Government blocks a UGC webpage

Ok, I’m being deliberately sensational here, but this is too good to be true. In an attempt to protect management institute IIPM from criticism, the government has ordered blocking of 70 websites critical of IIPM. The list includes a notification on UGC’s site that IIPM is not a university and does not have the power to grant degrees. Details at Medianama and LiveMint (via Shivam Vij on facebook). Apparently this was ordered by a court in Gwalior.

IIPM head Arindam Chaudhuri may not be above the law, but apparently our lower courts deem him above the UGC.

Meanwhile, feel free to read this article by Shivam, reposted after the original link was blocked.

Despite the order, Abi reports that some sites remain accessible. Unfortunately his own previous posts are blocked, at least by Airtel in Chennai. Or maybe the government just decided to unblock the most ridiculous examples like the UGC one — but if they can defy the court on that, surely they can defy it for the rest too?

Unrelatedly, Abi finds that his posts on the Anil Potti (Duke) scientific fraud case have been taken down by Google. This seems to be in response to a DMCA complaint — the DMCA being one of the more chilling acts of legislation in recent US history. Again, he’s not alone. If a law strong-armed through the US congress by big media companies in the 1990s to (allegedly) protect their content can now be used to squelch commentary on scientific fraud, we live in interesting times.

Rahul Cherian

I met Rahul Cherian a few weeks ago when my colleague V S Sunder organised a talk by him on intellectual property and disabled rights. The topic of intellectual property versus sharing of information is of great interest to me — I have used Linux since 1994, watched first the arXiv and then the open access movement undermine the power of academic publishers, and firmly believe that copyright law and other intellectual property laws exist for the public good and not for private profit (except to the extent that private profit benefits public good). This was (as Rahul noted) the original rationale for copyright law in the US, which limited copyrights to 14 years, then 28, then more and more; today’s copyright terms extend well past the expected lifetimes of authors, or indeed their children or grandchildren, and therefore provide no possible extra incentive to create work. But there is a considerable incentive for corporate “content owners” to prolong copyrights, so it gets extended every time Mickey Mouse is due to enter the public domain.

Rahul’s talk was about how this clashes with the needs of the differently abled, and in particular the visually disabled. Braille books and audiobooks are a necessity, but it is illegal to copy a textbook no matter how noble the cause, and publishers don’t tend to be proactive in doing this. Rahul spoke about the international efforts to allow copyright exemptions in such cases, India’s rather progressive laws in this regard, the opposition it faces from big media in the US and Europe (who fear any such relaxation as the first step on a slippery slope), and the hope of a new international regime that will allow volunteers or organisations in the US or Europe to convert texts to audiobooks and export them to the differently abled in India. His talk encompassed the legal, social and technological aspects in an extraordinarily authoritative manner, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not being an expert and not having taken notes, I haven’t done justice to it at all. But the website of the organisation he founded, Inclusive Planet, is a good place to start.

After the talk, Rahul reminded me that we had in fact met, years earlier as students in Bangalore (he was at NLSIU and I was at IISc). I remembered him well at that point. His lively and warm personality, and his personal connection after so many years, made an impact on me: I made a mental note to stay in touch with him and learn more about the work that they were doing.

And now he is no more — having cheated death several times, starting from a childhood surgery for a malignant spinal tumour, he was claimed by septicemia following a sudden illness while on holiday with his family in Goa.

Read Sunder’s tribute here, Lawrence Liang’s here, Jo Chopra’s here. And there are several others around the web including on Inclusive Planet’s webpage.

Nandy, part 3

My previous two posts about Ashis Nandy were based on his clarifying statements, not on what he actually said in Jaipur (that I had not seen). Thanks to S Anand in Outlook magazine, who links to the video and also transcribes it carefully, we know exactly what happened.

I would like to see how Nandy’s defenders handle this.

I still don’t support arresting Nandy but I totally understand those who do. We don’t have a US-First-Amendment-style free speech in this country. This is hate speech extremely bigoted speech by any measure. [UPDATE 03/02/13: On reflection I feel “hate speech” is not appropriate. See comments below.] Nandy’s gestures and intonation are as important as what he said. As Anand (who also doesn’t support arresting Nandy) points out, if we support Nandy on free speech grounds, we must also support thugs like Thackeray and Owaisi.

Why do I not support arresting Nandy? I’m not actually sure. And that may be revealing. I think the US takes free speech too far, but I also think India takes protestors too seriously. If Nandy were a politician campaigning on a platform of hatred against lower castes, I may think differently. But he is not a politician, but a self-styled “political psychologist” who ought to be irrelevant, and in his own warped way he believes he is defending them, not attacking them. If he ceases to receive invitations from serious forums, if the media ceases to solicit articles from him, if we stop buying his books, that is surely adequate.

As for people like Gautam Barua who want me to apologise: let me put it this way. When I am angry, a personal test for me is whether my anger decreases or increases with time. If the former, I usually do apologise. In this case, let’s just say no apology is forthcoming. Barua accuses me of ‘reacting like a “scientist”, with “facts”‘. Well, ok. Last I checked, psychologists regarded themselves as scientists too and their statements are as data-driven as those of physicists or biologists, if necessarily a little less rigorous.

Ashis Nandy needs to decide whether he is a “political psychologist” or just a cocktail-party muckraker. And if the former, let him produce the data.