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Delhi HC issues notice to Centre on appeal against blocking of ‘dowry calculator’ website

The satirical site was blocked in 2018, and a digital rights group has since been arguing in court that the blocking was unjustified

January 24, 2023 04:51 am | Updated January 26, 2023 10:14 am IST - NEW DELHI

A view of Delhi High Court.

A view of Delhi High Court. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

The Delhi High Court on Monday issued notice to the Union government in a case appealing against the 2018 blocking of the website dowrycalculator.com, a parody website created by film critic Tanul Thakur. The site features a satirical calculator that provides a measurement of the dowry a groom is entitled to based on his age, caste, profession, skin colour, university and country of residence. 

The Internet Freedom Foundation, a city-based non-profit that advocates for digital rights, has seized on Mr. Thakur’s case to try and argue for more accountability from the government on website blocking, such as by requiring that authorities offer the owners of blocked sites a hearing. 

Panel’s stand

In May 2022, the Delhi High Court asked the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), which ordered the blocking, to provide Mr. Thakur with a hearing. While Mr. Thakur explained that he created the site to lampoon dowry as a social evil and not to promote it, a MeitY-appointed committee worried that the distinction may be lost on those accessing the site, and that it could ultimately end up doing grievous damage, Siddharth Aggarwal, the advocate representing Mr. Thakur, said during Monday’s hearing.

Mr. Aggarwal argued before Justice Prathiba M. Singh that the result messages were clearly satirical in nature, and that the website shouldn’t have been blocked. “Besides the cash amount [of ₹1 crore], you are assured a lavish wedding, a land property [given you negotiate your price well], hefty and expensive jewellery, and even a foreign tour with your wife — all with your in-laws’ hard earned money,” one of the result pages says. 

Upon a previous Bench’s orders, Mr. Thakur has approached the court afresh after the government’s post-decisional hearing failed to convince them to order the site unblocked. The Union government’s standing counsel was not present to argue the government’s side. The case will next be heard on May 16. 

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