Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Diplomatic immunity for e-Bay, Baazee.com?


ND Batra

The arrest of Avnish Bajaj, the CEO of e-Bay’s Indian subsidiary Baazee.com, in connection with the posting for auction of a teenage-sex video, should not have become a matter of such grave concern as it has been made out to be in the Indian media. The buck must stop at the CEO’s door. Period. And that’s why so many corporate chairmen, presidents and other top officials in the USA are in jail, some for direct involvement in the abuse of public trust and others for contributory criminal negligence. Ignorance of law, as has been said many times, is no excuse especially when software programmes are available to filter out what is illegal.

It was a failure of imagination on the part of e-Bay-Baazee that its top officials could not foresee this kind of criminal activity taking place on their platform. Despite all the noise about Bajaj’s temporary incarceration, it is important to keep in mind that child pornography, even the possession of it in the privacy of one’s home, is a serious crime in the USA, where Baazee.com’s parent company e-Bay is based. Dissemination of child pornography offline or online, or being a contributory to it, is treated almost at par with murder. Bajaj who went to Harvard and is a US citizen should have known that creating an auction platform would not have given him any immunity in the USA. And he should not have expected it in India either. But being a member of the new Brahmin class that is rising in India, NRIs and Indian-born US citizens returning home to “civilise” their motherland, people like Bajaj think that they are ushering in a new era of not only unprecedented economic growth but also of unbridled freedom, thus unfortunately mimicking the worst of America despite their presumed good intentions.

It is surprising that Infosys chairman NR Narayana Murthy described Bajaj’s arrest in the MMS scandal as “too drastic” an action. No, it was the proper thing to do to prevent India from gradually sliding into cultural anarchy. As India grows economically, it needs more social discipline. Worse than Murthy’s misplaced sympathy was the US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher’s statement that secretary of state Powell was concerned about the case. “I do know this situation is one of concern at the highest levels of the US Government,” Boucher said. “It’s a matter that we have been following.” I thought Powell had better things to do than interfere in a petty law enforcement case in India! Bajaj will get his day in the court but a high-profile case like this would alert other online service providers to watch their corner of cyberspace.

Corporate American leadership, whether e-Bay or Union Carbide (responsible for the Bhopal disaster), must accept responsibility for its actions. Instead of making amends for their criminal negligence, they seek diplomatic immunity based on the false argument that since they are contributing to economic growth, their crimes should be overlooked. It is most shameful when some in the Indian media try to cozy up with global companies doing business in India and ignore their abuses. Consider, for example, a typical response from an India journalist, who wrote, “As India continues its struggle to integrate itself with the global economy and attract more international investments, the experience of Bajaj could turn out to be a serious dampener.” That’s an absurd statement! Should India prostitute itself to attract foreign investment? What India needs is a courageous person like Eliot Spitzer, the New York Attorney General, who has taken upon himself the mission of preventing corporate greed and financial abuse. With the cleaning up of the corporate mess, Americans have begun to trust the market again.

NASSACOM forgets that the Baazee case is not about doing business in India but about trading and auctioning of online child pornography. NASSACOM’s admonition too was misplaced: “As a global, mature and responsible technology industry and the most attractive destination for services, we need to ensure that we do not send out the wrong signals to global customers and investors.” NASSACOM should let foreign investors know that the law of the land must be respected and that like any other “civilised and modern democracy,” India too would take “draconian measures” to protect its citizens, especially children. Listen to what the US Attorney General John Ashcroft said some time ago: “No one should be able to avoid prosecution for contributing to the abuse and exploitation of the nation’s children. The Department of Justice stands side-by-side with our partners in the law enforcement community to pursue those who victimise our children…”

Absence of moral outrage over the behaviour of school teenagers involved in the sex scandal and the lackadaisical attitude of school authorities has been no less shocking. Which makes me wonder where India is heading.


  1. Your views on the arrest of Avnish Bajaj are condemnable. The moot question is not whether Avnish Bajaj is a US citizen and what the world will think of us (Nasscom's statements are equally condemnable). The reason why every single literate Indian reacted with horror after the arrest of Bajaj is the arbitrary nature of the arrest. Did Bajaj shoot the film? No. Did he sell the film? No. Did he try to protect the people who did both? No. Did he disappear when summoned? No.
    If Bajaj is arrested for the sale of an illegal item on his portal - the municipal commissioners of all the municipalities in India should be behind bars. Because illegal things are sold in every market in the country. And why leave the owners of newspapers that have "massage parlour" advertisements? Mr Irani should also be behind bars by the same logic.
    What the arrest of Bajaj will do or has done is discourage honest people from cooperating with the police in future.
    If you feel a portal that is open to such misuse should be banned then ban Bazee.com by all means. But please don't arrest people like Bajaj just to prove we have the power to arrest the high and mighty - that's plain inferiority complex.
    To answer your last question - India, much like the rest of the world - is moving towards a more liberal scenario. Nature has made human beings physically and mentally fit for sex from early to mid teen. It's a few hypocretes who think otherwise. Their number, luckily, is reducing.

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