#India – The Draconian #ITAct


Draconian act

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May 20, 2013 : dECCAN hERALD

The arrest of Jaya Vindhyala, president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties(PUCL) in Andhra Pradesh, is the latest case of arbitrary and highhanded police action to restrict freedom of expression.

The case specifically involved online freedom of expression because the alleged offences related to a posting on a Facebook page. Vidhyala had made a posting critical of Tamil Nadu governor K Rosaiah and an AP legislator Amanchi  Krishna Mohan. While the same information published by the local print media had invited only a notice of  legal action, its online publication  has invited arrest and prosecution. It is difficult to understand how there can be different standards of response to the same information in two forms of media. Online media postings  are made by individuals and they are more vulnerable. Freedom of expression is basically the individual’s freedom to express opinions and it should be guaranteed and protected, whatever the medium of expression.

While dealing with the case, the Supreme Court has directed state governments to not arrest anybody  for a post on a networking site unless the action is cleared by senior police officials. But this is no relief because senior police officials are also vulnerable to pressure from political authorities who are offended by postings in online media, as in this case. Vindhyala’s postings contained only matters revealed under the RTI Act and other information in the public realm. And yet she is being prosecuted. This is because Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, under which the action was taken,  is  very restrictive and draconian.

The section in effect differentiates between an ordinary citizen and a person who uses social media for comment. While the citizen has a defence under Section 19(1)(a)  of the Constitution and other relevant provisions of the law, the netizen can be proceeded against under Section 66 A. This is anomalous because social media is actually gaining more popularity and importance than conventional media and they provide an empowering forum for individuals.

This section should be removed from the IT Act because it is discriminatory and liable to be misused, whatever the guidelines that are given to the police. A number of cases of highhanded actions under the provision  have come to light, including  the arrest of two girls in Maharashtra who questioned the shutting down of Mumbai in the wake of Bal Thackeray’s death. Union Law minister Kapil Sibal’s recent assurances on the bill in parliament were not convincing.

 

#India- #Delhi- Women Helpline- 181 #Vaw #mustshare #mustcall


Three-digit number allotted for women’s helpline in Delhi

Edited by Shamik Ghosh | Updated: December 24, 2012 18:24 IST, NDTV

Three-digit number allotted for women's helpline in Delhi

New DelhiA three-digit helpline number, 181, has been allotted by the Centre to the Delhi government for its ‘office for helping women in distress.’

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had reportedly requested Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal for a three-digit number for the department. Usually, the ministry is short of three-digit numbers for allotment; however, this request accepted in less than two hours, according to reports.

The ministry of telecommunications has said that now it is upto the chief minister‘s office to set up the mechanism.

This comes after widespread outcry for strong police vigil on Delhi streets and tougher punishment for sexual crimes after a 23year-old medical student was gang-raped on a moving bus last Sunday.

 

#India – KEEP CALM and #66A ON #censorship #FOE #FOS


Graphic novelist Vishwajyoti Ghosh casts a mirthful eye on what we might confront on our ultimate day on this planet exclusively for TOI-Crest

#India-Who said what in FDI debate


IANS India Private LimitedBy Indo Asian News Service | IANS India Private Limited – 2 hours 57 minutes ago

New Delhi, Dec 4 (IANS) Seven speakers from different parties spoke Tuesday on the FDI issue in the Lok Sabha, kicking off a two-day debate with voting.

The debate will end Wednesday with a vote. If it loses in the voting, the UPA government need not resign but it will certainly be a huge embarrassment.

Here are some quotes :

Sushma Swaraj (BJP, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha) : “Small shops, retailers have been wiped out in countries which allowed FDI in retail. About 12 crore people will go out of jobs in India due to the UPA government’s decision to allow FDI in retail. PM makes bold statements like if we must go down, we’ll go down fighting. You must Mr PM, but fight for the poor, not the rich, fight for country, not multi-nationals, fight for small, not big.”

Kapil Sibal (Communications Minister) : “It was decided that retail will only be in cities with over 10 lakh population. There are 53 such cities. After that we felt some states have opposition government. If we separate the states that don’t want it, there are 18 cities left…So if FDI in retail will be implemented in only 18 cities, why is the debate happening? This debate is not needed at all, it is a totally political debate.”

Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party chief) : “As far as FDI is concerned, how much so ever you explain, it is not in favour of the country. We are speaking for the people, it is not in favour of the country. Thirty crore people will be unemployed. If this was good and beneficial, why is America in trouble? Why are people unemployed there?”

Dara Singh Chauhan (Bahujan Samaj Party): “Poor people are anxious over the impact this policy can have on their lives. They fear the multi-national companies will take away their livelihoods. The government should not rush with it.”

T.K.S. Elangovan (DMK) : “I am not telling this as an opponent, but telling this as your brother. I don’t want to put you (government) for a whole-body scan as opposition, but it (FDI in retail) is definitely not in interest of the trading community. “We were the first party to oppose FDI, but we don’t want to oppose you. We have done many good things for the country together, something may not be in favour of the country, but we don’t want to oppose you.”

Basudeb Acharia (Communist Party of India-Marxist): “The government is giving dreams of employment (from FDI).. There is 0.8 percent growth in employment in the country and unemployment is rising, there is an economic slowdown… If Wal-Mart gives one employment, it will snatch 17 employments.”

 

WHIPLASH: 2 paise as the worth of one’s privacy


By SUSHMA PRASAD

PUBLISHED: 20:28 GMT, 1 November 2012 | UPDATED: 21:56 GMT, 1 November 2012

Union Minister Kapil Sibal leaves after attending a meeting Union Minister Kapil Sibal leaves after attending a meeting

Two paise may not have any significance for the financial institutions guiding our economy, but it wields tremendous influence on the lives of ordinary citizens.

Two paise is the price at which a human being goes on auction in the information market.

From your name and age to gender, profession, salary and of course mobile number nearly everything can be bought for 2 paise from a phone number broker.

Incidentally, 2 paise is also what Hindi speakers use to take a reality check on life.

Haven’t you heard of the phrase do paise ki aukaat (stature worth 2 paise)? Crude as it may sound, the phrase holds a literal meaning in the virtual world.

The ease with which brokers put up our personal information – bank account, car details, loan amount etc – on sale for companies, makes it clear that the privacy we so vehemently protect is nothing but a sham.

And no matter how much we fool ourselves with the security claims of the government, we are exposed to threats of all kind for a price of 2 paise.

Talking of Hindi phrases, consider do paise ki akal nahin hai (mind not even worth 2 paise).

It perhaps explains the authorities’ ineptitude in dealing with phone brokers and bulk SMS providers.

The government will do well to apply do paise ki akal and use the database of the brokers for its various population registration programmes such as census, UID and NPR.

The brokers seem to have more accurate data than government agencies. As for our harried telecom minister Kapil Sibal, here’s some muft ki rai (free advice): Please don’t waste your time reporting pesky SMS texts to TRAI‘s ‘do not disturb’ facility.

An SMS forwarded to 1909 will only start a new series of texts – No keyword found. The pesky messages are any day more interesting than such replies.

 

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2226448/2-paise-worth-ones-privacy.html#ixzz2B6jWtpTC

#India- Sibal’s Law: ‘Grossly offensive’ and of ‘menacing character’ #censorship #foe #fos


courtsey jasrajbhatti at jasrajbhatti.com
November 01, 2012 10:41 IST, Rediff.com
Kapil Sibal has passed a law that anyone posting anything “offensive” on Twitter can be jailed for three years. That’s section 66A of the IT Act amended by United Progressive Alliance [ Images ] II in 2008.’

‘It’s a cognisable offence so you have to be arrested and apply for bail. As though you had committed murder!’ notes Shivam Vij.

So an aam aadmi tweeted that the Union finance minister’s son Karti P Chidambaram [ Images ] has amassed more wealth than Robert Vadra, and voila, he gets arrested! Chidu Jr tweets: ‘Free speech is subject to reasonable restrictions. I have a right to seek constitutional/legal remedies over defamatory/scurrilous tweets.’

Except that, as far as is known, the businessman whose Web site describes him as ‘The Young Politician’, has not charged the writer of the ‘defamatory’ tweet with defamation. Why not?

