Can I troll you, please?

A couple of months back, there was an appalling controversy over television presenter Mayanti Langar, wife of cricketer Suart Binny, being trolled on twitter and other social media platforms for the cricketing performance of her husband. The extent to which people would go to abuse someone who is not even the direct subject of their ire is something that strikes at the root of what society has turned into today, led by a group of people who get immense satisfaction in making fun of celebrities.

Following this event, The Times of India ran a cover story on its supplement dealing with the issue of women cricket anchors being subjected to ridicule and abuse for how they look and how they present themselves. A famous anchor talked about how the news the next day would be on the dress she wore rather than the work she did. Another presenter mentioned that she used to wonder why people just commented on the way she looked and not on the interviews she took (either good or bad).There were also misgivings that a single mistake on their part would be hyped up while a mistake made by the men would be let off as just a slip of the tongue.

Public policy issue

While there is a tendency to look at this problem from purely a moral angle- on what is right and wrong, we can put on different caps to analyze this issue.

If we look at it from a policy perspective, we enter into the hotly debated topic of defining what is free speech and how If should or should not be constrained for public benefit.

Liberals freely quote Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution that gives the citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression but conveniently forget the ‘vague’ 2nd clause of the same Article that places reasonable restrictions on various grounds, including those of morality and decency.  Since the definition of ‘reasonable’ is debatable, there have been several defamation and, in what seems to be the popular trend these days, sedition cases foisted on people who might have different ideologies.

The Tamil Nadu government alone has used it to their full advantage, slapping 200+ defamation cases against journalists and political opponents. The Supreme Court, rapped the TN government for restricting forms of dissent and said “If somebody criticizes the policy of the government, if the person criticized is a public figure, he has to face it instead of using the state machinery to choke criticism”.

But what about the others, who don’t have the public machinery to back them up?

Defamation as a criminal offense

In India, defamation can be either a civil or a criminal offence, with the complainant given the option to choose either or both.

Section 499 of the IPC defines defamation, saying that it can either be based on something published or spoken either with intent to damage reputation or with knowledge of reputational harm that might arise out of the aforementioned statements. Section 500 talks about the punishment, with imprisonment up to 2 years, with or without fine.

Recently, in May 2016, the Supreme Court, after hearing pleas from public figures like Subramanian Swamy, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal (there is something indeed that these leaders across political parties and ideologies agree on!) refused to quash the criminal defamation law saying “Right to free speech is not absolute. It does not mean freedom to hurt another’s reputation which is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution”.

Does this mean that every scratching comment on actors and presenters could, potentially, lead to a defamation suit?

Exceptions to the rule

There are certain exceptions to Section 499, which allows the harm to reputation, in some instances.

The sixth exception says “Merits of public performance.—It is not defa­mation to express in good faith any opinion respecting the merits of any performance which its author has submitted to the judgment of the public, or respecting the character of the author so far as his character appears in such performance, and no further.”

Which leads us the very pertinent question- what exactly was the role of the journalists/reporters and what constitutes their “performance”?

Would the media company employing the presenters, be able to prove that the only reason the presenters were selected was based on their cricket knowledge and that their role was just to pass on their knowledge to the public? Is there any way to prove or disprove that the way they look and dress are part of their ‘performance’? Or, would it really make a difference if the presenters were selected based on the same metrics that were commented on, in what can be loosely categorized as bad taste, by members of the general public? This is an issue that several actors and other celebrities might face day-in and day-out, especially with the increased use of memes and trolls on social media platforms to poke fun, sometimes without valid reasons.

Section 66A of the IT Act

Section 66A of the IT Act provides power to arrest a person for allegedly posting offensive content on websites. The Act came in the news after 2 youngsters in Maharashtra were arrested after ‘posting’ and ‘liking’ comments on facebook that a political party took offense to.

In March 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the Act was ‘draconian’ and called it unconstitutional as it compromises free speech. The Bench said, “It is clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right,”.

