Monday, July 1, 2013

Beware of what you write

I am back, all you nice people. And this time it is for a reason – a reason more significant and serious than, say, buffaloes and power-cuts.

This is a warning.

***

Got your coffee? Perched up cosily in front of your desk? Good.

To begin with take five minutes from your life and read this blog post. No, this is not an advertisement, and neither is this the usual post with a hilarious joke or three catchy punch-lines. And it certainly does not contain pictures of celebrities.

No. This is serious stuff. Read it, and you may end up doing yourself a favour.

I know this blogger for some time now. We had met on that much-underrated haven that goes by the name of blogosphere. She does a decent job of her blog: she typically abstains from writing on global issues like Fardeen Khan’s career and generally keeps her blog confined to her personal musings.

When she took up a new job in one of the leading institutes of the second-most populated country in the world some time back she was asked to inform her colleagues a bit about herself on the institute’s newsletter. She was not very sure of what to write (which probably proves her sanity) and after a few words she asked whether she can mention her blog. They agreed. She did.

Thereafter she turned out to be an excellent worker. The Dean of the Institute had called her and acknowledged her work in public – both in person and in an email. Life was never rosier for her.

Then, some time back, she had written the blog post mentioned above. She had used the real names of the people mentioned in the blog (she has changed them subsequently).

All went well until she was suddenly summoned by the Chief Human Resources Officer one day – several months after she had written the post and had possibly forgotten about it: the women in the institute – all of them – had complained (picketed is more like it) outside his office.

My friend had been accused of racism. She had used the line “Her oiled, unkempt hair had no flowers. She is not beautiful – as her name suggests – nor is she ugly. Sometimes, when I look at her… it feels she was born old-faced.”

That was obviously a racist statement. The leaders of the Women with Oiled, Unkempt Hair, Neither-Beautiful-Nor-Ugly Women, and Women Born Old-Faced organisations had obviously taken the matter rather seriously and had lodged an official complaint against her.

Two days passed. My friend, meanwhile, had changed the names and taken the picture (yes, there was one) off the blog. Yet another day passed.

Her female colleagues had now started to hound her and had started to target her with the choicest of abuse-words (much as I would have loved to learn some authentic Kannada swear-words I did not have the heart to ask my friend) whenever she walked alone. Not content with the language they even took a step further and – you have to believe this – they spat at her. When she tried to protest the Human Resources Division turned a deaf ear.

She had left no stone unturned for moral support. The message was sent out to her clearly by everyone – the aforementioned Dean included – that she was not wanted any more.

To her bravery (or folly, whichever way you look at it) she did not budge from her rights: she did not take the blog post down. She resigned instead. I wish I had her guts.

No, that was not the end of the story. While serving her notice period she had got to know that her employers had set up an Enquiry Commission to look into the matter in details. She was interrogated while she was on notice period.

These were some of the sample questions:

Q: What is a blog? Who pays you to write?
A: A blog is free. Nobody pays me. It is my hobby. I write for fun.

Q: Aren’t you aware that ‘oily unkempt hair’ qualifies as racism?
A: Don’t you use oil on your hair? I do.

Q: How can you use terms like ‘parched’ while referring to her wrists?
A: Both my grandmothers have parched skin: what is wrong with that?

Q: Why did you call her ‘ugly’?
A: Did you even read what I have written?

Nobody wanted their valuable employee back. The resignation was accepted without a word. Her replacement was assigned the designation immediately.

***

So what did you learn today?

Does the world know of your blog? Do your colleagues?

Have you written about them? Have you mentioned their names?

If you say ‘yes’ to one or more of the previous four questions have you may be headed for serious trouble before you can say the word Ghitorni. Go back to make the amendments.

32 comments:

  1. Very alarming! and yet not unexpected. My boss and colleagues all know about my blog ( they went through it minutely during my interview to get a feel of my writing skills). Well, I don't write personal posts usually, but if i'm tempted to, i'll keep this in mind.

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    Replies
    1. Do. Please do. I found this terribly Orwellian. So much for freedom of speech.

      Delete
  2. You forgot to mention that the incident happened in one of the leading institutes in India where the employees are supposedly "EDUCATED" enough to understand what a blog is! sigh!!

