‘There is a battle going on right now, a battle to define everything that happens on the Internet in terms of traditional things that the law understands. Is sharing a video on bittorrent like shoplifting from a movie store, or is it like loaning a video tape to a friend? Is reloading a web page over and over again like a peaceful virtual sit-in, or is it like the violent smashing of shop windows? Is the freedom to connect like the freedom of speech, or is it like the freedom to murder?’
- Aaron Swartz
At 26, Aaron Swartz apparently committed suicide. And no, unlike what the US Attorney’s office in Massachusetts might say, he was no hacker. He was a tireless campaigner for the freedom of information. Yes, he wrote code, co-authored major technological developments like the RSS 1.0, was the first coder and architect of the OpenLibrary.org, founder of Demand Progress which campaigned against Internet censorship bills such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA) in a broader quest for an informed and equitable civil society. He, like many others increasingly joining in, was an important voice in the Open Access (OA) movement, which campaigns for unrestricted access to peer reviewed scholarly journal articles through the Internet. After all, he argued, much of all that research was publicly funded through institutions. He believed that knowledge was nobody’s preserve, that no one has the right to sequester human knowledge behind paywalls set up by governments and corporations.
In an upside down world, a young genius who with many others in his generation is the reason why so many of us are connected through the Internet, was driven to suicide by his own government. Why? Because information is everything. You know it, I know it. Aaron Swartz knew this even better. And, dangerously enough, so did the US government.
In January 2011, he was arrested for downloading millions of articles from JSTOR, a non-profit organization and a digital library that offers scholarly content from over 1500 academic journals to institutions (albeit for a fee that runs into several thousand dollars for activation and continued subscription, money then shared with journal publishers, some of whom, like Elsevier made nearly $ 1.1 billion in profits in 2011) while signed in as a guest through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) server. Aaron had had a brush with the law once before when he similarly made PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) available during a free trial period. The feds had to drop the case against him because these documents were in fact in the public domain, and he was only making them accessible. In this case, subsequently JSTOR decided not to file charges when the material he had downloaded was returned to them. The MIT authorities kept a careful silence through all this. And, of their own independent accord, the US Attorney’s office continued to pursue the case with four felony counts which were pushed up to a total of thirteen felony counts, with several decades (upwards of 35 years) in prison and crippling fines to boot. For what? For doing something that is only akin to borrowing lots of books from the library which you even later return. Since that time a young man who was a doer, a fearless idealist, was wrapped up in the Kafkaesque mire of the US justice system that recognizes the power of open access to knowledge. We know this because, under US law, you will get far fewer years in prison for robbing a bank at gunpoint or even murder than you will for downloading rather too many articles through an authorized university network that in fact allows downloads.
This is not merely a case of partially-visioned legislation by politicians on technology, as some like to argue. This is not because hacking laws are ‘vague’ and could even cover perfectly mundane activities on the Internet. They are deliberately formulated with gallingly broad brushstrokes in order to precisely enable and widen access by the state and corporations to information while curtailing internet freedom for people who can use it as a tool of empowerment and organization. This is systematic targeting of a campaigner against laws that are increasingly dictated by a handful of corporations, who, even as the world is becoming increasingly digitized, are locking up the sum of the world’s knowledge by pushing for twisted legislation around copyright as justification for denying access.
In a fitting tribute to this selfless, brilliant, and honest crusader for the power of knowledge to the people, many academics the world over have made pdfs of their work available online. For those of us watching the stranglehold of corporations and colluding governments on our right to land, health, education, water, the urgency of also adding the unrestricted access to knowledge has now become an imperative. But for this Aaron Swartz did not have to die.
RSS’ Views on Women
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat recently informed us that rapes happen in Bharat, not India. His words were defended by BJP leaders who said he only wanted to say that Indian culture respected women, and it was Western culture that led to rape. Bhagwat was not setting up gender-specific rules for women, BJP leaders said; he was advising both women and men to stick to Indian culture.
Wonder why Bhagwat’s organization, then, sticks to the khaki shorts uniform? Clearly, Bhagwat has no problem with men in his organization adopting Western dress and wearing shorts. But these shorts-clad men will tell women not to wear ‘Western’ clothes, which they claim lead to rapes!
