Why I don’t call the Aditi Restaurant bill “Free Speech”

I am one of the vocal advocates of individual rights. I value free speech. And every so often, I find attempts for many things (usually political) trying to pass as free speech. The Aditi Restaurant bill is one of those. To make a long story short, a restaurant in Mumbai had this bill, which infuriated the Congress, and youth Congress workers mobbed the place and either forced it to close down or cops closed it down.

As per UPA, eating money (2G, Coal scam) is a necessity and eating food in an <strong class='StrictlyAutoTagBold'><figcaption id=AC restaurant is luxury.” src=”http://aamjanata.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/aditi-restaurant.jpg” width=”500″ height=”638″ /> As per UPA, eating money (2G, Coal scam) is a necessity and eating food in an AC restaurant is luxury.

This has naturally led to a highly predictable social media war against the Congress, with Free Speech activists mushrooming everywhere objecting to this silencing of the restaurant’s right to put whatever they want on their bill.

I don’t call this free speech, but a highly political stunt and am furious at the creeping political hostility in casual public spaces. I most certainly don’t think it is appropriate for services that are open to the public at large to get into statements of political sarcasm on official stationery – particularly when it is factually incorrect that anyone in the UPA has called eating money a necessity.

I have my reasons as follows:

  • Official stationery of a business is different from your personal blog or Twitter feed. It expresses the view of the business. If the view is one that makes a factually incorrect statement – however deserved the anger underlying it may be – then it is defamation. While laws for defamation are used more to protect the poor than the rich, the fact is that the law in itself is not wrong. It is also not against free speech as the ignorance on Twitter claims. If you can prove that what you said is true, or at least that you reasonably believed it to be true, it is not defamation. A lawyer will probably explain this better, but the bottom line is, official stationery has no room for creative exaggerations in insult, and the bill was flat out wrong.
  • It is harmful for society at large for such polarization to be allowed to exist. If this goes without comment, there will be other establishments making defamatory comments about other political parties in retaliation, then counter retaliation, till the whole public sphere is tainted with political hostility that rarely ever serves the common man in the best of times.
  • This logic of writing whatever you want on your own bill does not work when a customer who has already eaten food has no way of avoiding your bill. You have a political statement to make, make it upfront. Put it on your menu so whoever thinks your restaurant is in bad taste can walk out before they have eaten your food and then been served with what they see is an insult. Of course with the same logic, you will also get a lot of customers who like what you said and always eat at your place and you can be known as the adda for local thugs – which is what foot soldiers of most parties are, while other restaurants follow your path and then a few sane ones take pride in being apolitical sanctuaries where you can eat without being insulted, whoever you are.
  • I do understand that restaurant owners are angry over extra charges for AC dining and have direct and relevant anger against government.

The idea of free speech also includes that the audience can choose not to hear. The bill AFTER eating cannot be avoided.

Not only the bill cannot be avoided, but having eaten, the customer must pay, regardless of if he finds it offensive. This is imposition of a political view, not expression.

Thus, I don’t call that crap bill Free Speech. If Congress workers attacked restaurant and forced it to close, they were wrong. If they only protested and cops shut down the restaurant, then I think Congress was well within their rights with their protest. Protest is a fundamental right in India anyway, regardless of how we treat protesters.

I am getting a lot of comments on Twitter, so I will update with any more points that may strike me as relevant.


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16 thoughts on “Why I don’t call the Aditi Restaurant bill “Free Speech””

  1. In defining the limits of Free Speech, we Aam Janataas should keep pushing the boundary only subject to socially recognized expressions of indecency not to be accepted.People and organizations in Public field have to learn to be tolerant of critical views expressed publicly. A Restaurant is already taking a Business-risk by publicly making such comments. Customers may stop eating there in future – I for one would like to avoid such a place. But I would still support the Restaurant’s right to express its sentiments publicly. The issue of unruly protest is not a monopoly of any political party it is the monopoly of Temporal Power.

  2. So criticizing a Government by a business is akin to defamation ? You are setting a dangerous precedent by saying this. Choose your words carefully Vidyut, they may come back to haunt you.

    1. I am not, but you seem to be stupid enough to call anything that criticizes criticism of Congress as support. That is truly pathetic level of subjugated thinking.

  3. More importantly, when it is the customer who has to pay the bill including the service tax, why should the customer also get to tolerate the hotel owner giving unsolicited gyaan?

  4. So you mean to say that the freedom of speech is limited to the Facebook and Twitter only? Why can’t a business express its views when it pays the taxes?

    How exactly is this politically motivated? If merely taking a dig at the govt policies can be termed “politically motivated”, your confusing opposition can also be assumed so…

  5. Sandeep Bastodar

    Entirely agree with your view point Vidyut. If the restaurant owners had a view point on the present Government it should have been displayed in a very visible place so that patrons could decide in advance whether or not to eat there. This as you said seems to be a politically motivated stunt to get publicity which it has.

  6. A business is a private entity. It has as many rights as an individual. If an individual can say something, so can a business. I don’t see how you can allow people to say something and prevent a business from doing the same.