Because he’d have to prove defamation in court. Because the person won’t be arrested right away. Because Chidu Sr’s esteemed colleague Shri Kapil Sibal [ Images ] has passed a law that anyone posting anything ‘offensive’ on Twitter can be jailed for three years. That’s section 66A of the IT Act amended by United Progressive Alliance II in 2008.

It’s a cognisable offence so you have to be arrested and apply for bail. As though you had committed murder!

If the same allegation was made on wall graffiti or by Arvind Kejriwal at a press conference, nobody would go to jail. But say it on Twitter and the long arm of the law gets a little longer.

Why is it that Subramanian Swamy can make strong corruption allegations against Karti P Chidambaram, as he did back in April, but Chidu Jr won’t put Subramanian Swamy in jail?

An aam aadmi, however, is not dangerous to politicians. The Tamil Nadu police even wanted to keep the man in jail ‘on remand’ for 15 days, but a magistrate granted him bail.

This proves what a lot of us have been arguing: That the real and only intent of Kapil Sibal’s draconian Internet laws is to crush dissent, is to tell people that talking about the Congress party‘s corruption is not allowed.

Welcome to 1975, or was it 1984?

While various aspects of growing Internet censorship in India [ Images ] have been commented on, it appears that the most dangerous one of them has not received sufficient attention. That’s because it’s a draconian aspect of the Information Technology Act which many thought wouldn’t be misused. After all we aren’t China.

But alas, our blanket faith in the inherent goodness of the Indian democratic system allows our rulers to trample upon our rights. That is how Communications Minister Kapil Sibal can grin and claim, every now and then, that he is not for censorship and control over the Internet. He can lie through his teeth and we allow him to get away with it.

Section 66A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, came into force in 2010. The section makes punishable with three years in jail posting online ‘any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character.’

There’s more to it. A non-bailable arrest warrant for you if you upload information that you knew was false, but you posted it only to cause ‘annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will.’

Yes, annoyance and inconvenience.

There have already been at least three cases of misuse of this section, before even Kapil Sibal’s colleague’s son put it to use.

In April 2011, the West Bengal [ Images ] police arrested Jadavpur University Professor Ambikesh Mohapatra for merely forwarding on e-mail a cartoon making fun of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee [ Images ], using a reference to a Satyajit Ray [ Images ] detective story. It reached Mamta Banerjee and she was offended.

Sibal’s Law was used and the cartoonist was in jail.

Other charges — such as defamation and insulting women under the Indian Penal Code — were not cognisable, so it was only Sibal’s Law that treated him like, well, a gross offender.

Similarly, Congress and Dalit activists in Maharashtra [ Images ] targeted cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for his anti-corruption cartoons that he displayed at the MMRDA grounds in Mumbai [ Images ] in December 2011. Their real intent, it seems, was to show the Anna Hazare movement as being anti-national. They charged him with the cognisable offence of sedition, but also with Sibal’s Law — because the cartoons were also available online.

His Web site cartoonsagainstcorruption was shut down in less than 24 hours, using another bit of Sibal’s Law, the intermediary liability rules. Aseem found himself in jail for a few days in September.

More recently, a Chandigarh resident Heena Bakshi was angry with the local police for not doing much to recover her stolen car. She posted an angry message on the Facebook page of the Chandigarh police. It said:

You people kill us with your ‘nakaas’ n check points. Harassing us if we are just driving around at night. But you have no f*****g clue when somebody steals that car from under your eyes. The police started questioning me. If I was making this whole **** up or if someone actually stole it.

Does she deserve jail for this? Well, Sibal’s Law came to the aid of the Chandigarh police. I don’t know if Ms Bakshi has found her car yet.

In all these cases it is clear that the powers-that-be — politicians and government – are using Sibal’s Law to muzzle our voices, to silence dissent, to discourage we the people from expressing out anger against the government.

If this is not the Emergency mindset, what is it?

I find Kapil Sibal’s eyebrows offensive. I can’t put him in jail for that but he can put me in jail for saying as much online. If his law did not apply only to the Internet, but to everything, then that would be fair. In such a fair world I would be able to apply Section 66A against the gross offence his eyebrows cause me.

Sibal announces every other week censorship is not his intent. He says it as if we are supposed to be grateful to him for that. As if we should burst into screams of joy, ‘All hail Indian democracy!’ But the above examples show that Internet censorship is very much his intent.

