Vigilante justice is never a good idea

If you don’t want vigilante justice, you must have true justice

Kiran Jonnalagadda
May 29, 2017 · 4 min read

This is a follow-up to two earlier posts on trolling by iSPIRT’s Sharad Sharma of several critics of Aadhaar:

Following my posts and much media coverage, iSPIRT’s Governing Council put together a Guidelines and Compliance Committee (IGCC), which conducted an investigation that concluded on 28 May 2017. We do not have a public statement from IGCC, but instead—curiously enough—have a public statement from Sharad Sharma himself, summarising the decisions of the committee that investigated him.

As a primary victim of Sharad’s trolling, and as someone who deposed before the IGCC, I have yet to hear back from them officially. This public statement is the only thing I have so far. The choice of spokesperson and the manner of communication should tell you something about who calls the shots at iSPIRT.

This particular paragraph is worthy of attention:

And on that count, I as one of the buildershave stumbled. I condoned uncivil behavior by some anonymous handles over a period of ten days. I have owned up to this transgression. It was investigated internally by the iSPIRT Governing Council: Sudham as a team stands dissolved, and I will no longer be communicating on behalf of iSPIRT externally for 4 months.

I’m pained to point out that Sharad continues to not admit to being the person behind at least two troll accounts, instead merely admitting to ‘condoning’ the behaviour of unnamed persons.

I’m aware that Sharad wasn’t operating alone. Others were involved, and so far no one has come forward to be identified as the operator of a troll account, not even Sharad himself.

The victims of team Sudham’s trolling, including myself, will have to move on, suspecting various real life individuals we regularly interact with to be the same persons who spewed so much vitriol at us under the façade of anonymity. We don’t know their identities for sure, but we individually harbour strong suspicions, and the temptation to unmask them will remain as long as their words haunt us.

You know what happens when you leave victims hanging like this? Vigilante justice. If left to fester, innocents will be harmed for no fault of theirs. (I should clarify that I don’t mean I will do this, but that anyone may.)

IGCC’s official internal update to iSPIRT’s volunteers includes the following as its second paragraph (the first being a description of iSPIRT itself):

There have however, been relentless and at times vitriolic attacks on iSPIRT and its causes. In response, a team, SUDHAM, was setup to engage with external constituents on social and other media to remove any misinformation about Aadhaar, India Stack, and iSPIRT. Facts have, however, recently surfaced that show Sharad Sharma (Convenor, Co-founder and Governing Council member of iSPIRT) indulged in anonymous, aggressive and personal attacks on those attacking iSPIRT and its causes for a period of 10 days starting May 3rd 2017. iSPIRT does not condone any kind of trolling whatsoever including using abusive language and making ad-hominem attacks either from personal or through anonymous handles. The creation and/or usage of anonymous handle was initially rejected categorically through a blog from iSPIRT but later retracted. Sharad Sharma has, subsequently, publicly acknowledged this error and lapse in his judgement and publicly apologised to all.

Things of note:

  1. iSPIRT is portraying itself as the victim rather than the perpetrator.
  2. Sharad Sharma is a listed director of the foundation (a Section 8 non-profit company), a member of the governing council, and the most visible representative of iSPIRT. If iSPIRT disagrees with Sharad, then perhaps the official public update should come from someone other than Sharad.
  3. Sharad hasn’t actually admitted to being the troll.
  4. The trolls ostensibly targeted those who were previously attacking iSPIRT. As a primary victim of the trolling, I invite you to present any evidence of me attacking iSPIRT (apart from questioning its governance in these posts).
  5. The text actually says “iSPIRT and its causes”. This is suspiciously ambiguous. What are iSPIRT’s causes? Given the trolls’ obsession with the #DestroyAadhaar hashtag (they invented it; the critics use #DestroyTheAadhaar), one may infer that Aadhaar is one of iSPIRT’s causes. However, this begs the question: why is Aadhaar an iSPIRT cause, one it takes so seriously that criticism of Aadhaar is taken to be criticism of iSPIRT? Are the members and volunteers of iSPIRT aware and supportive of this?

You know what my reading of this outcome from the IGCC is? This is not an admission of error and an apology. This is a declaration of war, the start of a narrative that paints iSPIRT as a victim seeking retribution from critics.

Grow up, iSPIRT. Be the mature organisation you want to be. How do you expect anyone to trust you when you are unwilling to own up to your own mistakes?

Update, 21 September 2017

iSPIRT’s IGCC declined my requests for a report in July 2017, nearly two months after their investigation. The Ken carried an investigative report today:

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