Watching the much-debated ten-minute-film ‘Memories of a Machine’, which has been accused of justifying paedophilia, I remembered this woman:
I met her, a young woman professional working at Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram – where else, in these days, but in the queue in front of an ATM . In response to my grumbling, she told me that she had never experienced any kind of power in her whole life. She had not even been affected by demonetisation much, she insisted. ‘True, I couldn’t pay the dhobi and the ironing-man, but those were minor inconveniences,’ she quipped cheerily, quite convinced, of course, that the predicament of these two people, definitely as much professionals’ as her, was none of her concern. Indeed, her constant effort was to cheer people in the queue with her don’t-worry-be-happy body-language with which she slipped and slid between acting and sounding like a grown woman and chirping and giggling like a teenager or child. She was attracted to the BJP, she said, because she needed some ‘philosophy’ in her life, to balance the heavy workload she carried in her workplace. As far I could see, her life was such that the philosophy-lesson she would find useful could have been obtained from something as commonplace as a treadmill – start slow, peak up, take regular dips, continue for a spell sufficiently long, stretch after the workout. In other words, her life seemed to be just one long workout, with no indication of when it would end or yield result. But just the feeling that she was on her way was enough to make her cheery to the point of being silly. Continue reading Memories of a Machine, or the Machine of Memory?→
Two of Kashmir’s leading newspapers, Kashmir Times and Rising Kashmir said that Jammu and Kashmir police raided their office on Saturday night, seized their printed copies and arrested their employees – a clear act of choking and gagging media in crisis-hit Kashmir valley. Copies of other newspapers, including Kashmir Reader and Kashmir Observer were also seized and their circulation prevented.
Whether discussing issues of contemporary concern among students, raising debates around them on the campus – taking inspiration from the ideas of leading social revolutionaries of 20th century – should be construed as an act of creating ‘social disharmony’ or ‘spreading hatred’ ?
Any sane person would rather reject this weird proposal but it appears that the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) think otherwise. It was evident in the way they acted on an anonymous complaint regarding the activities of a group of students in IIT Madras which calls itself ‘Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle’ (APSC) – which comprises mainly of dalit, bahujan and adivasi students. Perhaps they were worried that the particular students group, has been critical about PM Modi’s policies and has been raising issues of caste, communalism as well as corporate loot of resources and challenging the ‘development’ narrative which is popular these days among a section of people. The impetuosity with which they acted when they wrote to the management of the Institute can also be gauged from the fact that in this process they violated the recommendations of the CVC (Central Vigilance Commission) itself which has ‘barred’ organisations from taking action on such (anonymous) complaints.
As of now the issue of ‘derecognition’ of APSC by the IITM management, has snowballed into a major controversy, with issues of curtailment of freedom of expression, infringement of autonomy of educational institutions and dominance of caste in higher education all coming to the fore. Continue reading No To Ambedkar-Periyar in ‘Modern Day Agraharam’?→
The move by the central government to freeze Greenpeace India’s bank accounts and block sources of funds, is a blatant violation of the constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association. It also seems to be an attempt to warn civil society that dissent regarding development policies and priorities will not be tolerated, even when these are proving to be ecologically unsustainable and socially unjust. These are dangerous signs for the future of democracy in India.
Specific allegations of legal violation contained in the Ministry of Home Affairs’ notice are aspects Greenpeace India needs to respond to. However, the notice also charges the organization with adversely affecting “public interest” and the “economic interest of the State”. These charges give the impression that Greenpeace India is indulging in anti-national activities, using foreign funds. However, dissenting from the government’s development policies, helping communities who are going to be displaced by these policies to mobilise themselves, and generating public opinion for the protection of the environment can by no stretch of imagination be considered anti-national, or against public interest. Quite the contrary, any reasonable policy of sustainable development (which the government claims to adhere to) will itself put into question quite a few of the mining, power, and other projects currently being promoted. ”
Civil society organisations in India have a long and credible history of standing up for social justice, ecological sustainability, and the rights of the poor. When certain government policies threaten these causes, civil society has a justified ground to resist, and help affected communities fight for their rights. This is in fact part of the fundamental duties enjoined upon citizens by the Constitution of India.