In other words, he spreads a lie every time he claims censorship is not his government’s intent. If he was to say this on the Internet I would be able to apply his own law on him and have him arrested!

As I said, section 66A includes this as punishable, cognisable offence: ‘Any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill-will, persistently makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device.’

The government has appropriated to itself the task of deciding what is reasonable speech and what is unreasonable speech. That task should belong to the courts and the Indian Penal Code is enough for that.

If the tweet is defamatory, Chidu Jr should file a defamation case. There is no need for any special law for the Internet. The need for special Internet laws is felt by the powerful who realise that criticism and dissent are no longer the monopoly of a pliable, corporate media.

Those troubled by the aam aadmi‘s uncontrollable criticism include the corporate media. Senior television journalists like Barkha Dutt and Sagarika Ghose constantly complain about online trolling and ‘hate speech’. They have thus helped build an environment in favour of Sibal’s Law — ‘causing annoyance’, ‘menacing character’, ‘grossly offensive’ are all good descriptors of how the powerful see online dissent.

These journalists have thus favoured draconian laws while paying lip service to free speech by arguing that while corporate media is covered by legal restrictions online media seems to be a free-for-all.

But I am also only demanding equality. Mamta Banerjee walked out of a Sagarika Ghose show in Kolkata [ Images ]. She was offended by the questions posed to her. She was also offended by the cartoon a professor forwarded on e-mail.

While the professor had to go to jail and seek bail and will be doing the rounds of the courts to defend himself, Sagarika Ghose has not been charged with the cognisable offence of ‘causing annoyance’ or being ‘grossly offensive’ to Mamata Banerjee.

If Sibal’s Law applies to a professor, why should it not apply to an editor? Is CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose more equal before the eyes of the law than a professor who imparts education?

I have a point Sagarika, don’t you think so? If my question annoys you, please don’t use Sibal’s Law against me.

Shivam Vij

 

Natural resources cannot be dissipated as charity: SC #goodnews


by  Sep 27, 2012, Firstpost

 

Natural resources cannot be dissipated as charity: SC judgeThe Supreme Court of India. Reuters.

Does coalgate qualify as a scandal of 2G proportions?

Yes, if the government has given away coal mines as a matter of largess, charity, donation or endowment for private exploitation. Yes, if the government has allowed one set of citizens prosper at the cost of another set of citizens. And yes, if the coal mines are not allocated to best serve the common good.

Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, one of the five Supreme Court judges who delivered their unanimous opinion on the Presidential reference on Thursday, made it amply clear in an addendum as to what makes a scam in a given situation.

And for this, Justice Khehar took coal sector as a hypothetical illustration to explain where it might lead the government to arbitrariness and be unfair in disbursement of natural resources.

The Supreme Court.

“One is compelled to take judicial notice of the fact that allotment of natural resources is an issue of extensive debate in the country, so much so, that the issue of allocation of such resources had recently resulted in a washout of two sessions of Parliament. The current debate on allotment of material resources has been prompted by a report submitted by the Comptroller and Auditor General, asserting extensive loss in revenue based on inappropriate allocations. The report it is alleged, points out that private and public sector companies had made windfall gains because the process of competitive bidding had not been adopted. The country witnessed a similar political spat a little while earlier, based on the allocation of the 2G spectrum,’’ says Justice Khehar.

By picking up coal sector as a hypothetical situation, Justice Khehar explicitly demonstrates how “a forthright legitimate legislative policy may take the shape of an illegitimate stratagem.’’

Let’s assume that the government decides to allocate coal lots without any reciprocal favour or monetary gain or any other consideration from a private player engaged in power generation. The law of the land allows it only when the private player is awarded the power project on the basis of ‘competitive bids for tariffs’.

Elaborating the same situation further, Justice Khehar says: “If the bidding process to determine the lowest tariff (of power) has been held, and the said bidding process has taken place without the knowledge that a coal mining lease would be allotted to the successful bidder, yet the successful bidder is awarded a coal mining lease. Would such a grant be valid?… Grant of a mining lease for coal in this situation would therefore be a windfall, without any nexus to the object sought to be achieved.’’

When the government makes such discretions or grants, such grants will stand to the test of being fair, reasonable equitable and impartial, Justice Khehar argues.

