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India: Defending Freedom of Speech

The Indian Blogosphere has been buzzing over the weekend with posts and comments surrounding a controversial educational institute. Vantage Point, a blog run by Gaurav Sabnis was sent an email by this said institute to remove any posts that questioned the claims of the institute. The original article that inspired posts on blog can be read at JAM Magazine here. One of the driving forces behind this magazine, Rashmi Bansal of Youth Curry was at the receiving end of malicious anonymous comments. Many blogs including Sambhar Mafia and Desi Pundit have been following the developments closely.

A lot of Indian blogs have been echoing this call for support. The latest development has been that Gaurav Sabnis has quit his job with IBM. He says -

…I have resigned from IBM. The decision is entirely my own and I was not asked by IBM to resign, nor was I pressured in any manner by any executive from IBM. I took the decision in view of some really bizarre threats that were apparently made by IIPM to IBM…

In the same post he puts forward a strong case for his previous post and why he stands by what he said in his blog -

…my intention to stand by my posts, since I believe in freedom of speech. I have written nothing that can be thought of as libel. IIPM is an organiation in free India which makes some claims in its advertisements. What I did was exercise my right as a citizen, by responding to the information contained…

This isn't the first instance of Indian bloggers facing the wrath of corporate houses and big organisations, but it brings us back to the same question – In a country whose USP is the Biggest Democracy, where has the Right to Free Speech disappeared? Is it easier to bully a blogger than a magazine or a Main Stream Media publication? Does a blogger have any rights?

69 comments

  • @Mike and @Neha: The situation here is very different from what happened in Singapore where the govt was directly involved. As of now, there is no evidence that the Indian govt believes in suppressing free speech since the govt isn’t involved in any way! If and when this issue goes to the courts, the decision handed out there will be a metric of how free India really is.

  • This whole saga merely reflects the problems a free society faces when there is poor enforcement. India HAS freedom of speech, a strong media, a thriving economy, a strong legal system, a high level of education and mobility, BUT very weak enforcement and systems.

    The tragedy of this whole episode is that nothing explicitly illegal happened. Two bloggers exposed some fake claims. The institution responded first by mud slinging (which is common, and happens everywhere), and then, in a curious and perverted example of buyer power, threatened the employer of the blogger that they would burn the company’s laptops in public!

    Frankly speaking, at this stage, I wonder what would have happened if IBM had called their bluff. I mean, seriously, the sale of the IBM laptops had been carried out, the laptops are the property of IIPM as such, if they want to burn them, let them! Their loss!

    As for the ensuing publicity, well, it would have just exposed IIPM further.

    It is unfortunate that Gaurav chose to quit and not precipitate this issue further, and that speaks highly of him, and his commitment to not see IBM suffer adverse publicity on his account, but if he had stuck to his guns, and IBM had backed him (as it seems they were), they would have struck a very, very powerful blow against the rule-of-the-jungle mentality that has accompanied India’s growing market economy.

    First the NDA government with Tehelka, and now this. Sad.

  • […] A quick round-up of all posts about the stupid move of IIPM, their fake blogs and lewd comments and Gaurav’s stunning but right move. Just to keep the topic alive and ensure that prospective students aren’t hoodwinked by IIPM’s false advertising and arm-twisting. – Firstly, IIPM reacts badly to an expose of IIPM’s false claims and misleading advertisements – Gaurav is threatened with a lawsuit for the sole reason that he linked to the Jam article. – Fake blogs crop up overnight and attack/libel Rashmi Bansal – Bad move #1 by IIPM/its misguided supporters – The Blogosphere wakes up, takes up the issue. Bewarned folks. You don’t get away easily when you resort to cheap and foolhardy tricks – IIPM decided to arm-twist IBM/Lenovo, Gaurav’s Employer – Stupid Move #1 IIPM – IBM doesn’t give in to the Arm twisting, lets Gaurav decide to do what he wants. – Gaurav resigns voluntarily from his job. Bravo! Here’s a guy who can stand his point. – The issue explodes across the web. Michael Higgins, Instapundit, Global Voices and Om Malik take it up. Needless to say, Desipundit, the Acorn, Amit Varma, Ravikiran and other Indian bloggers are behind Gaurav all the way. […]

  • Vivek Narayanan

    I am very impressed by Gaurav Sabnis and JAM magazine for not reacting to the absurd and menacing tactics of IIPM; in fact, their strategy only seems to provide more evidence of what seems to be a bizarre, secretive, fraudulent and cult-like organisation. I hope they go down, as a lesson to other similar organisations. This issue should not be laid to rest until they are pressed to formally respond to each of the points in JAM magazine, and also issue a formal apology.

    One question: why not issue a counter-suit on behalf of the bloggers? If Gaurav has had to resign from his job, it should be for a lot of money…

  • IIPM, the crap institute

    The IIPM’s according to this man are going to pose a serious challenge to the IIM’s in a few years time. If you really believe him and are thinking of getting admitted to his institute, well think again. According to Rashmi of Youth Curry,…

  • Blogosphere rocks! More power to the people; and less to the fraudsters and blackmailers.

  • Tedd McHenry

    When the supreme court in Canada ruled in favour of restricting tobacco advertising, on a free-speech challenge, they argued, in essence, that speech was free so long as it remained ineffective. I think we’re going to see more of those kinds of rulings now that the internet has made it possible for a lone individual’s speech to become convincing to a large number of people. General support for free speech has always been lukewarm, and conditional on that speech either coming from known sources or having limited effectiveness.

  • This is a classic story of a “dubious” education institute with loads of cash, violating an individual’s First Amendment rights, all the while “Big Blue”, conviniently chooses to look the other way.

  • Chris[topher] Chittleborough

    And now this story goes around the world … I’m living on a farm in rural Australia, and I found about it via an American (Glenn Reynolds,
    the “Instapundit”).

    I would like to complement and congratulate Gaurav Sabnis not only for this brave decision but also for the way he announced it.

  • Chris[topher] Chittleborough

    Woops — that should be compliment, not complement.

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