Today Facebook and Google were set to stand trial in New Delhi over failing to censor objectionable religious material from their social networking sites, only to find that justice in India moves very slowly. Attorneys representing the companies showed up at courthouse/former palace of the Maharaja of Patiala, and were lead through dusty and ramshackle corridors to enter the chambers of Judge Sudesh Kumar. Alas, the judge wasn’t present.
In Kumar’s place was supposed to be Metropolitan Magistrate Jay Thareja, but he was also missing, apparently on leave. After moving up a few flights of stairs, lawyers entered the room of Honorable Judge Bhavna Kalia. But then a court officer stepped in, and informed the attorneys that they were “in the wrong room. Someone gave you the wrong information.” Then things were moved to the courtroom of Judge Surbhi Sharma, but she had some paperwork to do, and told everyone to come back at 11:30.
Vinaj Rai, the man who is suing the internet companies, had hired a lawyer named S.P.M. Tripathi. Tripathi has stated that some of his evidence against Facebook and Google includes an image of a donkey standing in the Islamic holy city of Medina, and another of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi in a compromising position. Lawyers for the internet companies contend that they aren’t responsible for content posted by their users and can’t be expected to preemptively screen content on their sites. Google had since taken down all objectionable material, but Tipathi states that “once the offense has been committed, it is immaterial what you do afterwards, whether you remove it,” adding that the trial would likely take at least a year.
After the small break, Ms. Sharma summoned everyone back, took stock of all the companies named in the case, said that there were more, and that everyone should come back on May 23rd, to go over the list. This could take a while.