Centre for Internet & Society

We received thirty five engaging abstracts in response to the call for essays on 'Studying Internet in India.' Here are the ten selected abstracts. The final essays will be published from June onwards.


Deva Prasad M - 'Studying the Internet Discourse in India through the Prism of Human Rights'

Exploring Internet from the perspective of human rights gives rise to the multitude of issues such as right to privacy, freedom of expression, accessibility. Pertinent socio-political and legal issues related to Internet which was widely debated upon in the past one year in India includes lack of freedom of expression on Internet and Section 66A of Information Technology Act, 2000. The recent net neutrality debate in India has also evoked deliberation about the right of equal accessibility to Internet and to maintain Internet as a democratic space. The repercussions of ‘Right to be Forgotten’ law of European Union also had led to debate of similar rights in Indian context. Interestingly all these issues have an underlying thread of human right perspective connecting them and need pertinent deliberation from human rights perspective.

This paper is an attempt to understand and analyze theses issues from the human rights angle and also how they have contributed in evolving an understanding and perspective amongst the digitally conscious Indian’s to ensure the democratic nature of “Internet” is perceived. Moreover, analysis of these three issues would also help in emphasizing upon the need for a right-based approach in studying Internet in India.


Dibyajyoti Ghosh - 'Indic Scripts and the Internet'

Whereas the status of the internet in India is similar to the status of the internet in similar economies with low-penetration and a primarily mobile-based future, an alphabetically diverse nation such as India has its added worries. Whereas the 1990s saw an overdomination of English given the linguistic communities which were developing the world of computers and the world of the internet, by 2015, some of the disparity with offline linguistic patterns has been reduced. However, for Indic scripts, much less development has taken place. If one is studying the internet in India, chances are one is studying it in English.

What does this hold for the future of these Indic scripts? Given the multilingual skills of Indian school-goers and the increasing amount of daily reading time of those connected to the internet (which is somewhere between 12% and 20% of the population) being devoted to reading on the internet, chances are reading is increasingly in English. In this essay, I shall attempt to study the effects this has on the internet population of India, some of which are as follows.

  • The kind of mimetic desire it causes
  • The degneration in spelling skills caused due to transliteration
  • The effacement of non-digitised Indic verbal texts


Divij Joshi - 'The Internet in the Indian Judicial Imagination'

The first mention of the 'Internet' in the vocabulary of Indian judicial system was a fleeting reference to its radical capability to allow access to knowledge. In one of its most recent references, it expounded upon and upheld the idea of the Internet as a radical tool for free expression, announcing its constitutional significance for free speech.

The judicial imagination of the Internet – the understanding of its capabilities and limitations, its actors and constituents, as reflected in the judgements of Indian courts – plays a major role in shaping the Internet in India, both reflecting and defining conceptions of the Internet and its relationship with society, law, and public policy.

This essay is an attempt to use legal and literary theory to study the archives of judicial decisions, tracing the history of the Internet in India through the lens of judicial trends, and also to look at how the judiciary has defined its own role in relation to the Internet. It attempts a vital study of how courts in India have conceptualized and understood the Internet, and how these conceptions have, in turn, impacted the influence of the Internet on Indian society.


Ipsita Sengupta

The proposed essay will make observations of a specific kind of conversation that takes place on the social media platform of YouTube. The conclusive argument is imagined along questions of high versus low culture, as described below.

Under study are two objects- one, particular YouTube videos which play Rabindra-Sangeet, i.e. songs penned and composed in the late 19- early 20th centuries by the Bengali writer and artist Rabindranath Tagore, the body of work which today has become a genre of Indian music; and the second, comments that these videos receive from users of the site.

Visuals of YouTube song videos of Rabindra-Sangeet are of many kinds. So are renditions, with solitary or duet or band performances, and with varying pace and instrumental accompaniment.

The videos which have visuals from contemporary cinema, like images of urban youth, and the remixed renditions have often been found to receive comments which reflect/ reveal hurt sentiments of people trying to preserve some kind of sanctity of Rabindra-Sangeet, comments which state how the ethics of presenting the genre have been violated, via their notation and design, by either makers of the film in the song’s incorporation, or by the way young pop stars have been placed in particular montages.

Some examples:

In such a scenario, YouTube as medium of user-generated expression becomes interesting to analyse individual and group dynamics- given the space for commenting (below the video), and statistical data such as “Likes”, “Dislikes”, and “Views”. The debate here is that in Tagore’s “Nationalism”, when he himself is seen to have an imagination of the human race beyond patriotic groupings and consequent othering, does this apparent need to avoid “insulting” his compositions by preserving an intangible art form in a particular way, become then a type of jingoism of region or identity? And what is this Benjaminian “aura” of the “original” that listeners look for in their experience of these videos?


Laird Brown - 'Dharamsala Networked'

Three hours after regulations governing public access to WiFi in India were changed in 2005 the first router went up in Dharamsala. It was homemade, open source, and eventually, “monkey proof.” Something unimaginable had happened: high-speed Internet access in one of India’s most difficult physical geographies. Dharamsala has also become one of India's interesting information networks and has a burgeoning, unlikely 'tech scene’. But is it so unlikely?

