The Gandhi YouTube Controversy

Gandhi Controversy Video on Youtube
(image source: Boing Boing)

Couple of weeks back, Brazil insanely decided to ban YouTube for failing to effectively curb the spread of the Daniella Cicarelli sex-on-the-beach video. The order was issued after Cicarelli and her boyfriend filed suit in a Brazilian court. Of course, Daniella hadn’t envisioned that in spite of her celebrity status in Brazil, no one in today’s world of ubiquitous video would spot her having sex in broad daylight on a Brazilian beach. To have sex on a public beach and then react strongly when someone actually shot and posted the video on YouTube is simply hypocritical. I thought Brazilian courts would see through this faulty logic but they didn’t and ordered YouTube shut. Of course, even after YouTube removed the offending video, it reemerged in other forms and even transitioned to Google Video when I saw it. Of course, it was removed from there too but in today’s dime-a-dozen video sites, it didn’t take long to emerge elsewhere.

Little did I know that a similar case would play out soon in India. Except in this case, it was a unfunny comedy video that involved Gandhi dancing around a strip pole. I had initially ignored the issue but was surprised when the Indian I&B ministry took personal interest in the video and was purportedly ‘angered’ and wanted the IT ministry to ‘take action against YouTube’. There never was a better example of shooting the messenger even if the message isn’t all that popular. What’s more, since it can’t do anything to the comedian who committed the ‘offense’, it also was pissed off at the TV channels – IBN-7 and Sahara – for showing the video. Of course, the next natural act for an irrational government is to advocate for a ban on the entire site itself.

I have seen the video and although I didn’t find it particularly funny, I don’t see any reason to get all riled up and ban the ‘invention of the year’ completely. Of course, if you do, the Indian public will largely suffer and be bereft of the tons of cool videos that youTube has brought into our homes. But to expect the Indian government that had earlier banned Yahoogroups, Blogger, and even Orkut to contemplate rational thought over emotional appeal is expecting too much. Indians (on an average) cannot wrap their heads around extent of free speech and allowing for dissent or unpopular opinions. See this insanely funny Jesus Christ: The Musical video. I bet any ardent Christian would be deeply offended but in a largely religious-friendly White House administration, no one even mentions banning it. There might be thousand things wrong with the United States but their tolerance for free speech is unparalleled.

However in India, although everyone agrees with free speech in principle they also agree that there should be limits to free speech while totally unanswering the question of who would impose those limits. We’ll even go to the extent of inciting or threatening violence against people who have a different view of a man who in fact preached the opposite. No one would for a moment wonder what would Gandhi do. In fact, in the popular movie on Gandhigiri he addresses this question and encourages people to pull down his statues that dot every Indian town junction. There is no dearth of people in India who would get offended at the slightest hint of disagreement or humor that pokes fun at them.

After the Blogger ban, my brother strongly supported such a ban and said if it saved ten thousand lives such a ban is justified; after all who cares for a few blogs. Well, I was surprised considering he is an educated and rational individual. So now, I would ask him if banning YouTube is similarly justified because it saves hurting the sentiments of a few million Indians. Perhaps those millions wouldn’t have even heard of the offending video if the government hadn’t made such a ruckus. Trying to impose delicate sensibilities of few easily-offended officials on millions of Indians is highly undemocratic and even more dangerous is trying to control channels of communication that in fact empower citizen sharing and networking.

If this ban is indeed enforced, there is no stopping people who would be offended by other videos. Shiv Sainiks might burn a few more buses if a video making fun of Bal Thackeray popped up or even Sonia Gandhi fans might be offended by people who think that an foreign-born shouldn’t dictate national policy in India. Precedent is a dangerous thing in legal circles and otherwise; once set in motion, there is no stopping it and you never know where you might end up at. Yesterday, it was Blogger today it might be YouTube and tomorrow it might be the entire Internet itself. Are you ready to go back to the dark ages just because few pricks got offended? And if the I&B ministry was that interested in the affairs of YouTube then how come they never recognized or praised YouTube for bringing us rare Gandhi footage from our history?

