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8

Dear Anonymous,

Congratulations on your first successful protests in India, and what a way to begin - a dozen cities at the same time!

June 9 happened and Internet Freedom Activists protested in several cities of India.Astonishingly, the call sent out by Anonymous India survived the considerable propaganda machine and made it to the real world. This is no mean achievement for an entity that has just come into bring and spent two weeks or so in promoting their first protest. An entity without any financial or organizational backing to enable protests anywhere.

Considering this, it is amazing that volunteers from various cities organized protests at their own expense and initiative. I also applaud the courage of those who protested. It is very easy to protest in a crowd. You go with the flow. When your group is small, and your goal is already under systematic attack, it takes exceptional courage to be the few men (or women) standing in the spotlight.

Not only did these organizers promote the protests and convince increasing numbers of people to join in, they managed to fund it too. In a few cases, small local groups supported voluntarily, in other places, the protesters didn't know each other at all. It is a tribute to Anonymous striking a note of inspiration that this is possible, and I applaud the call you took and your success in its manifestation. I admit that I was one of the few very skeptical people who thought that the protests would either not happen, or worse happen with really few people in very few locations.

I supported your cause, no doubt, but I didn't think India was ready to speak out on censorship to this extent after struggling to raise support for the Freedom Fast in Delhi recently. I didn't think it possible, but true to the advice I got in one of the interviews, I, being one who thought it was not possible, did not get in the way of people doing it. And it was good advice. Thrilled to be proved wrong.

The response was mixed. The earliest sign of trouble came when the police in Cochin "arrested" six protesters after their protest was done. There was much anger (including by me) but it later turned out that the Cochin police not being informed of the protest had detained them for questioning about the protest and let them go after taking their personal details and making a few veiled threats about them being questioned if there was further trouble.

The worst response of the state happened in Hyderabad and Kolkata. In Hyderabad the protests were supported by the Free Software Movement of India. Protesters were threatened by a senior police officer with arrest and confiscation of protest materials including T-Shirts. They were forced to negotiate when the activists stood their ground and the protest was relocated to the nearby Indira Park with a police escort.

Mamatadidi's Kolkata shines once more - not. About 200 protesters arrived for the protest, and were confronted by the police who allowed them 15 min silent protest. Varying accounts on exact methods  agreed that Police noted details and allowed to protest as a split group to look less visible. There were worrisome accounts of indirect intimidation and veiled threats. It says much about the paranoia in Kolkata over dissent that when the police started noting personal details of protesters, the number dropped to a fourth of what it was. Further, after they were forced to leave, when they assembled at a nearby park, plainclothesmen started taking photos of them without any regard to their refusals. At which point they disbanded. But the cops weren't done. They started making individual calls to the numbers they collected interrogating them about their intent and questions like how long they were "gathering online to make protests". Very insane. Mamata Banerjee is increasingly looking like a very worrisome dictator.

And then our President Pratibha Patil shines once more for being anti-people and possibly without even being aware of what gets perpetrated in her name. Protesters in Pune were refused permission to protest anywhere in the city because the President was in the city. Now Pune is huge. Surely there was one corner the President was not Occupying that the common man could Occupy? No such thing. While they did not deny permission on record, they did not give it either (classic Indian red tape). Pune decided to go ahead anyway, but the response was reluctant.

I am interested in knowing how you plan to work around such blocks, because these are important to address, and they hit a lot of citizens routinely if they want to protest anything.

From all accounts, the protests in other places went well. The most life affirming response came in Mumbai, where a protester actually reported that one of the senior officials at Azad Maidan recommended that they repeat their protest soon, if they did not get a good response first time. Win, Mumbai, this is how you win hearts. Hoezaay attended the protest both to support and to report and has a heart warming account of Occupy Mumbai on his blog. A rare worldview, where he staunchly supports the movement, and acknowledges disagreements including areas he doesn't support at all without letting it undermine his firm assertion of the value of the protest in any way. Worth reading.

Occupy Bangalore, Occupy Delhi looked very fun too. The support to the Bangalore protests by FSMK (Free Software Movement Karnataka) who had a parallel protest against the IT Rules was also very appreciated.

Specially worth mentioning is that I was astonished to see that the protests in less publicized places like Calicut, Chandigarh, Jaipur or Manipal go so well. I heard that there was a small protest at Chennai too. They hardly got any attention, but it needs to be acknowledged that they not only have internet users, but they have internet users willing to own a stake in shaping the country's access to the internet. I think this speaks well for our future.

