Thursday, March 26, 2015

66A

 

When I write about topics like Section 66A of the Information Technology Act; things involving politics and legislature with different viewpoints and arguments, I leave out the background noise. I leave out the clickbait articles, the Youtube videos, the Arnab Goswami volume decibels, the reddit threads, the inane tweets and the snakecharmers – all of it I feel is largely irrelevant to the problem at hand. Having an opinion on a law you only learnt exists two days ago is like looking at an elephant with a microscope; you’re going to see the little details, the little bits of dust left between folds of grey skin. Small furrows become canyons. You’re getting into territory where you’re going to argue about definitions of the words ‘and’ and ‘or’ with lawyers. But you’re not going to see the bigger picture. I think the constructive way to look at this situation and the whole furor surrounding 66A is the intention and the reason it has existed in its current form.

Before we move on to 66A though, I’d like to talk about Section 79 of the IT act first. The basic gist of the law is to provide "safe harbour" protection to internet intermediaries against liability arising from user-generated content – this protects online enterprises like Google and Facebook by putting the liability on the user, not the company. Which is completely logical and fair. Don’t shoot the messenger and all that, right? Here’s the catch. If any of these companies denies a request by the government to take down a piece of content on their website, that “safe harbour” protection is gone. In a 2013 Google Transparency report, it was stated all the requests sent by Indian government this year, 147 were by the executive and police, while only 16 were based on court orders. The majority of them were for ‘defamation’. Defamation of whom exactly? You cannot defame the framework of the government – it isn’t really a person – so you’re defaming a politician in the government. Sounds familiar? So, to summarise, Section 79 is a law which realistically will never provide a safeguard to any company, foreign or indigenous, but gives the government the right to issue takedown requests on anything ranging from “adult content” to their own criticism.

This is the least informative picture ever to feature on a blog.

Section 66A will allow someone to arrest you for sending any message electronically (whether it’s through email or Twitter or Whatsapp) that causes ‘inconvenience’, or sends a ‘false message’, or ‘ill will’ or ‘annoyance’. Just let that sink in – the Constitution that laid our country’s foundation, allows someone to arrest you for ‘annoying’ them. Bear in mind that breaking 66A is a non-bailable offence, meaning the police can book you for practically anything you said on the internet without a warrant or a magistrate’s order. That is an important point though; the police can arrest you if they believe it’s a cognizable offence. When an ‘influential’ politician breathes down your local bobby’s neck about something you ‘liked’ on Facebook, the arrest comes first, and then your chance to plead not guilty. And so begins your long and arduous journey through the fractured corridors and self-replicating mazes of the Indian legal system.

Law is an interesting field. Law doesn’t necessary defend the truth, or fight for justice, or prove who is wrong or who is right. Most of life is a tightrope over a sombre, ashen lake – a fine balance of morality is required to not plunge into the depths of transgression. But the law is black and white in its judgement, guilty or not guilty; the inherent victor will be the one who can frame the narrative better to suit their own situation. It’s what lawyers are for. They will interpret the law to benefit their client, and perhaps on the next day they’ll argue the same thing against. The people who are best at this, though, the people who are born and bred in the ashes of legislative despair, tied to the coat-hangers of corporate greed, fed by the yearning for elective adulation, are the people in parliament. They are the ones who make laws like 66A and 79. And indeed, you could argue that they genuinely have no clue how to run the country, or you could say that they absolutely have an idea of how to run it – one that will suit their best interests.

Why, then, did 66A get written in 2008? Why was there no amendment? Did the lawmakers lack the foresight to anticipate that this vague, open-ended law would be misused by politicians and government officials? I’m sceptical. Despite what some viral Whatsapp messages might portray, the people in office aren’t charlatans or caricatures; they have difficult jobs and most of them know what they are doing. 66A is not a result of incompetence, or a fundamental lack of understanding of the internet landscape. Maybe the initial representation of the law had noble origins, but over time the narrative and intention of it moved towards suppressing critical views of politicians. 66A became a politician’s tool, like a farmer’s sickle or a hipster’s existential angst. When Ashok babu realises that his next election campaign might be tarnished because Ramesh’s driver’s son liked a cartoon on Facebook, all he has to do is call the police and tell them that, and the boy is arrested. It’s an easy fix for them – 66A is like a Band-Aid that fixes “thought leakage” or opposing outlooks. It’s not a stretch to say that in its current form, the law’s implementation is Orwellian.

