Growing up in India when we had one radio station (All India Radio) and one TV station (Doordarshan) both of which mostly served up government propaganda, we used to listen to the BBC to get the “real” news (and I must confess I tried to model my English on some of those great newsreaders!).

During those days we marveled at the freedom that Americans seemed to have to say whatever they pleased without any fear or favor.  We saw them even toppling a president (Nixon) whose Watergate cover-up was worse than the crime.  Truly the land of the free and the home of the brave, we thought.

A couple of recent incidents made me wonder whether America today was that much different from India of the past when it came to freedom of speech and expression (guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution).  And following are those episodes.

My multi-talented daughter, Sakshi, even when only 12 years old, combined her skill using technology and her flair for drama to make and post on YouTube several short, entertaining videos on various topics – you can see one of them at: ).

Then in December 2012 she made a fateful video that brought her video producing “career” to an abrupt end.  Below is the video she posted on Youtube:

But oops – there is no video – because it got “censored”.  And why did that happen?  In that video (posted in a Youtube account controlled by her mother), Sakshi had depicted one of her elementary school teachers (without naming either school or teachers) as crazy enough to have mood swings and verbally abuse the children and another teacher putting her feet on the children and twisting their arms during PE class.

When the video was first posted, I was in India along with my mother and she and I had a good laugh at the video which we thought was clearly a parody (like a Saturday Night Live skit).  But what followed was unbelievable.  An EMail from the principal, Pam Mitchell, asking that the video be immediately removed and hinting at dire consequences if that was not done.  And in the course of arguing that the school could not demand removal of a video that did not mention the name of the school nor the teachers and was not made during school hours nor using school equipment, I filed an Open Records Request and found a whole army of school officials (including Assistant Superintendent, Brad Hunt), seemingly alarmed by the video, were writing conspiratorial EMails to each other about how to deal with the “situation”.  Clearly this video was not being treated as a childish parody – which suggested to me that something more serious was going on.  Or possibly the cover-up was just worse than the crime – shades of Watergate!

Cutting to the chase, Sakshi caved in to the pressure (despite my total support, telling her to stand her ground) and wrote a letter of apology to all and sundry and the video was taken down.  And, as I feared, Sakshi did not make another video in this series – and her budding video “career” came to an abrupt end.

Fast forward to several years later.  Sakshi, now several years older, is in Newspaper class where she is a “reporter” writing articles online on various topics.  One of them is titled “Kids in Asian families forced on to unwanted career paths” which as the title suggests is not flattering towards “Asian parents” in general and me (as her father) in particular.  In her bid to make a point and add some drama, she had crossed over from reporting/opining  on facts to writing fiction – and here is the link to that article posted on the school’s website:

But oops again – there is nothing there!  So what happened this time?

This is the sequence of events.  I posted a comment disagreeing with Sakshi’s contentions.  Sakshi promptly deleted my comment.  I took this up with her teacher suggesting that if any of his student “reporters” wrote and posted online anything controversial, then readers should be given an opportunity to respond on the same page and disagree.  However, rather than allowing that, the teacher promptly had the article itself deleted.  And that, in my opinion, was a pity because what could have been teaching moment was lost and Sakshi suffered the ignominy of one more her products (resulting from some hard and dedicated work) being “censored”.

And the irony of all this is when I brought this article to the attention to Brad Hunt (the Assistant Superintendent, who behind the scenes was doing his best to get Sakshi’s video deleted because “it would upset the teachers who are sensitive people”), his comment surprisingly was “Sakshi is a strong writer.  I think given that this article is in the “opinions” section that it should be treated as such, her opinion.  “.

Apparently what is not good for the geese is good for the gander!

And the unfortunate lesson Sakshi probably learnt from all this is that she lives in the land of the (not so) free and the home of the (not that) brave!!