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    Replies
    1. Indeed, Sushmita. My apologies. I will make the necessary amendments.

      Delete
  3. So,by that logic,a blog can never be cathartic?
    Why write a blog then?

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    Replies
    1. Precisely. We cannot make the most obscure of observations about people. Especially about the amount of hair oil they use.

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  4. This is horrid. Extremely unpleasant.

    I will be really careful about not using actual names.

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    1. Please do. Please, please do. And spread the message unless you want anyone close to you to be fired.

      Delete
  5. When i was a teenager,i used to have a secret diary.One day, mother sneaked in and read all my outpourings.From Then on,i decided to write in metaphors and euphemisms.Replaced the name of ppl with animals.Today,it's a diary only i can decode and will take its key to my grave :D

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    1. An excellent strategy if there was one! I think I will revert to the same.

      Do you think anybody will understand if I use the phrase End Fare?

      Delete
    2. Ah babu,now you play with me.How do i know the workings of your mind?
      Is it an anagram,since palindrome doesn't make sense.You want to end some affair of yours or have enough fare till the end of Kolkata?what is it?
      What is it??

      Delete
  6. Several observations:
    1. It was monumentally stupid to use the real names of the people involved, especially when the blogger knew those people not in a personal, but a professional setting.
    2. The blogger must be egregiously naïve not to consider that the words she was using would be hurtful to someone. Oh, I am sure she didn't intend to be hurtful or racist in any way - but intent is not magic. The context is very important in any communication.
    3. The blogger didn't stop to think the import of her words, the fact that the terms she used may have had a different impact on the people she mentioned. The grandmother defence was ridiculous; if I consider my grandmother ugly or myopic, that doesn't automagically give me the right to call random people ugly or myopic willy-nilly.
    4. Many people, including passionate advocates of Freedom of Speech, make a common mistake: the Right to Free Speech, enshrined in the Constitution, protects the speech or expression of a person against governmental retribution of any sort. In lawsuits, the definition of government as the aggrieved party has been occasionally stretched to include collective authorities such as university administration, a governing body, or a local government, but it does not apply to private individuals. Freedom of speech does not allow one to libel someone else at a personal level.

    Could this have been handled differently? Of course. The best course of action would have been for the blogger to offer, on her blog, an unconditional apology to the two individuals named, and move on. But in her self-righteousness, she completely overlooked the possibility that she might have been in the wrong this time.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I agree that the blogger has been naive in certain aspects. She knows that herself.

      I simply wanted to pin-point the way this was handled. She should have been given a chance to defend herself at least. That is the minimum everyone deserves.

      Delete
  7. At the first place, it is really, really unprofessional to name and identify colleagues in a blog post of this sort, even if the intention was not to hurt anyone. Intentions can be misread, as was in this case. Freedom of speech ought to be respected yes, but when you right personal stuff directed against someone, it ca cross a line and be perceived as libel.

    Was the reaction the lady suffered what she deserved? NO WAY. She got an extremely raw deal, what with the spitting and other horrors, but the institute setting up an inquiry commission is something not out of the line. But if this was in US, she could have easily been sued, and my guess is that the courts would have ruled against her, because of her naming her colleagues in the first place. And people here have lost more than a job because of these sort of slip-ups.


    ReplyDelete
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    1. I agree with both paragraphs. The colleagues should not have been named. But then, I still cannot come to terms with what had happened to her.

      Also, this is India, where working environments are generally more cordial, and comments like these are usually acceptable.

      What irks me that she was not allowed a chance to defend herself.

      Delete
    2. yes, that is completely wrong as well. Unfortunately, because this is India, nobody cares a damn if both the accuser and the defendant have ample chances to clear their stands.

      And please pardon my typos. * write and not right (iPhone saw it fit to change this on its own), and * can.

      Delete
    3. Oh, I always forgive the unfortunate victims of iPhone auto-corrects.

      Delete
  8. Nobody likes criticism,and this-what your acquaintance did-is a kind of public criticism...hurtful to those who like to google their name.

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    1. Indeed. You cannot escape from people with thick skin.

