Indian Institute of #NetNeutrality

A lot has been said about #netneutrality in the last few days, from how dear ol’ “altruistic” Zucky has a golden heart and wants to see poor kids in Chandauli access Facebook the Internet for free, and how Airtel just wants every poor child to access “the Internet”, to how the debate is full of metaphors like a fishermen’s net is full of fish in the evening.

So let me take a jump in the net neutrality discussion to talk about three issues that have been bugging me related to this:
1. Idea & IIN
2. The cable TV metaphor, and
3. The toll-free number metaphor.

Idea & IIN

We don’t see the connect between Idea’s IIN ads and net neutrality yet. It isn’t directly related, but it does lay down the groundwork for the idea (pun unintended) that somehow, the mobile operators/ISPs are the magnanimous fellows who are bringing all this wonderful Internet magic to you, and by association, can claim ownership to the content and innovation it brings along.

You’ve seen the IIN ads – where Idea’s Internet Network is the source of education for all the underprivileged, all who have been wronged by unfair selection practices in traditional educational institutions, and all who are mocked by their peers, but have the zeal to learn on their own.

Wow so cool. Except that Idea has nothing to do with it. Like I tweeted a few days ago, it’s like BEST laying claim for the education of your kid who goes to college by bus and becomes a lawyer. There, one more metaphor – take it and go.

Yes, Idea (or any mobile operator/ISP) isn’t providing anything beyond a connection to the Internet. They aren’t providing a platform. They surely aren’t creating the content that’s adding to our education when we decide to educate ourselves. The people in the ads could very well learn the exact same thing, find the exact same information if they were using a Vodafone connection, or were accessing the Internet through a local cable broadband connection.

If anything, Idea and other mobile operators are responsible for impeding said education due to their pathetic network quality and high data prices.

The Cable TV Metaphor

Mobile operator sympathizers have been citing the way cable MSOs operate as the model for internet access, which is, you choose which channels you want to watch and subscribe to those, in addition to a basic access charge, that you pay your MSO or local cable guy. Certain channel groups have tie-ups with certain large MSOs and not with others, so certain channels are available only on the former and not on the latter. Nobody complains there, so why the hue and cry this time?

To start with, that one industry is being run as a racket can not and should not be used to justify attempts to destroy another network and technology. But let’s keep that aside for a while.

TV and the Internet can not be compared. Here is why. In the case of TV, a cable/dish subscription is nothing but a bundle of channels, it’s a one-way medium, and we’re all purely consumers. Add to that, we do not do our daily communication and business over television waves. It’s a pure mass-media system.

The Internet, on the other hand, is not just another media. It’s not a bundle of websites, and not at all a bundle of websites the folks at Airtel / Reliance / Internet.org can decide it to be. It’s like the ocean, where these websites exist, and thrive purely on merit, either of technology, content, or marketing, not because they sign up with particular ISPs so that those ISPs agree to delivery their bytes to end-users. The Internet is not “just a technology”, the Internet is an entity of its own, and you do not get to call it the Internet if you do not let me access certain sites based on tieups your tieup sales team has made.

Secondly, the Internet has always been about choice. I choose to open Vimeo or YouTube at the time I please, and search for the video I want to see, and choose to watch the one I like. Compare this with TV, where the channel decides which content is appropriate for its audiences, and when it should be aired – the only choice we have is to either watch it or watch some other channel altogether.

I am not just a consumer on the Internet. I am also a content creator. Through our websites, blogs, social profiles, we disseminate content.
We are, at the same time, consumers and creators of content.

More importantly, I am not just a consumer on the Internet. I am also a content creator. Through our websites, blogs, social profiles, we disseminate content, of varying levels of intensity and seriousness. In addition to that, people like me make our living through the Internet. We are, at the same time, consumers and creators of content. And with this freedom to create and innovate, the number of web properties increases every day. Can the ISPs play god by deciding which ones of these you and I, or the kids in Chandauli get to see?

The Toll-Free Number Metaphor

We started hearing this when Airtel started feeling the heat of the public backlash. In fact, an email arrived in many mailboxes today from Airtel’s MD & CEO Mr. Gopal Vittal, where he insists that Airtel Zero is nothing but a 1800 service for websites.

