Can India control blasphemous web content?

CIOL Bureau
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NEW DELHI, INDIA: Picture this. An adult website,, which is being hosted overseas, features 'Om' - a symbol of faith associated with millions of Hindus worldwide. There are several such websites and social media pages that propagate blasphemous content and hate speech over the Internet.


Leave aside the debate over free speech, the new Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 that have been recently released by the the Ministry of Communications and IT under section 6A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, gives more teeth and empowers netizens to report objectionable content.

As per the IT Rules 2011 issued by the Ministry of IT and Communications under Section 79 of the Indian IT Act, websites shall inform users not to publish any material that is “blasphemous, would incite hatred, is ethnically objectionable, would infringe on patents, or threaten India’s unity or public order.”

The new notification restricts blasphemous, defamatory, harassing, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic and libelous content as well as information that violates homeland security, and advocates its removal through intermediaries, including Internet service providers (ISPs), hosting companies and social networks. But many companies including Google are not happy with it. Many feel that the new rules may affect their business.


The change in ruleassumes significance in the backdrop of the reports that online porn encourages sex offenders.

The Act also defines the process for the content removal. The government can block access to any Web content, page or site that it seems objectionable through intermediaries sans public disclosure.

The guidelines calls for the intermediaries to strictly follow the provisions of the Act. It says that intermediaries shall report such cases with Indian Computer Emergency Response Team and other government agencies.


Speaking to CIOL, Subho Ray, president, Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) said that the formulation of new law is good and seems a rectified version of the previous IT Act.

“It allows blockage of the defamatory and blasphemous content. The section 79 has been improved, and defines the liability of intermediaries,” he said.

Ray said that the government can initiate action and ask intermediaries to block porn or blasphemous site and it also empowers Internet users to report such cases.


“The new notification also defines various conditions to monitor the suspicious people for the interest of nation,” he added.

From March 2010 to March 2011, the DoT have received over 20 requests for information block, while only 11 websites have been disbanded in compliance with respective court orders so far.

Action taken under Indian Penal Code


Ray said that the authorities can remove such content and take necessary action whenever required under existing Indian Penal Code (IPC).

In 2004, a top executive of eBay India was arrested as its Indian interface had intended to sell a video clip of a teenage couple having sex.

In 2009, the government put a ban on a pornographic comic story website, Savita Bhabhi. While in another case, the government had disbanded US-based author’s biography of Mohandas K Gandhi.


In February this year, the government had to block a hate page on with the court order from a Mumbai magistrate.

Still only time can tell how effectively the government can block contents, as they take new avatars the moment they are blocked.