It’s important to realise, I think, that the recent developments around the Supreme Court’s verdict on 66A doesn’t mean victory yet. There are plenty of other laws that would still fart in your face if you thought you had absolute free speech (which doesn’t really exist in the legal sense) – 69A, 153A, 505, 79. This exhibits a more restrictive approach, a sinuous way of thinking regarding free speech in our country for both citizens and government; regressions to free speech were the very first amendment we made to our Constitution. But that doesn’t mean we should cower in the face of injustice, even when lawmakers borrow from Telegram laws from 1935 to frame acts on ‘Information Technology’ in the 21st century. In fact, it’s a further motive for people like you and me to realise how fragile our internet ecosystem is, where a few misconstrued words in an old law could change our lives forever, and participate to change it for the better.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

River, docks

 

I think I sat behind you that one time.
Perhaps twice, it could - might even be more
Than just an off-chance, singular affair
With your Swift, sour, soft, sweet, indifferent hair

The moment described itself as I learned.
Sinusoid, straightened: so like a river
It flowed, unfurled and poured, almost downwards:
Down beneath the shoulders of geography.

It hurt your neck to face back for an hour,
Amidst roughcast roister; mixed reactions
Wistfully whispering secrets of the sun
Whose brightness shone through when the day was done.

And I talked with public sector happiness,
Fenced off from the farthest seasons of autumn;
I twisted and twirled and touched that part of you.
We spoke to each other, But you couldn't feel it

-Upamanyu Acharya

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Poem about Poem

 

Trochees, like life do seldom falter first.
Indeed, the stress at first is not the worst:
The sentence under pyrrhically traversed
The path I chose of iambs, in this verse.

Enjambments that were utlised before
Will find a way to creep within once more;
For now, just take this only substitution
Where I apologise for aberration!

That Alexandrine there was quite a test
To my one pentametric manifest.
Of course, the instant that’s imposed
That one dactylic metre gets exposed.

A day will come when I’ll look back at this-
This poem; the words, I’ll probably dismiss.
I held this pen that writes in blue and white
To self describe a poem; that’s quite the sight.

-Upamanyu Acharya

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Kyrielle Sonnet

 

Indistinct we wander - through life,
Wallowing o’er a murky strife.
Where pardons and sorrows are free;
Overwhelmed by infinity

So many ones to choose to love-
Past and present; here, and above.
The choice of solidarity:
Overwhelmed by infinity

Joining dots regarding lineage;
A shadow of a past image-
Do we search for our divinity?
Overwhelmed by infinity

Indistinct we wander through life
Overwhelmed, by infinity.

-Upamanyu Acharya

 


A Kyrielle Sonnet consists of 14 lines (three rhyming quatrain stanzas and a non-rhyming couplet). Just like the traditional Kyrielle poem, the Kyrielle Sonnet also has a repeating line or phrase as a refrain (usually appearing as the last line of each stanza). Each line within the Kyrielle Sonnet consists of only eight syllables.

Just having a bit of fun with words over here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Exorbitant

 

A connoisseur of interest compounded and time confounded
Within his grasp lie numerous advantages
predetermined
Three makes five and two makes three
The end is in sight – the tremendous expanse of infinity

Comprehensively careful he displaces himself
The sum of all parts, greater than none
The horses grandly gallop and the racers rapidly race
Outpacing his spirit with rich monetary embrace

With mettle, pluck and fortitude he humbles investors
Trees are greener, food is tastier, but life goes on the same
Slowly in the murky, shadowy depths of relevance
The wolves howl for what they seek to reclaim

His soul is skittish and perturbed yet sanguine;
Hiding behind a curtain of impenetrability
Dreams of trotting, ambling, striding and then sprinting
The triumph of ascendency is listlessly dwindling

Graphs wavering like Patagonian mountainsides
The solitary curtains shimmer one last time
The wolves arrive – the numbers have been rounded and
Interest has been compounded

Friday, January 23, 2015

People I’d Invite to a (Imaginary) Party

 

