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.

A Tale from Two Cities – Buda & Pest

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Travel, I have come to realize, is nothing but seeing, gathering, and sometimes living stories of lands away from home. Some are sad stories, some are joyful stories, some are miraculous, some run-of-the-mill; but they are all tales of people at once similar to and different from those we have grown up around, living lives that are often so like ours, but not quite.

Once in a while, you run into a story so powerful, so astonishing, that it absolutely deserves to be told. You turn it over in your head, like a Rubik’s cube you’re at the edge of solving but can’t quite get right. It grips you with the tenacity of a bulldog and simply will not let go. These are stories where words are, perhaps, simply not enough to convey the essence of what must be shared. Having run into one such story during my brief stay in Budapest, this is my first attempt at blogging with both photographs and words. I hope I am able to do some justice to it.


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A little over two years ago, the government of Budapest erected this monument quite literally overnight, from 20th to 21st July 2014. The entire square was cordoned off and guarded by the police, while workers labored through the night to set it up. There had been significant protests against the plans for the monument when it was announced earlier. Why, one may ask? The monument depicts an imperial eagle, representing Nazi Germany, swooping down at a statue of Archangel Gabriel, meant to represent Hungary. The problem, as the Jews of Hungary saw it, as the descendants of the Roma saw it, as the homosexuals, or as any decent person saw it, is this – Hungary was a willing ally of the Nazis. From June 1941 till Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad, Hungary was a staunch supporter in all their demonic policies (including the Holocaust, to which Budapest’s Shoes memorial still pays a poignant and haunting tribute). The occupation of Hungary only happened in 1944, after Hungary tried to back out of the alliance in fear of an impending defeat of the Axis powers.

The monument was a blatantly offensive attempt at revising history to make the Hungarian government, and the Hungarian people, look like victims rather than perpetrators. The Jewish community, in particular, protested vehemently, as did the opposition, rights groups, civil society groups, and the like. Vigils, marches, and human chains were organized against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.

But the monument was not taken down. It stood, despite all protests. So the people of Budapest fought back in other ways.

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The barbed wire guarding the monument became the canvas of the protesters. It began to fill up with clippings, photographs, news articles, and memorabilia that showcased the truth of those times- the roundup of Jews, executions, a few extraordinary tales of bravery (like that of Raoul Wallenberg, who saved nearly a 100,000 Jews in Hungary) and more. The people had decided that if the government would not demolish this monument, then they would ensure that the truth would find a voice.

There were attempts to have the site cleared. Multiple times, clearing activities were initiated.

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The mementos would inevitably return, more poignant and in greater numbers. The entire area became a symbol of honesty and compassion for the fallen, and the locus of rage against political machinations. People raised their voices against a government who sought to take control of the national narrative, not too unlike what we see in so many parts of the world today.

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In an era where textbooks are being re-drafted, where all one sees or hears is “us vs them”, where jingoistic nationalism and clickbait patriotism abound, it is impossible to stand in front of this monument and not be humbled. Humbled by the refusal of an entire people to accept the comfort of pretense, and by their bravery in revealing the rawness of their wounds in an effort to keep truth alive.

Budapest is a young democracy, only about 26 years old. They rose from a “gentle” Communism, which was preceded by a Stalin-esque dictatorship following the “liberation” of Hungary. There is, in the words of one of the locals, still a lot wrong with the systems of the country. But these are clearly people who will band together for the good of their nation. Theirs is not the patriotism so vehemently preached by the politicians of today. There is no loud chest-thumping to profess love for the country, no co-opting of institutions in the name of the “greater good”. There is simply a willingness to look at the rawness of history as it was, and to draw the painful but necessary lessons and use them to better their nation. There is compassion and empathy, a sense that both the persecuted and the erstwhile persecutors must now work together to erase the bloody stains of the past and live in harmony. This little square in central Budapest highlights so many lessons that the people of the world need to know today, that have been drowned out by the diatribe of those who would sow fear and discord in an effort to climb the rungs of power.