“No part of the natural resource can be dissipated as a matter of largess, charity, donation or endowment, for private exploitation. Each bit of natural resource expended must bring back a reciprocal consideration,’’ concludes Justice Khehar.

This is one clear reason why the Central Government, especially Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, should not go gaga over the Supreme Court’s opinion that ‘auction’ does not have a Constitutional mandate as the only method for disbursement of natural resources.

Justice Khehar warns that the government should not be under erroneous impression that it is ‘not’ necessary to dispose of natural resources by way of auction. “Surely, the Presidential reference has not been made to seek such an innocuous advice,’’ Justice Khehar says.

Quoting and adding special emphasis to the cases cited by respective lawyers during the debate, Justice Khehar sums up some cardinal rules that any public authority or the government should follow while disbursing natural resources.

· Government should remain alive to the fact that disposal of some natural resources have to be made only by auction.

· A rightful choice, would assure maximization of revenue returns. The term “auction” may therefore be read as a means to maximize revenue returns.

· For a country like India, the pendulum must be understood to balance the rights of one citizen on the one side, and 124,14,91,960 (the present estimated population of India) citizens of the country on the other. An individual citizen cannot be a beneficiary, at the cost of the country (the remaining 124,14,91,960 citizens) i.e., the plurality.

· The man on the street should know why the decision has been taken in favour of a particular party.

· The Government must act as a prudent businessman, and that, the profit earned should be for public benefit and not for private gains.

· The State has the right to trade. In executing public contracts in its trading activity the State must be guided by relevant principles, and not by extraneous or irrelevant consideration.

· Every holder of public office is accountable to the people in whom the sovereignty vests.

· But where the public functionary exercises his discretion capriciously, or for considerations, which are mala fide, the public functionary himself must shoulder the burden of compensation held as payable. This Court felt that when a court directs payment of damages or compensation against the State, the ultimate sufferer is the common man, because it is tax payers money out of which damages and costs are paid.

· Article 14 of the Constitution of India applies also to matters of governmental policy even in contractual matters, and if the policy or any action of the government fails to satisfy the test of reasonableness, the same would be unconstitutional.

· The wealth of nation slips away every time when the assets belonging to the citizens are given at a discount.

· Every limb of the government is required to be oriented to public good. Thus, the question of unfettered discretion in an executive authority, just does not arise.

Justice Khehar hopes that the Presidential reference was made to iron out the creases so that such controversies are avoided in future.

Stakeholders steadfast on changes in IT Rules #Censorship


Kapil Sibal - World Economic Forum Annual Meet...

Kapil Sibal – World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2009 (Photo credit: World Economic Forum)

SHALINI SINGH, The Hindu

 Google, Facebook absent at meeting; working group to redraft objectionable language

The refusal by either companies or MPs to shed their reservations about the proposed changes in the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011, which are part of the IT Act, 2000, has led to Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal agreeing to engage in larger consultation. Accompanied by Minister of State Sachin Pilot, DIT Secretary J. Satyanarayana and Gulshan Rai, a senior functionary in the DIT, at a roundtable meeting here on Thursday, Mr. Sibal said it was not the government’s intention to regulate free speech or content. “We will set up a smaller group represented by all the stakeholders, civil society, lawyers, academics, cybercafés, MPs, and then tweak these rules in such a way that they are acceptable to everybody. Everybody must work together since the rules are required and due diligence must be done. There must be clarity with respect to due diligence, and the contours of liability must be clarified.”

The meeting, called at a day’s notice, was attended by a handful of MPs, representatives of industry and industry associations and lawyers. Civil society and the technical community were conspicuous by their absence. According to Sunil Abraham of the Centre for Internet and Society, civil society organisations were not invited and attempts to elicit an invitation from the DIT were spurned.

In a presentation on the process of formulating the IT Rules, including their consistence with Indian law, guidelines of mega Internet companies, and approach papers submitted by industry associations, the government used Google and Twitter’s transparency data to showcase the point that India stood out globally as the country which had made the least requests for removal of content.

The audience disagreed with the government’s claim that the Lok Sabha Committee on Subordinate Legislation had already scrutinised the rules, pointing out that it was meeting only on August 13, to discuss the issue.