I’m not the kind of person to throw parties, but a few weeks before anyone’s birthday comes around they’re always inclined to sit down and wonder who they’d invite. Even if they haven’t celebrated in five years and they have no friends. Indeed, every year in mid December after I’ve decided that I’m not celebrating my birthday I think about this. My imaginary list gets to about three names and then I’m daunted by the task ahead; how many people do I invite? Where should it be? Do I call that cousin I’m kind of friends with, but not really? Do I invite that girl I like who doesn’t know a single one of my friends and will get bored to death if she comes? The additional problem of ‘doing things’ is also perplexing – between the ages of 15 to 21, what do people even do at a birthday party? You can’t really drink and you can’t do kid things like go bowling or something (which are actually really fun). At the end I just leave the real party for next year, and this happens every year.

But now I’m changing the topic, because I can. I can invite anyone, from anywhere, from any time period to my party, and they’d come. Who do I invite? Obviously the first person on the list has to be Oscar Wilde, the original party person. The traditional British upper-class, no holds barred avant-garde trailblazer of his day; gossiping amongst royals and artists and 19th century Stephen Frys. I’d invite him just for his quotes:

“The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork”.

“Hear no evil, speak no evil- and you’ll never be invited to a party”.

”Talk to every woman as if you loved her, and to every man as if he bored you, and at the end of your first season you will have the reputation of possessing the most perfect social tact.”

A party hosted by me would be nothing without some good old social-awkwardness thrown in; people shuffling about near the door, taking way too much time to pour their drinks; three or four people not having a ‘group’ to talk to who’d randomly bustle into one of the other groups and try to force their way into conversation, only to brutally realise that they don’t know anything these guys are talking about; dozens of people sitting in the corner on their phone because they don’t think they fit in, while they try to connect to the WPA-PSK protected Wi-Fi in maladroit fervour. These are the kind of things you’d probably expect.

I wouldn’t call Hitler or anyone like that because they’re already invited to thousands of other imaginary parties. There are so many people out there who, if given the chance, would invite Hitler, that I wouldn’t be surprised if he has more imaginary invitations than Elvis Presley or The Beatles. I will call Taylor Swift though; that should attract the paparazzi and make this party more illustrious and eminent. Plus, it’s Taylor Swift. I’d actually probably invite every famous musician whose music I listen to. That should be about 1500 people so we’d need a big venue. I’d also call some more tangentially famous personalities; I’d love to see the founder of reddit interact with J.R.R. Tolkein or Bill Gates expressing his admiration towards Ramanujan or Tsiolovsky discussing his work on rocket physics with Chris Hadfield. Tchaikovsky playing his piano in the background while Freddie Mercury sings along. Edgar Allan Poe reading his poetry to Allison Brie (okay that one’s a bit creepy). That would be a hell of a party.

But in the end, who really cares, because imaginary things don’t exist and dead people don’t come back to life. Which is the main reason people celebrate birthdays in the first place – to enjoy the importance of life. Nothing warrants a celebration more than the slow plodding of age, to survive another listless year surrounded by benevolent and loving friends and family, knowing that the icy specter of death looms over everyone’s shoulders ready to snatch us up (or down) at any time. That’s the purest form of celebration – the most poignant and paramount phenomenon - integral to the world and integral to us learning and loving and living; existing.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Did This God Guy Really Create Aliens?

 

"Two possibilities exist - either we are alone in the universe or we are not.
Both are equally terrifying."
-Arthur C. Clarke

Whenever I look at the bigger picture – of life on our planet with our double decker buses and red roses and revolving doors, I find it a bit dull. It’s not the monotonous drudgery of the average human life that I find dull, but the slow, precise way organisms indulge themselves; with evolution. It’s so intricate and complex, though, the way all life stems from a single primordial cell. If it’s all true, we all do indeed have common ancestry and all that separates our grandfathers from E. Coli is a few million generations of life finding a way of doing things it wants to do. Which leads me back to the bigger picture – it makes sense. Aside from the disputes between things like abiogenesis and panspermia, all these sciency theories that are not really theories but fact, but still theories; aside from them it’s all very believable. Something called the big bang happened and it created space and time and atoms, and gravity eventually pulled these atoms together to form earth, and then some weird chemistry happened between atoms on earth and we have life. It’s a very harsh, clinical portrayal of what could otherwise be the most poignant narrative ever. But there’s no way for us to access that information. We don’t know when life was first born. People remember birthdays; grandparents tell pretty stories and parents tell horror stories, but they all still remember your birthday. And yet all we have to learn about where we really come from is talk of amino acids and self-replicating molecules.

