Censorship – an inadvertent skirmish

Day 288*

Ummm, so today just happened to be one of those days. I was just not able to put myself to sleep on time (that would be around 1 am) last night, and had to wake up at 6 (am) for a morning flight to Mumbai – that’s where I am from (brought up). From Chennai – that’s where I have lived for more than four out of the last ten years.

It’s a running joke in my family now – I catch a cold every time I come to Mumbai. Well, today, I woke up with a headache and a stuffed nose. It didn’t feel great. And it’s only gotten worse. Not just because of the cold.

Anyway, I reached the Airport well in time for my Indigo flight. I don’t have a beef against the airline, but well, the fiance of someone I recently had a crush on works there – so I don’t like it all that much either. That’s how we form opinions anyway. Don’t we? There is hardly a science to it – just  simple association and dissociation.

Here’s where an interesting notice caught my eye. At all the check-in counters – well I checked the counters for Indigo and the adjacent Airline (I forget which) – there was a government notice – Arguing/fighting with the customer service staff is a punishable offence. The notice talked about jail terms ranging from 1 to 6 years. I wondered about the few odd times when I had seen frantic passengers arguing with airline staff – once about them being unreasonable about not allowing them in with 43 minutes still left for departure, once about their luggage not having arrived on the  baggage collection belt even an hour after landing. Would it now be an offence to raise a genuine issue? Just because the airline was losing money if the passenger did the same? Shouldn’t they have appointed more customer care executives? I was too scared to take a picture of the notice.

Maybe I was reading too much into the notice. ‘Maybe this is just a caveat’, I told myself, ‘to prevent the passengers from getting into an argument/fight unless they have a very strong case.’ I somehow got reminded about how pulling the stop chain/brake in the  train is a punishable offence. ‘Something like that. To ensure that the  flight schedules across the country are not disrupted because of one unruly passenger.’

Just as I was about to board the flight, a friend on a watsapp group expressed concern about how the media had effectively blacked out the nation-wide week-long Truckers’ strike. Self-censoring by the media has been a concern for some time now. The media effectively controls what we see, what we do not. What we care about, and what’s just a trivial affair in our minds.

There was a march for reservation organised in certain parts of Maharashtra, which too received coverage only when the protest turned volatile. I will write a long post on protests and how the way they are perceived by the urban middle class has changed over the past few years, sometime soon.

This one though, is about my encounter with censorship today. A runny nose and heavy eyes insist I be terse.

Here goes — I had written a long brooding post about what Imran Khan’s election as the Pakistani PM means to an average ignorant Indian, yesterday. A couple of days back, a friend suggested that if I was planning to remain anonymous, I must at least form a Facebook page, to see give my posts legs to walk on.

I heeded to his advice. And then I got a little carried away. I had been dying to understand how Facebook’s post boosting worked and decided to experiment the same with my posts (I was anyway not planning to share this blog with most people I knew, I wanted to see how it did on its own). I spent a good 15 minutes zeroing down on the cities in India, the age group, the profile of the consumers that I wanted to target for my second post. Over two days, for some 30-odd rupees, some 450 people had been reached, out of which 20 had clicked on the link and about 2-3 had even shared the post. Not bad I told myself.

Then today, I got carried away even further, and decided to boost the Imran Khan post for both the Indian and Pakistan audience. I thought it would have been interesting to see how readers in Pakistan react to an Indian’s perspective about their elections. Well, mid-way through the exercise, my profile has been locked. Facebook asked me to submit a photo of mine, it already has my phone number (it just so turns out that to remain anonymous, I had submitted not my regular phone number, but another one which I use just for the Internet. Unfortunately, it has been registered under a friend’s name as at the time its SIM was purchased I did not have an Aadhaar card, and that SIM (with very cheap internet) couldn’t be procured without an Aadhaar. On our insistence, my friend had purchased the SIM for 4-5 of us. The SIM dispensing guy, who had come to our office for the activity, too had agreed for the same. Right now, it doesn’t seem to have been such a good idea).

Censorship - 1

Within minutes, FB sent out a mail to me too (I had used an alternate gmail id titled anonymous writer) saying that my Post Boost has not been approved. I am assuming the same is because the geographies where I was trying to promote the same are contentious. I couldn’t log into my account to find out. It  has been taken down for now.

Censorship - 2

I have not read Facebook’s/Google’s user policies, but I am assuming I am clearly in the red, given I have used Anonymous as my profile name, and signed in with a number that has not been registered using my Aadhaar number.

I get rattled as easily as this – Facebook deciding to lock my profile.

If it is not, I am sure it would soon be a crime to use anonymous profiles to share thoughts. And the argument in its favour – the prevention of the spread of hatred/fake news – too would make sense. And then again, on Facebook itself, for the past many months I have been reporting venom spewing posts from various pages, and every single time I get the same reply from Facebook – While we appreciate your concern, the post adheres to our community standards. You can unfollow the person if s/he offends you. And I kept telling myself – Maybe FB is right, after all Freedom of expression exists for all. It is only that the counter narrative has to be stronger, and needs to keep coming up with more valid, thought-provoking points.

