Editor’s note: From the time that this article was first published, exercising our freedom of press and speech has only gotten more tumultuous — be it in the space of art, such as the forced rollback of the Tanishq advertisement, the forced renaming of film Laxmmi Bomb, the Padmavati row, the similar gag order and renaming of Sexy Durga (S Durga), the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, the arrest of several journalists and death threats for journalists like Swathi Vadlamudi, or The Wire’s article on the self-censorship of Vice India, as also the recent arrest of student activists like Safoora Zargar, Devangana Kalita, Natasha Narwal, Hany Babu, and Umar Khalid across the country. The overall fear many citizens have regarding criticism of the government and threats of violence has only increased. Censorship, in its many forms, seems to have proliferated further, actively by people or forcibly, by political institutions, into the lives of Indian citizens. We’ve experienced state-mandated violence and mobs in many cases, with terms like ‘anti-national’, ‘seditious’ and ‘anti-India’ being thrown around on social media very loosely. The future of free expression, which is an important element for any healthy and functional democracy, seems grim. The Fourth Estate, has found itself at the receiving end of censor boards and trolls, or, in some cases, a part of the machinery itself for the sake of survival.
Therefore, the question is why are we living in fear and why is there a growing tendency at curbing our freedom of expression? Where do religious and political sentiments lie on the scale of reasonable free expression? What is ‘reasonable’ free expression, anyway, and when did we get so narrow-minded?
India offers its citizens a comfortable illusion of freedom and democracy based on equality and liberty. But a closer inspection of this constitutional right reveals many ugly truths. Homegrown presents a series of articles by Devang Pathak wherein we attempt to highlight a seven decades-long culture of repression, censorship, and injustices meted out to the basic rights of Freedom Of Speech and Expression in this country. In this piece, he traces the frequency of revisionism and censorship in just the past year in the country that seems to showcase a very particular shift in political agenda, well worth taking note of.
The run-up to the 2014 elections had Indians in their most agitated state. While many played the personality politics game outrageously, a few eminent personalities such as Anand Patwardhan expressed genuine concern for the citizens’ freedom of speech and expression if the NDA was brought to power, given the history of the BJP in support of censorship, moral policing, revisionism, and the autocratic nature of Narendra Modi.
The scenario in the run-up and the aftermath of the elections have thrown up serious concerns about the increasing role of censorship in the country. While the UPA government was far from innocent in its failure to ensure freedom of expression, the increased frequency of censorship and revisionism under this government is different in its agenda, which is the creation of a Hindu Nation.
Here, we present to you a list of a few events since the year 2015, which are not only a cause of worry but also demand introspection as per the repercussions they might be having on the future of this country. While a few of them are not directly supported by the ruling party or their stated ideologies, the failure to protect freedom of speech is equally worrisome.
I. Wendy Doniger’s Book On Hinduism is Withdrawn by Penguin India
In the run-up to the General Elections, The Hindus: An Alternative History had attracted the wrath of the right-wing political groups. Dinanath Bharat, leader of the Siksha Bachao Andolan had filed a case against the book, which he deemed was insulting to Hindu Gods and distorted history. While the debate raged on about the writing style and accuracy of the book’s facts, Penguin India decided to withdraw the book from bookstores across India.
II. Shehzad Poonawalla’s ‘Myth-Busting Article’ on Gujarat is Removed after it Goes Viral
A DNA article titled “Mamata Banerjee calls Narendra Modi ‘butcher of Gujarat’; here are 9 myth busters on 2002 post-Godhra riots” was removed by DNA on April 30, just hours after it was put up. The reason was never made clear but it’s speculated that the BJP PR team raised objections. The article listed credible sources from various judgements and 2002 articles to point out the culpability of the Gujarat Government in failing to prevent the Godhra Massacre.
The full article can be read online here.
III. Case against College Editorial for Saying Modi is One of the Cruellest People in the World
A case was filed against the editorial team of the magazine of Government Polytechnic College in Kunnamkulam, Kerala for using PM Modi’s image in a list of the cruellest people in the world. Subsequently, nine students of Sree Krishna College in Guruvayur were arrested for using the PM’s nickname of NaMo as a crossword clue which led to a solution which spelt an expletive.
