be surprised with the recent Ministry of Electronics & IT’s response to Twitter. In the Press release, the government questioned Twitter’s opaque policies & the ways with which the platform seeks to undermine the country’s legal system. Also, Just a few days ago, a team of Delhi Police’s Special Cell knocked on the doors of Twitter India’s Delhi & Gurugram offices to serve them a notice.

Presumptuous?

Well, to understand the government’s response, the people in India & across the globe need to look at some recent examples-

i) Soon after the Indo-Sino Clash at Galwan Valley in 2020, Leh was shown as a part of China’s land on Twitter. It was not only a far-reaching violation of law but also an open challenge to India’s sovereignty.

ii) Now, who can forget about the Citizenship Amendment Act Protests? Although it might be tempting to talk about the pros & cons of the act, here we would only discuss how Twitter helped forge a false narrative. The violence fueled by leveraging influencer accounts, especially by the “outside miscreants’’ led to the damage of public & private property, disrupting the lives of ordinary citizens & creating a severe law & order situation.

iii) While the platform has been helping a great deal amidst the second covid wave, some of its users are referring to B.1.617 mutant as “Indian Variant” is malicious.

Which side are you on?

Before jumping to any conclusion, it’s essential to note that the digital nation is a non-viable dream without transparent social networking sites. The issue raised by some people anticipating the Twitter Ban is not thought through.

Ever since the government has come into power, they have made a persuasive case for a digital economy. From promulgating online money transfer to high-Speed internet connectivity under Digital India, technology first has been the centre’s governance model.

So, Why Did Twitter Call On The Indian Government To Respect Free Speech?

While Twitter has played a relevant role over the years in India, it needn’t forget that it’s just a private entity. The Central government is elected to power by the people. It’s well within the rights of an MP to make a decision or pass a bill.

Granted such bills and amendments should be open for discussions but an organisation based in California shouldn’t fight the battle. It’s well within the rights of Indians to discuss & scrutinise all the existing or proposed amendments and share their insights. It’s guaranteed under the Fundamental Rights (Article 19) of the Indian Constitution. More so, in case of any violation by the State, any Indian has the right to approach the Courts.

Nevertheless, it’s highly impractical for a private business to intervene on the same when it clearly on multiple occasions has stated, “it’s just a mediator!”

Recently, Twitter said it had received a notice of noncompliance with India’s information technology laws. The notice asked the company to delete critical content, especially about how the Indian government failed to contain the second wave.

Now we must understand that Twitter is a business model & it doesn’t matter to the organisation who gets what unless it generates revenue. Last year alone, when most of the businesses shattered, Twitter was able to generate US$3.72 billion in revenue.

It’s a foreign corporation with perhaps little or no knowledge about India. Founded in 2006, the social media company has most of its ownership in the west. Perhaps a little understanding of Indian History would help Twitter understand the concept of Free Speech in India.

In India, the tradition of free speech dates back to the Rig Veda, & can be traced in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, sermons of Gautam Buddha & also the edicts of emperor Ashoka. A wide variety of views coexisted & can easily be summarised as freedom of enquiry.

The free public gatherings and discussions were held in the universities of Nalanda & Vikramshila. Many religious scholars belonging to different sects & beliefs were allowed to build their respective institutions to spread knowledge & awareness.

Religions like Buddhism, Jainism & Sikhism evolved out of Hinduism & have flourished in the centuries to come. Parsis initially settled at Hormuz on the Persian Gulf escaped Islamic persecution to settle in India in the 10th Century.

Moreover, despite ruling the land for centuries, two of the world’s largest religions Islam & Christianity are recognised as minorities and are granted more fundamental rights in Independent India. If this is not tolerance, then what is?

Does Twitter Not Want To Comply With The New IT Rules 2021?

Passed in February 2021, Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 orders the Social Media platforms to follow due diligence. It includes the appointment of a Grievance Officer, Chief Compliance Officer & a Nodal Contact Person.

This could ensure transparency & timely addressability of complaints. In a nutshell, the Act looks to ensure the Online Safety & Dignity of users. This would also help in the identification of the first originator of the information.

Furthermore, can help punish people for an offence related to the sovereignty & integrity of India, the Security of the State on social media platforms. Also, if done right, this could make social media platforms more transparent as they often don’t take responsibility for fake IDs, Bots and unidentified influencers.

Conclusively, banning Twitter or any other social media platforms in India is not in a good taste. The government shouldn’t be as stringent and look at the positive aspects of it. Some of the businesses in India generate their revenue from Social media marketing. Unless India has robust home-grown compliant & efficient platforms and a very strong reason to ban, all Social networking sites should continue to exist.

That said, not at the cost of undermining & defaming India. Twitter can look at this as an opportunity to understand that no two cultures can be similar. How it operates in the US can’t be similar to how it manages business in India. Indians, in general, are susceptible to falling for the fake news narrative. The list includes the likes of Shashi Tharoor, an MP at Lok Sabha.

If a person of his calibre can fall prey to false narratives then imagine how efficient the rest of the Indians are at fact-checking. Many influencer accounts, often unverified and bots, are leveraged to spread false news against India. This not just perpetuates violence but also adds a negative image of the country on a global scale.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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