An open letter from students at National Law University
Abish Mathew, comedian of the AIB Roast fame, performed at NLU Delhi on the 22nd of March for our annual fest, Kairos. Early in the show, Matthew cracked a joke on domestic violence, at which point, two women students who found the jokes to be extremely misogynistic, walked out, showing him the middle finger. The audience reacted with some tittering, and Abish Mathew fumbled momentarily, before resuming. The audience asked him to carry on and to ignore the protesters. In the mean time, a group of female students marched into the auditorium holding placards reading “Get Out, Sexist Pig”, and also used expletives such as ‘fuck off’.
The auditorium erupted in shouts of “fuck you guys” and the protesters were booed and heckled by the audience members who demanded that the protestors either leave or move to the side. They eventually did move to the side of the auditorium, where they continued to hold their placards up and attempted to interrupt him. Abish was greeted by a standing ovation when he stated that he was an artist and recognized the right of the protesters, and subsequently when he ended his show by stating he had overstayed his welcome.
What does one do sitting in the middle of an audience roaring with laughter at jokes that one might find downright humiliating? Laugh along, retire hurt, or ask people to stop? It’s a dilemma that many of us on the ‘wrong’ side of various lines of privilege (caste, class, gender, race) and those sensitive to these divisions often find ourselves in. Some students at the National Law University, Delhi seem to have been put in a similar situation when during their annual college fest, comedian Avish Mathew of AIB Roast fame would not stop amusing his audience with one offensive joke after another. They first decided to walk out and then came back with a placard saying, “Get out you sexist pig!”
It’s the kind of moment that makes you reach for poetry, for words that convey what can scarcely be written. It’s the kind of moment where you must write for it is writing that is itself at stake.
The debates on Charlie Hebdo are wide and varied. There is, as Joe Sacco so beautifully drew, before anything else, a deep yet horrifically dull sadness. Few and fewer in the world have the privilege to still be “shocked” by violence, to not have its banality be its true horror. There is solidarity, some of the most meaningful of which comes from cartoonists in the Arab world. There is a wide agreement that no justification is possible for returning any measure of offence with death yet there is an insistence on the ability to critique even that which one defends. As Teju Cole eloquently argues: “moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of the responsibility of making distinctions.” There are important, vital debates about what it means to “insult everyone equally” when everyone is not equal, reminding us that we must begin and ask our questions in place, in history; that we must remember that the power to criticise is a freedom but also a privilege. There are the universal debates on the limits to absolute speech, pointed to by Sandip Roy who reminds us that the French Government itself banned the earlier incarnation of Charlie Hebdo for printing a mock death notice of the then French PM De Gaulle. There are fears of the Islamophobia this violence will re-incarnate as, that Hari Kunzru argues is one intent of the attackers.
I write with a different intent today. I write not to enter these debates about Charlie Hebdo but to insist on what these deaths must provoke us to do: to translate our solidarity, our empathy, our fear, and our resolve into the real work of protecting the freedoms of speech, satire, offence, and expression in India. That is the tribute to Charlie Hebdo that matters, that transcends all our debates.
In normal circumstances, journalists are not people in the limelight– they are supposed to be the first witnesses to history in the making. Their role is as observers of incidents and purveyors of what goes on in the public sphere. And they discharge their duties as representatives of the citizens, generally enjoying the public confidence. That explains the key role of media in a democratic polity, as representatives of the various segments of people and as a forum where a dispassionate debate of public issues can take place. Like the Red Cross personnel on a war front, media-persons are expected to do their job without hindrance of harassment, keeping away from the sound and fury of public life. Continue reading Thejas Daily: A Newspaper’s Encounters with the Ruling Powers : N P Chekkutty→
In May 2013, makers of the erotic comic strip came out with the Savita Bhabhi movie, where apart from Savita Bhabhi doing what she is best at, she also helps the two nerds, who mistakenly teleport her into their Orwellian India of 2070, take their revenge upon the notorious I&B Minister who bans all online porn but engages in all offline porn. With this, Savita Bhabhi was back in our ever-so-fickle public memory after 4 years of ban, but yet not quite. Her resurfacing was not as resounding as her going away. One could ascribe this to the spoken language of the movie being Hindi instead of English, which is the original language of the strip and also the official language of all modern day revolutions of the middle class on social media. Perhaps they misjudged the ‘maximum reach’ bit, which rendered her an orphan. Nevertheless, that aside, why isn’t Savita Bhabhi missed enough anyway?