Update: As you read this, yet another story is developing that might also lead to a controversy at least in India. Perhaps not because it has been revealed by his grandson. It seems Gandhi almost succumbed to personal sentiments:

“At the age of 50, Gandhi, a married father of four, came perilously close to succumbing to a temptation that threatened both his family, and his life’s work, after falling passionately in love with the beautiful Saraladevi Chaudhuri, three years his junior.”

Of course, Indians cannot see their leaders as being human or even having emotions that any normal human would have. This revelation even though made by Gandhi’s grandson as an effort to capture the real man in our Father of our nation is bound to offend some purists. What will they try to ban in this story? Or they will simply do like they do in Bollywood movies, paint the woman as a seductress and a slut in spite of the fact that Sarladevi Chaudari was a gifted, well-informed and a driven individual.

PS. Trust me, even if you were or are offended by the Gandhi video, you are going to click on the video links above if you haven’t seen them yet. Try not to.

27 Comments

  1. What nonsense you talk. All countrys have holy cows. Try making fun of Washington in US&A. It is the same in India also. People who insult the father of the nation should be beaten with sticks. Traitorous websites like YouTube should be banned immediately.

    NB. Your website commenting system is unfriendly to Firefox.

  2. Patriotic Indian, I don’t know of any country called US&A…if you are talking about GW from USA then here is a link to a YouTube video making fun of him. And if you believe in Gandhi, first believe in his message of non-violence…beaten with sticks..gah! Also, why is my ‘website commenting system’ unfriendly ‘to’ Firefox. It works just fine at my end and none of my readers have complained so far. Would love to know if I am missing something.

  3. Beautiful write-up, nicely put.

    for your first commenter patriotic indian,
    If you want to get offended , there are lot of them. Follow uncyclopedia on gandhi . Go ahead and ban this also.

  4. Pat, Did you check skinnyindian.com ?

  5. Bachodi, thanks for the uncyclopedia link. Dinn know it existed. And it definitely contains far more insulting. But hey, don’t like it, don’t read it.

    Rk, I hadn’t. But it seems he has apologized but at the same time brings attention to undue attention to his video.

  6. I am surprised they haven’t picked up on this yet.

    Indira gandhi sings in a nightclub

    http://eastwords.blogspot.com/2006/12/indira-gandhi-sings.html

  7. Not ‘Getting offended’ is what made Gandhi a Mahatma Gandhi. Everybody has read this histoical truth when he was pushed out from train in SA. Do not get offended by the video and those trying to redefine Gandhi’s concept of Ahinsa. Avoid, The muck shall come on the face of all such people who are trying to test all those who believe in true meaning of Ahinsa. Those who do not know try any time in your own lives for once (not getting offended by unruly behaviour of others) and shall know the pleasure of it.

  8. I didn’t click on the video link :) I win the challenge!

    But don’t you think people should in fact thank youtube for ‘exposing’ this ‘traitor’, and his deep dark side? :)

  9. Threats to lynch the person, then beat him with sticks … whatever happend to non-violence and Gandhigiri !

    One another controversy about Gandhi which people in India just refuse to acknowledge or question, is his relationship with younger women, in his brahmachari stage (after 36). He called it his brahmachari experiment, and a test, of his resolve to be celibate. This has been addressed in a few books before. I first read it in Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. Is also been questioned as facts or myth in Ved Meha’s, Mahatma Gandhi and His Apostles, Nirmal Kumar Bose in My Days with Gandhi, Erik H. Erikson in Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence, and Gandhi himself in occasional public utterances. I am sure someone is making a video ofthat, just as I am typing my message.