In this judgement, the Bench also stressed that the liberty of thought and expression was ordained by the Constitution and unless a clear degree of increment was present, ‘allegedly objectionable’ posts or discussions should not be curbed by anyone, clearly upholding the right to free speech.

Summary

Looking at the constitutional provisions and the judgements discussed above, it does look like people can mostly get away with statements that in normal parlance would be considered offensive and definitely unparliamentary (incidentally, you cannot be prosecuted for statements made in parliament!), even though defamation is still a criminal offense.

Women victims have an extra provision for protection through Section 509, which deals with ‘Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman’.

A big problem with the way our laws are defined is that certain terms like reasonable/performance/decency/grossly offensive etc. are vague and open to interpretation. In today’s context, where everyone seems to have an opinion and shares it with the world on social media, it is very difficult to differentiate between what constitutes free speech and what is clearly defamation. It would really be interesting to see what would be the outcome if these television presenters did indeed file a defamation case!


Ramdas is a member of LSD. He is still confused with the thin lines separating business, media and the law. Any comments on the topic will be much appreciated.

Know Thyself

So many of us stumble through life doing what we’re told is right, doing what we think the world expects of us or simply doing what feels right. Very few actually ask the question ‘why?’ for all these actions. Those who do often mire themselves in existential ennui. The crux of the question is not directed at a system of beliefs or the universality of certain requirements that society presents to an individual. No, the question is an attack at the heart of all that constitutes the human experience, ‘ Who am I? ‘. Over the millennia of civilization society has attempted to desensitize the individual to this query. We are given an easy road to follow, take these many turns at these points in your life and you will eventually land up at the end, reasonably satisfied. Don’t as the difficult question, it’s just a trap. Yes, ignorance is bliss.

It makes me wonder what exactly would happen if the people inhabiting the planet were to accurately identify their inner selves. It’s in a way analogous to fully knowing how your biological self functions, with the added twist that knowing how your body functions doesn’t give you autonomy over the functions in most cases. Knowing your desires, needs, triggers and fears in full clarity would result in a beautifully recursive process. Looking at yourself unbound of the other parts hindering you and shielding you, with enough resolve it would allow you to reshape yourself as needed. But what is doing the reshaping? Is it the present you or the future you, or a portion separate that cannot be known?

Perhaps that is why it is a difficult question that is so often left aside for safer intellectual pursuits. It’s an ever-shifting maze designed specifically to keep you trapped. It’s an outcome of the observer effect compounded tenfold. Not only does the subject change as it is being observed, but the observer is the subject as well. No wonder then that the existential crisis can be a maddening black hole. But this cannot be an excuse that lets us shy away from a challenge that is hiding away one of the most crucial truths of what it means to be human.

Kapil is a member of LSD. He likes diving into philosophical topics a little too much.

It’s not just you, it’s all of us

In term 4 (first term of PGP2) at IIM Ahmedabad, we had a course called ‘Entrepreneurial Mindset’. The emphasis laid during the course as well as in general management education on ‘thinking like an entrepreneur’ made me dig a bit deeper into what factors truly help create entrepreneurs.

Austrian Sociologist and economic historian Joseph Schumpeter believed that history was important to the study of entrepreneurship, but you see little of historical or sociological analyses of business in conventional B-School curriculum. Attending classes on Business History in term 5 gave me a fascinating insight into how the First (~1750 to ~1850) and the Second (~1860 to ~1920) Industrial revolution changed the way life exists today.

Entrepreneurship isn’t a recent phenomenon and importantly, people did not suddenly wake up one fine day, attend classes on ‘thinking like an entrepreneur’ and start a successful business.

Have we ever really paused to think how the Industrial revolution came to be and why it happened at the time it happened and not earlier? Did we pause to wonder about who the chief architects were and why they did what they did?

Most of our thoughts (if at all any) around the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th century are around great scientists and inventors but not really around the entrepreneurs who really ensured mass production that made the period famous in history. For eg. Most of us remember James Watt as the inventor of the steam engine but not many would have heard of Mathew Boulton, who helped commercialize the product. But we will tackle the differences between inventors and entrepreneurs some other time; here our focus is purely on understanding the factors surrounding starting a business.

