Freedom of speech in India is for the rich and the powerful #censorship


FEBRUARY 14, 2013

While freedom of speech and expression in India is under attack from all sides, have you noticed how the rich and the powerful can say what they like without getting arrested, facing FIRs and courts, hiring lawyers and so on?

While an innocuous tweet or Facebook status update can land you in police lock-up on a Saturday night or Sunday morning 5 am, a Digvijaya Singh can say sexist crap against Rakhi Sawant and get away with it.

Here’s another example from Twitter recently. Lalit Modi of IPL infamy, who wants us to believe his coming to India and facing the law is a security threat to him, tweeted that the BJP’s  Arun Jaitley would lose his deposit if he contested the Lok Sabha seat from Jaipur. (Lalit Modi thinks he’s the Maharaja of Rajasthan.) In response to that, one Ankush Jain replied…

lalit-modi-arun-jaitley-barkha-dutt-radia-tapes

You can see there, Barkha Dutt’s threat to sue three people,one of whom said nothing, was merely tagged there. Ankush Jain was so terrified he deleted not just his Tweet but even his twitter account! I don’t blame him. He’s probably a student or a government employee or runs a shop somewhere… he wouldn’t want to face legal notices and police stations and court-rooms. Lalit K Modi on the other hand has no such problem. He counter-threatened Barkha Dutt with legal notices. Jain’s offending tweet still exists in the form of a manual RT by Lalit Modi, as you can see in the screenshot above.

You can see here a good summary of what happened on Twitter over this.

Some people then pointed out on Twitter that a similar allegation was made by Vinod Mehta in his book Lucknow Boy but Dutt never sued Mehta. Here is a screenshot from the Google Books version of Mehta’s book:

Lucknow Boy A Memoir - Vinod Mehta - Google Books - Mozilla Firefox_2013-02-13_23-40-57

So while an Ankush Jain is bullied into deleting his Twitter account, a Vinod Mehta can sit pretty.

The Indian Constitution promises freedom of speech and equality. Both promises are just that. The Internet’s democratisation of public discourse hurts the rich and the powerful and they are striking back. The rest of us feel helpless.

Lawrence Liang’s two posts from Kafila archives are worthy of recall:

This sentiment reminds me of Anatole France’s famous statement that the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. The quick equation of an individual blogger with the might of a newspaper or a magazine is a little troubling. Individuals do not have the same kind of power, money or reach to be able to defend themselves in the way that newspapers may be capable of. [Bloggers and Defamation]

And:

So why is the punishment redundant? Because it doesn’t really matter. The mere fact that the provision exists and the fact that it allows for the possibility for someone to file a police complaint or threaten police action serves the purpose of intimidating speakers, reader, organizers regardless of the fact that in most cases if it were to go to trial, it would be highly unlikely that the offending act would be found to be in violation of the provisions. The courts have laid down reasonably high standards for interpreting what would amount to a violation of these laws, and have even acknowledged their misuse. [The process is the bloody punishment]

Where the mind is without fear, where the head is held high…

 

Dear Barkha Dutt: The Buck Stops Where?


JANUARY 16, 2013

On the of latest edition, (telecast a few hours ago, on the evening of the 15th of January, 2013) of ‘The Buck Stops Here’, (a flagship news show on NDTV anchored by Barkha Dutt) – ‘India-Pakistan:Another Tipping Point‘, Admiral (Retd.) Ramdas, former chief of the Indian Navy said he knew that Indian forces have beheaded Pakistani soldiers in the past. Gen. (Retd.) V.P. Malik, former chief of the Indian Army contradicted him, and said this had never happened. Barkha Dutt was silent on this matter.

Below is a summary of some highlights of the discussion.

Around 21:15 minutes into the programme, Admiral Ramdas says, “Beheading of Troops has been going on from both sides has been for some time, I mean there is evidence of this…”

Barkha Dutt, eager to change the subject, nervously interjects and says ‘I want you to comment, Sir, on Sporting and Cultural ties, because that is what has been hit today…’. Why is she so anxious to change the subject? Is it because Admiral Ramdas is clearly speaking about something she personally does not want spoken about?

Then, a little later, Ms. Dutt asks Gen. Malik to speak, she also asks him to talk whether ‘Sporting and Cultural Ties should become the fall-guy’.