  10. The root cause of all this is the beast that internet has become. Those numerous porn sites and adult chat room that are corrupting the Indian youth, those online video sites which make fun of the founding fathers and other national icons, those blogs which gives Indian citizens the unhindered freedom of speech which every time offends someone among 1 billion or so Indians that grows uncontrolled.
    The only way to save our dear country is to shut this monstrosity in its entirety. Our country had progressed very well for 40 years or so without internet. So whats the big deal lets shut it down instead of playing the cat and mouse game against these entities.

    :)

  11. Red, I bet there are thousand other such parodies waiting to be discovered and given their 15 minutes of fame by the holier-than-thou Indian moral police.

    Anil
    , of course, this is a test of the people who claim to admire Gandhi. If they genuinely did, then they would just move on and not get violent.

    Sqrl, are you sure you hadn’t seen it before? Knowing your curious nature I doubt you haven’t :)

    Pramod
    , elevating a ordinary mortal to god-like status is not new for Indians even when the individual in question does not wish it.

    Kuttan, if I didn’t know you I would have thought you’re serious :) Ah yes! Death to the Internets.

  12. hehe curious i am, but about the right things :) somehow this didnt seem to be a big deal for me, so no interest..:(

  13. “There might be thousand things wrong with the United States but their tolerance for free speech is unparalleled”

    — are you serious? How about the wardrobe malfunction episode the fine ensued on TV channels. Or how about The Book of Daniel, which was called off after 1 episode because “Christian sentiments were hurt”.

    I agree that Govt should not be banning Youtube or such, but news channels (that too Indian news channels themselves!) showing such videos on TV is not funny at all, and should be fined and reprimanded.

    S

  14. Srql, good for you :)

    Suyog, I agree that there are still some remnants of censorship in the U.S. but relatively it is one of the free-est societies regarding free speech. There have been a few hiccups in recent times but I consider that a cyclical process or a temporary Bush-spike. Imposing limits on what the news channels should and should not show is going down a slippery slope because then who will decide what those limits are. If racy remix videos are fine then any parody of Gandhi is fine too. Respect cannot be demanded.

  15. How dare you speak thus of the Padre! He hath given his life, his clothes and an assortment of commodities for your freedom. In return, all he asketh for is your absolute subservience, free will and the ability to make rational choices.

    He hath also helped create the glorious nation of Pakistan with gorgeous women for young Indian men to ogle at (albeit with a tinge of jealousy), but that subject shalt not be broached. In India, padre knows best. Didst thou not know? Obey the padre!

    I think this Oracle TOS poster sums it up rather well.

  16. And I think Patriotic Indian was trying to be sarcastic — just a thought. T’was amusing to see the serious responses, though.

  17. Metlin, trust me there are plenty of people who are taking this seriously and sarcasm is miles away although I wish your kind of (first) responses would be welcome.

  18. Heather Flanagan

    January 21, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    I think that there can be positive portrayals of Gandhi and positively irreverant ones. Here is an example of a positive one:

    http://pugettown.wordpress.com/2007/01/19/reincarnating-gandhi/

  19. Pat, you’ve got to be kidding me when you say:

    “I agree that there are still some remnants of censorship in the U.S. but relatively it is one of the free-est societies regarding free speech.”

    The comparison between India and US is not fair. Yes, the US wins when it comes to India, but you can’t compare India and US. India should be compared to the developing countries and if you do, India is a hands down winner.

    Compare US with other developed countries. Compare it to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium and those countries. I can’t find the article right now, but I had come across this article where the Author was an American and believed that America was the best country it the world when it came to free speech. However, his trip to Belgium shattered all those misconceptions. US is the same country whose media berated the Muslims during the Danish cartoon controversy and the next time around they were on the other side of the proverbial fence with theh “DOAP” mockumentary.

    Again, while I do agree that US does have free speech it is not one of the free-est societies in the world.

  20. OI, I still stick by the comparison because developed/developing status apart, both countries are comparable due to the sheer size, large population, presence of minorities and large number of ethnic groups. European countries that you cite have been homogeneous and have recently seen the surge of immigration and intolerance has been growing.