Just like the world today, the Industrial revolution was influenced by technological progress, an increase in productivity and by entrepreneurs willing to take risks and innovate to break new grounds.

Technology, though, doesn’t appear out of the blue. Men (and women) spent several years and even decades of their lives trying to come up with tools and techniques to improve the way things worked.

But we need to remember that starting-up a business is influenced not just by the motivations of the entrepreneur but also by the way society itself is structured and also the key prevailing ideas in that time period. Of course, the presence of a ready market to consume the products play an important role but we would be erring if we do not factor in the influences of the world around these entrepreneurs and the officious norms and mores of the society of that time.

Societal influence

Carlo Cippola (the same person who came up with the Basic laws of Human Stupidity) believed that society played a huge role, over and above the physical inputs and the role of the entrepreneurs themselves, in shaping the increase in productivity and the rise of business in this period. Below, we will analyze a few sociological factors which made the industrial revolution a success and also why it happened in that particular time period.

A conducive environment for business and profit is essential for any start-up to move from ideation to development to growth and it was no different even 300 years earlier.

Medieval Europe, till the mid-16th century was completely under the power of the Church and while there were a few pockets of high standard, secular learning it was elitist and mainly revolving around the arts leading to a severe lack of the scientific temper among the general populace.

Britain as the epi-center

Most important events during the revolution took place in Britain and they gained the maximum from the technological evolution. There is a reason for that. Britain not just had an abundance of coal and iron as well as several colonies to constitute markets for their products but they also understood that they could not forever rest on their political conquests. They were willing to learn from the world around them and put it to good use in making profits. Even their explorers like James Cook played their part in understanding the flora, fauna and the geography in different parts of the world. The Baconian program (more on this later) and The Royal Society played their part in making it an ‘Age of Reason’ in Britain and distinguishing it from the rest of Europe.

Francis Bacon, Former Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England during the early 17th century was known as the father of the Scientific method. His ideas on experimentation and observation greatly influenced the way research was conducted and slowly the way industry worked as well, methodical and purposive. In fact, so far was the extent of his reach that Rajaram Mohan Roy (1772-1833), referred to Bacon as the dividing line between the old and the new in his petition to start English schools based on scientific method in India.

Other developments in that period

Much later, Frenchman Augustus Comte (1798–1857) come up with the theory of positivism, in support of the scientific method against the prevailing theological and metaphysical approach of the society influenced by the Church.

While the efforts of Bacon, Comte and others helped established the need to think logically, follow inductive reasoning and generally rationalize thought process, Max Weber believed that it was the Protestant Work ethic that made the difference between a society that lived in luxury and couldn’t care less about doing work to one that was forever looking to make more profits and were willing to work hard to achieve it. The Protestant reformation started off in the early-16th century as a mass movement against the Papal supremacy and sought to control the influence of the Church in life and religion. The new sect promoted secular vocations, glorified hard work and advocated an aversion to luxurious living. Weber attributed the Protestant work ethic to the followers of John Calvin (1509-1564). While the Calvinist form of religion was fundamentalist in ideology, it promoted business since it stressed that material success was evidence of God’s grace. Calvin’s puritan movement and its influence spread in England after the English Civil War (mid-17th century) and his ideology became very popular in that period.

We see that societal opinions have been slowly shifting from a pre-16th century ‘Doing onto God’s Will’ ideology of the Church to one of writing your own future.

Non-Sociological factors

While the theme of this essay is the sociological influence on entrepreneurship and business, I want to briefly mention a few non-sociological factors of that time that also made an impact in the rise of a number of businesses, big and small, during that period.

Financers

Even in those days, Angel Investors and Venture Capitalists were common, albeit without the fancy nomenclature. In the United States, JP Morgan was famous for backing Edison, Ford and several other major entrepreneurs of that time.

While the Rothschilds’ were more well-known for funding the British government in their war efforts, companies like Rio Tinto and De Beers were backed by their capital. The Vanderbilt and the Rockerfeller families were also famous for backing several industrial concerns in that period.

