[Reader-list] Birth, Life, & Death of an Anonymous Institutional Forum - A Case Study

abhayraj at nls.ac.in abhayraj at nls.ac.in
Tue Jun 22 11:26:25 IST 2004

Hi. The recent dialogue under the subject string of ‘homosexuality and
csa’ that propelled varied articulations on the reader list’s ‘position’
on the purpose/ambit/limitations/restrictions as regards this list itself,
is a fitting subjective-temporal context for my third posting on our
project entitled ‘The Need for Anonymous Notice Boards in Universities in
Bangalore: An Empirical Study.’ An abstract of the broad framework of this
project is available at (last visited on 21st June, 2004)
http://mail.sarai.net/pipermail/reader-list/2004-January/003363.html. In
this posting, I intend to trace (through the structured reproduction of
‘poetry expressed’ by university students), as a case-study, a phenomenon
documented at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore
(NLSIU) in the rough period commencing from the first week of April and
extending until mid-June - the creation [birth] of an institutional
anonymous forum in a scenario where none existed, the operation of the
same in a university setting [life], and the consequent regulation leading
to the eventual termination [death] of the forum. Since this trajectory is
located in a particular institutional socio-spatial setting, the
leisurely/interested reader will find it useful to refer to my prior
posting, where I have extensively detailed my chosen contextual setting of
analysis and introduced terminology employed in this posting as well,
available at (last visited on 21st June, 2004)
http://mail.sarai.net/pipermail/reader-list/2004-June/003806.html. To
retain meaningful individuality for this posting, it will suffice to state
that there exists no institutional forum (in the form of a notice board)
for anonymous speech and expression in the NLSIU academic block.

The Parameters, Methodology, and Specificities of the Case-study and this
This case-study focuses on one of the 61 notice boards that mark the NLSIU
academic block – the ‘Wall Mag’, which is operated and maintained by the
Literary and Debating Society (LnD hereafter), one of several student
committees at NLSIU. Further, this case-study is restricted to the period
from 29th March, 2004 to 6th June, 2004, which was the last date of the
2003-04 academic year at NLSIU. Independent of any research objectives in
this project, I put up five poems (Bangled Men – 29th March, 2004;
Flirting – 3rd April, 2004; The Dark Side of Boredom  - 7th April, 2004;
Community – 16th April, 2004 and; Excalibur – 23rd April, 2004) bearing my
name under the tagline ‘Almost Poetry’ on the ‘Wall Mag’, while at the
same time urging other students to put up their poetry. From 29th March –
24th April, 2004, 22 poems were put up on the Wall Mag, 5 of which were
direct unsigned anonymous poems or poems signed under an identity-hiding
pseudonym. On 24th April, 2004, immediately following the fifth anonymous
poem being put up, the LnD removed all poetry then exhibited on the Wall
Mag and put up a notice stating that all further ‘attempts at poetry’
would have to be vetted by a LnD committee member before being put up.
>From 25th April – 6th June, a total of 6 more duly vetted non-anonymous
poems were put up, 4 of which continue to be on the Wall Mag, as of 21st
June, 2004. Of a total of 28 poems, 24 were in English, 2 in Bengali, 1 in
Hindi, and 1 in an unidentified language. The basic material for my
case-study was the entire collection of poems that remained with the LnD,
which the LnD Convenor Shri Singh kindly let me use for my research
purposes.  The case-study sought to analyse the nature and dynamics of the
processes that resulted in the LnD’s intervention on 25th April, 2004; the
nature of the regulation imposed and its potential impact in the context
of NLSIU as an university; the changing nature of the Wall Mag as a forum
for speech and expression; and the nature of policies that need to be
deliberated and effected to operate in such scenarios. In this posting, I
intend to selectively use reproductions of the poetry put up on the Wall
Mag so as to most authentically communicate the complex web of issues
involved while considering the sticky issue of anonymous speech in
university settings. The authors of the poems used in this posting have
been individually contacted for permission to use their writing, where
possible. In the interests of space and brevity, only a few ‘selected’ [my
discretion] poems have been reproduced in this posting. Before I move on
to the substantial part of my posting, one final comment on what I
perceive is the importance/need underlying the verbatim use of poems
actually displayed on the Wall Mag so as to pose essentially academic
questions – I believe that the actual poems, as such, communicate the fine
line between free and proscribed speech with the significant ramifications
thereof in a manner far superior to that which even the best impersonal
literary offering could. The bottom-line being of course that, while some
readers may find trudging through abstract student poetry a laborious
task, it is believed that the interests of greater accuracy and
authenticity necessitate such a rendering. That apart, poetry is fun!