I missed information on Nagpur, Indore, Ahmedabad. I don't think protests happened there.

The response to the protests online was one of initial skepticism followed by a section of people enthusiastically following and spreading news of the various protests. Contemptuous comments about the size of the response persisted, but frankly, I don't give them any weight. In my view, the Anonymous protests were a roaring success. We, of the masala expectations want to see oceans of people to count a protest as successful, since that is the new "benchmark" since the JanLokpal protests. However, the popcorn gallery needs to get a reality check, in my view. Team Anna's protests are coordinated from a central point, backed by organizations with grassroots networks in large swathes of the country. They have funding. They ran SMS campaigns, and did a thousand other things. The handling of the protest is a study in promotion and it was fueled by outrage in the population over corruption.

In comparison, the Anonymous protests are ad hoc. You have no iconic figures, no centralized decision making, no organized reach into the population. Additionally, while almost everyone who understands our IT Act and Rules is outraged, in the physical world, the population of internet users is about 10% and over 99% of those have little awareness of issues like censorship. They will wake up when something they took for granted will not work anymore, or if something they said gets wiped out. Until then, the issue of censorship is not something they expect. Indeed, most Indian users of the internet actually assume Freedom of Expression as described in the US constitution for all intents and purposes. They are not even aware that they could be silenced for being something as subjective as "offensive". Even fewer may be willing to make the effort to actually go to a place and voice support for an idea that their government wants to criminalize. Considering this, the numbers are nothing short of a miracle.

It is a mark of the call of Anonymous capturing the needs and imagination of the people that they can go from being unknowns to having protests in over a dozen cities within a few weeks. A person discounting this has failed to see what is happening among people. Kudos!

That said, I have a few suggestions for Anonymous:

  1. Don't use privately owned public locations (like Malls) for protests unless you know and trust the owning entities as supporters of freedom of speech. It is too easy to evict protesters from private property (even under "inspiration" from the government). Ideally, it should not be so if the protest is not disruptive, seeing as how anyone can enter a mall, and wearing masks is not illegal in India, but remember what we are fighting? Censorship. We have an environment where raising voice against the status quo is almost criminalized by default. We can fight this, but it has to be a separate fight, or it will sabotage this one.
  2. Don't ask for permissions. I have been following your protests with avid interest (including lurking with a nick and being kicked for it) and I have seen that the biggest hurdle to organizing the protests was permissions, which were difficult to get and often for inexplicable reasons. Naturally, if you don't want to break laws, you will have to plan protests that won't need permissions. Smaller groups, other ways of being visible, whatever... and keep the large protests on the ground for special occasions.
  3. Not to mention the fact that apparently you can't protest as an individual in India. Only organizations get permissions to protest. This is very strange and a whole subject in itself. I suggest formally using Anonymous as the name of an organization and if needed, getting someone to register it in some form, so that all future individual protests in the country can simply put Anonymous as the protesting organization and reclaim their freedom to protest - regardless of whether they are Anonymous or not. This will directly make you heroes for many.
  4. The information needs to be documented and organized for easy reference. I know that since all of you are individuals, this is not easy to manage. I will try and help you with this. If/when I get time, or you should ask bloggers and other internetizens who may have time to volunteer and create timelines and archives of links.
  5. While we haven't had much success overturning censorship so far, there are several individuals and organizations working hard to get the IT Rules revoked, for example. They already have in depth and very responsibly conducted research in place, as well as plans on how to make it happen. Anonymous should consider following news on this and throwing their power behind such efforts, since this is one of your goals too. For example, the recent Stop IT Rules Campaign and the Freedom Fast. There are other efforts being made. If you wish, I can try and find out information on this for you. Or, I suppose you have your ways.
  6. While DDoS or defacing attacks are your chosen method, I think if you must break laws and risk your safety for it, then the payoff ought to be higher. In your place I would certainly not risk my safety over blocking access to a site, that too temporarily. Instead, you should focus more on releasing information pertaining to corruption and other damage being done to the country. Information that would otherwise not be accessible to people.
  7. You should consider creating an RTI archive, where people can send you copies of documents they receive through RTI and you make them public - after a certain delay if needed, if there are stories being released on their basis. Such documents should be carefully tagged with all related keywords and be searchable for people needing information. This will propel the country's struggle toward transparency and accountability, provide activists with far larger quantities of information than they can from individual efforts. They will help provide a layer of safety for the lives of RTI activists as well as resist all attempts at silencing. Operation RTI, may I recommend? Additional bonus, you will get a lot of volunteers because it will be totally legal. I can help you with setting it up if needed. I am also willing t host or admin it, but this project cannot be run by a single individual. It will become too large. I will need volunteers.

