JAM is a popular Indian news site aimed at a young online audience. One of its major content areas is career advice, with a strong focus on education. A recent feature examined some claims made in newspaper ads by the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM). It wasn’t an especially sympathetic article, pointing out that IIPM’s ads evidently overpromise regarding the school’s rankings, campuses and record at job placement.
Gaurav Sabnis of blog “Vantage Point” linked to the story, emphasising that IIPM was misrepresenting itself as it doesn’t provide accredited MBA degrees. The blog post was highly critical of IIPM, but made only one factual claim beyond the JAM piece – that IIPM founder Arindam Chaudhury had not passed his graduation exams on his first attempt.
An anonymous blogger put together a postclaiming that JAM’s story was inaccurate, and had been paid for by IIPM’s major competitor and that a sting operation organized by Aajtak – an Indian website and TV station – had revealed the falsehood of the story. Rashmi Bansal, the publisher of JAM, quoted that post on her blog, Youth Curry, and explained that there had been no sting operation, and that JAM stood behind the story. She went on to demonstrate that ten new blogs had sprung up in a 48 hour period, singing the virtues of IIPM and questioning the credibility of Gaurav Sabnis, the blogger who amplified the JAM story. One of these blogs claimed to be “the REAL Gaurav Sabnis”, an IIPM graduate working for Deloitte with his valuable IIPM degree.
And then it got really interesting. Rashmi’s blog started generating anonymous abusive, crude comments, accusing her of being thrown out of IIPM for having a lesbian relationship. (Rashmi never, in fact, attended IIPM.) One threatened to report her blog to the IIPM legal team and bring its wrath down upon her. The post generated several times as many supportive comments urging JAM to continue questioning IIPM’s authenticity and questioning the details in the abusive comments.
IIPM’s legal department did, evidently, decide to threaten Gaurav Sabnis. They sent him a “notarized email” (say what?) demanding Sabnis remove the articles mentioning IIPM. It went on to threaten a suit for 125 crore Rs ($28 million USD). Sabnis found this threat pretty funny. (Varna, another Indian blogger, received a threat of a 175 crore RS suit.)
But what happened next wasn’t funny in the least. IIPM called Lenovo (formerly IBM’s hardware division), Sabnis’s employer, and threatened a public burning of all IBM computers on IIPM’s campuses if Sabnis did not remove his blog posts. After talking extensively with IBM and Lenovo, Sabnis decided it wasn’t fair for IBM to suffer bad publicity in India should IIPM go ahead with this threat and resigned from IBM. He makes it very clear that he was not pressured by IBM to take this action. His former professor, Dr. Amit Kapoor, is not as sympathetic towards IBM, accusing them of collusion with IIPM. Sabnis has made it clear that he’s getting huge amounts of support – and job offers – based on his principled stance.
It comes as no surprise to anyone who follows the Indian blogosphere that Indian bloggers have reacted with ferocity and passion to attacks on fellow bloggers. (Anyone who watched blogger reactions to the Mediaah! case knows that Indian bloggers are deeply committed to freedom of speech online.) Desipundit and Sambhar Mafia are both tracking blog reactions to the Sabnis case and the IIPM threats – they urge bloggers to “join the fight” by writing about the case and pressuring Indian mainstream media to write about it as well.
Our South Asia editor at Global Voices, Neha Viswanathan, has been doing a terrific job of following the story as well, and we’ll continue to follow this issue as it heads towards resolution.
The IIPM story, to me, is continuing evidence that the most interesting things that happen in the blogosphere are happening outside the US and Europe. Institutions all over the world are worried about how they’re percieved online. Some are stupid enough to try to challenge bloggers on their own home turf. But the fierce, fearsome and passionate blogswarm in reaction to IIPM’s actions is a powerful statement that the Indian blogosphere can’t be easily undermined. Whether or not Indian bloggers are able to get mainstream media to cover this story, they’re showing that they’re a powerful fifth estate, making sure that stories like this one don’t fall through the cracks.