Why HoB’s case against PoI made the headlines

Almost everything we consume today comes with an agenda attached

I don’t follow any ‘Humans of’ pages on Instagram. To me, they seem to be a mix of Reader’s Digest’s Drama in Real Life series and the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and I find them too on-the-nose or treacly sweet. Besides, I keep getting the feeling that Bollywood story scouts are reading them breathlessly over my shoulder, trying to find plots for the next luridly uplifting ‘based on a true story’ blockbuster.

I do, however, enjoy photo-stories shared by Mayank Austen Soofi on his wholly desi and beautifully detailed @thedelhiwalla feed, the stories that sometimes come up on the @pari.network (P. Sainath’s People’s Archive of Rural India), as well as the tales of couples who broke the ‘love laws’ (of faith, caste, gender, abilities, nationality, etc) that feature on Priya Ramani’s India Love Project. My husband and I have even featured on India Love Project—Priya reached out to us herself, no money changed hands and the whole interaction was entirely pleasant and enriching. However, everybody has different tastes.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

Humans of Bombay, who sued People of India for intellectual property (IP) theft last week, has 2.7 million followers on Instagram. (PoI has about 1.5 million, and Humans of New York, the OG, who started it all back in 2010, has 12.8 million.) The reason HoB’s legal case against PoI made the headlines is because it was a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black, as HoB itself is totally inspired by HoNY, except that HoNY has never called this out or sued in the nine years HoB (and many other ‘Humans of’ chapters all over the world) have been in existence. But when HoB sued PoI of theft, HoNY founder Brandon Stanton suddenly woke up and virtue-signalled his own large-heartedness by issuing a statement that HoB founder Karishma Mehta “can’t be sueing people for what I have forgiven you for” (Aargh, don’t you dislike super-woke, philanthropic Americans? Especially when they end up getting so much good publicity by shaming us desis!) Stanton also clarified that he has not made a penny from the HoNY page, unlike HoB, whose rate card (with fees running into tens of lakhs) stated circulating on X minutes after the statement went public. Ouch.

It also doesn’t help that HoB featured five posts on Narendra Modi in the lead up to the 2019 elections. The fact of the matter is that the honest, old school advertisement that declares itself to be an advertisement and nothing more can today be fast forwarded, filtered or avoided. So, advertising has no other option but to adulterate our content. Almost everything we consume today comes with an agenda attached. There are even awards being given away for the ‘most well-integrated’ content at advertising award shows! It is up to us consumers to figure out where honesty ends and hustling begins. Caveat emptor and all that.

So really, Karishma Mehta is perfectly within her rights to sell her page. All she was doing was exhibiting some good old desi pragmatism. The plagiarism charge is a trickier one. While Mehta seems to be guarding her IP far more vigilantly than HoNY has ever bothered to do, and even the judge who heard the case seemed to think that what PoI had pulled on HoB was unfair, (they copied entire posts, word for word), her peers seem bent on cancelling her. See, on social media, followers, likes and validation are the real currency. And ‘philanthropic’ Stanton has cashed in neatly on that.