Since 1959 Dharamsala has been home to the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan people and, government in exile. This single, significant incident possibly set in motion a number of factors that made it possible for the mountain-town to become a political, global, communications. However, much like the rest of India, the region struggles for human and environmental rights against fractured ideas of 'development'. This essay will draw on archives and interviews to unpack this microcosmic tale of Internet access, its histories and economics and the factors at play in shaping it - mundane and maverick, familiar and outlier.


Maitrayee Deka - 'WhatsApp Economy'

Everyone around us is connected to the Internet through some or other electronic devices, phones, laptops, and tablets. However, not everyone use Internet for the same purpose. Through an ethnographic account of the usage of WhatsApp messages by the traders in three electronic bazaars in Delhi, Palika Bazaar, Nehru Place and Lajpat Rai Market, we see how Internet on the phone is used predominantly for business purpose. The paper seeks to examine how Whatsapp messages, which are for most of the users a medium for social communication, for the traders in Delhi, become a mode to establish business contact with their counterparts in China. From sharing of pictures of new tools to quoting prices of different products, Whatsapp messages become the lifeline of what many has termed as ‘globalization from below’. This paper argues what has started as economic exchanges through Whatsapp messages may start a new political alliance of similar mass markets in Asia. With the electronic bazaars in Delhi facing stiff competition from formal business actors both online and offline, the WhatsApp messages that is a space of new innovations and trade alliances could sustain the mass markets in India.


Purbasha Auddy - 'Citizens and their Internet'

Suddenly it seems internet data package on mobile phones is the reply to the problems in India. As mobile phones remain with us most of the time, it is as if we are ready to face the world if our mobile phones have a data package. Yes, several television commercials in India are gleefully harping on the notes of knowledge, empowerment and freedom. Moreover, internet is being identified as a virtual institution.

The essay proposes to look into those advertisements which talk about the internet to promote data packages, mobile phones or apps. Through this, the essay firstly, would like to construct the idea of the internet using the Indian citizen who is depicted as smart and almost infallible. Secondly, on the other hand, the essay would analyse how an affirmative and constructive view of using the internet in the minds of citizens has been generated by these advertisements, like the virtual world of the internet can save you from any drastic situation.

Advertisements are creative constructs, which have a strong aptitude to entice target consumers. While studying the internet in India, studying the ‘texts’ of Indian advertisements which refer to the act of ‘consuming’ the internet could result in an interesting study.


Sailen Routray - 'The Many Lives and Sites of Internet in Bhubaneswar'

Those of us who have jumped or meandered across to the wrong (or perhaps the right) side of thirty by now, first came to consume internet in what were called, and are still called, cyber cafes or internet cafes. Their numbers in big Indian cities is dwindling because of the increasing ubiquity of smartphone, and netbooks and data cards. The cyber café seems to be inexorably headed the way of the STD booth in the geography of large Indian cities. The present paper is a preliminary step towards capturing some of the experience of running and using internet cafes. With ethnographic fieldwork with cyber café owners and internet users in these cafes in the Chandrasekharpur area of Bhubaneswar (where the largest section of the computer industry in the state of Odisha is located), this paper tries to capture experiences that lie at the interstices of ‘objects’ and spaces - experiences that are at the same time a history of the internet as well as a personal history of the city.


Sarah McKeever - 'Quantity over Quality: Social Media and the New Class System in India'

From the humblest mobile phones to the most sophisticated computers, the Internet is everywhere and nowhere in India. The boundaries, the contours of the space remain nebulous and opaque. When engaging with social media in urban India in particular, we are bound to the conventions of corporations which demand quantity over quality creating a new class system of the Internet: those who are “active” – and therefore a “better” user – and those who have seemingly failed to keep up with the demands of the medium, buried in the ever­‐growing noise and chaos. The creation of a new class system on the Internet, based on Western corporate desire for data, has shaped who is seen and heard on the Internet in India.

Based on fieldwork in New Delhi which examines the impact of the Internet on offline social movements – including the anti corruption movement in 2011 and the Delhi Rape Case in 2012 – I will argue that the study of the Internet in India can reinforce Western corporate conceptions of how to use the Internet properly among various users involved in the movements. By challenging these preconceptions, this essay will engage with issues of Western corporate notions of Internet use and how we engage with and find participants, how we evaluate what is “good” use of the Internet, and the creation of a new class system on the Internet in India.


Smarika Kumar - 'Governing Speech on the Internet: Transforming the Public Sphere through Policymaking'

In the privatised spaces of the World Wide Web and the internet, how does one make sense of speech? Should speech in such a space be understood as the product of a marketplace of ideas? Or should its role in democratic participation be recognised by contextualising the internet as part of the Habermasian public sphere? These questions have interesting implications for the regulation of speech on the internet, as they employ different principles in understanding speech. Recent scholarship has argued for the benefits of employing the public sphere approach to the internet and thus recognising its democratic potential. But taking into account that all speech is inherently made in private spaces on the internet, the application of this approach is far from simple.

This creates a tension between the marketplace of ideas and the public sphere approaches to speech on the internet in policymaking. I propose to explore how legal and regulatory mechanisms manage these tensions by creating governance frameworks for the internet: I argue that through the use of policy and regulation, the private marketplace of the internet is sought to be reined in and reconciled to the public sphere, which is mostly represented through legislations governing the internet. I propose that this less-than-perfect reconciliation then manages to modify the very idea of the public sphere itself in the Indian context, by infusing participation of the "other" on the internet through indirect means.


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