My two Cents ....(Warning : Long Post)
I started blogging end of June 2005. In the last four months I have posted many blogs with widely ranging subjects from restaurant reviews to funny things in my daily life, travel logs and the occasional gripe about things that plague society today. These include issues in India and in the United States like
Indiffernce to wrongdoing
Bigotry in the media
Freedom of speech
Advertising to kids
(think that just about covers it!)
While writing these blogs, I did feel safe. I did not for one second feel afraid that the guys from the swimming pool would try to sue me for describing their looks or the guy from the Pazhani winch station would try to threaten me with bodily injury !
There were two reasons for my sense of security. First and foremost, I was using the written medium on the INTERNET. My blogs did not have a wide audience then compared to now and the chances of the people mentioned in the blogs slapping libel suits on me was not on my mind. Secondly, the posts were my opinions on various subjects or first hand experiences which I could prove happened (there were other witnesses to the events, printed or bits and byte evidence, or worst case I could be put to a lie detector test !!).
Recently, the hottest issue on the Blogosphere is "IIPM and the Gaurav Sabnis resignation from IBM India". I will not detail the issue in this blog or write a timeline for the events at hand CSI style. There are plenty of blogs which have already done that !!
I have been following these events closely because, someday this could mean that I can no longer blog with a sense of freedom or I will have to have written notes like some journalist working for Newsweek or Time to backup every little sentence I write in my post, be it my personal opinion or my reference to someone's opinion.
For example, I could post a blog which talks about how the latest Tamil movie by SJ. Suriya absolutely sucks (and try to add some tidbits which validate someones review of this movie), and go on to say that this movie should be avoided, I could be sued by SJ Suriya ?!? He could potentially do some math with his lawyer, calculate that approximately 30,000 people read my blog and decided not to watch his movie, then sue me for damages to the amount of 3,000,000 rupees (that would be 60,000 dollars, enough for our family to come to the street!).
Newsweek is a magazine which I actually like because they dont say things to sensationalize or sell magazines and they are honest enough to eat their words if proved wrong. Case in point was the Imran Khan issue. Newsweek prints an article saying American interrogators in Gitmo deface Quoran. Imran Khan (former Pakistani Criket player) shows copies of Newsweek to general public and spurs a little pandemonium. People die. Newsweek retracts article because they cannot validate their source. In a state of panic after reading Gaurav's blog, I sent a letter to Newsweek asking them to look into this issue and do their part in helping.
Then a few things struck me. In all the blogs which call attention to this issue, very few actually have any suggestions on what should be the final outcome !! They all :
a. try to give more publicity to Gaurav and Reshmi's Plight
b. ask you to mail them and show your solidarity to the blogger community
c. write to magazines for more publicity
d. try to extract apologies from IIPM head honchos
e. write humor posts on IIPM and their management
I am a researcher and I solve problems. Spreading the news that there is a problem does not solve the problem. It just brings you more unwanted publicity to the person with the problem and often times than not, puts that person in a defensive position or un cooperative position that they become adversarial.
Also, every problem should have a problem statement and a root cause identified and a corrective action to solve the problem that not only deals with the current problem but ensures that such problems are avoided in future.
What I write below is entirely my opinion (my two cents) on the problem at hand.
I do not know Gaurav Sabnis
I do not know Reshmi Bansal
I do not know Arindam Chaudhury
I have not seen, visited, been to, interacted with IIPM or its faculty, students
I do not work for or have taken money from any Magazine or Journal to write this !
That said :
Problem Statement : Bloggers are threatened with scare tactics because they prove with evidence that the advertising practices of an educational institution, make false claims and dupe the general public.
Let us do an analysis on the situation from three different angles.
1. From the point of view of a scared blogger whose cocoon is being threatened
(this is the "freedom of speech" issue)
2. From the point of view of people whose tactics are being questioned
(this is the "mind your own business" issue)
3. From the point of view of people whose lives are being affected by this more than
the people in categories 1 and 2 (the real IIPM students).
The Blogger : I have a right to bring the the attention as a concerned citizen any wrong doing by people whose actions are not being touched by law. I am the new internet Vigilante and it is my moral obligation to educate the general public on hoaxes and scams. I should not have to face any threats, retribution for doing this and should be protected by law.
The Scamer : I have a fundamental right to say whatever I want to say to lure innocent public into my web of "whatever I am spinning" and as long as it is between me and the people who walk into my web, I am not violating any law. Third parties have no excuse to interfere and I will do everything in my power (including threats subtle or otherwise) to get these people to back off.