      Delete
  9. This is scary,quite scary. And a wake-up call for those who thought that the only person monitoring freedom of speech is sitting in Kolkata.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed. Better keep an eye out. The world doesn't take jokes too lightly.

      Delete
  10. I wrote my diary till 2007. I always wrote backward so that its content is safe from the hands of my mother, husband and daughter. For example, if I wanted to write that amar ajke mon bhalo neyi, I would write rama ekja nom olabh iyen....I can read it fluently and no one else has a clue!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Abhishek, very interesting read. The reaction from the employees, HR etc has clearly been horrendously over the top (racism, really...), but somehow, the blog does seem a bit offensive from a workplace perspecive. Look at it this way, a colleague with whom I bear no grudges, in a public domain, suddenly posts comments on my looks, work ethics (comes late, whiles away time in the canteen, gossips etc etc), my clothes, and even on my English diction!! Sir, I am sure nobody would like that..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Obviously a lot of people won't be sporting enough to like that. BUT. As you have said, the reaction was completely over the top.

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  12. In recognition of the fact that this is a bilingual blog, I'll try this time to write something in my 'parched' English, but I warn you- (যখন তখন বাংলায় লিখবো বলে দিলুম).

    She clearly did something foolish. Or did she? Is it okay to talk about your co-workers (or anybody you may know for that matter) but not to write about it? Maybe it's okay to write in a different language- that they don't know? We do that, right?
    Is the sole meaning of 'cleverness' somehow hangs on their not knowing of the fact that I have opinions about them? Isn't it better to clearly know what somebody thinks of me and then start disliking them than not knowing at all?

    Hey, I don't know! I'm just asking. (এর পরের কথাগুলো আর ইঞ্জিরিতে হবে না- বেশ করেছে লিখেছে। পড়শির বাচ্চা ঘুমোচ্ছে বলে নিজের ঘরে (ব্লগে) সশব্দে বায়ুত্যাগ করতে পারবো না নাকি? সে না হয় আমার কথা চাঁছাছোলা- অত ফোস্কা পড়লে সানস্ক্রিন মাখলেই পারে- যতসব ছাগলের দল। আমার নামে কেউ আচ্ছা করে নিন্দে করলে বিরাট শান্তি পেয়ে তাকেও নিজের ব্লগে চাট্টি জমিয়ে গালাগাল করবো। এ সব হল তসলিমা সিন্ড্রোম- চন্দ্রিল লিখেছিল না, লেখার, মতের বিরোধিতা যে সেই মাধ্যমেই করতে হয়- ছাগলেরা জানে না)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. কিছু করার নেই সুনন্দ। মাথায় তেল মাখা নিয়ে লিখলেও লোকে প্রতিবাদ জানায়। আইন তাই বলে। আমি মানছি এটা নেহাৎই আহাম্মকি, কিন্তু ভবিষ্যতে আমি সাবধানে থাকব।

      কিছু লোক স্পর্শকাতর হয়ে জন্মায়। চুলের তেল নিয়ে লিখলেও তাদের গায়ে রীতিমত ফোস্কা পড়ে। কী করা যাবে? যদ্দিন এরা থাকবে, এসব হতে থাকবে।

      আর হ্যাঁ, আইন মেনে চলার আরেক নাম হিপোক্রিসি। আমি একজনের সম্বন্ধে মন্তব্য পোষণ করব, কিন্তু তার নামে কোথাও লিখতে পারব না। এমন কি নিরীহ কথাও না।

      Delete
  13. Ami keno comment korini bolo to? Tar karon amar eto odbhut legeche puro byaparta je reaction gulo guliye gechilo. Ami bhabteo parina, relate korteo na. Being lawyers (and hence a little privileged in certain aspects of life), we have always enjoyed unadulterated Freedom of Speech gifted by the Constitution. I mean, we can say and write whatever we feel like. (I think EVERYONE for that matter, can). So, this kind of an incident is alien to me.
    It's a strange world!

    P.S: However, I do feel sad that she was not given a chance to justify herself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is alien to me as well. Amio relate korte parina. Which is why I feel so helpless.

      Delete

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