Billu and the National Anthem

If you try and interfere with someone who is peacefully sitting and eating their popcorn while the National Anthem is playing, YOU are the criminal. You can condemn them verbally on social media – that is your freedom of expression. But you have no right to touch them, or ask them to leave the theater.

Remember – if you respect your country, then you will respect/obey the laws. And the laws do NOT require someone to stand for the National Anthem.

National Anthem stand

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Comments

  1. “Remember – if you respect your country, then you will respect the laws.”

    Disagree! If the laws are discriminatory and unjust, then I don’t need to respect the laws. If we all respected all the bad laws ever made, there would be no activism and never any change. A better alternative would be “If you respect your country, then you must respect your fellow citizens first.”

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  2. Freedom of expression is freedom of expression and every breach of it needs to be condemned and punished. But seriously, is this the worst example of violation of basic freedom of expression you can find in India? In India, people get routinely dragged to jail for “hate speech”. If I remember correctly, in 2007, the BJP, then the main opposition party had to go begging in front of the Election Commission to keep its right to contest elections!!! Their fault? A functionary had released a CD containing speech that the Ayatollahs of secularism didn’t like.

    There is no such thing as free speech in India. Not even anything remotely close to free speech exists in India. Talking about people bothering those who don’t stand up for the National Anthem is like complaining that Somalian government is not serious about littering menace. Sure, you could do it and there’s nothing wrong with complaining about it, but the problems in Somalia are so big that littering seems like a foolish thing to complain about.

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    • In reply to Sumit

      I have a perverted mindset of doing the opposite of what is expected of me. For example, I have never shaved my head. But tomorrow if someone tells me I shouldn’t shave my head, then off to the barber I go!

      It’s an issue that’s personal because I choose not to stand for the national anthem. Also, it’s an example of the “broken windows theory” which says that once you protect the most insignificant and small things, the bigger ones take care of themselves.

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      • In reply to bhagwad

        Well, for that matter, the laws in India say you shouldn’t do a whole lot of stuff. Don’t ever speak rudely to a woman or you will fall foul of Section 509! The situation is so bad, its almost funny :)

        Like I said, the problem with Free Speech and freedom in general in India is so pervasive that National Anthem seems like a pointlessly small place to start. There’s practically no consideration given to free speech issues either by the Indian Government or the Bureaucracy or the judiciary. Freedom of expression rarely even features in media or political discourse…except when it is invoked to hypocritically attack one political side. But otherwise…nothing.

        By the way, in Freakonomics, Steven Levitt has a fantastic episode about “Broken Window policing” and whether it really made a difference in New York. You should look it up.

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      • In reply to Sumit

        I’m actually reading Freakonomics right now! I’m only on the first or second chapter so I may not have reached it yet.

        I think the national anthem issue is cropping up because it’s so visible. Hundreds of movies are played every day in Maharashtra and thousands upon thousands of people choose to stand/sit. So the potential for this kind of thing is huge. Basically, it’s not an esoteric application of free speech, but a very real and practical situation.

        In fact, I would say that this is the hot button free speech topic in India precisely because it actually affects the regular person. Not everyone is a comedian, or a writer. But everyone watches movies, and they face this free speech issue every time that happens.

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      • In reply to bhagwad

        Ha! Despite our constant political differences, it seems like we have a lot of common tastes. Freakonomics… Bill Maher!!! Be sure to check out the bit from Freakonomics about how “high class names” of the 50s became “stripper names” of today :) That one really stayed with me. Honestly, I think we would actually agree on most substantive matters of policy, except that I feel you have a blind spot when it comes to secular hypocrisy.

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      • In reply to Sumit

        I think a lot of confrontation can be avoided if we remove incorrect labels, and only deal with what the other person is actually saying. For example, a label might work like this:

        Person 1: I have opinion xyz

        Person 2: The group called “abc” also holds opinion xyz. Therefore you must belong to “abc” and also subscribe to all the values of abc.

        I hold a lot of ideas form all sides of the political spectrum. I hate being PC, I think the Naxals are/were one of the biggest threats to India, I don’t believe in socialism and hand outs beyond a certain point, I dislike the Congress while also disliking the BJP, I have no opinions on AAP and Kejriwal, I don’t believe in big government, I think Islam is a terrible religion and supported the “Everybody Draw Mohammad” campaign.. I support Charlie Hebdo’s right to free speech and don’t blame them in any way for what happened to them.

