A few days ago i wrote a post titled "in defence of freedom of expression" about a cyber protest by the organisation Reporters sans frotières (RSF) on NOv 7th. I had sent an email to all my friends to visit the site during the protest hours and offer their support to the cause if they believed in the fundamental right for freedom of expression.
This was my reaction from one of my friends, which he posted in his blog too.I reproduce it here for your convenience.
"A friend sent me a mail asking as many people as possible to sign in to a particular website ( during certain time windows, to protest human rights abuses in countries with documented records of such abuses. The website in question supposedly belonged to a worldwide coalition of journalists. Their rationale for inviting visitors to click on at their site was to collect electronic signatures in a kind of virtual petition to the regimes of the offending countries.

Now, I know this is an utterly defeatist attitude, especially coming from someone who's going to build a career in public health, which by definition means working against hopeless odds.... but I have serious doubts about the efficacy of gestures like the kind of campaign these journos suggested.

Regimes who use torture as State policy, and execute their own citizens in football stadia, are unlikely to pay attention to a bunch of bleeding heart idiots clicking on internet buttons. And they sure as hell aren't going to feel any "moral pressure".

Shashi Tharoor, in one of his books, argued that Gandhian non-violence as a pressure tactic could work only against an establishment that was vulnerable to "moral" issues, and took international opinion into consideration. Hence, while by using satyagraha as a tool of resistance, Gandhi managed to drive the British Empire out of India, the same tactics wouldn't have done much for Jews in nazi Germany.

And lastly, when the West- the so-called paragon of human rights and democracy, refuses to take its citizens' feelings into consideration while making a profoundly immoral decision (Bush and Blair ignored the largest street protests in the history of mankind to go ahead and invade Iraq), does anyone actually expect banana republics to toe the line because a group of educated liberals spread out all over the world click on internet buttons from their comfortable living rooms?

I think not."

My response to his post was:

Yes I agree it is a defeatist attitude - particularlycoming from a young person. This is the same kind of attitude that drives the creme de la creme of our country pack up and settle down in the west - "oh the politicans, the bureaucracy, nothing works."

When Gandhi proposed the Satyagraha I am sure ithere were many who wondered if he was under the influence of some hallucinogens - "Make peace, Not War" kind of ideaological trip. But he was a far better strategist than that. Believe me if he was heading the Jews he might have found some peaceful way to unnerve Hitler and the nazis too.

All said and done today no country, however totalitarian, can ignore global sentiments today. So it is a good thing to voice protest over something bad happening in these pockets. There are a whole lot of people from these countries living in freer countries who could organise themselves against these atrocities in their countries. Who knows some of them could go back and organise people to bring about a change. This is to tell them that they can count on the support of people around the world.Second and more important is that it is a warning for those countries which may try something similar in their countries - so people in these countries protest this as a fundamental right violation.

The problem with cynics is they wont even try - they defeat the cause even before it has begun. Cynics are bad in any form but in the form of educated, young they are the worst!
Come get up from that warm bed and click that site on NOv 7th. it doesn't take much and who knows something might actually change!

This friend is a very well read person full of youthful passion against felt and perceived injustices in the world.I was slightly worried that if this is the reaction of such people, am I missing something?
Just throwing it open for a debate.
12 Responses
  1. I really liked the way you defined cynic . 100% agree with it ......
    A step forward is always a step forward and todays world needs those who can take that step. Being a critic is fine, its necessary so that we do the right thing to move forward but surely not a cynic.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    The best explanation I ever heard from anyone, though in an more spiritual context was from Joseph Campbell. He was asked that aspects of Hindu (and other) philosophies posit that nothing matters in the long run, how do stop yourself from despair and hopelessness.

    He said the journey is sometimes as important as the destination itself, even if you know the end results of the game doesn't matter, you could still play the darnedest best you could.

    I guess that is so applicable in this as well as other contexts. Even if nothing is going to result out of a mere cyberprotest, at least it would give us some sense of agency - that we can do something in our own small way. What would we do otherwise - sit back like cynics and despair about the state of the world?

    And if nothing else, at least this protest would reveal to us how many others think the same as we do. And bigger numbers could definitely translate to more bargaining power. I don't see anything but a win-win situation by participating in the protest. But maybe that's just me.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Hey, don't dismiss cynics so lightly; we need them -
    CYNIC, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of
    plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision. --- Ambrose Bierce, Devil's Dictionary.
    I, for one, wouldn't like to lose my vision to see things as they are, if I had one. ;)

    I personally believe that Shashi Tharoor is right about the limitations of non-violence, but I also think that many of us have the keyboard as our only viable means to strive for changes that we would like to see in the world around us. I have been a subscriber to feeds from Reporters sans frontières for a while. I encourage every freedom-loving person to be one, too.

    Btw, Usha, please don't paint all of "the creme de la creme [of India who] pack up and settle down in the west", as defeatists. It hurts, even though I don't consider myself as belonging to that august group :) Some of them could be sans frontières, too, you know!

  4. Mahadevan Says:

    I am inclined to agree with Shashi Tharoor that Gandhi's srategy against other nations, say Nazi Germany, would not have worked. Tharoor himself was defeated recently, because of a calculated strategy employed by South Korea.

    And yet, I feel, a voice, however shrill it may be, can evoke a response, even in the wilderness.