That I support Anonymous is no secret. I support all efforts at creating a change toward freedoms and inclusion. I supported Team Anna, I support Satyamev Jayate, I support women's rights advocates, I support the campaign to get rid of the IT Rules, I think all these ways collectively add to the momentum. I am not bothered by the flaws of any method as long as they don't harm life and limb, because I have not yet encountered any call for change that was perfect. In my view, change comes through continuous improvement, not perfect solutions. We are a living culture, and we learn from our experiences. To block change for fear of imperfections is a symptom of a defensive mind that fears failure. In my view, rather than block something "because it will not work", it is far more useful to allow it to try and work, and if it doesn't work, it can't be used anyway. In that sense, I may not be a hacker or support some of the methods used by you, but I certainly accept that there is a very real need you are trying to address, and I respect that.

Or in other words, I don't appreciate the idea of servers being attacked. I don't think it is legal, but I think our situation on censorship is far worse. If that is what it takes, I would compare it with stealing the codes of a nuclear bomb to defuse it. Sure, it is stealing, but heck yes, it helps.

I also accept and understand when you say that the advantages such protest offers you may be the only way the protest can be sustained. Words from the interview remain in my mind. You can't be silenced or defamed. Therefore you will be heard. I think you have a point there, when all kinds of dissent is not allowed to stand by personal attacks and discrediting of anyone raising questions, perhaps it is necessary to let the questions stand on their own without anyone to sabotage attached.

There are many things to say. The idea of Anonymous has always fascinated me ever since I heard it. In fact, this blog is founded on a similar idea, though opposite in many ways. You leave behind identity, I use identity as an expression of one reality in the country. But the focus on ideas being the driving force for change is the same. You are the idealism of a generic, nameless human, I am an example human standing as an expression of the reality of many such people. The same idea, abstracted in different ways.

So Anonymous as an idea is very precious to me. And I do believe that it is possible to do great things if we are able to leave behind our identities and image obsessions and work purely in the realm of valuing ideas regardless of source, on their own merit.

I wish you the very best.

With love,

Vidyut

25

I got the opportunity to interview the filmmaker of the indie film InkLab that was released online yesterday
Watch Film>>

The filmmaker Dr. Gaurav Chhabra happens to be a good friend and a person I admire, so this was a great time to do an interview. I am inexperienced with doing interviews, so .... this is what it is, tidied up from a chat. It isn't edited as such, so its an informal conversation.

Lets do a proper interview Gaurav?
yeh would be fine... bolo jee

Where did you get the idea?
A few mnths ago, I was in Kabir kind of mood... writing short couplets and then the idea came about Potash ke puriya. Remember we used to collect masala from fuss bombs of Diwali? So I visualised a small pouch containing that and everything devloped on that in next few hours. The idea came from Potash ... I wanted to write a couplet on it ... about revolution and rebellious ideas, but idea grew on me within next half hour to take shape of a film outline.

The script? You wrote it?
Yeppo. I do have a similar black diary ... but dialouges of film were all fresh.. this month only

It was produced and directed quite fast
The newspapers have fukushima and all our latest scams... how did you manage it?
Yeah I started research and scripting on march first, started shoot on 20th and edit 3 days back. Zero budget, friends cameras, and frnds as actor for free. Actually if you see, this all is a daily talk these days, on chai shai... So shooting it wasn't a big problem. Though film is mostly scripted.

Among the characters in the film, who do you connect with most strongly?
The film has no characters but ideas. It shows how ideas travel across ages and times and across borders. Even the police guy has REBELLIOUS ideas in this ... so people in the system also want change ..

When you made the film, who did you imagine as the audience?
The film was supposed to be released on 2nd so as to gain viral audience and was supposed to be released as Bomb hoax! But comps are machines and men are not free from errors. The script i thought would make 12 min film came out to be 65.

Which is your favourite part of the film?
The Citizen speech at the end. The toughest part was doing the tea cup breaking scene with the kid
secret would come out in the making of film...