Guest post by MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN: An editorial published earlier this month in India Today bemoans India’s willingness to placate religious fundamentalists through artistic censorship. The author, Peter V. Rajsingh, makes the familiar point in “Censorship a slur on India’s ethos” that religious zealots have become “purveyors of infantilising values of Victorian colonial missionaries”. What he says is true, but India’s real problem with censorship extends far beyond removing images of bare breasts from movie screens. There is possibly no issue today – including the vile treatment of women and the relentless threat of terrorism – that poses a greater threat to the happiness and security of Indian citizens than that of censorship. And I believe that it is extremely important for those of us who live here, and love this country to comprehend the weight of this situation before it is too late. Continue reading Why censorship is the greatest threat to India: Michael Edison Hayden→
For the past few days I have been preoccupied in one part of my mind in dealing with two reasons for anguish. The first reason has to do with the profound sense of disappointment and anger with which I heard Prof. Ashis Nandy, a man I consider to be a great teacher, friend and in possession of one of the finest minds of our time, commit himself in public to a flippant and vulgar position when speaking of the relationship between caste and corruption at the Jaipur Literary Festival.
I was saddened because Prof. Nandy’s statements do a great disservice to the suppleness and ethical integrity of his thinking, and represent one of those sadly paradoxical situations where an intellectual can become their own worst adversary. I am unambiguously critical of the Nandy who chooses to be pompously opinionated and misinformed at a forum like the Jaipur Literary Festival or while riding the hot-air currents of television especially because I remain a partisan of the Nandy who can be (when he chooses to be) one of the most thoughtful and insightful witnesses to our time in his writing. Continue reading Ashis Nandy’s Predicament and Ours→
Guest post by SAJAN VENNIYOOR, our cultural correspondent
Threats from Hindu, Muslim and other cultural organizations may derail the Jaipur Literature Festival set to begin on Thursday, 24 January.
The BJP and RSS have threatened not to allow seven Pakistani authors to attend the event. “Looking at present Indo-Pak relations, it is unacceptable to allow Pakistani writers to be here as guests. We will make sure they are not allowed to enter Rajasthan. If they come, they will meet the fate of many others who have met similar fates,” said Suman Sharma, BJP state vice-president.
The year 2012 ended with a Kannada TV reporter, Naveen Soorinje, in jail for more than fifty days after the Karnataka High Court denied him bail. Mangalore-based Soorinje, was incarcerated from November 7, 2012 after police charged him under the UAPA and under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for reporting on the raid on a homestay party by a Hindu fundamentalist group in July. Soorinje’s bail application was rejected on December 26.
The same month, a television journalist, Nanao Singh, was shot dead in a police firing in Manipur.
In 2012, India was a grim place for free speech. It recorded the death of five journalists. Another 38 were assaulted, harassed or threatened. There were 43 instances of curbs on the Internet, 14 instances of censorship in the film and music industry, and eight instances of censorship of content in the print medium. Continue reading Fettering the fourth estate: Free Speech in 2012→
If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.
— Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Whitney v. California
Any discussion of Anonymous is problematic. One is never sure which Anonymous is being referenced: the meme, the group as a whole, or an individual operation. And the press doesn’t appear to know or care. It has gone into a rapturous fap over the loose knit collective, declaring them, inter alia, the most influential group in the world, terrorists, and – wait for it – very dangerous hackers. This last descriptor is particularly amusing. There are, in fact, so few real hackers within Anonymous that they could petition the U.N. as an endangered species. Continue reading Anonymous, India and the Blackhat Spectacle: Oxblood Ruffin→
1. a contrivance of strong thread or cord worked into an open, meshed fabric, for catching fish, birds, or other animals
2. anything serving to catch or ensnare
The other day, in a Parliamentary debate on Internet Rules 2011, the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha said something so absurd that for a moment I thought he had joined the government. “You can control print and electronic media, but not internet,” he said, only removing his foot from his mouth to add, “If internet had been in existence, Emergency would have been a fiasco.”
Given below is the text of a petition put out by SFLC.in. You can sign it here. Do urge others to sign it too. Please also consider writing directly to your or any or all Members of Parliament urging them to annul IT Rules 2011. You can read SFLC.in’s very brief primer on the IT Rules here. The web address www.IT2011.in also redirects you to the petition page.
Dear Member of Parliament,
The Constitution of India praovides the citizens of this country the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression subject to reasonable restrictions as laid down in the Constitution itself. Now, with the spread of the Internet and the availability of tools like blogs and social networks we are able to enjoy this freedom to the fullest and have a true participatory democracy.
