Outliers 62: “CIS is like the Kamasutra… a collection of many positions,” says Sunil Abraham

Pankaj Mishra July 6, 2018

Sunil Abraham of the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) has been a digital warrior much before online privacy and data security became fashionable battles to fight in India. Abraham founded CIS in 2008 and established the organization as an important voice for explaining privacy in the social, digital age in India.

Over past decade, Abraham has questioned projects — most famously, Aadhaar. Many in the country, especially those in the technology ecosystem, have found him difficult to comprehend. And that has a lot to do with the ironies he lives with. For instance, despite being a vocal critic of Aadhaar, he counts Rohini Nilekani — wife of Nandan Nilekani, architect of the citizen ID project and a passionate backer — among the top donors at CIS. Then, around the time there were raging battles against Facebook’s controversial Free Basics program, which many argued violated Net Neutrality, there were different views within CIS.

“People would ask what’s the CIS position on net neutrality,” says Abraham. “And the answer to that question is always the same—CIS is like the Kamasutra, we don’t have one position. We’re a collection of many positions.”

Abraham’s journey in building CIS and keeping it alive and relevant, after coming out of a near-death experience due to paucity of funding, offers insights about doing business amid extreme polarisation. Most importantly, for anyone looking to build a career in objective research, he and CIS are great role models.

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