Friday, February 27, 2009

The curious case of Ajit D-2

Some interesting reading on the case
Lawrence Liang(who has been declared "India's foremost authority on freedom of speech on the Internet", in kafila.org, here and here.(sigh what a bad grammars!)

Dhananjay Nene asks some questions that occurred to me as well when i heard of the issue.
And here is another legal take on it.

And because in times of crisis and protest, we still must not lose our sense of humor, check this site out. You can freely borrow if you wish to heap scorn on the Shiv Sena, Barkha Dutt(who has become the default target for all freedom of speech arguments) or god forbid, the Supreme Court.

ps. NDTV has reported the issue and what a report!! I wonder if they selected their 'best' reporter for that!

14 comments:

asmokescreen said...

Thanks for all the links. I gave the bad grammar ones a miss, of course! The NDTV one was bad enough!! Sheesh.

Let's not jump the gun here. The SC has only directed that he has to face prosecution, not that he's guilty. Fair enough. Let's see how the judgement turns out. I hope that some understanding of what constitutes libel/slander emerges here. Something that we sorely need, not because pretentious and immature bloggers have to be pandered to, but because of cases like the one involving Johann Hari's piece and the editor of The Statesman.

Prasanth said...

asmokescreen
Yikes! In case there was any misunderstanding, I was referring to the bad sentence construction on my part and not to those articles by Lawrence Liang, which are actually very exhaustive.

I agree with you on not jumping the gun especially since I believe he will be acquitted. Plus one thing we must keep in mid is that criminal or not, the orkut community was definitely in bad taste. But then, even stupidity and crudeness do not deserve be treated more harshly than necessary.

The sole reason there has been so much of hue and cry over this issue is its uniqueness as an Internet Case. I guess when it comes to cases like that of Hari, people are already resigned to such cravenly behaviour
Very sad nonetheless!
Prasanth

asmokescreen said...

Well yes, why people would even bother with Orkut communities and their rampant bad taste and immaturity is beyond me. But that's not the issue, no?
In fact, I think bloggers are over-reacting here.It is not YET a freedom-of-expression issue. The SC directive is not a conviction, merely that the case should be tried. And it is not even a blogger whose individual opinion is being quashed here! It is an issue of accountability. Are you accountable for what gets posted on your site? (Of course the rich irony here is that it is the Shiv Sena that's complaining.)

It seems to me that there is a lot of inadequate info that bloggers are reacting to. Not that I endorse this blogger's view, but there's more info, and history, here:
http://www.gauravonomics.com/blog/shiv-senas-orkut-campaign-the-limits-to-freedom-of-expression-in-an-intolerant-india/

Let's wait and see.

BTW: About the Statesman editor's case. What worries me about the ire against Hari's article is the implication for atheists. However, I do believe that The Stateman has to take responsibilty for the rioting that followed. I have a lot of respect for the paper, but they must have known this would happen. In that sense they are complicit.

The Quirky Indian said...

"However, I do believe that The Stateman has to take responsibilty for the rioting that followed. I have a lot of respect for the paper, but they must have known this would happen. In that sense they are complicit."

SS, that's a real shocker, coming from you. Correct me if I have misinterpreted what you mean (and I dearly hope I have), but aren't you "blaming the victim"? By the same logic, the poor girls who were assaulted in B'lore shouldn't have been drinking, they should have known it would happen, and are complicit! And this holds true for every single other instance where freedom of expression resulted in rioting and vandalism. Would be happy to discuss this offline as well, as there's no sense in hijacking Prasanth's blog.

Cheers,

Quirky Indian

Prasanth said...

@asmokescreen
Thanks for the link. Leaving his point of view aside, it was really informative.

As for the outrage, I guess one reason is that the Indian blogosphere, while active in many ways and in many areas, has not achieved much of an impact on the political scene. There is, perhaps, a feeling of insecurity which has amplified the outrage and led people to ignore the fact that the case is not about a blogger at all and(as you pointed out) has not reached the stage where there is suppression of free speech.

The trends however, do seem ominous.

asmokescreen said...

QI:
(Apologies for this long comment, Prasanth)
Several Indian newspapers run syndicated columns nowadays with, sometimes, not enough attention paid to how the context gets distorted. If you've read Hari's piece you might have noticed that while it seems to be an attempt to question all religions, there is no mention of Hinduism. Now, for the original context in which it was written, it may not have made any difference. But bring that into a country where there is growing suspicion of and intolerance towards Islam from followers of the dominant religion - Hinduism - and a different dimension gets added to it. What you then have is a piece that questions Islam but is silent about Hinduism. Experienced editors in the newspaper ought to have taken cognizance of this, given the turbulent times and the gory history of communal riots in Calcutta.