Bhagwat also held forth about women being contractually bound to do housework for their husbands. Later, he clarified that he meant this as a criticism of ‘Western’ marriages, not as a prescription for all marriages. Well, what is the RSS model for an ideal Indian marriage? Krishna Sharma, leader of the VHP Women’s Wing, elaborated in an interview, “It is the man who must earn and support his family (while the women manages the household), his education is more important. This division of labour is natural.” (Quoted in Women and the Hindu Right: a collection of essays, Ed. Tanika Sarkar and Urvashi Butalia. New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995, pp: 331-335) Clearly, Bhagwat’s ideas on women being bound to housework are not accidental; RSS leaders say this as a matter of course.
In the same interview, asked, “What advice would you give to a victim of wife beating?,” Krishna Sharma had replied, “Don’t parents admonish their children for misbehaviour? Just as a child must adjust to his/her parents, so must a wife act keeping in mind her husband’s moods and must avoid irritating him. Only this can keep the family together.”
And Krishna Sharma’s words on wife-beating are echoed verbatim by Sharda, a Rashtriya Sevika Sangh activist when a reporter of Outlook recently asked her about wife beating. (‘Holier Than Cow,’ Outlook, January 28, 2013)
President of BJP Mahila Morcha, Mridula Sinha, had similarly told the Telegraph, 1993: “I gave dowry for my daughter and received dowry for my son.... Wife-beating is bad, but if it has to be done to bring the woman on proper track it’s all right... Women in their own life should not take independent decisions about marriage and other things. The family should take these decisions.”
RSS founder, Guru Golwalkar held that Manu was the “first and greatest lawgiver of the world”, and suggested that the Manusmriti, which is abhorrent and discriminatory towards women and deprived castes, should be the Constitution of Independent India! We should remember that Dr. Ambedkar, who wrote the Constitution, publicly burnt the Manusmriti.
Bhagwat’s statements on ‘Indian culture’ are not innocuous and innocent. The Sangh’s definition of ‘cultural nationalism’ imposes an especially heavy burden women, who are supposed to be flag bearers of ‘Indian culture’. And this definition of ‘culture’ includes a celebration of sati, child marriage, and of social customs that impose restrictions on women’s freedom. Women who wear jeans, celebrate Valentine’s Day, and Hindu women who marry outside caste/religion barriers are often attacked by the Sangh brigades for violating ‘Indian culture’.
In Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts, the chapter ‘Call to the Motherhood’, asks Hindu women to avoid being ‘modern’. According to Golwalkar, women who enjoy the freedom and equality of modernity, lack in virtue and think that ‘modernism lies in exposing their body more and more to the public gaze’!
Golwalkar also led the Sangh in opposing the Hindu Code Bill (which was the first, and incomplete, step towards giving Hindu women equal rights to men), claiming that granting of rights to women would “cause great psychological upheaval” to men and “lead to mental disease and distress” (see Paula Bacchetta, Gender in the Hindu Nation: RSS Women as Ideologues, p.124).
Some other samples of the Sangh’s views on women:
“It is the fundamental right of Hindu women to commit sati, as it is in preservation of our past glory and culture.” - Late BJP leader Vijaya Raje Scindia
In the Sangh’s view, Hindu men must prove their masculinity by raping non-Hindu women, who are seen as ‘symbols’ of the ‘enemy culture’. Savarkar himself advocated rape as an act of nationalism:
“But because of the then prevalent suicidal ideas about chivalry to women, which ultimately proved highly detrimental to the Hindu community, neither Shivaji nor Chinaji Appa could rape Muslim women.” – V.D. Savarkar, The Six Golden Epochs of Indian History, p.71
No wonder Savarkar’s descendants in the Sangh brigade raped and massacred Muslim women in Gujarat! And SP Ankit Garg, of BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh, no doubt learnt from Savarkar’s views on rape as ‘chivalry’ – winning a gallantry award for the custodial rape and sexual torture of Soni Sori!
In the wake of the ongoing movement against sexual violence, leaders of Congress, SP, BSP, have all come out with outrageous, sexist statements about women, as have so-called Godmen like Asaram Bapu. But while India’s entire ruling class is united in sexist views on women, there is no doubt that the RSS and the BJP are the most organized political representatives of misogyny and women-hating, with entire brigades dedicated to punishing women who defy their diktats.