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Tushar Gandhi: Where is the patriotism online?

March 12, 2003 10:48 IST

The great grandson of the Mahatma has launched his own struggle. And it's about the Internet

"Why should I hide the fact that I belong to India? I'm not ashamed of my country," says Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of the Mahatma. From the freedom struggle to Internet domain names, the spirit lives on in the family as Tushar is vying against all odds to popularise the dot-in (.in) suffix in Internet domains belonging to India.

"I strongly feel that my presence online should also indicate my geographical location," he says. "It's not merely a question of nationalism but also of national identity and pride. And, if it means I have to put in more efforts to get the '.IN' ccTLD (Country Code Top Level Domain), I think it's worth it."

Gandhi has launched to pay tribute to the Mahatma, while publicising the .IN suffix. "I was introduced to the Internet by pioneers such as Miheer Mafatlal, K Pandyan and Vijay Mukhi, and I told them of my desire to create a multimedia CD on the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi," he says. "When we decided to opt for a Web site, it was Miheer who explained the fundamentals of domain names to me, which is when I found the .in ccTLD for India."

Why not "Mine is not a commercial site. People don't appreciate the fact that, by being specific, we are also classifying our site's philosophy," he replies.

Gandhi is surprised that countries like Australia (.au) South Africa (.za) and many more always use their specific ccTlds, but normally patriotic Indian souls aren't moved. Why? The fact is that dot-com domains can be acquired easily, while dot-in requires sending documents like company information and trademark details.

At the core of the issue lies the Internet Management Group (IMG), a committee formed by the Government of India to oversee domain name registration related activities, which consists of members representing Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), the Ministry of Information Technology (MIT), Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) and National Centre for Software Technology (NCST).

There are two types of Top-Level Domains (TLDs) -- generic and country code. Generic domains were created for use by the Internet public, while country code domains were created to be used by each individual country as necessary. The generic TLDs (gTLDs) are COM, ORG, NET, EDU, GOV and country codes TLDs (ccTLDs) are IN, UK, JP, US etc., all 2-letter codes maintained by the ISO 3166 Maintenance Agency.

There was once a rule that dot-in domains couldn't be hosted from outside India, which was not an attractive proposition as hosting in the US or Europe was cheaper and more efficient. The rule has recently been abolished. "The argument that there are better and technically superior Web hosting facilities abroad does not hold water any more," says Gandhi. "We now have some of the best facilities right here."

Understandably, he nurses a grudge against the Indian government for its non-cooperation. "I wrote a detailed letter explaining the need to promote the .in ccTLD to Pramod Mahajan, former Minister for Information Technology, over a year ago. After a long time, I received a message from a secretary promising my suggestions would be implemented. That was the last I heard, and nothing seems to have changed except the Minister." But he hasn't given up. "I plan to lobby with the new Minister and hope I'm luckier this time."


To register your website under '.in' :

1. Check availability
2. Registration procedure
3. Payment details
4. Terms and conditions
5. Dispute policy

"BSNL, The Ministry of Information Technology, MTNL, the Internet Management Group of the Government of India and NCST should be promoting the .in ccTLD, but they aren't," says Gandhi. All efforts made by the Rediff Guide to the Net to discuss this with the ministers concerned and the NCST were also completely avoided.

Gandhi feels that the archaic procedures of registering domains must be made easier and user-friendlier. He is disappointed at the public response, which has been "surprisingly cool and disinterested" and feels that Indians have firmly identified the Internet with the dot-com suffix and have closed their minds to other TLDs."Interestingly, though he feels his is an uphill task, the number of active Web sites using the .in ccTLD has increased over the last year and a half.

"I was once accused of being a regional bigot out to fragment the nameless Internet that was turning the world into a village," he says. "I was accused of bringing in class, religion and caste based barriers on the Internet too, but those accusations were missing the wood for the trees." Not that public opinion or red-tape can deter his conviction. "Dot-in signifies my pride in my motherland. Dot-com may be King on the Internet but, to me, dot-in is national pride!" Spoken like a true Gandhi.



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