Hari's piece is not factual (except for the reference to the change in UN policy). Nothing that deals with religion and or/atheism can be. It's a viewpoint. Now if that article was of the fact-finding, truth-unearthing kind, then I would support the paper carrying it no matter whom it upset. But a potentially inflammable point of view should have been cushioned with disclaimers or an opposing point of view. Therefore the paper has to take its share of responsibilty for what ensued, and not just blame the lumpen masses (whom it is supposed to be catering to). That is what I meant by complicty.

Blaming the victim: Allow me to stand that argument on its head. If educated, discerning people cannot think carefully about the implications of what they say, why should we expect unruly, easily excitable, semi-literate mobs to exercise more judgement? The one has access to the media and expresses opinions there. The other doesn't and goes out on the street and protests.

I am often uncomfortable with the chest-beating over freedom of expression because it blunts your discrimination, and forces you into ridiculous positions. For instance, an anonymous coward's death threats masquerading as comment is freedom of expression? I think not.
You will, I suspect, find my position contradictory (I’m a piscean, if that helps! :)). But my thinking has never been the one-size-fits-all variety. Even vis-à-vis the Mangalore attacks, I condemn the attacks on defenseless women but I would not want to support pubs for the simple reason that I come from a state where women have fought long and hard for prohibition.
Ciao.

Prasanth said...

@asmokescreen and QI
Sigh i had to rewrite my whole response ;)
I agree with asmokescreen when she says that the newspaper has to accept responsibility(not 'blame') considering not just the history of riots but also the fact that the government has been indulging Muslim radicals for political reasons(re: Nasreen, Taslima). So I think the decision to publish the article was deliberate and the newspaper is responsible. If The Statesman claims to not have expected the protests, it has to immensely naive!

All the same, there is a difference we must draw here. We would like people, especially "the educated, discerning people" to act/be educated and discerning. However, in public, especially when it comes to legal and procedural issues, we often have to support people whom we would detest otherwise. For instance, I have immense contempt for people like Ajit D who use orkut for such senseless purposes. All the same, I now support him because his case has ominous implications for my own freedom. It is true that this kind of support/noise obscures the nuances but the highlighting of nuances is something we must do within the struggle against any way of restricting free speech.

There seem to be too many agencies, working from different sides, often in opposition to each other, trying to clamp down on speech. It is granted that we have not achieved much with all this free speech anyway but there's always the hope that something better will emerge if we keep up the effort against restrictions while at the same time building up a culture of restraint and discernment.
Prasanth

The Quirky Indian said...

@SS: The arguments that you have used are not new, but the fact that it is you who has used them is very disappointing and disheartening! My responses in italics.

@Prasanth: Please accept my apologies as well!

QI:
(Apologies for this long comment, Prasanth)
Several Indian newspapers run syndicated columns nowadays with, sometimes, not enough attention paid to how the context gets distorted. If you've read Hari's piece you might have noticed that while it seems to be an attempt to question all religions, there is no mention of Hinduism. Now, for the original context in which it was written, it may not have made any difference. But bring that into a country where there is growing suspicion of and intolerance towards Islam from followers of the dominant religion - Hinduism - and a different dimension gets added to it. What you then have is a piece that questions Islam but is silent about Hinduism. Experienced editors in the newspaper ought to have taken cognizance of this, given the turbulent times and the gory history of communal riots in Calcutta.

The article questioned both Islam and Christianity, and was contextually not rooted in India. Hence the non-inclusion of Hinduism. If your argument is that it should have also included Hinduism in its criticism to make it valid in your eyes, then I really have nothing to say to that, since my stand on the issue is not rooted in religion. Even so, I didn’t hear of any rioting by either Christians or Muslims on account of this article in the UK, neither did I hear of Christians rioting in Calcutta. Having said that, since you are fond of standing arguments on their heads, would you accept the argument that a Hindu apologist might make – that every article of debate on Hinduism be accompanied by a discussion of all religions in India to make it valid? I also wonder what your views on the Hussain affair or the Laines affair are? You would be happy to know that you argument here is very similar to what the Hindu zealots made to justify their attack on Hussain, asking why he didn’t take similar creative liberties with the Prophet. What are your views on that, btw?

Hari's piece is not factual (except for the reference to the change in UN policy). Nothing that deals with religion and or/atheism can be. It's a viewpoint. Now if that article was of the fact-finding, truth-unearthing kind, then I would support the paper carrying it no matter whom it upset. But a potentially inflammable point of view should have been cushioned with disclaimers or an opposing point of view. Therefore the paper has to take its share of responsibilty for what ensued, and not just blame the lumpen masses (whom it is supposed to be catering to). That is what I meant by complicty.