The affected parties : Leave me alone. I know the claims in the advertisement are false and I still chose to follow my destiny ( I have my own reasons). Do not bring unnecessary attention to me !
To elaborate let me give you some examples. Recently I took my daughter to the Barnum and Bailey Circus in San Jose. We were stopped at the gate and there were people who were literally in my face, shoving pamphlets in my hand saying "Barnum and Bailey are Killers", "6 elephants dead in three years", "these animals are brutalized so you can have your two hours of fun!".. etc., with photos of dead elephants or elephants who are being hurt with what appear to be cattle prods !! Had already paid for my tickets and I wasnt going to walk away and disappoint my toddler. So I go in and at the door I get a pamphlet from the Circus which says "Barnum and Bailey's elephant conservation program".. this one talks about how the circus invests a big percentage of the ticket money to preservation of the asian elephant ! I am pretty sure no one was dragging off the protesters in chains or no paid goons were taking care of them. I am sure Barnum is a multi million dollar company and the protesters were average Joe's trying to give us their two cents.
Let me give you another example. When I just graduated from high school, applying to engineering colleges in my great state of Tamil Nadu was a nightmare. I had to write an entrance examination that was biased towards people who had gone to Schools run by the State Board (this was called the DOTE examination), I had to put two numbers on top of my application in two individual boxes, my caste !! and my high school certification board ! We had to leave our application in one of a dozen piles on the floor. In spite of this discrimination, we had our choice of engineering colleges. Most of them had been opened only in the previous three years or so under license from the government. These colleges claimed to give engineering degrees in Computer Science, Mechanical, Chemical or Civil and Architectural disciplines !! Most of them were actually single stroy brick buildings which looked more like elementary school classrooms with no laboratories (some of them were just structures with tatch roofing! and were under construction). How could these schools, which were still not built to have basic infrastructure graduate people with engineering degrees ?
Most of these colleges were allowed to admit students in their non government quotas, by receiving what was called "capitation fees", money that went towards building the infrastructure for these schools. I know kids who went to school with me who paid upto a 100000 rupees in capitation fees to join these colleges so they could come out with an engineering degree four or five years later !! Not all of them were dumb kids who could exchange their parents wealth for an engineering degree and just waste four years. Some of these were hard working kids who did not have any other option of receiving an engineering degree within the state, thanks to the open discrimination policy ! Not all of these schools remained tatched huts. Some of those very schools now graduate smart engineers by the hundreds every year and have the most wired campuses on a world level. I still remember parents complaining in the media over the faulty advertising practices of some of these schools which were wooing students with engineering degrees without basic infrastructure.
The root cause :
a. There are no regulatory bodies in India for Educational institutions in terms of the degrees they offer, the money they collect for those degrees, the quality of the education and the advertising practices of those educational institutions.
You cannot ban people in T. Nagar (a section of Chennai City) from flocking to the Somasundaram Park to pay their respects to "kuthivilakku samiyar" (a godman who requested everyone bring silver lamps to his prayers and made off with the lamps !). You should however be able to write a blog about this dude and warn people that he is a scam artist. If people still go to him, it is their wish. If they are fanatical about this godman and threaten you with bodily harm or make you eat your words because they believe he is gods gift to mankind, then the law should protect you. You have your rights as much as the fanatics have rights.
The same way, you can always tell future students that a certain educational institution is faking its credentials, especially if you can prove it. If they are fanatical about their School and they threaten you, the law should protect you.
Corrective Action : Bringing more awareness to the issue is one thing. Focussing on solution is another matter altogether.
We need a non-political government regulatory body to accredit and audit educational instituions in India. The institutions that offer an engineering degree for example in computer science should have a bare minimum of facilities to teach their students what consititutes minimum standards for completion of that degree. The advertising practices of educational institutions should be held to a higher standard than say, the advertising practices of chewing gum* companies. Any institution that does not meet such standards or violates these ethics should be brought to justice. This will fix the real problem.
I only wish more bloggers would clamour for the creation of such a regulatory organizaiton to be created ASAP in India !
ps. A note on the Gum Ads :
* In some gum ads, guy chews Brand X chewing gum, a hot babe comes and caresses him when he opens his mouth and blows icicles. I have tried many times to chew this brand, blow icicles but the babe just dont materialize. I do not know if I am allowed to sue the gum companies (there is no disclaimer on the ad that says " babe does not come with gum"!).