You, as legislators recognised the importance of intermediaries like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Internet Service Providers for e-commerce as well as for free expression, helping us to express ourselves and provided them protection from any legal liability that could arise out of content generated by users. Such a protection provided in the Information Technology Act, 2000 was important for these intermediaries to operate freely without threats of frivolous legal action. Continue reading Support the annulment of IT Rules 2011, protect internet freedom in India→
This is a guest post byAKSHATH JITENDRANATH, student at Symbiosis International University, Pune, where a screening of ‘Jahsn-e-Azadi’ by Sanjay Kak was cancelled under pressure from right-wing groups and the Pune Police.
The university campus is where nascent opinion moulds itself into ideological shape. Care must be taken to surround the student with ideologies of different shades. This is a prerequisite for any educational ideology that aspires to be holistic. Pursuant to this end the Symbiosis International University is guided by an ideology that reads, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, meaning the whole world is one family. This is a high ideal to be guided by.
However, the events that transpired over the last few days have left this vision a little blinded. Following threats received from the Akhila Bharati Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP henceforth), the Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce have postponed indefinitely, ‘Voices of Kashmir’, a national symposium on Kashmir which was to be held with the support of the University Grants Commission. The ABVP’s major bone of contention was the screening of well known film maker Sanjay Kak’s film, Jashn-e-Azadi (This Is How We Celebrate Freedom). The ABVP claim that the film and the film maker represent an ideology that is anti-India. Further, they threatened violence if the film were to be screened. The administration of the Symbiosis International University, instead of being guided by their ideological vision, gave in to the ABVP threats. Continue reading The Place of Dissent in the Campus: Akshath Jitendranath→
Speaking to The Hindu over telephone, Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce principal Hrishikesh Soman stated that the ABVP had approached him on Friday, and that the college agreed to cancel the film screening “considering their [ABVP’s] emotions and feelings.” “I told them that the seminar is entirely academic, apolitical and non-religious. But the film has met with criticism from all corners. So we have decided to avoid unnecessary controversies and cancel the screening,” Mr. Soman said. “If people have a very strong reason to protest the film, then we should be tolerant enough,” he stated. [Link]
Shameful as this censorship is, it is a compliment to Sanjay Kak’s fabulous documentary film that the goons of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad don’t want people in Pune to see it. The truth about Kashmir must not be told. This is also an example of why the BJP props up its ‘minority morcha’ to oppose Salman Rushdie visiting Jaipur: they want the Congress and the ‘secularists’ and the Muslims to be seen as censor-happy so that they can get away with their own censorship.
Oh, It’s silly season again. (Has it ever not been silly season? Silly me for making a silly rhetorical opening to this post). Anyway folks, aam aur khas janta, baba log and bibi log, it’s time, once monotonously again, for quarantines and piety, for bans and shoe-throwing contests, for frothing at the mouth and froth on the telly. Its Rushdie-Nasreen-Husain Time, again! Ta-Raa! And like a ‘sanjog’ made by a pretend-god in a made up marquee heaven, the stars of ‘Rushdie Time’ are crossed with the suddenly brightly shining stars of what would have otherwise been a lackluster, effigy-tarpaulined, mid-winter provincial election. Ta-Rant-Ta-Raa! Not even a Saleem Sinai or a Gibreel Farishta, let alone a jeeta-jagtaa Salman Rushdie in his weirdest magic-realist moment could have imagined himself mixed up in a plot as diabolical as this one. If this was a court case we could call it Satanic versus Moronic. Whatever it is, there is no denying that it is a P2C2E – a ‘Process Too Complicated To Explain’. But explain we must. Process we can. Pyaar kiya to darna kya?
I urge you to write KAPIL SIBAL IS AN IDIOT as your Facebook status message, use the hashtag #IdiotKapilSibal on Twitter, and write a blog post with the above title, because there may soon be a day when he may prevent you from doing so.
The New York Times reports:
The Indian government has asked Internet companies and social media sites like Facebook to prescreen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online, three executives in the information technology industry say.
Top officials from the Indian units of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook are meeting with Kapil Sibal, India’s acting telecommunications minister, on Monday afternoon to discuss the issue, say two executives of Internet companies. The executives asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media on the issue.
About six weeks ago, Mr. Sibal called legal representatives from the top Internet service providers and Facebook into his New Delhi office, said one of the executives who was briefed on the meeting.
At the meeting, Mr. Sibal showed attendees a Facebook page that maligned the Congress Party’s president, Sonia Gandhi. “This is unacceptable,” he told attendees, the executive said, and he asked them to find a way to monitor what is posted on their sites. [Link]