It is a viewpoint, an opinion on the growing intolerance that seems to be the hallmark of the age we live in. Every dissenting view on religion can be seen as potentially inflammable, and as you have rightly pointed out, no article on religion can be of the fact-finding, truth-unearthing kind. So do we stop every debate on religion, because we fear that mobs will take to the streets at every little alleged provocation? Or because we fear that publishers and translators will be arrested or even murdered, or publishing houses firebombed? Or painting galleries vandalised? Are you saying that we should accept every single piece of scripture as unquestionable and not open to debate?

Blaming the victim: Allow me to stand that argument on its head. If educated, discerning people cannot think carefully about the implications of what they say, why should we expect unruly, easily excitable, semi-literate mobs to exercise more judgement? The one has access to the media and expresses opinions there. The other doesn't and goes out on the street and protests.

There is no excuse for people to take the law into their own hands because they don’t agree with an opinion. Protest by all means – but there are peaceful means of protest. Today a riot takes place because of a painting, or a cartoon or an article. It might be because of what someone wore tomorrow. You have in your blog expressed opinions critical of Hinduism, its treatment of women etc. Assume some unruly, easily excitable, semi-literate mobs (Hindu, of course) rioted and resorted to vandalism because they did not agree with what you wrote. Would you still be as understanding, as quick to rationalise rioting? Would you still blame yourself for complicity? Or would you write an outraged piece on the myth of Hindu tolerance?

I am often uncomfortable with the chest-beating over freedom of expression because it blunts your discrimination, and forces you into ridiculous positions. For instance, an anonymous coward's death threats masquerading as comment is freedom of expression? I think not.

I don’t think you have the right analogy. Freedom of expression doesn’t reside in anonymity….in each and every case where the question of freedom of expression has come up, the dissenting view/action has been public, and the dissenter has publicly “owned” her “work”.

You will, I suspect, find my position contradictory (I’m a piscean, if that helps! :)). But my thinking has never been the one-size-fits-all variety. Even vis-à-vis the Mangalore attacks, I condemn the attacks on defenseless women but I would not want to support pubs for the simple reason that I come from a state where women have fought long and hard for prohibition.

Again, wrong argument. You condemn the attack on defenceless women. Great. And you might not support pubs or alcohol. That is your prerogative. The question implicit in my original comment (which you still haven’t answered) was, do you support the right of women to go to pubs if they so choose? Because, if you do, going by your very arguments implicating the Statesman and Hari, how can you say that these women were not responsible for, and complicit in, the attacks on them? Of course, if you don’t support the right of those women to choose, then there really isn’t any point in having this debate, is there?

I am sure you know this, but nothing personal is intended. Cheers.

asmokescreen said...

QI:

1. I did not question the validity of Hari's argument. I pointed out that the context is distorted when removed from what counts as religion in the West. That means it becomes subject to a different interpretation, not that the argument is invalid. So the similarity you see with Hindu apologist arguments utterly confounds me. You are, of course, entitled to your interpretations.

2. Perhaps you failed to notice (beats me how) that I did not discuss Hari's argument itself(even though I'm agnostic and quite easily identify with it) but merely pointed out that the newspaper knew that a population that is already on the defensive is bound to react. Perhaps you failed to notice (beats me how) that I suggested the newspaper should have indicated its knowledge of the slant.

3. And perhaps you also failed to notice that I did not justify or support the riots. I said that the newspaper also has its share of responsibility. Both the publication of the article and the ensuing riots are politically motivated acts. It would be naive not to see that. So your "should we stop all debate ... " utterly confounds me again.

4. Supporting women's right to choice and supporting pubs are not the same thing at all for me. One may very well support the former and not support the latter. If for you they mean the same thing, well, you're entitled to your views.

In debates on such issues the easiest way out is of course to just tar the opposing viewpoint as supporting riots and religious intolerance. That way you don't have to bother to understand. This, in my view, is also a form of intolerance.

asmokescreen said...

Prasanth:

The original snippet that provoked QI and my subsequent responses are off-topic. Sincere apologies. No more.

I agree with your take on why supporting Ajit has personal stakes. I'd still like to be able to judge a case by it merits. Discrimination is one of the highest human faculties. Unfortunately it now has a largely pejorative connotation.

Prasanth said...

@asmokescreen
No issues at all! It was a pretty illuminating discussion after all :)
Prasanth

The Quirky Indian said...