Locating the Forum: The Literary and Debating Society’s Wall Mag
As detailed in my prior posting (Yes, I really do think both postings be
ideally read together, without being too pushy about it J), the Wall Mag
essentially does not permit anonymous speech and expression, simply by
virtue of the fact that it is operated and maintained by the LnD. This is
because, as is the custom/practice with all community-specific notice
boards in the NLSIU academic block, notices to be displayed on the Wall
Mag need to be vetted [thereby entailing loss of anonymity] by a member of
the LnD committee before being put up. In actuality, the Wall Mag is used
exclusively by the LnD as an ‘announcement board’ of sorts, with students
preferring to use the larger 19 (1) (a) board (with similar vetting
requirements by the Student Advocate Committee) for their varied forms of

Slow Birth of an Anonymous Forum?
Responding to my poetic urges, in the last week of March I requested the
LnD Convenor as to whether I could put up my poetry on the Wall Mag in the
hope of fostering a more active poetry culture on campus. On receiving an
affirmative response, I put up Bangled Men on 29th March, 2004. The poem
was accompanied by the following notice:
The Plan: to write poetry or almost, at least once a week.
Theme: not fixed, some thread of life in law school that I’ve experienced
or learned/felt about
Risks: Controversy, distaste, defamation, rudeness, over abstraction,
“he’s right on the almost bit” comments.
·	almost poetry!
·	You writing some too, and putting it up here.
Veracity Concerns: some kernel of truth generally, hyper-magnanimous
poetic license operating at will though.
Opening Victim: me. Narcissism has finished her siesta.
Title: Almost Poetry 01: “Bangled Men”
Comments, brickbats and bookies: abhayraj at nls.ac.in

This first poem contained in it the line “‘Fuck the world and its rules!
I’m different and I’ll wear bangles’ says Butch burning,” and on the same
day the ‘uck’ in ‘fuck’ were blackened out by the LnD. On 30th March,
2004, I was politely asked by the LnD Convenor to refrain from directly
using epithets like ‘fuck’ in any poetry exhibited on the Wall Mag. My
second poem Flirting had the word ‘fucking’ in it; it was I who blackened
out the ‘ucking’ this time before putting it up on the Wall Mag on 3rd
April, 2004. The poem stayed on unmolested for the subsequent week, until
I eventually took it off. From this isolated single incident it seemed
that the Wall Mag was a regulated forum content-wise, with the LnD
retaining final ‘editorial’ power while broadly permitting free speech and
expression. The first three weeks of April saw significant activity on the
Wall Mag with over 20 poems being put up for different periods of time.
Significantly however, in its new avatar as a forum for poetry, the Wall
Mag had transmuted from a forum preventing anonymous speech into something
the likes of which did not exist earlier in the NLSIU academic block – an
institutional forum permitting both anonymous and non-anonymous
poetry-speech subject, of course, to the LnD’s overall
editorial/censorship power mentioned earlier.

The Life of a Forum permitting Anonymous Speech

We now directly turn to some of the poetry displayed so as to get the
flavour of the student-body response to the existence of such an
institutional forum in a university setting. I have reproduced 16 short
poems numbered below, the 5 anonymous entries are indicated as such.

1. 21st April, 2004
“Almost Poetry”


2. 21st April, 2004
Poetry in Motion


3. 22nd April, 2004

The lizard could not climb the walls
They were way too slippery. Without crevice
Without bump without adhesive charity.
No ascent for him. No perching on the ceiling fan.
He could crawl across the grimy floor
And explore like a surveyor each uncultivable marble tile.
He could squirm into the kitchen
And shudder at the barbaric complexity of human diet.
He could slink into the bedroom, watch people have sex
And come out retching, aghast at the useless bustle and sweat of the whole
He could tip-toe feather-footed into the toilet
And see people reveal everything: breast, cock, grudge, hope. [COMPARE
He could scamper around in the cellar
And wonder why that tolerant Eden was not visited too often.
He could sneak under the dinner table
And think how human feet were more bearable than human faces.
He could do all that and more. Lots more.
But scaling the walls? Nay.
Getting a broader bustier view? Never.
Learning bigger puffier grander secrets? Out of the question.
No ascent for him.

4. 23rd April, 2004
Almost Poetry

along the line, we almost
Poets have
stopped even trying to write
Poetry and
Instead we write
Ungrammatical, unrhyming nonsentences
That end abruptly and.

5.  24th April, 2004     [ANONYMOUS]
As I pass you by on the street,
Stranger, you see me & I see you.
But who is to say you are you,
& I am I,

-	An anonymous poet

6. 24th April, 2004  [ANONYMOUS]

I look out the window & see a Blue Bucket,
It looks as Empty as my Pocket,
Oh NO!; But it has my lucky-charm locket,
Then its not so empty.

7. 24th April, 2004
Almost Poetry


This is not
But it only
to be so
the breadth of
this paper
is particularly

8. 24th April, 2004
Almost Poetry

Ground Floor:
101 to 110
And a loo.

First Floor:
201 to 210
And a loo.

Second Floor:
301 to 310
And a loo.

Broken Door
No loo.

9. 24th April, 2004
Almost Poetry

Monday Morning Blues

International Law
Indirect Tax
Trust, Equity & Specific Reliefs

10. 24th April, 2004
The Ride of the Valkyries

The Valkyries. They rode.
Who cares?
Bring on the horny wombats!