IV. Pune Techie Killed by Mob over Morphed Images
A Pune IT Professional was killed by an angry right-wing mob from Hindu Rashtra Sena over morphed images of Shiv Sena Chief, Balasaheb Thackeray, Shivaji and Hindu gods. Mohsin Shaikh was said to have been targeted for being a Muslim though there was no connection established between him and the controversial images. The provocative images were shared on social media and caused widespread violence and damage to public property.
V. Dinanath Batra’s Inaccurate Books are Prescribed by The Gujarat Government
The Gujarat government issued a circular in June 2014, whereby a series of books by Dinanath Batra was made a part of the curriculum for 42,000 primary and secondary government schools. The idea of ‘Akhand Bharat’, infertility cure through cows, the first stem cell research being conducted in India (as per the Mahabharata) were some of the ideas propagated by the author of the book. The Gujarat State School Textbook Board Director said that these books ‘will help our students develop moral values’. This form of revisionism is blatantly disturbing and is not the first instance of our textbooks being used to show questionable knowledge.
VI. DNA Removes Rana Ayyub’s Article on Amit Shah
In a repeat of its self-censorship policy, DNA removed an article by Rana Ayyub titled ‘A New Low In Politics’ on the adjournment of Amit Shah’s bail application because of his excuse of working in Delhi. The removal of the article from the DNA prompted a furore on social media with many criticizing DNA and the possible reason for the removal. The article was quickly reproduced with Ayyub’s consent on other pages.
VII. Ban on Muzaffarnagar Documentary
Shubhradeep Chakravorty and Meera Chaudhary’s investigative documentary on the 2013 Muzzafarangar Riots titled ‘En Dino Muzzafarnagar’ was refused clearance from the Central Board Of Film Certification. Thereafter, pressure was put on cancelling a private screening of the documentary in Kolkata. The frustrated film-maker expressed on his Facebook Page that his was the first documentary film to be banned under the Modi Government. The film delves deeper into the events and causes of the riots and is said to paint a negative picture of the BJP in stoking communal fire. Meera Chaudhary continued her fight to get the documentary screened and after intervention from the Delhi High Court, the documentary was cleared by the CBFC.
VIII. “History Books Should Be Burnt,” says BJP Leader Subramaniam Swamy
A packed symposium on the Medieval ‘Hindu’ King Hemu at the National Museum Auditorium in Delhi had many leaders making controversial statements. But the piece of cake was taken by BJP Leader Subramaniam Swamy who declared,
“Books written by Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra and other historians of Nehru must be burnt in a bonfire.” The statement received deafening applause in a symposium full of factually incorrect speeches including claims of how, because of Hemu, Muslims and Christians failed to convert the rest of the 8o per cent Hindu population and that is why ISIS wants to come back to India to finish the unfinished task. Revisionism now reaches a dangerous levels using questionable means such as positioning of the Hindi film Jodha-Akbar as a documentary at the symposium.
IX. Protests Over Bollywood film, PK
PK may owe some amount of its tremendous box office success to the protests the movie faced upon release. There were massive protests held by the right-wing groups who alleged that the movie hurt their religious sentiments. Prominent right-wing leaders like Baba Ramdev called for the boycott of the movie and repeated demands were made to make certain cuts to the movie or to get it banned completely. The Censor Board refused such demands and after many protests and vandalising of theatres, the movie ended up being the highest-grossing Bollywood movie with net collections of almost 340 Crores.
X. Screening of Anand Patwardhan’s Babri-Masjid Documentary Cancelled
Making Ram Ke Naam has been an arduous journey for Anand Patwardhan. The scathing documentary faced repeated opposition and protests over its screenings despite being hailed critically and winning several awards including the National Award for Best Investigative Documentary. A screening at the ILS College in Pune was cancelled due to certain threats received by the students. Frustrated, Mr Patwardhan uploaded a 75-minute version of the documentary on YouTube. The documentary highlights the environment which was created in the events leading up to the Babri Masjid demolition and the role of BJP leaders like LK Advani.