Gen. V.P. Malik says (around 24:40 minutes into the program), “…And I don’t agree with Admiral (Ram) Das that both sides have been doing this, I would like to see anybody give me one instance where this kind of inhuman act has been done by the Indian army… I know that with great respect, we not only buried their bodies with great respect…we returned any body that they asked for.”

Barkha Dutt knows what Admiral Ramdas was talking about. As has been pointed out before on Kafila, she has written about it (the decapitation of Pakistani soldiers by the Indian army during the Kargil conflict in the summer of 1999) herself in Himal magazine (June, 2001).

I had to look three times to make sure I was seeing right. Balanced on one knee, in a tiny alley behind the army’s administrative offices, I was peering through a hole in a corrugated tin sheet. At first glance, all I could see were some leaves. I looked harder and amidst all the green, there was a hint of black—it looked like a moustache. “Look again,” said the army colonel, in a tone that betrayed suppressed excitement. This time, I finally saw.

It was a head, the disembodied face of a slain soldier nailed onto a tree. “The boys got it as a gift for the brigade,” said the colonel, softly, but proudly. [Archived at The Hoot]

So that is an instance where ‘this kind of inhuman act’ did happen. So why did she not say so to Gen. Malik. She is not ‘anybody’, she was there, and this is an issue that is being discussed on a show that she is anchoring. How long can it be before she gets called out for the gross irresponsibility of her reticence on this very crucial matter. Was she lying in 2001, or, is she concealing the truth now?

But the buck, doesn’t stop here.

Then, a BJP Politician and spokesman for his party, Ravi Shankar Prasad is asked by Barkha Dutt about the NDA’s record on India-Pakistan relations. She mentions Vajpayee as the architect of the India Pakistan Peace Process , Kargil, Parliament Attack, Hijacking of IC 814, Historic Ceasefire of 2003 etc.

Ravi Shankar Prasad begins, not by immediately addressing Barkha Dutt’s question, but by contradicting Admiral Ramdas. Around 26:39 minutes into the program, Ravi Shankar Prasad says – “…Mr. Ramdas has been a distinguished Naval chief, but for him to make a comment that even Indian forces have been beheading, I am happy Gen. Malik contradicted him very conclusively, Admiral Ramdas you need to understand that Pakistani people will lap up your comment, and seek to condemn Indian army in no uncertain terms, I am seeing that happening, for heavens sake don’t make these sweeping comments.”

“Don’t call on Heaven, Mr. Prasad” (Admiral Ramdas says, attempting to interject) but Barkha Dutt doesn’t let him speak. Once again, she does not contradict, question or challenge Ravi Shankar Prasad. Her evasion in this matter, at this point, when it has popped up on her program for the third time now, is a truly sweeping statement.

Then, Barkha Dutt moves on to Congress spokesman, Avishek Manu Singhvi, and other matters, and other panelists, Ashutosh Varshney and Leela Ponnappa, the question that Admiral Ramdas raised is forgotten, but it lingers, silent, and sullen, like the ghost of a beheaded soldier in the studio.

At the end of the programme, Shahvar Ali Khan, a musician from Lahore, Pakistan says “All the peace loving people of Pakistan are with the grief of the people of India.” He hopes that the present situation will not affect cultural and social ties.

Ravi Shankar Prasad says that he loves Pakistani Ghazal songs, but says artists, sportsmen and people who want peace are “fringe players”.

Then, Barkha Dutt asks Admiral Ramdas for a comment. He says, “If for so many years things have gone wrong, the fault lies not with sportsmen and artists, why punish them for what why have not done?”

Who makes the constituency of peace a fringe, and who makes the dogs of war, the people Shahvar Ali Khan calls the ‘hate-mongers’, on either side of the LOC, occupy the centre-stage, again and again?

If an important television journalist like Barkha Dutt talks about the fact that both armies have committed acts of savagery, which, I repeat, she says she knows, because she has said that she has seen this with her own eyes, it will weaken the dogs of war. This admission, coming from a public figure like her, will make it more difficult for the war-party on either side of the LOC to point their fingers only at people across the border.

Nothing can strengthen the constituency of peace more at this crucial juncture, than a little honest and public introspection, on both sides. Let us hope that will occur. Barkha Dutt can set the ball rolling, if she chooses to. The buck, starts with her.