When tech journalist Nikhil Pahwa decided to fight for Net neutrality, he wasn’t gunning for the tag of an activist. It happened by chance. It was March 2015 and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had put up on its website the regulatory framework for over-the-top Internet services, inviting suggestions on a consultation paper. It asked people if telecom service providers should be allowed to price data services differentially based on content. The New Delhi-based journalist, who runs the news portal Medianama, was worried after reading it. “It took me a few days to comprehend it fully. While reading it, I realised that TRAI isn’t going to listen to four or five people writing to them. It required at least a few thousand responses to make an impact,” says the 36-year-old.
In April 2015, he started the online campaign, ‘Save the Internet’, along with a bunch of friends and acquaintances from across the country. It sought to simplify the TRAI paper and find ways to coax people to respond to TRAI’s questionnaire. “It was a completely volunteer-led effort. I haven’t even met half the people I worked closely with for this campaign,” says Pahwa, who received more than 15,000 responses in the four hours that the website, Savetheinternet.in, went live. Pahwa sent out more than 10 lakh reader emails to TRAI in the next two weeks. “The Internet allowed us to connect far and wide. ‘Active citizenship’ is the term I would like to use,” he says. With TRAI taking their suggestions into consideration, the campaign proved to be a huge success, as Net neutrality prevailed.
The activism came with its fair share of trolls though. “I used to block them and move on,” he says, adding, “That campaign was a moment in history. It will be difficult to replicate it.” Pahwa is now fighting the battle for a cleaner Delhi and privacy rights. He tweets religiously about these issues, hoping to create some impact on the 40,000 followers he has on Twitter.