    Entire Kerala is in rage, because of the death sentence on Saddam Hussain. One did not notice such a rage, when an innocent son of Kerala, a truck driver, was mercilessly killed by the extremist elememnts in Irag, sometimes back.

  5. Inder Says:

    could gandhi have made peace between nazis and jews? i am afraid not.

    the situations in india, south africa and other colonies were totally different from the situation in germany. in the colonies the issue was about independence and rights of the natives of the soil. in germany, it was the all about belief and ideology. hitler believed that jews and gypsies are not worth living and he had good support for that ideology. by non-cooperation and non-violence, we shall win over people who try to enslave us and try to loot our wealth and effort. non-cooperation may not work against people who are hungry to eliminate us.

    about this 'defence of freedom of expression' thingy, we live in a democratic country and freedom of expression is our constitutional right. we are just trying to reiterate it.

  6. Usha Says:

    Prakash: Thanks. So will you be visiting the site? I was there and was just the 41st person to protest - ok, 1/6th of the world's population cant protest, 1/3 of the world is asleep. What about the rest?

    Anon: yes, live life like you are playing an innings.Nothing else matters except to meet every ball to the best of your ability.Easier said...But definitely worth trying.

    The RF:I guess cynics have gone far beyond that definition and have become those that see only the dark side clearly.( Just kidding..) perhaps the guys who give up before trying have another name ( Pls dont give me that very American L word )At least 80% of the people I know who went westward ho give me the reason that "India is becoming difficult to live in if you had only your merit to count on." May be they re right too but I sometimes worry about what is going to be left if everyone takes this escape route and decides never to come back to do something to change the situation.

    Mahadevan:Yes. We cant let our voices be muffled and when we still have the freedom to express we might as well. yes, this reaction in Kerala came as a surprise to me.

    Inder: Ok all of you - Tharoor, abhilash, The RF, Mahadevan, Inder - are unianimous that Gandhi's methods would have failed against Hitler. We would never know now and it is an academic discussion.
    But yes, we could go and express our protest while we are still free. So let us.

  7. Anonymous Says:


    I follow your blog which I stumbled upon blog hopping. Long story short, couple of things made me open my mouth(or use the keyboard?). About 10-20 yrs ago, the only way people could raise their voices in protest or support was either going on dharnas or hunger strikes and the like. We are in the supersonic internet age, its an obvious path to use the internet as a medium to do the same. Modern or traditional, each method has its spectators and audience and voices can be loud enough to make a difference. "aakaashaat patitam toyam, yata gachchati saagaram, sarva deva namaskaaraha keshavam prati gachchati".

    And btw: I did go and vote at the site you mentioned. Thanks for the link.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    To an extent, I reckon that your friend doubts the means of this protest & not so much the protest itself. I guess the sense of powerlessness is rather overwhelming & cynicism is just another manisfestation of it. So to an extent, I'm with your friend & understand where he is coming from. Having said that, I also agree with you that, in spite of all this, we should not give up trying. It is an interesting rationality trap. All that we can reason based on actually does point to your friend's point of view. However, I agree that it is a trap we need to avoid. Momentum/mass can turn things around if directed properly. And the internet is a perfect vehicle fot building this up. Just look at this blog!

    Gandhi, like other great men of his time, was a nationalist & like you said, a great strategist. What we need in today's world is an internationalist, something on the lines of Said & chomsky - only more popular.

    There are instances when countries ignore global sentiments. Plentiful. Human rights in China for one. The right of the Tibetan people. Stem-cell research or the lack of it.


  9. Paavai Says:

    The journey to moon started with one step,everything is connected like it is said in chaos theory and all actions will yield expected results, though not at the speed and intensity with which we expect it to

  10. passerby55 Says:

    I am here after a long time, how are you doing, Usha?

    And what a post to start with here.
    A post with a spark to light afew and enlighten another few. Usha, well done.

    I guess doing the right is not just enough. But Knowing what is right is important.

    "May be they re right too but I sometimes worry about what is going to be left if everyone takes this escape route and decides never to come back to do something to change the situation"...
    Kudos to you for this comment.

    a truly dangerous stituation, i fully agree.let us hope for the best.

    "The problem with cynics...." agree with you 100%....but what is giving birth to this cynicism is worth pondering upon , USha.

  11. Usha Says:

    anon: welcome. I am glad that you followed the link.

    S!:Hm...yes, abhilash doubts whether such means can make any dent. And i believe as Paavai says, that every big movement has to start somewhere and can only gain power through support.
    Dont you agree that China cannot ignore global sentiments if thebig powers sent it a warning and meant it too. Practical and political considerations are taking precedence over humanitarian considerations here and that is why china is allowed to be as it is. Poor Tibet, most ignored cause because its leader believes in peaceful means.

    Must read said and check out Chomsky's website.

    Paavai: Totally agree. Like they say, a journey of a thousand miles must begin at ones own feet with a single step.

    Passerby: Welcome back!and thank you.

    To all: When I last checked 15719 people had voted and the protest window is closing shortly.Perhaps abhilash is right. People dont care. Countries dont care. No one believes they can make a difference.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Yes, I think the point about Global sentiments is that these have to be institutionalized & put across as economic/trade/fiscal points of view. Anything else will be politically lame - Tibet being a classic case of a fancy, showcase cause.