Except that it’s not.

I can call a 1800 number from any SIM card or landline phone within the geographic boundaries, and not be charged. To access the “1800 website” I will have to sign up with Airtel Zero’s service on an Airtel SIM card. The metaphor does not go the whole hog Mr. Vittal.

Once again, the Internet is not comprised of a bundle of websites or phone numbers. It’s a place where different forms of media and platforms and properties are being created every hour, and that’s the beauty of it. “Websites” are one type of property on the web, though the dominant ones, but there are other types of properties, and more such will keep coming up as innovation goes on.

…the illusion of choice the mobile operators are talking about, is for the provider of the content, and not you and me, the consumer of the content.

Also, to access a 1800 number, all I do is dial the said number (the transaction with the network begins there), and be assured that the conversation is between the owner of the number and me (unless there’s tapping going on, in which case we have other serious issues to handle). In the case of Airtel Zero or Internet.org, the only way the ISPs can make sure I am not billed for going to their favourite sites is by snooping on my data packets (because my transaction with the ISP begins when I log on, or in the case of mobile internet, it’s an ongoing transaction). This is gross violation of my privacy, and it’s none of their business to be looking at the data I am sending and receiving.

In the end, the illusion of choice the mobile operators are talking about, is for the provider of the content, and not you and me, the consumer of the content. You and I don’t choose whether we get Flipkart for free or Amazon. It’s only the choice of Bansal or Bezos to sign up with these “zero plans” if they want more visitors to their sites. We don’t get any choice if there’s no net neutrality going forward.

If we let the mobile operators/ISPs decide which sites we can and cannot access, and do not insist on net neutrality today, maybe going forward you’ll be charged extra to read this blog, or simply access WordPress.com, or maybe you simply can’t access these, because they’re not part of the bundle that your ISP is offering you.

Do your bit today, visit www.savetheinternet.in, or www.netneutrality.in to know more about the issue and find out what actions you can take to prevent mobile operators and ISPs from taking the Internet hostage.

Disclaimer: I run a firm which makes web properties and runs its entire business on the web.
Disclaimer 2: I am trying to post this blog through the Airtel broadband connection I have at home, which after the miniscule 15GB FUP (which can be exhausted in a mere 5 OSX updates) runs at the awesomely slow speed of 512kbps. I’m frustrated with them over this, but net neutrality is way bigger than petty quibbles over data packs ending prematurely.

(Post’s featured image from FreePress on Flickr under Creative Commons licence)

Marry a Girl of Your Caste

Inspired by the series of blogposts/articles which are titled “Date a girl who…”. Reading all these beautiful articles I thought there ought to be one that rings closer home, to the average Indian chap’s life. And I also tweeted about it a few days back. So here it is.

Marry a girl of your your parents’ caste.

What is caste you asked? What are you? An Englishman? A hippie? An eskimo? Only foreigners don’t worry about caste. They don’t even have caste. Arrey they don’t even have culture, how will they have caste?

You know how glorious our culture is, right? Haven’t you seen the forward which tells you how many Indians work at Microsoft, and how we gave the world the zero, and how we have never invaded anyone ever? Do you want me to invade my foot into your ass?

No, no, no. Won’t do if you choose an Indian girl also, if she is not of same caste. Caste is important. Because culture is important. No, you can’t marry a Madrasi girl. We can’t even understand their language, how she will understand your culture? Yes, her parents are right in not letting her marry you. We hate them. But we also agree with them. And no, a Gujarati/Marathi/Punjabi girl won’t do either. And none of those fish-eating Bengali girls!

What? Girl from our state? What is her caste? What is the gotra? No no no, different gotra won’t do. We don’t even touch water they drink. Oh, they said they don’t touch water we drink? They maybe right, as long as what they imply is what we imply.

Tell me this: what will happen when you have children? What caste would they belong to? What will their identity be? Your name? That’s hardly identity. Indians? Ha ha ha. One Indian in one billion Indians. What an identity! No, no, caste identity must be preserved!

