Happa Finds Out About ‘Happa Finds Out’

The Hijli Detention Camp’s transition to the first Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur was hailed by the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru as symbolic of the changes coming to India- its metamorphosis from a long oppressed nation into a dynamic microcosm of liberal-minded dreamers, doers and achievers. Fast forward six decades, the Supreme Court of India finally axed a draconian article 66A, often used to restrict free speech on the Internet. In the same Indian Institute of of Technology at Kharagpur, however, the idea of free speech and the ability to peacefully settle the question of offence over expression of an idea took a near-fatal blow when one of the student newspapers (edited by yours truly) was forced to modify a spoof video. Ironically, the video was about the imminent student gymkhana elections (elections are supposed to be hallmarks of a democracy, aren’t they? Unless of course we talk of sham elections in North Korea or the Central African Republic!).

 

We shall provide a brief chronology of the events as they unfolded. The video had the mention of a few halls of residence as a part of the script. Let us assure you once again that the choice of the names of the halls therein was totally random and there was absolutely no bias or ill-will, express or implied. Indeed, we have nothing to gain out of such a motive, since our readership is mature enough to distinguish between humour and malice. It was our faith in the ability of our readers to take a satirical exposition of the established notions of elections and the KGP-culture in general, in good humour that fueled our creative energies towards this video. The release of the video saw an ugly reception from a few individuals, including the Hall-President of a hall that shall henceforth go unnamed. While taking offence towards a statement or an idea is justified and is intensely personal, the resolution of the same requires civility, consensus and a concern for public interest. It was under this framework, universally adopted as the cornerstone of responsible journalism in free, democratic societies, we agreed to address the concerns of the aggrieved parties in consultation with our team of reporters and editors.

 

A meeting with them, in front of the Gymkhana at around 3 AM on 26th March, 2015, turned unnecessarily ugly. We were fully respectful of the emotions of the aggrieved parties and appealed to them to see reason, given that they were representatives of a large body of students, each of whom were individually capable of rational assessment and could approach us directly with any grievance regarding our posts. Also, a decision to consider their demands of taking down the video or altering it could only be taken by the whole team and not merely by the five editors present. This resulted in threats to take the issue to the administrative officials of the institute and we were, and still are, completely welcoming of the proposition. The ugliest part of the episode was the veiled threat of assault, of not being responsible for 400 boarders surmounting us by strength. At this juncture, let me assure these 400 John Does (or Ashok Kumars for Indianness!) of KGP that their cumulative voices are important to us and shall be respected, within the confines of ethics and rationality. It is baffling that a college campus of what is supposedly among the decent tech schools in the country has elements that have the pernicious ability to force a washout of an object of their dislike, by pure intimidation, and in a manner dissonant with all known norms of civility.

 

This was when, we decided to expose this hypocrisy, of bashing the AIB-crackdown or the self-gloating proclamation of being liberal and open-minded on one hand and the inablity to take humour at its face value. The bleeping may seem like a concession to the demands made, but it soon became the instrument that effected a Streisand effect over the video, and has enabled us to reach a substantial number of our readers. We have hopefully gotten our message across and are grateful for all the support. This reaffirms our belief that we can safely spearhead the freedom of though and expression in this campus.
Simultaneously with the Streisand effect, we were contacted by many of our alumni and readers rebuking us for our decision of taking the original version of the video down and replacing it with the bleeped out version, and also led to one of the Executive Editor’s resignation in a public letter, their opinion being that the content published by The Scholars’ Avenue should not be subjected to the wishes and whims of the people described, reported or, in this case, just named in it. This led us to deciding to publish an open letter to appease our readers’ concern and curiosity in order to put the situation to rest, to achieve which we reached out to the concerned hall of residence, seeking a public statement from their part to be published alongside the letter.

 

The condition that we put forth in an email correspondence to the student representatives of the hall present in the aforementioned meeting was: either the hall president sends us their statement within 5 am of the next day, or The Scholars’ Avenue will be forced to re-share the original version of the video in question at our earliest convenience and that we would not expect no subsequent backlash/threat from any boarders of the hall, the responsibility to ensure which will lie with the Hall President. And after the hall of residence failed to comply with our request even six hours after the prescribed deadline, we re-published the original version of the video.

 

Credits for photo: Ashay Gangwar, Satyam Sai

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