After the John Doe court order that had ISPs shutting down access to sites like Vimeo and The Pirate Bay in India, local netizens reached out to hacktivist group Anonymous to do something about the basic denial of freedom of speech that the order involved. As a result Anonymous built an Indian chapter and took down websites one by one. However, the organization felt that to truly get the point across, they’d have to hold a protest, which they did this past Saturday and Tech2 was at the Mumbai leg of the protest.
But can a protest really work?
More than 2,000 people said that they would come to the protest in Mumbai. However, it was less than even a tenth of that number that actually showed up. It begs the question, why were so many people who knew about the protest not keen to actually show up? I think it has to do with apathy. Apathy that one protest will not really bring back access to sites like Vimeo and The Pirate Bay. Apathy that the government will not actually listen to the people of the country. And furthermore, apathy that the current set of blocking sites didn’t really affect too many people anyway.
Most people in the country don’t even know what the IT Act of 2008 allows the government to do and how a basic constitutionally protected right, freedom of speech, can so easily be taken away. Most people don’t know what Vimeo and The Pirate Bay are. Most people don’t know that The Pirate Bay, despite what the name suggests, contains a lot of genuine content that is up there because the site is a reliable way to share content. And what’s worse is the fact that citizens who are aware of their rights, feel somewhat helpless in the democracy that this country is supposed to be.
I went to Azad Maidan. And what I saw was sad. I saw that the only place that citizens are allowed to raise their voices is a place that is walled off and no passerby can look in to see what is happening. I saw the grounds being used by people to stay there and while the Anonymous protest was going on, what looked like a prayer meeting was going on in another section of the grounds.
And furthermore, it seemed more journalists showed up to cover the event than people actually protesting. Anywhere else in the world, if you want to protest, you are able to protest in a manner where you are visible. You can protest outside the White House, you can protest in the streets of Paris, and you will have visibility. You will not be restricted to a walled off section of barren land. The entrance to the ground was hard to find too. I had first gone to the main, big ground that’s known as Azad Maidan before I found out that there’s a little section opposite the High Court that is walled off and has police patrol. How are we supposed to exercise our right of democracy when the only place that the police will give us permission to raise our voice, silences us by its very location?
Anonymous is a loose body of obviously faceless people. There is no leadership structure. So much so in fact, that I was even wondering how this protest would be structured, if obviously people who are hacktivists don’t want to give themselves away. Keeping that in mind, you have to wonder; how many people will show up to a protest where the leader is wearing a mask and you’re wearing that same mask. Don’t get me wrong, a few supporters did show up and they all had their reasons to, but they didn’t know what the plan was and once they got there, what the point of protesting was. The fact that the organization is structured the way it is, works for their efforts when it comes to DDoS attacks, but maybe not for on the ground action.
Ultimately, the main purpose in Anonymous holding this protest was the attention they would get for the cause. Unfortunately, due to a cold turnout, what is being reported is not that people care about their freedom of speech but quite the contrary.
The other problem that the organization has is that they do not have a long term plan. Of course, at this point, governments are used to protests, so much so that they designate a walled off area to be a protest ground with the logic that they allow people to “feel like” their voice is being heard. So maybe this is my apathy coming out too, but Anonymous is going to have concentrate more on getting people to know what their rights are before asking them to come out on a Saturday and demand them.