    People can choose not to eat there if they don’t like the speech. But they can’t go crying to the government.

    1. To begin with, the Congress workers don’t seem to have done anything more than protest – which is well within their rights as it is for every citizen of India. Regardless of how the Congress party dismisses free speech, it includes right to protest.

      No one is forbidding a business from free speech, but whether individual or business, if you say something that is not true and that has a detrimental impact on another entity, then it becomes defamation. I imagine it is going to prove impossible to prove that anyone in the UPA claimed eating money was necessary – no matter how many scams they did. Let alone UPA as the coalition, officially. It is not my free speech to call you a thief, for example. It is an accusation, which you will be within your rights to prosecute if it does you harm.

      People cannot choose to not eat there after they have already eaten, unless you are distributing time machines. That is the whole point. If you walk have dinner and when the bill arrives, you find something highly offensive to you written on it, it isn’t the right of the restaurant to force you to make a payment against something that is offensive to you. I wouldn’t have an issue if this message were on the daily specials board, or stuck by tape near the counter or on the menu so people saw it BEFORE they were committed to paying the bill that repeated it.

      1. If I’m not mistaken, the Congress workers did more than protest – they filed a police complaint. As for defamation, the note was clearly political humor “eating money” etc. No court in the world is going to take it literally and call it defamation. Statements like this are made in cartoons all over India everyday. This is no different.

        It’s an interesting point about the bill being brought after the food. But this is no different from a cartoon being buried deep within a newspaper which you see only after you purchase it. Later you can’t claim that you were offended because you didn’t see the cartoon upfront.

        There is a point beyond which it becomes unreasonable to demand that you be warned beforehand of “offensive” speech. Some people just need to get a grip and realize that the world doesn’t fall apart when they see something they don’t life. That’s the price one pays for living in a democracy.

        As far as “offensive” speech goes, this is pretty lame. It’s not porn. It’s not obscene. It’s no PG rated. It’s a bit of a stretch to say that people should be warned before being exposed to targeted political humor.

        1. Well said Bhagwad looks like you have hit the nail on the head else Vidyut would have replied with her riposte immediately

        2. Well said Bhagwad looks like you have hit the nail on the head else Vidyut would have replied with her riposte immediately

        3. Bhagwad, I could not agree more with you. You are bang on. I accidentally came across this article and the content in the article was offensive to me. Who defines what is offensive and what is not? I did not not know that I will have to read this article when I logged on to the internet or came to this blog! So, should this blog be closed down? No. BTW a restaurant is not a public place. A restaurant owner has full right to how he manages his restaurant. If you get offended do not go to the restaurant again, as simple as that. Same is the case of several websites. You never know what the website contains unless you open it. Similarly you never know what is written in the bill unless you read it. The Before After argument was utterly needless and stupid.

        4. Well I wonder if you’d call it free speech if your newspaper delivery man delivered a few dead cockroaches because you paid him late. Or perhaps painted the paper black. When something is paid for, there is a specific delivery expected. Liking or disliking the content of what you buy is a different matter. Being forced to accept something beyond that is the question. A cartoon in a newspaper is not the same thing as fungus on it to express the state of the country. Similarly bad food in a restaurant is not the same as your free speech bill.

          Or perhaps the restaurant owner offered the freedom to ignore the bill if the customer didn’t like it like you can do with a cartoon?

          1. If my delivery man delivered a few dead cockroaches, I would get another delivery man not take the first guy to court! And in the restaurant I paid for the food not for the color, size, shape or texture of the bill. Tomorrow someone will complain that the restaurant gave him a yellow bill and the he never signed up for it etc etc

            Many bills in restaurants in fact have little “quotes of the day” or even something religious. Some have pictures of gods or goddesses. Next you’ll claim that these are illegal and the restaurant should be taken to court because a Christian customer got a bill with Laxmi on it! What are you talking about?

            Not all speech you see is vetted beforehand. No court is going to place such a high burden on a person exercising their free speech rights. All the bill boards you see on the road – did you give your permission to see them?

            Bottom line – stop treating adults like fragile little children who get epileptic seizures whenever they see some words they don’t like.

          2. The dead cockroaches or painting it black concept does not work here. The newspaper delivery men often deliver advertisements inside the newspaper which we do not pay for and neither is it unexpected. These ads can be at times against my favorite political party as well. He may even give me a letter saying that my political party is bad. I would not take him to court. I will neither stop his services. I will just tear off his ad or letter.

            Now, get the meaning of bill clear – “An amount of money owed for goods supplied or services rendered, set out in a printed or written statement of charges”. So, even if you do not like shape, color, printed text, position, photo, name written, font used etc. in the bill, you need to pay up or clean all the vessels in the restaurant.

            The bill is not for you to accept and make it a memento in your house. You throw it in a dust bin, if you do not want to preserve it to produce in your office for reimbursement. Whatever you do, you need to pay up. You cannot buy a newspaper and say that I want the money back because I do not like the articles or the editorial. Its plain stupid. It is just like you come across the opinion of another person, whether it is in a bill, a website or a newspaper.

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