        So I hold a few opinions from lots different spectrums without subscribing to any single one. I would come closest to classical liberalism, but I don’t support full legalization of all drugs, and don’t think citizens should be allowed to possess tanks. So I’m not a true classical liberal either.

        I think our conversations would go much more smoothly if no incorrect labels were applied, cause that just muddies the waters.

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      • In reply to bhagwad

        I understand the point about “labels”. While forgetting labels does avoid confrontation, I suggest you consider that without labels, all debate essentially becomes pointless. While every person and her/his viewpoint is unique, it is impossible to draw useful conclusions unless we learn to group people together under “labels”. The war on collective nouns gets us nowhere.

        In order to understand this, let us move away from politics to a different context. Imagine going to a bank and applying for a loan. You are a unique person. Your specific economic circumstance is unique. Your specific attitude towards honoring debts, the exact probability of you losing your income are all unique. So, how is the bank going to decide? Well, the bank is gonna lump you together with other persons, again each of whom is unique nevertheless similar in many key ways.

        Right now, stock markets across the world are falling :( Nevertheless, if you look at any company, you could argue that its leadership, its workers, its customers, etc are all “unique”. But the markets fall collectively. The marketplace of ideas is not very different from the share market. Just as we say : “commodity prices are falling” or “Tech stocks are falling”, we say “liberals this” or “conservatives that”. These labels are the only useful way to understand what’s happening in the marketplace of ideas.

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      • In reply to Sumit

        You’re right – banks, stock markets and the like all deal in labels and categories. They have to, because they work on statistics. Economics itself has no choice but to use categories. Banks have neither the time, nor the energy to individually evaluate everyone from scratch. As much as they may claim otherwise, no one has a “personal” relationship with a bank.

        Now the downside of these labels are of course false positives – situations where a person is incorrectly classified. Stock markets and banks don’t mind false positives as long as the averages even out. They try and minimize them of course, but they are willing to accept a certain level of false positives as it’s still a hell of a lot more efficient.

        In my opinion however, talking or discussing issues with an individual person is a very different interaction. Here one is not working on statistics, and there’s no net profit or loss involved. In this situation, labels and categories are counter productive precisely because the participants cannot afford false positives. Unless one is talking to a hypothetical “group of people” as a whole – like say addressing a nation like a politician does, or giving a speech to a college, or even writing a blog post addressed to the world – false positives are devastating to individual one on one conversations.

        So labels and categories have an invaluable place. They help make sense of a chaotic world when one is dealing with large numbers of conglomerates. They are good tools. And like all tools, they have their place. But they are not designed, nor should they be used for specifically one on one conversations.

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      • In reply to bhagwad

        I fail to see how the same reasoning does not extend to the marketplace of ideas. Like stock prices, people’s ideas are also set by a series of one to one interactions. Just like a bank does not have time and energy to investigate every loan applicant personally, it would be a waste of mental resources to try and generate a thorough personal ideological profile of the other person each time we have a one-one interaction.

        People make up their mind on various issues by talking to other people. Trying to understand the unique ideological profile of each person would really limit our exposure and make it impossible to make our minds up about something. If you want to weight two or more sides of any issue, you will have to measure. Without labels, we can’t measure things and unless we measure things, how can we ever ever make decisions?

        And even when we have only a one to one interaction to worry about, what matters is whether we can anticipate how the other person is likely to react to our words or actions. If you regard each person as “unique” without a label, you don’t know how that person will react to your next word, which will make life really difficult. To give a simple example, suppose you are on a plane and chat up the guy next to you. He says his name is Mohammad from Pakistan. Not the best time to talk about your support for “Everybody draw Mohammad day”, is it? What if it was Mohammad from Gaza? Surely the “label” should matter if you want to process his views on the situation in the Middle East.

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      • In reply to Sumit

        “It would be a waste of mental resources to try and generate a thorough personal ideological profile of the other person each time we have a one-one interaction.”

        There we differ. For me, each one on one conversation (especially those of prolonged contact) is unique. Sure you can’t do it for every random person you meet on Facebook, but for an interaction like the one we have all the time – definitely.