@SS, my replies in italics.

@Prasanth, I apologise for usurping your comments space in this manner, but I hope you’ll be indulgent.

1. I did not question the validity of Hari's argument. I pointed out that the context is distorted when removed from what counts as religion in the West. That means it becomes subject to a different interpretation, not that the argument is invalid. So the similarity you see with Hindu apologist arguments utterly confounds me. You are, of course, entitled to your interpretations.

You wrote: “What you then have is a piece that questions Islam but is silent about Hinduism….Experienced editors in the newspaper ought to have taken cognizance of this,” as one of your arguments. Exactly the same argument Hindu fanatics used to justify the attacks on Hussain – they asked, why does he not take similar liberties with Islam? Why does his freedom of expression only restrict itself to Hindu subjects? Implying therefore that he meant to “insult”….analogous to the “politically motivated comment” you make later. I fail to see why you are so confounded, considering both arguments are eerily similar.

2. Perhaps you failed to notice (beats me how) that I did not discuss Hari's argument itself(even though I'm agnostic and quite easily identify with it) but merely pointed out that the newspaper knew that a population that is already on the defensive is bound to react. Perhaps you failed to notice (beats me how) that I suggested the newspaper should have indicated its knowledge of the slant.

Perhaps you failed to notice (beats me how) that I did not discuss Hari’s argument either. I just pointed out that he was entitled to his opinion, the newspaper was within its rights to publish it, and the fact that people rioted was wrong.Perhaps you also failed to notice that I mentioned that there was no harm in protesting in a peaceful manner.

3. And perhaps you also failed to notice that I did not justify or support the riots. I said that the newspaper also has its share of responsibility. Both the publication of the article and the ensuing riots are politically motivated acts. It would be naive not to see that. So your "should we stop all debate ... " utterly confounds me again.

Really? When you hold a respected, independent and liberal newspaper ‘responsible’ for printing an article that basically questions the religious intolerance of our age, call the act politically motivated, and accuse it of complicity in the riots, you seem to be blaming the newspaper for inciting the riots, and your argument suggests that “sensitive” topics should not be open to public debate. And by implying the riots were incited and provoked, your argument seeks to rationalise and see the riots as a perhaps justified response to provocation. Uncanny parallels with the Hussain case again, though of course you don’t see it. Perhaps you failed to notice the implications of your own argument. As you can see, I didn’t. Beats me how you’re still confounded.

4. Supporting women's right to choice and supporting pubs are not the same thing at all for me. One may very well support the former and not support the latter. If for you they mean the same thing, well, you're entitled to your views.

It seems you have chosen to misread (beats me how) my argument. Perhaps you failed to notice that I made a distinction between supporting a woman’s right to choose to go to a pub, and one’s support of a pub. Did I say they are the same thing? You are completely entitled to your opinions about pubs and your support of prohibition, as I wrote in my last comment. The question I had asked for a second time, and that still remains unanswered, was: Do you support the right of women to choose alcohol and pubbing, if they so wish? Look closely. It’s not the same thing as supporting pubs.

In debates on such issues the easiest way out is of course to just tar the opposing viewpoint as supporting riots and religious intolerance. That way you don't have to bother to understand. This, in my view, is also a form of intolerance.

We have had some long comments on this one, but you have unfortunately not been able to clarify any of the questions I asked in my original comment. I merely pointed out to you that your arguments are the same arguments used by Hindu fanatics to justify their attacks on Hussain, and the fact that by seeking to rationalise an illegal and violent act as provoked, incited and a reaction to another “politically motivated” act, (thereby justifying it, even if you protest otherwise) your arguments further intolerance. It is not that I haven’t bothered to understand – in fact, not only have you failed to see the inconsistencies and fallacies in your argument, you haven't been able to present a single argument to refute mine. Of course, that doesn’t affect the high regard and esteem I continue to hold you in. As always, thank you for an enlightening discussion. Cheers!

Prasanth, my apologies once again.

anwesha said...

that is a long page
and i am the thirteenth one

so by virtue of being the unwanted, should i butt in and deviate from the topic

the great wall of 'Difference of Opinion' aside, i would like to ask you whether your title resonates a bit of the theme of the movie, whose title you have quite aptly appropriated?????

Prasanth said...

@anwesha
The first step in any kind of freedom of expression is the freedom to amalgamate popular culture into corny blog titles!

As for the movie and the situation let me see..mmm..mmm... aha!
You see as India grows older(chronologically), the freedom of speech and the media in general grow younger(ie.louder and immature).
Tadaaaa!
bow! bow!
Prasanth