Sarthak is a member of LSD and is currently on a “study tour” in Europe. He blogs at: https://thecrediblehulksite.wordpress.com

Croatia, stirring thy soul

Language is a powerful paradox. On the face of it, it just has functional utility of communication. But as you peel off the layers, you unravel an intricate art spun from words. Deep in this web are some words that are special, having the potential to stir souls as no one can. If there was one word to describe these words, it would be exquisite. Countries pose a similar paradox, with the layers indicating only the usage of countries for habitation but as these layers are peeled off, you see some countries that stand out from others. For their nature, for their gifts and for their beauty. Croatia is one such exquisite country.

The Adriatic Sea coast enroute Dubrovnik, from Split

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Love with Prague

I had high expectations of Prague even before I went there. That was mostly because all my female friends who have been there recommended it vehemently to me. “Prague ki feel hi kuch alag hai!” was what I had heard. I didn’t realise that soon enough, but when I did, I knew just the word to qualify Prague. If Budapest is wild, Prague is romantic.

Yes, Prague is as romantic as romance can get. If Budapest is a prostitute, Prague is the lover. If Chain Bridge is about sex, Charles Bridge is about love. The narrow alleys of Prague, with the cobbled stones and bright-coloured houses, hesitatingly invite you to explore the city, just like a lover seduces you to explore her deepest secrets, while holding back simultaneously. But you truly have to be patient to realise this true beauty of Prague, for there are many tourists trying to woo her simultaneously. “A city is not a concrete jungle, but a human zoo”, said by our walking tour guide, kept resonating as I went through this town.

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The wild wild Budapest

Money is a strange thing. It changes not only its color but also its worth as it changes hands and places. And money is truly powerful when things come cheap. For then, it injects shots of greed into your blood and makes you crave for new experiences. And Hungary is an embodiment of that greed. But Hungary is one temptation you should not resist. After all, as Gekko said, “Greed is good.”

Hungary wants you to taste it, lick it, devour it and throw it as if it were a chocolate bar, leaving a sweet after-taste. Hungary has been bedded by a lot of colonial powers, from Romans to the Soviets. Her compromised virginity has now made her like a prostitute, who seduces you into her brothel, wants you to make rough sex to her and forget her, but not the amazing time you had. And that makes Hungary wild.

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HEX: The Hero who cannot be demonetized

 

Dhyayato visayan pumsah

sangas tesupajayate

sangat sanjayate kamah

kamat krodho ‘bhijayate

Lord Shiva woke up from his deep meditations and looked down upon the Earth for the centenary survey of the planet. With all three eyes open, he glanced at the green planet and what he saw there shocked him.

There was strife and poverty everywhere. Millions of people were getting killed by poverty and the many millions who had the resources to survive, had absolutely no idea on what to do with it and wanted more. Hardly anybody on Earth seemed to be concerned.

Lord Shiva was livid. Did he and his fellow Gods go down to save the planet so many times for this outcome? He was about to curse and destroy the planet when Sage Narada entered and explained that the people were not in control of their actions. The parasitic and venomous cohort of demons called Bankers dictated the terms in their world and people were helpless but to follow. The Bankers had taken a boon from Kubera to control the financial instruments of Earth and had enticed the naïve populace by offering enormous materialistic gains on use and reuse of their instruments and slowly but surely started taking control of their lives. Lord Shiva cursed Kubera to find a solution or risk expulsion from Devloka. The Treasurer of the Gods knew that he couldn’t stop the Bankers directly but he knew what could. Kubera took his Yagnavittapustaka, a sacred book with all secrets of financial instruments and derivatives and decided to pass it on to a person who would be able to not just understand and decipher it but also have the moral character to rise up against the demons and defeat them. The book, which he dropped at Earth passed through several hands unsuccessfully and several decades later, finally ended up on a dusty old shelf in a far corner of a library in a Well-known Institute of Management in Western India. An athletic young student, lanky and sporting a mean moustache, finally opened the book for a boring project. With an intelligence to match his physical allure, he was sagacious enough to be spell-bound by the erudition it contained. He pored over the book day and night, absorbed by the knowledge within. Suddenly all the Finance classes he attained seemed to attain a sinister dimension.

