India orders Wikipedia to delete map that shows Aksai Chin in China

The government had earlier severely criticised Twitter over a similar map issue — the geotag for Leh showed it as a part of China.
By Deeksha Bhardwaj | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON DEC 04, 2020 04:43 PM IST
India has ordered Wikipedia to remove a map that incorrectly depicts Aksai Chin in China. The communication was sent on November 27(AFP)

The Union government has asked Wikipedia to take down a map that shows Aksai Chin as a part of China, issuing a strongly-worded letter to the United States-based nonprofit, according to officials familiar with the matter.

Wikipedia is one of the most popular repositories of information online, and works on a volunteer-based model to compile the information, distinct from social media platforms that have recently been pulled up over similar issues.

The contentious Wikipedia page, which links the incorrect map, is on Bhutan-India relations and talks about the ties between the two countries.

The secretary of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology Ajay Sawhney issued the order to Wikipedia on November 27. A senior government official said he had invoked section 69A of the Information Technology Act that empowers the government to order intermediaries to block public access of any information.

“The secretary further adds that it violates the territorial integrity of the country, and it is well within the power of the ministry under section 69A to order it to be taken down,” said one of the officials, asking not to be named.

“The secretary has satisfied himself that the map has been wrongly depicted,” this person said. In the order, this person added, the secretary states that the content posted on the website is done with the intent to “defame” the country and has the “potential to disturb the sovereignty and harmony of the nation”.

“As can be seen from its public talk page, Wikipedia’s volunteer editors are in fact currently reviewing and working to ensure that the Bhutan-India Relations article and image meet Wikipedia’s quality standards,” Wikipedia told HT via email.

This, however, is not the first time the government has taken up the misrepresentation of the map of India this year. In September this year, the government served Twitter with a notice over a similar map issue — the geotag for Leh showed it as a part of China. The government had asked Twitter to provide an explanation on why action should not be taken against the micro-blogging website. Twitter has since resolved the issue.

The use of an incorrect map in Wikipedia was brought to the notice of the ministry when a Twitter user tagged the Union home ministry and asked them to take strict action against the website. The contentious Wikipedia page is titled Bhutan-India relations and talks about the bilateral ties between the two countries. It talks about the military cooperation between the two countries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bhutan in 2014.

Although the ministry has not specified a time frame within which to remove the map, it has been monitoring the website to see when action would be taken. As of Wednesday evening, HT could access the incorrect map.

If Wikipedia fails to respond in a timely fashion, officials said, then two legal options are available to the ministry. It can either initiate action under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which can result in the imprisonment of the parties concerned, or invoke section 69A to block access to the website in India.

The latter has been invoked to ban over 250 mobile applications, mostly with links to China, including popular short video platform TikTok and multiplayer game PUBG since the standoff between the two countries at the Line of Actual Control in June this year.

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