You can watch Ram Ke Naam here .
XI. RSS’s Influence over Educational Bodies Increases
The RSS’s increasing influence over the culture and educational system in India has been no secret, as is apparent from HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s RSS visits. But what is scary is the brisk way in which Sangh sympathisers and supporters are being made the members or nominees of some of the country’s top education bodies. Investigations of Scroll.in reveal that the strategy seems to be three-pronged — appointing RSS functionaries or sympathisers to high-level posts even if they lack the requisite academic competence, nominating BJP members /associates to head institutions or even creating an environment where the appointees of previous governments are forced to toe the line with the present government. Many recent appointments/nominations to bodies like Indian Council of Historical Research, IIAS-Shimla, South Asian University are found to be unsatisfactory in terms of the competence and credibility of those appointed as well as their contempt and hatred for the old ‘Western and Marxist’ Education System.
XII. Perumal Murugan Declares “Death” As a Writer
Critically-acclaimed Tamil writer Perumal Murugan grabbed national attention when he declared that he was dead as a writer, and withdrew all his books from the bookstores. The writer was forced to issue an unconditional apology for his book Madhurubagan (One Part Woman) after certain right-wing groups and caste groups protested the content. The book was published in 2010 and is a fictional story about the struggles of a couple in Kongu. The book mentions the annual festival of Ardhanareeswarar Temple in which, till 50 years ago, childless married women could indulge in sex with any stranger of their choice. If a child was born as a result of this act, he would be welcomed by the husband and his family as a blessing from God. The writer and his family were forced to exile from his hometown of Namakkal. The apathy of the district authorities and a longing to return to his house forced the writer to issue an apology, and then withdraw from writing.
XIII. Indian Science Congress Turns Into Ancient Indian Science Fiction Convention.
The Indian Science Congress was organised in January 2015 in Mumbai with many young science students and scientists in attendance. Among the various sessions of deep scientific research and introspection, was one titled, Ancient Sciences Through Sanskrit, where it was stated that ancient Indians had already mastered aero-engineering by building 200-feet planes with 30 engines and 20 systems for war-time use. The installations of ancient rockets which could dispel fog and rain, an ancient electrolyte cell, discussion about an inter-galactic battle which resulted in a king’s helmet landing on Mars, and the possibility of using heated sugar for Lord Ganesha’s head surgery were also part of the Congress. While many accepted that our ancient scientific achievements need to be discussed and researched more, the nature in which these “theories” and unverified data were presented made one question the scientific and logical investigation involved. The revisionism is so rampant that it was again repeated in Goa where there was a discussion about an alloy which could make planes disappear!
XIV. Censor Board is Reconstituted with RSS and BJP Supporters
The BJP campaign of 2014 never failed to remind us that they were different from Congress. Mr Modi repeatedly stressed his disdain for the way Congress functioned. The recent Censor Board appointments then leave me asking the question as to what happened to the promises of change. After the resignation of Leela Samson and 13 other members, a new group of CBFC board members was announced to be led by Mr Pahlaj Nihalani, a Bollywood producer who made a promotional video for Mr Modi during the elections. The new members are BJP supporters/ leaders like actress Jeevitha, Bengali and Assamese actor, George Baker, actor S.Ve Shekhar, actress Vani Tripathi Tikoo, and Ramesh Patangewho is a Dalit writer with close ties to RSS. When the government was questioned as to them appointing people so close to their ideologue group and ruling party, they defended by saying that many previous governments would do the same by appointing their supporters and leaders to the Censor Board. The need for caution arises from the views held by many of these members, as can been seen from the circulars sent to regional offices, asking for a ban on words, irrespective of the category of the movie.
XV. Secularism and Socialism are Removed from the Preamble Advertisement of the Government.
The 26 January advertisement by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry raised serious concerns when the words Secularist and Socialist were eliminated from the Preamble. The 42nd Amendment had included the words ‘Socialist’ and ‘Secular’ in the Preamble and subsequent Supreme Court judgements had ruled that India was a ‘secular’ country. The glaring elimination drew criticism while BJP’s ally, Shiv Sena demanded the elimination of the words altogether.