Now, the circumstances planned for the release of the film have changed. Do you see it having an impact on how it is received?
Well no... I mean... now it would be received warmly. Earlier some people could have disliked it. Like i posted a promo of bomb hoax and people said they find it pukish and all. People r not used to hardcore activism... So now 8th april is gone. They r watching it as a film,  which is a cool slice of life out of two room mates. So its more comfy to watch it now. Earlier it would have immensly disturbed many ( intention was that ). But yeah, it will achieve its purpose to go beyond present perspectives of involvement of citizen in democracy.

About the involvement of citizen in democracy..... what do you think is the need of the hour?
To come out of comfort zone and think for comfort of not only your family and self, but people on mass scale.

The film hints at very Bhagat Singhish ideals.... and it is very immediate kind of feeling watching it.
No rebel stands by anything past... but ideas... which will always be fresh if the situation is same. In the whole film
the protagnist is discussing bomb case of past, but it appoears that they are planning to bomb Parliament. As I said, Megabyte is new dynamite... NOW one doesnt need to enter parliament to destroy the wrought

What do you think is the most powerful line in the film?... The message?
' its not about politics.. its about realisation...'
That everything depnds on them... the people. The realisation is missing as of now. In fact if you see [the] film runs on lines only because there are hardly any faces visible.

Okay, here is the real question.... after this warm up
yeh

What is the one question you wish I had asked?
Are you happy making such film? do u love the work you do ?
No and No

I mean.. I would have been happy making some happier art works, but situation is society is such that ... I would feel bad if [I] own a capcity to work out such films and I dont... I mean... if things were not like they presently are, I would have been working on different kind of films. But you know.. art is always influenced by politics and vice versa, so I'm kinda Ruined artist. A happy ruined artist.

What would those different films have been? Do you have something in mind?
lol. Yeah I have some beautiful concepts of films... Many commercial business ideas, products designs etc that always loose priority and I end up nourishing these non profit ideas and hence bankrupt.

Yet you chose to release this on the net
This is just a baby. I have its big dad coming ahead in a year or so.

You speak of ideas crossing time and boundaries... what are the ideas that reached you from another time and place to be in this film?
The name of thr film is Ink Lab - an experimental lab, which doesnt borrow ideas, but belives in its own experiments.

... or, which ideas inspired this film?
Those which one tries and applies and learns from them. The protagonist has been trying everything. The film is a kind of warning to govt.

Yeah, revolutionary influences...
That people are much sane
all through as of now. If they supresss peaceful rebellions something dangerous can take birth.

Like the film says, it is in finding the right questions. What question would you leave us with today?
The film highlights the power of books and ideas, but at the same time.. it points that oen shouldn't bind himself in one idea. Also it tells that rebellion or anarchism is dangerous if community is NOT enlightened. So first step has to be enlightenment.

Guess what ... I dont know abcd of politics. I'm not sure about any ideoolgy what it stands for. Whether its communism or imeperialism or any things and many many people dont even care to...

Does it matter?
No it doesnt. Thats the reason. I thought let it not be politically correct film, but correctly political.

The one about what question would you like to leave us with?
Oh the question would be... that do we KNOW that what we see..around us? On FB or TV is just a miniscule percentage of whole population. There is a huge percentage of population who doesnt have voice, even if we have. So there still is fear that the growing upper middle class shall exploit the lower classes. For example, when I posted a status on EQUAL SALARY for all vocations, people were baffled. Never ever as many comments came on any status. People not from my friend list also commented and never have been people in unison... all were agaisnt it!!

It was just an experimental status that showed me that we are in a dangerous situation actually and we see MONEY is the BIGG thing of life...

Haha no more shots

Ok
Only bombs

Done. Packup 😀
Non detectable bombs
This film is one such 😛

Thanks a ton for your time, and beautiful, transparent sharing of thoughts
yeppo chalo je I sleep . You too try to sleep now take care , huggs

..... And thus it was.... an encounter with an inspiring revolutionary in the land of ideas!

Dr Gaurav Chhabra is a Chandigarh based Health activist. After pursuing bachelors in Medicine & surgery, from Ahmedabad, he infused his childhood passion for Visual arts into the field of health and thus emerged the practice of Public Health Communications, which he presently is pursuing through his independent non-profit initiative, called Humlog,using video films as a major tool for positive social change on the local issues. Dr Chhabra in last two and a half years, has made the city of Chandigarh his Karmabhoomi and has made niche in the domain of development communications. His films have travelled most of the film festivals in the country. His zero budget Film 'The Mudcake' won 1st prize at WHO Global health film contest -07 leaving behind thousands of entries across the globe.

If you wish I had asked a few things, please don't hate me, ask them below, and I promise to get Gaurav answer them for you.