        The Mohammad example reminds me of a funny incident my wife talks about to this day. She had just introduced me to her friend “Josh” at Barista – years ago. As the conversation progressed, I started talking about how stupid the average Christian is, and how they don’t think etc etc. My wife was kicking me under the table, and I asked her why she was kicking me!

        She later told me that I should have known he was a Christian just by looking at his name – “Josh”. But that thought process is completely alien to me. Even today, I don’t automatically look at a person and think “Christian/Muslim” whatever. You might be surprised to know that only the past 2 years or so, did I learn that Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, and Salman Khan were Muslims – and that too because I was explicitly told.

        My wife says that I don’t pick up clues from the environment to judge a situation. And that is true. For me, I won’t assume someone is a Muslim simply because their name is “Salman”. Till I went to college, I even realize we could tell which state a person is from just by looking at their name, the way they speak, which language they use, what food they eat, and what they wear. I still can’t do it, though I know that this is a skill possessed by most people.

        In short, I end up treating each and every individual as a completely unique with no pre conceived notions whatsoever. I only think about them what is explicitly in front of my face, or what they explicitly tell me.

        In your hypothetical airplane, it’s quite possible that I will talk about my support for “Everybody Draws Mohammad” to a guy with a Muslim name on a plane – but only if the conversation leads us in that direction of course…

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      • In reply to bhagwad

        That’s strange, but then surely you realize that refusing to use available clues to learn about people around you is somewhat unique to you and in fact a rather unhelpful trait to have. From the moment a child is born, it begins to pick up clues and learn about the world. Refusing to do this or failing to do this seems rather unhelpful, no?

        How do you do your work on SEO then? Every individual is unique; how do you know what kinds of things people search for on the web? When you have a client approach you for a piece of writing, how did you know what kind of pitfalls to generally avoid in writing? Isn’t each client and his/her requirement totally unique?

        I’m curious. You know, spam works on this principle of “labelling” people. Do you check your spam folder each day? And how do you know if some message is spam? Are you lumping together all the Nigerian princes who want to transfer millions of $$$ to your account or are you considering each such request specifically? Can you just tell if someone is lying by labelling them?

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      • In reply to Sumit

        I have this handicap only when it comes to judging specific people. Technology labeling is a whole other ballgame altogether. I outsource my spam checking to Google, and I don’t give financial or contact information over the Internet to random strangers. When it comes to technology, there are a few straightforward rules we learn over time from personal experience.

        Tech is easy. People are messy. Tech is sanitized. People are not. Economics, banking…these are all clean, impersonal fields. Labeling in these cases is an intellectual process that I enjoy. I appreciate the statistics. Labeling people is not mathematical. It’s not formalized. I don’t enjoy it.

        I guess labeling people is too much mental effort for me. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I’m just not really interested in people. For me, it’s a waste of time labeling someone and being sensitive to what they talk about/hear about. I gain nothing by the process – or at least I’m happy with how my life has turned out this far, and see no reason to change at this age.

        Paradoxically, this has occasionally helped me make friends. My wife is still sometimes very surprised by the kind of people I become pally with. To her, we are complete opposites, but for me I don’t label them, so I don’t view them as opposites at all. I just blindly learn about each new acquaintance with a blank slate and take it from there.

        And sometimes, this pisses people off. My wife keeps telling me to read the subtext of what people say, look at their background and see where they’re coming from. Me? I couldn’t really be bothered. If I have to spend time deciphering what someone says, it’s not worth my time.

        The other day I was talking to someone in the usual way and he seemed…hostile…for no reason I could think of. My wife explained a few things to me on the way home to help me understand the reason. But it’s of really no interest to me. I’m too lazy to worry about people’s agendas. If they don’t say what they mean outright, it’s a waste of my time.

        Like I said, most of this has to do with the fact that I’m not really interested in people. I’m only interested in the abstract ideas/opinions they express. As soon as I sense the topic shifting from the intellectual and abstract opinions and start focusing the people involved, it’s over. It’s no longer interesting to me.

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      • In reply to bhagwad

        Well, interesting point of view for sure. I still feel that the distinction you draw is rather artificial. There is no conceptual distinction between understanding say consumer behavior and political ideology. Indians generally liking spicy food is linked to their background. The same background influences their political ideology. To suggest that the market of ideas is somehow different from a tech market is strange. The market of ideas seems to play by the same rules, monopolies suck, competition makes things vibrant.

        I am sure you have read Dawkins’ God delusion and in that he mentions how the Church of England has a monopoly while churches compete in America. Result: America is super religious, but England is not! If I remember correctly, his exact words were: “what works for soapflakes works for God as well”.

        Give it a try. Try analyzing political parties from a market point of view, as competitors trying to seize “market share” in voters minds. You will see it opens up a whole bunch of explanations for Indian politics.

        For example, take the oft repeated complaint (by people like me!) that the discourse doesn’t care about Hindus as much as it does for Muslims. Let’s analyze why this happens like a market space thing.

        See, the BJP is the biggest monopolizer in Indian politics. The entire Hindu right wing space belongs to one party. The pro-Muslim space (euphemistically called “secular space”) is super competitive. If the Congress isn’t pro-Muslim enough, Muslims will simply take their votes to Mulayam. Or to Laloo Yadav or Mamata Banerjee. In Delhi, Muslims suddenly took their votes to Arvind Kejriwal! No wonder the pro-Muslim parties in India are so ferocious in guarding Muslim interests, one little fumble and some other party will gobble up their lunch. What about the BJP? It can afford to be lazy. The BJP does not need to aggressively fight for Hindus because it enjoys a monopoly on Hindu right wing votes.

        Think about it.

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      • In reply to Sumit

        What you’re saying about the BJP being a monopoly and therefore not having to fight for right wing votes might be true. To determine the truth, we’ll have to do an analysis of statistically sampled crimes against Hindus and Muslims, filter them through the prism of religion, take a sample of media outlets, find a way to measure exposure, and then do a comparison of the two crime groups to determine if there’s a statistically significant difference in exposure between the two.

        It’s possible to do this experiment in theory I guess – if one had enough time, resources, and a completely unbiased way of going about it along with the mathematical expertise to create reliable models and carry out the experiment. But I very much doubt any such study will be done. It’s simply too difficult.

        That’s why science and tech is clean whereas people and politics are messy. Strictly speaking, sure – one can apply the same principles to both. But as this xkcd comic illustrates, the more you move towards people and groups, the more complex things get: https://xkcd.com/435/

        A point comes when the complexity means the same tools in one field are no longer reliable. When working out a new physics problem, one can take a good stab at reasonable predictions. Often we can isolate relevant and irrelevant factors and create a reasonably decent model that we can experiment with. Anyone who’s studied physics will remember how often we say “x^2 becomes vanishingly small, and so we can ignore it”.

        But when it comes to people and politics, we suddenly have (literally) hundreds of variables, and no good model to explain them. It’s why sociology isn’t a science. Technically we’re all made of atoms so we’re governed by the laws of physics and don’t have free will. But we don’t have the calculating power or the right models to predict even the behavior of a rat – let alone a human being. One day maybe we can do that, but it’s going to take a long, long time.

        And for someone like me who isn’t particularly interested in specific individuals anyway…I get no benefit from thinking too much about them.

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      • In reply to bhagwad

        “And for someone like me who isn’t particularly interested in specific individuals anyway…I get no benefit from thinking too much about them.”

        Isn’t that precisely why one should be labelling and categorizing people? You are absolutely right. Individual opinions hardly matter. There’s 7 billion people with 7 billion different ideological profiles. To understand them all individually is both a hopeless and a useless task. Thats exactly why we should be labelling and categorizing them to understand them better, no?

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      • In reply to Sumit

        For me, that labeling itself is tough because there’s too much “pre-information”. To label people by state for example, I have to remember which last names are common in which states, which foods are common, what customs, opinions, etc etc. My wife has all this information (somehow), and I don’t.

        Just taking people as they come is much easier.

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  3. On an unrelated note,
    Any advice for someone getting started on writing a novel? How is the publishing environment in India? Are the odds simply stacked too badly against a random newcomer?

    Thanks!

    Reply

  4. Freedom of expression rarely even features in media or political discourse…except when it is invoked to hypocritically attack one political side.

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  5. media doesn’t pay any attention to it unless it is destroyed

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