XVI. Awadhnama Editor-In-Chief Goes Into Hiding over Publishing of Charlie Hebdo Cartoons
Shirin Dalvi, the editor-in-chief of Urdu Daily, Awadhnama, was arrested for publishing a Charlie Hebdo cartoon in the paper. There were three FIRs filed against her in various places in Maharashtra and she was forced to go into hiding away from her kids on receiving multiple death threats and protests. Shirin claims that she accidentally published the cartoon without any inclination as to what they meant in her 17 January issue. The image in question is the Charlie Hebdo Cover, which was printed by newspapers around the world in support of the satirical magazine after the Paris Attacks. Dalvi has issued multiple apologies but to no avail as the cases and protests against her still remain.
XVII. The All India Bakchod Roast is Made into a Political Game of Offence.
The All-India Bakchod Roast of Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor became a controversial topic after the release of a heavily-edited version of the show on YouTube. The religious protests and police FIRs aside, the Maharashtra government’s decision to probe the event has raised serious censorship concerns over the internet and live shows. The initial policy of ‘No Moral Policing’ has changed to a constant defence that this adult show was crass and in bad taste and deserves police complaints and PILs. The Comedy Collective in response has had to issue apologies to the aggrieved community and take down the videos from YouTube.
And so, we come to an end of this chronicling of sorts. A chronicling that, we must take into account, also proves that the increased attacks on Freedom of Expression and Speech in India are only possible due to the legal support provided for it in our laws and Constitution. The truly bizarre aspect of a few of these laws lies in the fact that they were enacted by the British Colonists to curb the freedom of Indians, so we thought it would be an interesting exercise to clearly state them below, for your own analysis.
India And Censorship
Article 19 (1) of the Indian Constitution provides for freedom of Speech and Expression.
19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc.
(1) All citizens shall have the right
(a) to freedom of speech and expression;
(b) to assemble peaceably and without arms;
(c) to form associations or unions;
(d) to move freely throughout the territory of India;
(e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
(g) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business
(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
This gives the government power to create laws and rules which impose “reasonable restrictions”. As Journalist Basharat Peer puts it,”All these can be interpreted rather broadly, and potentially encompass almost any critical writing, political statement, or cultural expression.”
Indian Penal Code
SECTION 153 A: The purpose of the Section 153 A is to punish persons who indulge in wanton vilification or attacks upon the religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc. of any particular group or class or upon the founders and prophets of a religion. The jurisdiction of this Section is widened so as to make the promotion of disharmony, enmity or feelings of hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities punishable. Offence on moral turpitude is also covered in this section. The offence is a cognisable offence and the punishment for the same may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both. However, the punishment of the offence committed in a place of worship is enhanced up to five years and fine.
Ingredients of Section 153A:
The act of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste, community or any other group.
Acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different groups or castes or communities, if the acts disturb public tranquillity.
Acts causing fear or alarm or a feeling of insecurity among members of any religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community by use of criminal force or violence against them.
SECTION 295-A: The object of Section 295-A is to punish deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or the religious beliefs. This section only punishes an aggravated form of insult to religion when it is perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of a class.
Ingredients of Section 295-A:
The accused must insult or attempt to insult the religion or religious beliefs of any class of citizens of India.
The said insult must be with a deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of the said class of citizens.
The said insult must be by words, either spoken or written, by signs or by visible representation or otherwise.
The offence under Section 295-A is a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence. The police has the power to arrest a person charged under Section 295-A without a warrant.
These are often used for frivolous lawsuits and cases based on hurt sentiments of a few.
66A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.
Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
(b) 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 by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages,
shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with a fine.
The term “offensive” is loosely defined and can lead to false arrests such as those of two teenage girls for a Facebook Status against Shiv Sena Leader, Balasaheb Thackeray.
This concluded the first part of the series where we traced the frequency of revisionism and censorship in just the past year. The next post in the series will talk about a conspiracy theory, spread over decades since India’s freedom, culminating into a series of actions in the past 15 years which aim at distorting India’s identity.
Read the next post in the Series- Muffled II- How To Engineer A Brand New Indian Culture
Representational image via NPR
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