Market

The European colonizers had trade linkages with most parts of the world by this period and they had a ready market, both within their countries and outside, for the mass-produced products which were an outcome of the industrial revolution.

Personality of the Entrepreneur

All this talk of societal influence is not meant to take away the traits and characteristics of the individual but to supplement it by providing a system of support and nurturing to enable the individual’s efforts to come to fruition. In fact, Schumpeter placed the entrepreneur at the nucleus of the economic system. The Schumpeter’s Hero (as he calls the ‘different from the ordinary’ innovator or entrepreneur) is an adaptable person capable of overcoming several difficulties and obstacles.

There were several notable entrepreneurs in this period, who apart from being visionaries, with a sharp eye for the innovation rose above several adversities to mass produce their products. What motivated those inventors and entrepreneurs were the same things that motivate people today- Money, fame and a chance to change the world.

There are interesting stories of some of these individuals and we will hopefully, explore them in a later blog to understand how their personal characteristics and ideologies influenced their entrepreneurial activities.

Conclusion

To conclude, looking at entrepreneurs as individuals in isolation might not be the best way to create more successful entrepreneurs or even to understand the reasons why certain businesses in certain societies were successful. We need to factor in the role played by the society in which we live and alter it to make it more conducive to  appreciating new ventures.

References

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/History_of_the_Industrial_Revolution

https://www.cliffsnotes.com/study-guides/sociology/the-sociological-perspective/the-founders-of-sociology

http://archive.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/uu05se/uu05se04.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protestant_Ethic_and_the_Spirit_of_Capitalism

http://www.english-online.at/history/industrial-revolution/industrial-revolution-manufacturing.htm

http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/06-036.pdf

http://www.economicsdiscussion.net/schumpeters-theory/criticism/criticisms-of-schumpeters-theory-of-economic-development/13005

http://www.sullivan-county.com/news/mine/calvin.htm

Business History, Franco Amatori; Andrea Colli, 2011


Ramdas is a member of LSD. He got so lost in his quest to write transcendental poems that he realized that he wasn’t writing anything at all in the bargain.  He hopes this article will help him go back to writing.

An art lover’s duty

A lot of blame is usually thrown around when we talk about the decline in quality of art over generations, and a huge chunk of that blame goes towards capitalism. Materialism is ruining the industry, they say. What else can we expect when everything is ruled by money? The talented artists seem eager to compromise quality in order to earn a little extra cash. What’s the solution? Some people think we should do away with capitalism altogether. The rest just don’t care. Very few seem to address the elephant in the room — the rotten taste of the consumers. Continue reading →

The Process of Writing!

“No man steps into the same river twice.. for, it is not the same river and it is not the same man.” Similarly, it is almost impossible to step into the memory and reconstruct the past.. ‘the quondam’ into a writing piece. To envision the future; even more. The conception of an event that could have been a subject of exploitation in the process of writing is so uniquely a function of just that ‘singular moment’ in which it occurred, that on revisiting – it hardly tells the same story… Continue reading →

On friend-zones

Friend-zones are perhaps one of the most devilish devices invented by humans to torture other humans. Let us define a friend-zone first, to avoid confusion. You like bae. Bae knows fully well that you like bae. Bae however doesn’t reciprocate. You and bae are good friends. That’s a friend-zone for you, right there. They are deceptively friendly and welcoming places. A second best abode for all those poor rejected souls. At least we’re friends! Bae is fine with talking nicely to me! Right? Wrong! Friend-zones are sad places. A diabolical breeding ground for hopelessness and despair and a variety of miserable feelings. Do they have even a single redeeming feature then? Well yes, they serve as a rite of passage, if one is sensible. It all depends on how much common sense one really has. Continue reading →

Why always me?

This is not the first time that these feelings have cropped up in his heart. He went through a similar emotional turmoil same time last year. These months of May have been bringing along with them a sense of desolation which have fostered from the disappointments he has had to suffer. Coupled with these disappointments, a feeling of worthlessness has made matters worse for him. Continue reading →