Gandhi once wrote: "Whatever you do will become insignificant, but it is very important to do it."
... Therefore this posting,
...since it will add to a growing number of voices about the IIPM vs. Rashmi Bansal/Gaurav Sabnis issue, that has helped bringing the Indian blogger community together in just about 48-72 hours.
If you are aware of the facts, skip the first part... Otherwise, here is the unfolding of events:
1. A few months back, JAM magazine, a print magazine brought out by Rashmi Bansal, carried an article questioning the claims made by the full-page ads of Indian Institute of Planning & Management (IIPM).
2. Gaurav Sabnis, an IIML graduate working with IBM, linked the Jammag's article to his blog posting on IIPM. His posting starts with a hilarious sentence: "IIPM is to Management Education, what Parnab Mukherjee is to quizzing."
3. Two months later - and a week back - Gaurav received a "legal notice" from the "IIPM legal cell" threatening a lawsuit for Rs 125crores (!!!). It is a must-read, hilarious and purile notice and contains some gems of threats like:
- "Warning: This email has been judicially notarized and has been tagged to validate receipt and response" and
- "We are also providing your details to respective national and regional police authorities for undertaking and implementing immediate arrest warrants against you. We are also providing your details to various corporations within India and abroad to inform them about the judicial, legal and police action against you; thus ensuring that your details are well documented."
4. Gaurav posted the notice on his blog, and it started circulating on the net (I got it in my mailbox on the 7th). This was the beginning of an Indian redo of the Jonah Paretti vs. Nike case
5. Rashmi Bansal posted the happenings, including a clarification on a comment about JAMmag made on Gaurav's blog posting
6. Suddenly IIPM "discovered" that there are something called blogs, and overnight many IIPM blogs came up - all eulogising the greatness of the institute. Which would have been OK, except that their "owners" also started posting insulting (actually, downright vulgar) comments on Rashmi's blog.
7. Apparently, Jammag was also sent a "legal notice", and its office was visited by IIPM "faculty"...
8. on 10th, Gaurav Sabnis resigned from his job with IBM, since IIPM had apparently threatened to "burn IBM laptops" in front of IBM office, and his super-super boss had rung him up to enquire what this is all about. No, IBM did not fire him... But this is classic tactics for making a seat hot for somone.
9. In any case, all this mobilised the bloggers, and is gaining shape of a major milestone in the blogging community in India. In a way, it has brought them together around a common issue - blogging itself.
10. Today, it also got coverage in Hindustan Times ("Freedom under Siege") and in Mumbai Mirror (Story on IIPM (It Snowballed into High Drama)
11. "IIPM" has become the most searched term on Technorati - the blog search engine - even above "web 2.0", "earthquake", "Paul Krugman" or "bird-flu" (For all one knows, IIPM may convert this into their full page ad: "IIPM ranked by the Global Blog Search Engine, Technorati, as No. 1... above all the IIMs" :0)
So Why is this cyber-event so important?
I don’t think this is just about a replay of themes of David-vs-Goliath, an-individual-against-the-establishment, etc.
It is also not just a matter about cyber-harrassment of Gaurav, Rashmi and some other bloggers - or for that matter, even about IIPM and its dubious claims.
It is also also more than just the vindication of a basic truth about blogs that Steve Hayden of O&M had once mentioned (and as was confirmed by the "IIPM Blogs": "If you fudge or lie on a blog, you are biting the karmic weenie. The negative reaction will be so great that, whatever your intention was, it will be overwhelmed and crushed like a bug. You're fighting with very powerful forces because it's real people's opinions."
It is important because, this is about freedom of expression; it is about someone trying to invade, capture and suppress the grass-root democratic nature of blogosphere
...for those not in the know, blogosphere is the fastest growing medium of grass-root individual expression - 80,000 blogs get created every day, there are about 19mn blogs, and are doubling every five months. That is the reason why blogosphere is the "commons" whose conversations become a threat to the establishment.
This is not the first time, such a thing has happened.
- Earlier this year, Times of India forced journalist Pradyumn Maheshwari to close his blog, http://mediaah.blogspot.com/, through a similar (and perhaps more real) threat.
- Countries and governments have been banning blogs and imprisoning bloggers, check: http://committeetoprotectbloggers.blogspot.com/
- Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) had to compile a Legal Guide for Bloggers. Check: http://www.eff.org/bloggers/
In India, perhaps, IIPM's threat of lawsuit, will not hold in court. According to Pavan Duggal, a Supreme Court advocate specialising in cyber laws, "Blogs are not specifically covered in the IT Act of India. Secondly, every citizen has, except in certain extraordinary circumstances, the fundamental right to freedom of speech under the Constitution. This incident of a blogger being threatened with legal action clearly reflects the need for a clarification of the rights of a blogger."
But legal threat is only a peripheral issue. Even if the threat is legally ineffective, an organisation can always keep a lawsuit going,and make an individual bankrupt through what are called the SLAPP (""Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation") - "the corporate technique of suing people into silence and submission... SLAPP targets who fight back seldom lose in court yet are frequently devastated and depoliticized and discourage others from speaking out... SLAPP suits achieve their objectives by forcing defendants to spend huge amounts of time and money defending themselves in court."
Perhaps that is why it is important to rally around the issue, to take sides, to fight...
Gandhi also said: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
Directory of Indian Bloggers
Gaurav Sabnis' Blog Entry: The Fraud that IIPM Is
JAM mag article on IIPM
Garuav Sabnis' posting of IIPM's "Legal Notice"
Jonah Paretti vs. Nike case
Rashmi bansal's Blog: Lies, Damned Lies, and Fake Blogs
Hindustan Times ("Freedom under Siege")
Mumbai Mirror (Story on IIPM (It Snowballed into High Drama)
SLAPP (""Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation")