September 1, 2015: When we released our letter on August 27, 2015 we had 125 signers. Despite the intimidation and harassment we have received at this blog site and elsewhere, more faculty have written to us asking that their names be included in the list of signatories–we now number 135. We are heartened by our colleagues’ willingness to share the burden of unpopular opinion when ad hominem attacks have eclipsed rational discussion. The threats and ugly tone in the comments section of this blog and elsewhere illustrate exactly how academic freedom, and freedom of expression in general, is compromised by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist followers. It is some of these same followers who issued death threats against the eminent Kannada scholar and former Vice Chancellor of Kannada University, M.M. Kalburgi, who was murdered the day before yesterday. We are saddened by Dr. Kalburgi’s death and by those who celebrated his murder on social media.
The chilling effect of these attacks makes it difficult to address either the substance of our claims or any legitimate points of contention with our letter. For now, we wish simply to clarify a few points about the letter that have been erroneously reported.
1) We did not send our statement to Silicon Valley CEOs. The statement is addressed to Mr. Modi’s audiences in Silicon Valley, which includes Silicon Valley industries. We did not ask Silicon Valley companies not to invest in India; we asked them to consider carefully the terms of partnership with India. The objective of our letter is to raise awareness and debate in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, of Mr. Modi’s record on key issues related to “Digital India”.
2) We are a diverse group of South Asia and other faculty that includes professional fields, the social sciences, and humanities: anthropologists, sociologists, economists, political scientists, psychologists, historians, and philosophers; literature, law, communications and business/management faculty; as well as scholars in interdisciplinary programs such as science studies, international studies, religious studies, ethnic studies, feminist, gender and queer studies, and film/media studies. Most universities recognize that the problem-solving required for deep social and political issues requires interdisciplinary and collaborative work, and many of us are members of such interdisciplinary programs. We are surprised at the presumption that only science and technology experts pay attention to the effects of technology on society, since the questions of digital society and freedom require attention by scholars in other fields as well. Digital Humanities initiatives, for instance, illustrate the ways some of us actively think about the relationship between technology and society. Historically all technology has social, political, and ethical effects–precisely because technology is so powerful and far-reaching. Perspectives from our varied fields of scholarship offer crucial insights into the nature of this impact.
3) We believe that technology can unleash potent changes in society, many of them positive. Digital initiatives can provide transparency, access to information, and efficiency to communities in need, and indeed have done so. At the same time, such initiatives empower both corporations and governments in many unforeseen ways, and allow them to reach into people’s private lives with ever new and, from our perspective, perilous methods. WikiLeaks, for example, has helped to expose the pervasive nature of government spying at the international level. This threat to privacy applies everywhere, including the United States, and is certainly not unique to India. We caution any Digital India plan to be cognizant of these risks, and to take effective, transparent steps to protect against them.
Our initial statement represents a relative and not absolute consensus. There is healthy disagreement among us on the merits of Universal ID (UID) or “Aadhaar,” and e-governance generally. For our critics to act as if the recent Supreme Court of India ruling on UID resolves the issues surrounding privacy and constitutional rights in India is dangerous and misleading. These issues are unresolved in the U.S. and other parts of the globe, and we are surprised that commenters highlight the poor record on these issues in the U.S. as a rationale for not critiquing the Modi administration’s record. We do not believe India as a democracy needs to be limited in its protection of rights by the failure of such protection in other states. The general discussion around the performance of the Modi government is one where technological achievement or economic development and other rights (human rights, labor rights, free speech rights, minority rights, and religious rights) are posed as mutually exclusive choices. Our point is that they do not have to be, and can in fact, coexist. Our question is this: What does “Digital India” look like given the Modi administration’s intolerance of dissent, its poor record on freedom of expression in general, and on freedom of religion in particular?
The Murder of M.M. Kalburgi
Supreme Court Ruling on UID
Fast-tracking of Central Monitoring System
PART 1: As Modi government puts the Central Monitoring System on fast track, former Minister Milind Deora says that without a strong privacy bill, it could be misused. http://scroll.in/article/729701/upa-minister-who-put-in-place-spying-system-warns-against-its-lawful-but-malicious-use
PART 2: By allowing the government to directly access phone and internet communications without the restriction of a privacy law, the system could put citizen rights in jeopardy. http://scroll.in/article/729809/why-indians-must-resist-the-modi-governments-planned-surveillance-system
Critiques of Digitalization
Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything And Why We Should Worry (University of California Press, 2011)
Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger and Kenneth Cukier. Big Data. (Mariner Books, 2013).
Case against Modi