Change in language

Stakeholders were unwilling to yield ground on their demands for a change in the language that is currently included in various Sections of the Rules. Of the 25 MPs whose names appeared on the list of invitees, only two made it to the meeting. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, an independent MP from Bangalore, said the IT Rules are an overreach on the law, lend themselves to misuse and cast an enormous liability on intermediaries. The issue needs to be discussed in greater detail by experts.

Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brian said freedom of the Internet must be protected at all costs especially since most content is user-generated. He agreed on the need for a mechanism to decide on the removal of harmful content but sought the involvement of State governments in making such decisions.

The Federation of Indian Industry and Commerce said it had consulted nearly 50 of its members whose consensus represented the need to remove some wrinkles from Section 3, especially 3(2) Section 79, and asked that a smaller working group of experts be set up to make those changes. Then the document should be put up for a wider consultation, especially with civil society.

NASSCOM, apex body for BPO and IT industries, wanted a clarification on the 36-hour clause. They also expressed concern about the interpretation, which may lead companies such as BPO and cloud computing to be treated as ‘intermediaries’, as well as reconstitution of the Cyber Regulations Advisory Committee or an appropriate redress body.

There was wide-ranging opposition to Section 3(2), especially with regard to the broad interpretation of the words ‘blasphemous’, ‘defamatory’, ‘ethnically objectionable’, and ‘disparaging’. Mr. Sibal showed a Yahoo ‘terms of service’ document wherein similar terms were used by the company.

‘Light touch regulation’

Defending itself, Yahoo said it expected a ‘light-touch regulation’ instead of the current rules. It raised several objections to Section 3. Yahoo was opposed to the fact that the onus of deciding what content should be kept or taken down was placed on intermediaries. It also pointed to the cost element involved. It was clarified that Yahoo was already in court, where it has appealed the constitutionality of Section 3(7).

Though Google and Facebook are known to have major concerns with the Rules, their representatives did not attend the discussion.

The CII raised questions about safe harbour and the issue of liability on the intermediary when it is forced to remove one private party’s content at the request of a second private party.

Due diligence burdensome

The Cyber Café Association said it was too small an entity to engage in detailed due diligence of the kind necessitated under the Rules. It would therefore be necessary to incorporate its views while redrafting the rules.

ISPs made a strong point about the confusion created by multiple orders from different courts being sent directly to service providers, and whether this entire piece could be better organised by way of procedure.

No, we’re not trying to censor the Internet: Sibal #Joke


New Delhi: Government has no plan to manage content on Internet but there should be a mechanism to redress complaints of aggrieved citizens, Telecom and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said.

He also asserted the country has the sovereign right to bring all media networks, including social media, under Indian laws.

“The government will not be involved in managing anything. We do not want to interfere, we do not want to manage but if there are citizens who are aggrieved they should have a redressal mechanism,” Sibal said during a round-table on Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011.

The round-table saw participation from Members of Parliament, Internet companies and industry bodies like CII, FICCI and Assocham.

Kapil Sibal in this file photo. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

“All networks have to be subject to Indian laws. That is are our sovereign right” he said, adding that social media also needs to work with various stakeholders to ensure that it exercises due diligence in context of content that is hosted on it.

He said the government will organise many such round- tables with participation of all stakeholders in order to evolve a consensus on the matter.

“The good part is that the government is saying that it is not looking at censorship, not looking at controlling or managing the content. I think those statements are very important,” Nasscom President Som Mittal said.

Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’ Brien said as Internet is a people’s medium so its freedom should be maintained.

He, however, added there should be a mechanism to check harmful content but states should be consulted on defining any such matter.

PTI

Why silence from dalit leaders over the Bathani Tola judgment and loud protests over the Ambedkar cartoons ?


Bathani Tola and the Cartoon Controversy

Vol – XLVII No. 22, June 02, 2012, economic and political weekely | Anand Teltumbde

Why has there been such a silence from dalit leaders over the Bathani Tola judgment acquitting all those accused of killing 21 dalits? At the same time, what explains their loud protests over the Ambedkar cartoons in the textbooks? Has the elevation of Ambedkar as an icon relegated the dalit leadership to a politics of empty symbolism? Is the issue of a lack of accountability in the judicial system towards dalits not more important than the hollow iconisation of Ambedkar?