    Muslims are still safe in the US than they are in Europe today. Opinions of a conservative media may seem to be main voice in America but that is only because they are the loudest. The majority of the people do not believe that.

  21. when I say the American media I am not just talking about buffoons like O’Reilly, Hannity and Limbaugh. I saw the same thing on MSNBC, reportedly the most leftist of news organizations and CNN, the centre left new organization.

    During the Danish cartoon controversy, CNN and MSNBC were berating the Muslims for their protests and defending a right to free speech. However, when it came to Bush and the DOAP mockumentary, they started questioning the motives of the UK film maker. Free speech argument disappeared outta the window.

    The reason why I say both countries; India and USA are not comparable is because there is huge disparity in the culture and education. Same as you can’t compare citizens of Patna to Bombay. That is a whole different demographic. That comparison is not fair. Bombay can be compared to Bangalore, Karachi, Dhaka, Riyadh, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and the like.

  22. OI, By freedom of speech environment, I don’t mean the attitude of the media which can differ by the age in which we live in but rather the action the government takes. The Indian government explicitly allows for curtailment of free speech conditional to certain ambiguous conditions whereas in the US, except for a fire-in-a-theater scenario, no such conditions are laid out and if anything is in doubt, it is promptly debated by the Supreme Court, not the government or the media.

    Freedom of speech can be compared on principle. China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia are the worst violators whereas US and other so-called developed nations are better examples.

  23. @ Pat

    I understand what you are trying to say about free speech, but if I remember correctly, even the White House and Republican party had jumped in during the DOAP controversy.

    Republican Party asked the film for not to be screened.
    White House said, it does not dignify a response.
    Hillary Clinton said “I think it’s absolutely outrageous. That anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick.”

    Regal and Cinemark refused to screen the film. CNN and NPR didn’t run ads for the movies. There were also rumours that these cinema chains had received word from individuals as well as politicians against screening the movie. Compare that with Fanaa not being screened in Gujarat.

    I don’t want to be push my point too hard lest you start thinking I am against free speech or am one of those moronic radicals, which I am not. But the fact of the matter remains that you can’t expect everyone to understand where to draw a line. Agreed, that those people are in the minority but some sort of a censorship is required, I think.

    This Gandhi controversy was one such situation. I think the govt should not have justified it with a response in the manner that it did, but something on the lines of what White House said would have been welcome. My view point is contrary to yours. I do think certain people are beyond parody. As we were discussing on Greatbong’s blog, I do think the analogy between MLK and Gandhi is justified. Check this out and if time permits, do share your views.

  24. OI, I understand what you are trying to say but sometimes freedom of speech is so complex a principle that most aren’t sure how the heck it works. You can even liken it to Gandhi’s principle of nonviolence…easy to preach difficult to practice.

    Of course, the US doesn’t have it all perfect yet just as it doesn’t practice pure capitalism but like I said, it is relatively better than most places on Earth for the varied groups of population it hosts. The law is extremely strong regarding allowing freedom of speech. You’ll rarely seen someone beaten up for saying anything offensive and if violence occurs, the perpetrators are dealt with strictly. That is an aspect I admire.

  25. @ Pat

    I agree with your second paragraph to quite an extent. We should not forget though, that India in *evolving* while US has already evolved – if we consider the simplistic definition of developing and developed nations. And it will get better, that is the only reason I don’t think we can compare India to US who have had a head start over us in all aspects.

  26. OI, yup! We can get better only by comparing ourselves to a higher standard, right? It’ll get better as India as you say ‘evolves’ but the current state of affairs in India leaves a lot to be desired. But let’s hope for the best.

  27. @ Pat

    Agreed. Although I would not want US to be the benchmark for India in many many respects. Example: Foreign policy. Thats a different matter though. As you said, lets hope for the best :)

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