And why are we discussing all these girls anyway? It is not your job to look for the girl you would spend the rest of your life with! It is the job of your parents, their relatives, distant relatives, cousins of aunts of sister-in-laws, matrimony portal wallahs, pundits, matchmakers, neighbours, dhobis (washermen), naais (barbers)… anyone but you. You may think you know what you want. But that is not the same as what is good for you. You understand? It’s like the time you wanted to eat chocolate ice-cream, but we knew that two-in-one was good for you. Remember? Did you fall sick that time? No na! So you agree that what you want is not what is good for you. These people who have no idea about who you are, can select better girl for you, because they are not blinded by your prejudices and tastes. They will find a girl who is right for you, because she belongs to your your parents’ caste, and is homely. That is important. It’s not like you want to have a conversation with her about Murakami or jazz. Why would anyone have a conversation with his wife about anything but the price of potatoes and what time to leave for the neighbour’s daughter’s engagement party? You want your wife to revolt?

Sports? What you want to send her to play for India, or what? You know what happens to husbands whose wives become more famous? Husbands should always have more power, more smartness, and more fame than their wives. Because wives’ minds become unruly when they get more power. You want her to take decisions in your life? What is this nonsense about education, exposure, job? You know what they call men who let their wives work? Modern. Do you want to be called that?

What? No no, don’t give me all this hocus-pocus about film stories. That is film. This is life. You are not Dilip Kumar, nor are you Salman Khan. And don’t expect your parents to behave like Nirupa Rai and Nazir Hussain ok? Saying “jismein tum khush raho usi mein humaari khushi hai“, or “aajkal woh zamaana toh raha nahi, ki bacche maa-baap ki pasand se shaadi karein“. All this nonsense is against our culture. Don’t you know our culture is coming back? And these films are spoiling our culture. So don’t expect all this filmy dialoguebaazi ok? Expect your parents to ask what the caste of the girl is. And expect them to act hurt when you say you don’t care about caste. Who are you to not care about your caste?

And, do you know caste is scientific? In the Vedic times it was based on the profession of the person. What? This girl works in your department in office? No, no. That was Vedic times. Today caste is based on what caste your parents belong to, don’t you know? Now if the system was so good thousands of years ago, it is good today also. As we want to impose it on you. You want to oppose something scientific?

Ok stop all that discussion. Look, this nice homely same-caste girl is also adept at making round-round rotis. And she has never lived away from her parents. Don’t you know what that means? wink wink. And look, her bio-data says she likes embroidery! Don’t you want those lettered handkerchiefs to show off when you go to office?


Disclaimer: Total work of fiction, I swear! No Queens of England were harmed during writing of this post. All similarities to people or incidents or communities totally unintentional.

Advertising meets Politics = WTF

WTF of the day comes from our dear ol’ Congress Party (the haath people, not to be confused with haathi people).

After claiming credit for Slumdog Millionaire’s Oscar success (did they also claim credit for the never before success of the Indian contingent in the Beijing Olympics?) and a jingle claiming credit for every technological advancement that ever happened in the world and came to India, in whichever way, there is another TVC, where a couple is talking between themselves, and are happy that inflation is reduced, and prices of things from commodities to properties have come down. Never mind that millions are losing their jobs and are getting their paychecks cut, so they won’t be that thrilled about this reduced inflation.

The whole world has been looking for who is behind the recession. Is the Congress willing to take credit for it now? (albeit while trying to package it in a positive way)?

Why do I need to lie about myself in my own country?

In my own country, I had to lie about myself. No I am not a fugitive. I am simply a person with Bihari roots.

Yesterday I went to see a flat (we’ve got to shift), and the landlady kept asking us, among other directives like “don’t bring girls here…”, “Is any of you Bihari? Because we don’t want to have Biharis in our house.”. Even though we kept telling her that one of us is a Marathi (to which she looked visible pleased) and I am a Bengali (owing to the “truth” that I come from Calcutta), it felt wrong, and I decided not to ever return to that place.

I never came across anyone in my 20 year long stay in Calcutta, or year long stay in various places in Jharkhand, who would tell me that they would not want a Marathi, Tamilian or Gujarati as a tenant.

