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Delhi HC Gives Gov 6 Weeks to Consider Unblocking Satirical “Dowry Calculator” Website If Disclaimer Added

Although a satirical take on the social evils of dowry, the website was blocked following complaints from MP Jyotiraditya Scindia and former Minister of MWCD Maneka Gandhi

Last week, the Delhi High Court gave the Indian government six weeks to consider unblocking Tanul Thakur’s satirical website “Dowry Calculator” provided it added a “suitable disclaimer”, the Internet Freedom Foundation reported.

Thakur, whose website was blocked under Section 69A of the IT Act in 2018, was provided neither a notice nor a hearing on the blocking at the time.

During Inter-Ministerial Committee hearings reviewing Dowry Calculator’s blocking last year, the Indian government argued that the website was problematic as it lacked a disclaimer. However, Thakur’s suggestion of inserting a “suitable disclaimer” during the hearings was reportedly rejected without providing any reasons. A disclaimer would be a less restrictive alternative to wholesale website blocking, the Internet Freedom Foundation added.

Senior Advocate Siddharth Aggarwal appearing for Thakur submitted the disclaimer to the Court on July 20th. Justice Subramanium Prasad listed the next hearing for October 4th.

Tell me about this case?: Although a satirical take on the social evils of dowry, the website was blocked following complaints from MP Jyotiraditya Scindia and former Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi. After the blocking in 2018, Thakur moved the Delhi High Court in 2019 for a copy of the blocking order, adding that users should be provided with hearings before content is blocked under Section 69A. In May last year, the Court directed the IT Ministry to give Thakur a copy of the order, and conduct a “post-decisional hearing” on the Section 69A order. While Thakur received a redacted order, and pled his case before an Inter-Ministerial Committee, the website remained blocked. Thakur subsequently filed a fresh petition before the Court, challenging the IT Ministry’s decision to block Dowry Calculator in 2018 and 2022—which is what the current case is about.

What happened earlier?: Back when this case was first heard in January, Thakur informed the Delhi High Court that while he had been reluctant to add a ‘satire’ disclaimer to the website, he later agreed to it. However, Thakur claimed the government refused to unblock the site regardless of whether it carries the disclaimer. Thakur argued that highlighting social evils cannot be a ground to block content online and that doing so would run contrary to constitutionally protected free speech rights. When hearing the case in January, Justice Pratibha M. Singh said the website appeared “quite creative”.

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I'm interested in stories that explore how countries use the law to govern technology—and what this tells us about how they perceive tech and its impacts on society. To chat, for feedback, or to leave a tip: aarathi@medianama.com

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