11. 24th April, 2004
Wombats in Heat
Im a little teapot, short and stout
Who cares!!
Bring on the horny wombats!!

12. 24th April, 2004
A chat with myself
I’m Mark,
No shit! So am I.
But..er..you don’t look like a “Mark”
Nor do you. By the way, what does a Mark look like?
I don’t know – not like you.
Ok, I gotta go now.
That’ll be 5000 Rupees for consultation.
Screw you!

13. 24th April, 2004
Almost Poetry

	HERE !!

Efforts mine
Attention seek
This one had better work
It’s working!!
I’m writing this.
It’s almost ‘Almost Poetry’

1.	I even put a footnote!!

14.  24th April, 2004 [ANONYMOUS – PSEUDONYM; This anonymous poem written
in Hindi has been directly rendered in the English script here]

Ek ladki thee, sundar see, achee see, pyari see
Ek ladki thee, sundar see, achee see, pyari see
Sur jhuka ke shurma ke guliyo se guzurti thee,
Sur jhuka ke shurma ke guliyo se guzurti thee,
Aur kaha kartee thee – “burtun le lo burtun

			- Babbur Sher

15. 24th April, 2004 [ANONYMOUS]
why write poetry when you can write prose
poetry is so morose
joining long words wherever they fit
so it all means utter shit
express your passion – sure, go ahead.
Honestly, Id rather go to bed

16. 24th April, 2004  [ANONYMOUS – PSEUDONYM]
Almost Poetry




fuck 					[See poem 3 above]

This is what all most poetry is



The Death of Anonymity
Following the anonymous poem [Poem 16 above] the LnD, on 24th April, 2004,
took off all the poems displayed on the Wall Mag and put up a notice:
“Henceforth all attempts at poetry will have to be vetted by a LnD
member.” The LnD could be contacted if anyone wanted his or her poetry
back. Ironically enough, I even found a LnD poem communicating the new
transition, which was never put up:

		for  LND  Signature

When asked by the researcher as to why the poetry had been taken off the
Wall Mag, the LnD position was that it was because ‘some anonymous crap’
was put up, with primary reference to Poem 16 reproduced above. If one
takes a closer look at 16-word Poem 16, the only words that could be
objectionable are – breast or cock or fuck. The first two words were
acceptable in the non-anonymous Poem 3 above, which was not
edited/censored in any manner, while the word ‘fuck’ was not considered
sufficient reason to remove both of my first two non-anonymous poems,
which contained the word in different forms. Poem 16 above, importantly,
was anonymous. Significantly, the nature of the Wall Mag had changed once
again on 24th April, 2004 – it no longer permitted anonymous speech – the
only institutional forum permitting (however tenuously) anonymous speech
had died. Simultaneously, the termination of an anonymous forum had also
resulted in explicit and greater regulation – whereby all notices had to
be vetted by an authority-wielder as a pre-requisite before they could be
put up, thereby raising the spectre of heightened content
restrictions/limitations.  In this context, the fact that only 6 more
poems (each of which was vetted by the LnD) were put up on the Wall Mag
between 25th April – 6th June, 2004 is significant. Incidentally, during
this period no poem was denied authorization by the LnD – only 6 poems
were submitted for vetting though.

Some Elegiac Comments
Having broadly attempted to trace the phenomenon of the creation of an
institutional anonymous forum in a scenario where none existed, the
operation of the same in a university setting, and the consequent
regulation leading to the eventual termination of the anonymous forum,
some brief comments/questions keeping in mind the broad focus of this
project are in order:
·	Is the LnD action of 24th April, 2004 or similar action in similar
contexts justified? Can there be some reasonable criterion agreed upon
(and openly communicated) to inform and moderate such interventionist
decisions as regards free speech?
·	Flowing from the above question, can action such as the LnD’s
theoretically pass constitutional muster in light of the freedom of speech
and expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution of India and
of the equal treatment guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution of
·	Continuing on the same line, is a distinction between anonymous notices
and non-anonymous notices per se justified/warranted/desirable?
·	What are the discernible consequences of the absence of an institutional
anonymous forum/increased regulation, as regards freedom of speech and
expression in a university setting?
·	Will the risks posed by anonymity (no accountability/hate speech/wrong
and misleading information, etc.) be countered by a scenario/policy that
while permitting anonymous speech per se, still subjects it to ultimate
censorship if such anonymous speech be deemed undesirable as per
pre-determined standards?
·	In a scenario where vetting is a mandatory pre-requisite for notices,
can anonymity still be preserved by accommodating for content vetting of
anonymous notices? What institutional mechanisms can facilitate such a
balance between anonymity and free speech?
·	What, if any, is the correlation between the existence of an
institutional anonymous forum and hate speech?

These are the thorny issues that I hope to have a clearer understanding of
at least, by the end of this project. I conclude with my well-worn but
little heeded refrain:

I look forward to any comments, suggestions or information. I can be
contacted at abhayraj at nls.ac.in

Abhayraj Naik

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