US academics say Narendra Modi supporters posting threats on blogs
WASHINGTON: Over 100 prominent US-based academics, most of them Indian-Americans who last month raised privacy concerns about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Digital India' campaign have now alleged they are receiving threats on their blogs by his "Hindu nationalist followers".
The faculty members had said they were concerned that the project's potential for increased transparency in bureaucratic dealings with people is "threatened by its lack of safeguards about privacy of information, and thus its potential for abuse".
In their latest statement on September 1, they have alleged that they have been receiving threat messages on their blogs.
"The threats and ugly tone in the comments section of this blog and elsewhere illustrate exactly how academic freedom, and freedom of expression in general, is compromised by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist followers," it said.
Their statement came after a petition signed by over 1,200 people "rejected" the allegations of these 100-plus academicians.
Vamsee Juluri, professor of Media Studies and Asian Studies at the University of San Francisco on the Academe Blog, wrote: "The digital surveillance fear is a hoax, sir, as is the idea of Modi as a Muslim-hating mass murderer. Simple as that."
"The allegation that Narendra Modi ought to be viewed with suspicion, if not disdain, by business leaders in Silicon Valley because of surveillance implications in the Digital Indiainitiative seems a desperate ploy rather than any genuine concern for India," the petition says.
Meanwhile, the academicians also expressed their "surprise" at the presumption that only science and technology experts pay attention to the effects of technology on society, since the questions of digital society and freedom require attention by scholars in other fields as well.
"Digital Humanities initiatives, for instance, illustrate the ways some of us actively think about the relationship between technology and society," they wrote.
The academicians said that historically, all technology has social, political, and ethical effects - precisely because technology is so powerful and far-reaching.
"Perspectives from our varied fields of scholarship offer crucial insights into the nature of this impact," they said.
However, they clarified that they never asked Silicon Valley companies not to invest in India, but their statement last month was to raise awareness and debate about the various policies of the Modi government.
"We did not send our statement to Silicon Valley CEOs. The statement is addressed to Mr. Modi's audiences in Silicon Valley, which includes Silicon Valley industries," the academicians, a significant majority of whom are Indian- Americans, said in a statement posted on the Academe Blog of American Association of University Professors.
"We did not ask Silicon Valley companies not to invest in India; we asked them to consider carefully the terms of partnership with India. The objective of our letter is to raise awareness and debate in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, of Mr. Modi's record on key issues related to 'Digital India'," it said.
The statement, written by scholars almost all of whom are of humanities and arts background, has since generated heated debate in the academic circles, many of them questioning motives behind writing such a letter before the Silicon Valley visit of the Narendra Modi, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in decades.
The petition says the academicians offer "no evidence for their claim, and neglect to mention that the Indian government has been pursuing several digital initiatives long before Narendra Modi assumed office, a fact that never bothered them when the UPA government, with which several US-based South Asian academics have had close ties of patronage and privilege, was in power".
In their petition, Juluri and others have alleged that it is Modi who has been a victim of assault of academic freedom.
"For all their talk about assaults on academic freedom, the signatories of the anti-Modi letter have never reflected on the possibility that the subject of the greatest censorship and distortion in South Asian academics in recent years might well have been Narendra Modi.
"Just a few years ago, Modi was effectively prevented from addressing by videoconference students and faculty at UPenn (University of Pennsylvania) because of a campaign similar to the present one," the petition said.
It went on to add that "the only effective (if invisible) restrictions on free speech and academic freedom that exist today are the ones that silence those scholars, writers and concerned citizens who have dared to question the South Asianist academy's institutionalised Hinduphobia and disdain for facts"