On the ethics of littering, public filming, and social responsibility
by Shachi Mokashi
With the advent of personal devices and increased accessibility to social media platforms, the lines between the public and private realms are steadily disappearing. The confrontation—later evolving into a dispute—between the actress, Anushka Sharma, and the part-time actor and litterbug, Arhhan Singh, was splattered across different social media platforms after Sharma’s husband, Virat Kohli, posted a video of the confrontation on Twitter. The video features Anushka Sharma scolding Arhhan Singh for littering. Singh had an interesting response to Sharma’s confrontation: sending the couple a legal notice for defamation. He also clarified on Facebook: while he was “apologetic for [his] carelessness”, the garbage he threw out of his car window was “way less [than] the garbage that came out from your mouth... From ur luxury car's window... Or the trashy mind Virat Kohli to shoot [and] post this online”. It is difficult to ascertain Mr Singh’s legal case—is he serving a notice for impoliteness or for the display of the confrontation on social media? The public realm defines itself as a space and place where action and speech are public; thus, accessible to be perceived and judged by those present in such a realm. Therefore, what is the credibility of such a legal claim?
Singh seems to be interested in contesting the act of filming rather than defending his act of littering. Untangling the legalities of public photography and filming in India is a daunting task. While there is no explicit law stating the public filming is illegal; we can assume that the act of public filming can be legally contested if it endangers an individual and the individual is willing to prove so. Although it seems counter-intuitive, discussing the legalities of public filming take us away from this very particular incident which unraveled due to a highly unique set of circumstances (the celebrity status of some people involved, the uploading of the video and its subsequent virality). We can and should be able to agree that Mr Singh’s act of littering was in the wrong and in the public; an act negatively affecting his immediate surroundings and thus, susceptible to others’ judgment and possible repercussions.
Sharma’s act of immediate, unabashed confrontation is something that we must look up to. How many of us are able to use our words and courage to not only recognise a wrongdoing, but also, to articulate why such an act harms the people affected by it? If we are not able to work up the courage to point out such an act; how are we to stand against the much more repugnant and heinous injustices our society faces? Kohli’s post went viral due to his fan following, Sharma’s particular involvement, and Singh’s rebuttal (to name a few reasons). Kohli and Sharma’s privilege is repeatedly emphasised by the critics of their actions; that, this was a stunt and an easy act for them to do. While these arguments quickly slip into ad hominems and character attacks, we must attempt to revive and bring forward the question: was the posting of this video a cautionary note or an act of self-gratification of Sharma and Kohli’s part? Is Sharma’s responsibility to the cause of environmentalism and sustainability over now that she has acted this way? This is not something we must ask only of them. This is a question we must ask ourselves every time we are overcome with passion for a cause. How far are we willing to go? It is absolutely important to confront an injustice and the perpetrator; but, it is far more important to remind ourselves that voicing opinions is only the first step to taking a stand for a cause.
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