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

Bathani Tola 1996. After 14 years the case was decided by the Ara Sessions Court in May 2010 convicting 23 of the accused; three were awarded the death penalty and 20 with life imprisonment.

The verdict was challenged and the division bench of the Patna High Court delivered its verdict on 16 April 2012, reversing the judgment and acquitting all the accused. The judgment stunned every sensitive Indian who knew the ghastliness of the massacre of 21 dalits in this hamlet in Sahar block of Bhojpur district of the then unified Bihar state on 11 April 1996. It did evoke angry reactions but mostly from family members of the victims at Bhojpur, Gaya, Aurangabad and Arwal, all within 60 km of Patna.

In a ritualistic manner the Nitish Kumar government, accused of disbanding the Justice Amir Das Commission that was instituted by the then Rabri Devi government (March 1998) to investigate the political backing for the notorious Ranvir Sena, issued a statement that the government would challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court. With that, the massive act of rubbing salt into the wounds of the poor was pushed under the carpet. No television debate, not much media concern or highbrow analysis either!

Another controversy broke out over a cartoon that was drawn 63 years ago by a noted cartoonist of yesteryears, Shankar Pillai ofShankar’s Weekly, which showed Babasaheb Ambedkar sitting on the Constitution depicted by a shell, mounted over a snail and Jawaharlal Nehru with a raised whip behind, all in the public gaze. The cartoon was a part of a Class XI Political Science textbook since 2006 and hence there was something fishy about it being noticed by politicians only now. As the grammar of electoral politics mandates, Kapil Sibal, the union minister for human resource development, with extraordinary sensitivity apologised and asked the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the creator of these textbooks, to withdraw the cartoon immediately. However, the controversy escalated and culminated in the ransacking of the office of Suhas Palshikar of Pune University by some Republican Panther activists who hogged the headlines and prime time on all the television channels.

Notwithstanding the content, at the most basic level these two instances throw up an important question about the attitude of dalits: Why are they moved only by emotional issues and keep ignoring the material issues that impinge upon their existence?

The Ambedkar Icon

The entire dalit emotional charge is concentrated in the Ambedkar icon. Given the monumental contribution of Ambedkar to the dalit cause, it is natural that he is considered as their emancipator, a messiah. Further, given the state of the dalit masses, it is also natural that he is iconised. Ambedkar’s icon replaced their gods and symbolised their self-esteem, honour and prestige. It became their beacon, a rallying point to carry on with their emancipatory struggles. As it did all this, it became susceptible to manipulation by vested interests. The fi rst such manipulation came from within, by a section of college-educated urban dalits who painted it with shades that suited their self-interests. The icon was shorn of Ambedkar’s vision of radical transformation of India expressed, for instance, in States and Minorities and he was portrayed as a caste-based reservationist, constitutionalist, an anti-materialist and mind-centric Buddhist. When electoral politics became increasingly competitive with the rise of the regional parties of the middle castes, the political class realised the importance of the dalit vote bank and used this icon to infl uence dalits.

Suddenly, Ambedkar, who faced ignorance from the mainstream all through his life, became its darling. It began erecting his statues, naming roads and institutions after him and paying eulogies to him. It went on further strengthening this icon in increasingly distorted ways that would distance dalits from reality.

Once entrenched in the psychology of the dalit masses, it became a matter of competitive display of devotion in order to appeal to them. As dalit politics became rent-seeking from the mainstream political parties, many charlatans rushed in as leaders, feigning deep devotion to the Ambedkar icon to claim the support of dalits. The louder one shouted allegiance to Ambedkar, the bigger the leader one became. The more irrationality displayed in devotion to Ambedkar, the better the Ambedkarite. The real Ambedkar was forgotten in this process – Ambedkar, the iconoclast, the painstaking truth seeker, the fearless fighter for the cause of the oppressed, and the universalist dreaming of the world sans exploitation and humbug. It was forgotten that he struggled to solve the existential problems of dalits. Even his decision to renounce Hinduism and embrace some other religion had actually emanated from the need to counter the vulnerability of dalits in villages if one goes by his original explanation in Mukti kon Pathe (“Which way the deliverance”) which basically is about their atrocity-prone existence. And of course, he lamented at the fag end of his life that whatever he did just benefited the urban dalits and he could not do much for the rural folks.