Our hero, let’s call him ‘HOMO ECONOMICUS ECCENTRIC(HEX)’ , was no ordinary student. He possessed skills that most others could just dream of. He had an eidetic memory with an eye for detail that could put any detective to shame. He was a brilliant orator capable of swaying people with his silver-tongued oration. After reading the Yagnavittapustaka, his skills were further enhanced and he gained a few extra powers. He became a Grandmaster –‘Ability to mentally visualize all possible scenarios with infinite variables; capacity to foresee macroeconomic events based on their probability of occurrence’. He became Ultra Rational– ‘All decisions were now based on complete information and conclusions are always data driven’. To add to his eidetic powers, he now became a Jargon Breaker – ‘Ability to read through infinite complicated academic and legal papers and summarize in seconds’.

After graduating from B-School with the Director’s Gold Medal, he decided to go to the Capital of Capitalism to tackle the menace of the Bankers who were deceiving the world with their malicious financial instruments. Living a successful life as an academic, he started writing articles and research papers stressing on the need for sustainable financial models and criticizing the current banking system. Using his immense talent, he was able to rise up quickly to the Head the Economics department of the International Organization encompassing 189 countries working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, promote sustainable economic growth and reduce poverty around the world.

He went about exposing faults in the current capitalist system and argued for developing robust institutional structures to ensure sustainable business development. He was able to save several people from financial ruin through his advice. Those who did not heed his call, suffered severely in the 2008 sub-prime crisis. He was not a superhero who saved everyone, just the believers who placed their trust in him and his prudent policies. He had his faults, like every superhero. He was unable to work efficiently with human behavioral flaws like bias, prejudice, emotional decisions, irrational behavior etc. He knew that he needed to work on it and the only way he could was by understanding human beings better.

He later moved back to his origins to help the citizens of his beloved country. Now he decided to try and change the system from within. He was appointed the head of the Federal and Treasury Bank in India and he waged a war against big businesses contributing NPAs, corrupt politicians and another very important enemy. He had realized that the biggest problem facing India was inflation. This economic issue made food and security unaffordable to those with lower fixed-income (the bulk of Indian population).

HEX went against the economic policies of the powerful rulers of the country. He knew he was in a minority but he knew what would happen to the country if he let prices rise. He was the only one who could stop it and for 3 years, he did. He created a lot of enemies in the process but he sailed through every obstacle enhancing his own reputation by obtaining the love and affection of the public. Having done enough to avoid a catastrophe by keeping in check bad loans, price rise and meddlesome politicians, he was settling down when he got the nagging feeling that an impending big world problem was at hand. His superpowers told him that the root cause was political but the outcome was economic destruction. He had a job at hand, he packed his bags to go back to the origin of the issue, the Capital of Capitalism. He faced a tough task but he knew that with his financial and economic prowess, he will come out trumps.


This article was jointly written by Parnika Singhania and K.Ramdas, the only two members of LSD Lit cell 2015-17 who skipped the exchange bus

Settlement

Click. Click. Pause. Click.

With a barely audible whomp, the flame came on. Anish brought the lighter closer to the cigarette dangling precariously from his lips. He took a puff, followed immediately by another, and released the button on the nearly-depleted lighter as his cigarette lit up fully. As he set the lighter down on his table, he reached for the glass of single malt scotch next to his open laptop. A blank screen stared back at him as he took a deep drag and felt the nicotine rush. He leaned back in his plush chair, slowly blew out the smoke from his mouth and raised the glass to his lips. Slowly burning cigarette in one hand and glass of liquor in another, he closed his eyes and tried to get his mind off things.

“Is everything okay, love?” a voice called from the doorway across the room. His wife. Tina.

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