[Reader-list] First Posting - Anonymous Notice Boards and Universities

abhayraj at nls.ac.in abhayraj at nls.ac.in
Sun Jan 25 23:07:57 IST 2004

Here's details of our project entitled 'The Need for Anonymous Notice
Boards in Universities in Bangalore: An Empirical Study.'

The Genesis of the Plot: Being students at the National Law School of
India University (NLSIU) at Bangalore, we are part of a geographically,
culturally, and socially, diverse student community. Such diversity often
leads to broad-ranging and conflicting views on most subjects, often
characterized by intellectually provocative ‘notice wars’ that mark the
many student notice boards on campus. The institutional structures and
policies ‘promoting’ free speech however, sometimes, inadvertently or not,
tend to stifle the freedom of speech and expression. For example, the
NLSIU’s central notice board called 19(1)(a), named ironically enough
after Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India that enshrines the
fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, currently has one
significant pre-condition before any notice may be put up: all notices
must necessarily bear the name of the author. Anonymous notices
consequently, are most often taken off or are rendered un-readable as a
result of being whitened out/scratched out. The results of such a policy
are plainly visible in the hurriedly scribbled graffiti in the bathrooms,
on the unsigned messages carved out on benches in classrooms and tables in
the canteen, and in the significant ‘whitened-out’ patches that mark the
notices on 19(1)(a).

The Project: In most scenarios, the tyranny of the majority results in the
non-representation of unpopular, marginal and non-conformist voices, due
to the great likelihood of retaliation in diverse manifestations.
Anonymity serves as a shield against such imposition of silence. Despite
the exalted position that free speech occupies in the constitutional
jurisprudence of India, the mere absence of anonymity will, in most cases,
stifle the expression of alternate viewpoints, which by virtue of the
vulnerability of their proponents instead remain unsaid. The marginalized
viewpoint would rather remain cocooned as that which is un-said and
un-named than be persecuted as what is said and named. At the same time,
anonymity necessarily entails several significant ramifications: the lack
of accountability and the consequent likelihood of hate-speech, the risks
of deception, manipulation, and the overall deterioration of public
debate, etc. Hence anonymity can factor as a critical component of both
hate speech and free speech in any setting, a dubious distinction which is
often neutralized by the impetuous compromise of anonymity per se. Such
contrasting facets of anonymity, provide for a particularly interesting
study in the conceptualized urban space of an Indian university, not only
for its symbolic and actual representation of larger
socio-politico-economic realities but also for some of the unique
attributes that are peculiar to universities in India. Firstly, the
conceptualization of university education as that which is acquired solely
by the top-down transmission of information from the faculty to the
student as opposed to the holistic approach that emphasizes inter-student
interactions could relegate public debate generated within the student
body to a position of overall inferiority and insignificance. This in turn
leads to a diminished overall importance being attributed to student
expression and debate, which simplifies the moral dilemma involved in
choosing between anonymity and hate speech. Secondly, the process of
identity formation within a university community is largely contingent on
a constructed homogenized identity. The expression of radically divergent
views necessarily results in the polarization of the student community as
mainstream and fringe. In such a context, an anonymous space assumes far
greater importance, by serving as a forum for the expression of one’s
views without necessarily being determinative of one’s position within the
university hierarchy. Thirdly, given the nature of student relationships
and interactions in a university setting, the possibility of and the
consequences of hate-speech are particularly heightened within the space
of a university in India.
It is within this framework that we plan on studying the incidence and
characteristics of hate-speech, the existence, characteristics and
functioning of institutional and non-institutional forums for anonymous
speech and expression, and the linkages, if any, between anonymous speech
forums and hate-speech, in universities across Bangalore.

Work-Plan: We plan on visiting a fairly sizeable number of colleges and
universities across Bangalore city, with a view towards ascertaining and
documenting the following factors:

1. Existing policies relating to freedom of speech and expression and to
hate speech individually.
2. Whether there exists any institutionalized medium for anonymous
communications and expression.
3. If yes, what frequency of identifiable ‘hate-speech’ has marked the
usage of the same? [Through a) documentation of observed activity within a
set time-frame and b) narrated incidents.]
4. If not, whether actual and potential users have created any
non-institutional channel for anonymous expression. Consequently, the
form, nature, and impact of such a medium including the institutional and
non-institutional response to the same.
5. Also, the frequency of occurrence and the nature of hate-speech when in
settings where no anonymous forum is available.
6. Ascertaining the existence of trends or commonalities as regards the
subject matter of anonymous postings.
7. Situations where a working balance between the promotion of free speech
and the prevention of hate-speech have been reached, and policies, rules,
and regulations, related thereto.
We plan on obtaining information to such issues, through actual observance
of student activity on notice boards and other forums of expression in
universities through a period of 4-5 months, and through responses made to
a questionnaire that we will circulate amongst a large body of students
from medical, engineering, arts, and legal universities in Bangalore. The
project will be detailed through a written paper, questionnaire responses,
photographs, documentation, literature survey, etc.

Given the elusive nature of the subject matter of the project, we have
been toying with the feasibility and utility of carrying out an
‘experiment’ of sorts that would more pro-actively evoke identifiable
responses. Any suggestions in this regard would be most welcome. We look
forward towards receiving personal narratives and suggestions regarding
the project.
Email: abhayraj at nls.ac.in				Date: 25/01/2004

- Abhayraj Naik & Deanne Uyangoda

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