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Monday, October 10, 2005

A question of principles

Many of you no doubt know about the latest controversy that has broken out in the blogosphere, about Arindam Chaudhuri and IIPM. In case you don’t, a quick summary: A few months ago Jam Magazine, edited by Rashmi Bansal, did a story exposing some of the claims made by IIPM, the educational institute run by Arindam Chaudhuri. It was a terrific piece of journalism: professional, thorough, and relying entirely on facts that are verifiable by anyone.

After that happened, some of the IIPM staff barged into the Jam office. In Rashmi’s words, they “did not offer any new or material facts, other than argument.” Then she got a legal notice from them. All fair so far. They have a right to go to court, and they need not have worried if the facts were on their side. But were they? See what happened next.

A number of blogs sprung up overnight defending IIPM and defaming Rashmi and Gaurav Sabnis, a popular Indian blogger who had linked to Rashmi's article and added some facts of his own. Ludicrous rumours were spread about Aaj Tak, the news channel, having done a sting operation and having caught Amity, a rival of IIPM, giving money to Rashmi to do the story. Rashmi posted on the matter, and filthy comments were left on that post – you can read them for yourself and see the class of the people who left them. Also, Gaurav received a hilarious legal notice, which he reproduced on his blog – it was hilarious at the time, that is.

Then it got serious. IIPM happens to be a client of IBM, Gaurav's employer, having purchased a huge bunch of laptops from them. (In fact, they are a company with serious money clout, and are one of the biggest advertisers in India.) So what would you expect them to do? Well, Gaurav relates that on his post on the subject. It’s bizarre and worrying stuff – read it.

I’ll sum it up for you: to save his employer from a dharam sankat, Gaurav found himself faced with two courses of action – to delete his posts and apologise; or to resign from the company. What choice would he make? Isn’t the practical thing to do obvious?

I spoke to him yesterday, when his choices became clear, and asked him what he would do. As a friend concerned for his well-being, I wanted to advise him to not do anything in a hurry. But he had made up his mind. Here is, more or less as I remember it, what he said to me over the phone:
You know, we bloggers are always writing about principles, about freedom of speech, about standing up for what we believe in, for the truth. It’s very easy to write all that. But here I’m being tested on those principles in real life. If I don’t stand by those principles now, I will lose all respect for myself.
And so Gaurav Sabnis resigned from IBM today.

Already comments are appearing on blogposts gloating about this. Well, congratulations to the victors.

But the blogosphere hasn’t given up the fight. Desi Pundit, which has become a focal point for Indian bloggers, intends to carry this forward, and all the bloggers who have weighed in are listed in their post on the subject. Kaps has sounded a battle cry that many bloggers have responded to; Press Talk have an expose of their own here; Patrix challenges IIPM to sue him; Abi has an interesting suggestion on how to take this forward. Harini, Charu, Amrit, Thallassa, Ravages and many others have pitched in. (Bloggers in America are also beginning to pick it up.) They are not scared. All of these bloggers have understood that the choice that they have before them is the one that Gaurav confronted. They've chosen to go with their principles. They know whose side the truth is on.

Please visit all their posts and read what they have to say. And if you share our outrage, then feel free to voice it. If you're a blogger and post on it, please let the guys at Desi Pundit know, so they can add your name to the growing list of bloggers who will not let injustice pass.

Update: Global Voices has more: "Defending freedom of speech."

Update 2: Here are some more posts on the subject, from Ravikiran Rao, Kitabkhana, Naveen Mandava, Nitin Pai, Gawker, Sunil Laxman, Jai Arjun Singh, Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta, Falstaff, Secular-Right India, Aditya Kuber and Arzan Sam Wadia. More updates are ongoing at Desi Pundit.

Update 3: More posts in support of Gaurav and Rashmi from Sepia Mutiny, Kunal Sawardekar, Ashish Hanwadikar, Suhail Kazi, Anand of Locana, Mandar Talvekar, JAP 2 and, heh, Gawker again.

Update 4: More posts on IIPM from Kingsley Jegan, Ashutosh Jogalekar, Tifoc, Krishna Moorthy, Shanti Mangala, The Unknown Indian, aNTi and Jose Castillo. Instapundit and Naveen Mandava have more. Also, Varna has been served a 'legal notice' similar to the one Gaurav had got. By email, with no digital signature, claiming damages of Rs 175 crore. Yeah, right? Ever seen a headless chicken dancing?

Update 5: The Hindustan Times carries the story here, and Mumbai Mirror excerpts from a couple of blogs here. (The Mumbai Mirror link's gone dead, so here's a pdf, via Pankaj Gupta.) More MSM coverage is due to follow.

Update 6: Gaurav's professor at IIM Lucknow weighs in. He elaborates on IIPM. Worth reading.

Update 7: More write-ups from Gawker, The Great Bong, Jeff Ooi, Kiruba Shankar, Sandeep, Stochastica and Dan Gillmor. Kamla Bhatt mentions it in her podcast. Meanwhile, Varna fights back and Arka Mukhopadhyay takes a bold initiative. Committee to Protect Bloggers has also taken it up.

Update 8: Alaphia informs us that NDTV is reporting on this issue tonight on Mumbai Live, at 10.30 pm. A number of bloggers, including me, have spoken to them. Watch it if you can. Update 8.5: Sorry, just heard that the telecast has been postponed. I'll keep you updated about when it's due to air.

Update 9: Gawker, whose been doing some outstanding blogging during the last few days (1, 2 and 3), digs deeper into IIPM's 'alliances' and uncovers some suspicious stuff. Good stuff. Who is this guy?

Update 10: Transmogrifier carries on from where Gawker left off and finds out more about IIPM's "web of deception." Rajesh Advani gives us a story with a moral, Puneet uncovers how IIPM are trying to manipulate search engines and here's a hilarious parody. Also, Arzan Sam Wadia has created an online petition: if you support Gaurav and Rashmi, do sign it.

Update 11: Hurree Babu has some advice for the Indian Institute of Ponytail Management. And Annie Zaidi gets a bit disillusioned with ponytails.

Update 12: K of Press Talk directs me to an outstanding post by thalassa_mikra that uncovers some juicy dope on Malay Chaudhuri, the founder of IIPM. Excellent investigative journalism. And oh, Rashmi Bansal has more dope on IIPM's claims.

Update 13: Amod Paranjpe, a lawyer, has an excellent analysis of this case on Mandar Talvekar's blog.

Update 14: Sruthjith KK of DNA has a story on the subject here. Also, blogger 42510 uncovers more dope on Malay Chaudhuri here.

Update 15: Glenn Reynolds quotes from the DNA article here (on Instapundit) and here.

Update 16: Thalassa_Mikra carries out some more investigations into IIPM's 'alliances', and uncovers some shady stuff.

Update 17: Indiacorporatewatch has some hilarious posts on the subject: 1, 2 and 3.

Also, Kaashyapeya posts a "Statement from the Bloggers of Bangalore and online petition in support of freedom of expression." And News Today has a report on the controversy.

Update 18: Business World has an excellent story up (requires registration) in which they conduct their own investigations on IIPM and uncover the tallness of yet another series of IIPM claims. Outlook also has a story on the subject, by TR Vivek. And bloggers haven't been quiet either -- Angelo Embuldeniya writes to one of the professors IIPM claims to be associated with, and reproduces her reply.

Update 19: Do read this excellent story about the IIPM affair by Mark Glaser in Online Journalism Review. And in case you haven't heard, IIPM is in trouble with UGC as well.
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