Why can’t it be another way? I’d like to live in a world where I wouldn’t be mad for thinking that this whole thing is a computer simulation, or that HAL 9000 really exists and we’re all just 1s and 0s in its singular reality. Or that aliens created the planet earth and will soon destroy it to create space for an intergalactic bypass. That would mean that there is an ultimate way to find answers to every question way have (aside from creating a giant computer or doing things the hard way by doing maths and launching spacecraft). I’d like to believe that there is indeed a creator, because that’s just a lot more of a poetic story to tell. Many religions have already painted a picture of what this creator might look like, or what this creator wants done from us mortals, and how we should eat, read and behave. When people are bored, as they have been for millennia before the Industrial Revolution happened and whales started dying out to feed our consumerist attitudes and corporate greed, they like reading and living colourful stories – and religions fulfilled that for the longest time.

So I’m talking about god a lot, and here’s where I have to tread a bit lightly because I really want there to be a god, even though I’ve never been religious. I’ve spoken about this before, but I revert back to my personal inspiration, Albert Einstein: “If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” I marvel the framework of physics and mathematics that even begin to set us up for exploring the universe, but at some point everyone has wondered who set it up. Who set up constants like gravity and the speed of light, and was it a ‘who’ or a ‘what’, or was it even ‘it’? It’s so ridiculous that we can’t fathom the concept of nothingness before the creation of space-time; that we have to believe in creation instead of a limitless, four dimensional expanse, beginning from nothing and fading away into all of eternity. There has to be something, right?

I’d honestly prefer it if there were, but Einstein’s interpretation of god will continue to make sense for the longest time. Let’s say he isn’t right about this one – that either the religious identity of a god is correct, and there is a physical manifestation of a creator somewhere – or the more standard atheistic standpoint of there being nothing at all. How likely are we to encounter aliens? Does Fermi’s paradox, which so kindly tells us that it’s not fucking likely at all, mean anything if a god really does exist? It seems almost hideous and cruel that we’re put on a little rock planet far away in the Western corners of the Orion Arm in the Milky Way, far away from a heavily concentrated supercluster, far away from the centre of a galaxy, and far away from that thing, whatever that thing was, in the movie Interstellar. If he did exist surely he’d put us closer to some friends or enemies.

I really hope aliens are real; I hope life elsewhere exists. It would be sad if it didn’t– not only because all our knowledge and culture would go to waste after a million years if we don’t escape this blue planet, but because we need some sort of scale to measure our civilisation against. The Kardashev scale sounds really cool but we really don’t know if it’s even taking the right scale into consideration; Kardashev talked about utlising the power of stars and eventually entire galaxies. We don’t even know if aliens can read. We don’t know if they’re blobs of goo who eat themselves or intelligent machines that zip through space at 99% the speed of light; we don’t know if they’re the size of microbes or Sri Lanka; we don’t know if we’re the first intelligent civilisation or the last – and both are extremely scary prospects (assuming we’re even considered intelligent). It’s just so many things to consider, some closure into whether we’re good, bad or average would be nice.

If he does exist, and I use the word ‘if’ and ‘he’ very liberally, I do admire his love for both mathematics and art – two subjects which in their cores are very dear to me. I like the subtle things he’s done, like how we see dendritic patterns in our body’s circulatory system, on our planet’s geography in the form of rivers as well as in the concentration of stars in the universe. He’s created an excellent, ambiguous yet intriguing three–dimensional puzzle, the scale of which is daunting and immense but still excites a frisson among most of us when we think about traversing it. He’s created complex personalities, who create art, food, music and have the capability to love – all from a few amino acids. He created numbers and fractals and time and colour and an octillion other philosophical and physical canvases for us to paint, and for that I’m grateful. So, this god guy… probably a smart chap.

It's a fake picture - don't kid yourself

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Upamanyu Acharya is a writer who doesn't write. Sometimes he's an artist, musician, photographer, physicist or lazy student. His hobbies include being vague, bending rules, time-travel, and embellishment of words.