Here is when I think about our freedom fighters. It would have required such large amounts of courage to take up a cause that involved breaking a law of the land, a law they didn’t believe was right/just. I couldn’t help but remember an interesting line from the movie Rang De Basanti (a 2006 Bollywood film).

Mujhe hamesha lagta tha ki duniya mein do tarah ke insaan hote hain…ek jo chupchap maut ka daman thaam lete hain…aur doosre jo rote chillaate maut ki taraf badhte hai. Aur fir main teesre kisam ke insaanon se mila…

I had always thought that in the world there are two kinds of people – men who go to their death screaming, and men who go to their death in silence . And then I met the third kind..

Conviction is a big thing.

I don’t seem to have much of it. Earlier this morning, I was having a discussion with a friend wherein we agreed that we would change our religion basis convenience, whatever suited us in the given circumstances. The discussion was triggered by the below article.


Him (on sharing the article about a refugee’s acceptance into Finland basis her/his religion): How amazing is this. You change your religion and all of a sudden you are viewed differently.

Me: Haha. I would always change my religion to whatever the country wants it to be.

Him (tongue in cheek): And the country too, if necessary?

Me: Haha. Maybe. But I want to write. And there is so much to write about India.

While having dinner, a couple of hours back, I pulled out an old Bombay Times front page – an interesting read about how Saif Ali Khan (an Indian actor) never felt the need to compromise his work because some films hadn’t done well. My father, sitting close by curtly instructed — “That is an old dirty paper which is used to put bags on (so that the table cover wouldn’t be soiled). Put it away.” I quietly slid the paper away. I read the article once I had finished the dinner and he had gone over to another room. I have been giving in to censorship from an early age, I guess.

I have always told myself that I feel very strongly about the liberal principles that I keep talking about. I do not know how far I would go, to stand by them. I just do not know. I might have to dig a little deep.

If you have read this piece, I would really be interested in knowing how strong you believe your convictions are.

PS: I intended to write on another topic, but the  Facebook incident put me off, and I have not been able to do good thinking, good writing. This post is hardly about politics. Or maybe it is. Tomorrow, hopefully I shall write and write better.

PPS: I hope the above incident doesn’t lead to me having to explain this to my friend who bought the SIM for me. So much for anonymity. 😐

*Day 288 — If India’s General Elections are held on the exact same dates as that in 2014, there are 288 more days/opportunities for the incumbent and the opposition to put political dead cats on the table. I have borrowed this interesting thought from an  article written by Shivam Vij, I read a couple of days before I started The Political Commentator.




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2 thoughts on “Censorship – an inadvertent skirmish

  1. Your call to action interested me because if a person’s convictions (in this context of personal ideals and ideology) are not entirely strong then they are not beliefs that meet the meaning of conviction in this sense. Apologies for my being pedantic here. Conviction these days (here in the UK) is usually most used in the context of court judgements pronouncing guilt of crime and subsequent punishment. As for willingness to change religion for personal convenience or privelege I expect I would be unlikely to do so. That is easy for me as I have no narrow religious belonging anyway. I deleted the rest of my comment in response because so many words made it an essay so your post was not only interesting but inspiring too.
    I guess if your phone is traceable to your legal identity you can have an anonymous profile to the public view but the online service provider has legal responsibilities and obligations to prevent terrorist and criminal behaviours and you can only have privacy and freedom of online expression when you publish your content if (a) your behaviour online is usually non-threatening, non-aggressive, non-fraudulent and non-trolling etc and (b) you accept legal responsibility for what you publish online by way of traceability to your own legal identity. I’m not an expert though, it’s just how it seems to make sense to me. Hope your cold’s not a bad one and you’re enjoying your family time. Sorry for this still being a quite long comment and maybe too much.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I completely agree with you. I have the right to remain anonymous only as long as it is non-threatening, non-aggressive, non-fraudulent and non-trolling. I do not know how it is in in the UK, but here in India the environment on FB has gotten quite vitriolic with political parties on both sides of the spectrum (those on the right more so) using social media to build narratives that would antagonise their votebanks to the rest of the population. It only makes sense for an online service provider to have my details, lest I indulge in any sort of terrorist/criminal/hate-inducing behaviour. Hoping that FB finds my posts to be harmless and lets the profile continue.

    In fact, the reason I felt I was ok with changing the name of the religion I follow was because no matter what I am called I can never have a narrow religious belonging. One can call me A,B,C but what I feel about our existence, creator is a constantly evolving thought and too complex to be boxed down into a single word. If religion is our understanding of life/universe/creator etc, then shouldn’t it be unique to each one of us.

    The runny nose is getting better. The Air Quality Index in most Indian cities is bad, and Mumbai seems to be particularly bad these past few days – we haven’t seen the sun or the rains for a few days now – the clouds have laid siege to the city. Funnily, there exists a taboo to wearing air masks (out here the one who wears a mask is perceived to be the one down with some major communicable respiratory disorder and hence becomes a social untouchable).

    PS: You shouldn’t have deleted the rest of the comment. I am sure it would have been a very interesting read.


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