The Cartoon Controversy

It is this iconisation that is behind the cartoon controversy. Without going into whether such a cartoon was necessary to be included in the textbook, given the proclivity of society to negatively interpret it, the fact remains that it was there for the last six years. If it had not caused any problem until now, it was unlikely to do so in the future. One need not accept the explanation provided by Palshikar, one of the advisors to the NCERT, that the cartoon was meant to enliven interest in young minds insofar as it presented a piece of the past before them, and was complex enough to yield various interpretations. But that in no way warrants ransacking his office. It is sad that it was the activists of the Republican Panthers – the radical non-parliamentary outfi t that has forced the overzealous state to incarcerate its members (Shantanu Kamble, Sudhir Dhawale and many others) for their revolutionary profession – who attacked Palshikar. It only shows how deeply internalised the Ambedkar icon is among dalits that it overwhelms even their revolutionary politics.

The controversy was raked up by Mayawati in Parliament, who badly needs to reconsolidate her core constituency of dalits in the wake of the fi ssures that showed up in the last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, in order to be prepared for the general elections any time before 2014. It has been the core stratagem of her party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, to make creative use of icons to build and maintain its constituency. Not to be left behind, all other dalit leaders, particularly the more unscrupulous ones like Ramdas Athawale (who has established an alliance with the anti-Ambedkar Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party combine) and Thol Thirumavalavan (the leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal (dalit panthers) of Tamil Nadu, who switches from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)to All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to DMK with ease as per the electoral prospects), raised their angry voices. As if there are no issues other than the Ambedkar icon (and of course reservations) to vent their anger!

The increasing misery of the vast majority of dalits in the absence of quality education, falling job opportunities (reservations arguably cater to only a minuscule section and that too the relatively welloff among them), declining public health and general contraction of the democratic spaces are all of no issue to them. Such is the power of the Ambedkar icon that for dalits Mayawati spending Rs 86 crore to renovate her residence or Athawale building a palatial house in a prime location in Mumbai have become non-issues. Even the rising incidents of atrocities which dishonour their women every day and devour their lives have become non-issues!

Dalit Blood, No Issue

The acquittal of all the 23 Ranvir Sena men who butchered 21 dalits in Bathani Tola therefore does not become an issue for the dalit leadership today. Bathani Tola is not a unique case; it only reinforces the pattern formed by many such judgments in other atrocity cases. For example, the Karamchedu (Andhra Pradesh) case went exactly the same way as the High Court of Andhra Pradesh acquitted all the 50 accused. It was only in the Supreme Court, after 23 long years, that one accused was awarded life imprisonment and 30 others were given varying amounts of punishment upto three years. In Khairlanji (Maharashtra), in the wake of a public uproar, the special district court had awarded death to six and life imprisonment to two, which was foolishly celebrated by some dalits leaders who forgot the fact that 35 culprits were already discharged and the court had taken away the very ground for harsher punishment by observing that there was no conspiracy, no sexual violence, and no caste angle. In the infamous Laxmanpur-Bathe (Bihar) carnage by the Ranvir Sena, the verdict of the lower court came after almost 13 years, sentencing 16 people to death, 10 others with life imprisonment and a Rs 50,000 fine, while acquitting 19 for lack of evidence. The pattern indicates that the lower courts, under public pressure, award harsh punishments, the high courts mostly invalidate them and if they are persisted with, the Supreme Court upholds parts of it. The long legal battle, which no ordinary dalit can afford, effectively takes away any justice from the fi nal judgment.

Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Mukul Wasnik recently (17 April 2012) expressed concern over the dismal conviction rate (just 3% to 8%) in such atrocity cases. This exposes how the atrocity cases, which are admitted with extreme reluctance by the police, are deliberately weakened in the investigation or invalidated by non-compliance of rules, mishandled by the prosecution in the courts, and at times perversely adjudged by the courts themselves under political pressure.

In the Bathani Tola case the court rejected the evidence of the eyewitnesses on the weird argument that they could not have been present at the scene. If they had really been there, the court observed, they would have all been killed.

What lies at the root of this malady is the total lack of accountability in such a legal process. Is that not an issue for dalits to agitate against?

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