Having said that, she has not done anything illegal. She owns the place and she has the right to have her reservations. But the underlying assumptions and intent behind that decision disturbs me.

Why do I need to lie about myself in my own country?

Plural of criminal = Guardian of culture

People who beat up other people without provocation react to some other people sending them underwear with “This is not the way. They could have discussed this with us peacefully across a table”.

People who beat up people based on their state of origin, their religion and caste, file a defamation case against someone who expressed their opinion on this. And the judiciary does not help our young victim.

If Veerappan was alive today, maybe he would’ve sued the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka police for chasing him around and causing him mental trouble – the police should’ve done a round-table meeting with him trying to “sort out” the differences they had with him.

Maybe Charles Shobhraj can sue the Interpol for being insensitive to his freedom needs, and demand that they discuss things out with him in an amicable setting.

But do you know why that will not work? Because in Amit Varma’s words “Mobs are above the law”. Groups involved in criminal activities today are not criminal in themselves – they are guardians of culture and representatives of aam junta.

Maybe Gabbar Singh would have stood a chance of going free, joining politics and putting Thakur behind bars (for having caused him irreconcilable trauma) if his gang would have protested for his release in front of our Supreme Court, stating that the gang was a social activity group which was protecting the Ramgadhwasis from a big calamity: Gabbar Singh’s rage.

That could be the plot for a new Sholay.

All views expressed in this blogpost are not related to anyone, and no person living or dead is implied. Please let me blog in peace, don’t sue/arrest/beat me up.

I am the change. What else?

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

It is a quote by Mahatma Gandhi. What did the great man mean when he said this?

That if you want the world to be a more honest place, be honest yourself?

Or that if you want the politicians in the world to be better, become a politician yourself?

Turns out there are people who think it’s the latter.

So if I want doctors to give me better treatment, do I need to become a doctor myself? If I want to see better buildings in my city, do I need to become an architect myself? For better traffic, do I become a traffic constable?

Why is politics and administration “above” other professions?

If a person is honest and does his job with integrity, does he not have a right to complain when his state’s CM is caught taking bribes, just because he himself has not taken up politics as a career?

Next time there is a defence scandal in the news, I guess only the defence people would have a right to talk about it. How would the news channels cover it then?

Real-Life Gandhigiri

History is being made. In true Gandhi style.

Mind it, these are not spoofs of the events we have read about in our history text books. These are actual, serious movements by people who mean business.

Whether you drink, don’t drink, go to pubs, don’t go to pubs, if you want a safe and free environment for Indian youngsters where no one should be forcing upon them their idea of what is ‘moral’, then you must join the Pub Bharo Andolan. If you happen to be a woman as well, then A Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women is for you. And if you’re feeling particularly generous, or want to do things Munnabhai style, then the Pink Chaddi Campaign is for you.

All the power to movements against moral policing by the likes of Muthalik et al!

No Love Please, We are Indians

Hoardings warn dating couples in Srinagar, and the local police are against this stand, but elsewhere according to this news item, the police itself is the moral guardian which caught the couple in question and raised charges against them.

Is India being Talibanised, or is it now being governed by frustrated men? How a couple kissing anywhere at all constitutes public harassment is beyond me. It is definitely a matter of victimless crimes. And as usual, the Indian administration believes in meting out instant harsh, harsher, harshest punishments to the ‘criminals’ indulging in these ‘crimes’, while criminals who actually harm others intentionally are tried in courts for years while they live on taxpayers’ money. That the taxpayers themselves are being harassed like this for public displays of affection is not important.

In high school, when we were given an idea of the Indian administrative system, and the Constitution (note the capital C, denoting infallibility and perfection), we were given an idea that India is a free land, where every Indian is free as long as they don’t hurt others. We believed it to be true. And were mighty proud of it.

Now we realise, through witnessing such incidents, that it’s not as free as one would think it is.

We’d rather bow down to anyone and everyone’s fragile sensibilities, including (and especially) the religious type, than stand for freedom and peace.

Another reason why governance should not be concerned with social propriety and should be concerned more with security of the tax-paying citizens.