Tag Archives: freedom of speech

A Short Guide to Appropriate Behaviour in the Wake of A Judgement on Historically Respectable Personalities

[ This short guide is being released to the general public which is liable to fall into error and confusion in the wake of the recent Supreme Court judgement in Devidas Ramachandra Tuljapurkar vs. State of Maharashtra restricting freedom of speech and expression pertaining to what the Honourable Justices who have looked at this case call ‘historically respectable personalities’.]

1. Petition all history departments to start courses in historical respectability so that you know who is who and what is what.

2. Having carefully studied the history of respectability, separate out all historically respectable personalities. Genuflect.

3. Then, from those that remain, make a list of historically disrespectable personalities, starting with yourself.

4. Refer to a historically respectable dictionary of slang – for instance, ‘Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang’ by Jonathan Green, the works of William Shakespeare, or a set of curses of the historically respectable Muni Durvasa

5. Choose at least ten colorful insults, curses and terms of abuse, from the above. and construct a poem, written in the ‘voice’ of a historically disrespectable person.

6. Print in large characters, along with an image of a historically disrespectable personality.

7. Stand singly, or in groups, with the large character posters with the poems in the ‘voice’ of  historically disreputable personalities in meditative silence in front of the honorable Supreme Court of India, and in other public spaces, while considering the sagacious wisdom of our historically respectable judiciary.

8. Be ever grateful that you know now that you can always protect your constitutionally guaranteed and judicially protected freedom of speech by ventriloquizing to your hearts content in the abusive voice of a historically disrespectable personality.

9. And learn this formula by heart – “The dignity of historically respectable personalities cannot be protected without the self-flagellation and abuse of historically disrespectable personalities, which includes the majority of all populations, in all societies, in all times.”
10.  Never disobey a law, or a judgement. Only take obedience to its logical conclusion.

The Death of 66A and The Dawn of a New Era of Free Speech Jurisprudence: Siddharth Narrain


It’s not often that India’s Supreme Court strikes down a law in its entirety as a violation of the free speech. But when it does, boy do you want to stand up and cheer. Before a packed courtroom, Justices Rohinton Nariman and G. Chelameswar, pronounced their judgment in Shreya Singhal & Ors. v. Union of India,, striking down, in its entirety, the controversial section 66A of the Information Technology Act in its entirety. The full text of the decision is not available yet. But Justice Nariman read out parts of the court decision, enough to give us a sense of what is to come.

Continue reading The Death of 66A and The Dawn of a New Era of Free Speech Jurisprudence: Siddharth Narrain

Delhi Magistrate orders FIR against woman for anti-Modi posts: Kavita Krishnan


The footsteps of fascism can be heard – this time in the hallowed hallways of the national capital’s courts. A woman who filed an FIR against a man physically threatening her for her anti-Modi Facebook posts, found to her dismay that the Metropolitan Magistrate in the Tis Hazari courts let off the man accused of threatening her safety, while ordering an FIR against her instead! The media’s coverage of this outrageous incident has been, till now, biased and factually misleading.

Sheeba Aslam Fehmi, a journalist and a Ph.D. Fellow in JNU, received several threats by emails from one Pankaj Kumar Dwivedi, which warned her of ‘consequences’ and even demanded she meet the man so that he could ‘cleanse’ her of her ‘filth.’ Continue reading Delhi Magistrate orders FIR against woman for anti-Modi posts: Kavita Krishnan

Support the annulment of IT Rules 2011, protect internet freedom in India

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.

Image credit: Aseem Trivedi / saveyourvoice.in. Please consider making this image your Facebook 'cover' picture or Twitter background image or your blog header till the end of April.

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

Hindus offended by lack of offence: Sajan Venniyoor


In the first few weeks of the year 2012, when members of the Muslim, Christian and Sikh communities were successively offended and humiliated, Hindus are feeling left out.

Even as the Hindu community was reeling under the refusal by a Russian court to ban the Hare Krishna version of the Bhagavad Gita, the year began well for Christians when Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman offended their sentiments by using the word ‘Hosanna’ in a song for Ekk Deewana Tha. The Catholic-Christian Secular Forum, which in the past has been shamefully humiliated by other films, many of which were not released in India, demanded the deletion of the H-word “claiming it is a sacred term for Christians and Jews and should be used only in prayer.” They admitted it was negligent on their part not to have taken offence when the song was released with the same hurtful lyrics in a Tamil film in 2010. Continue reading Hindus offended by lack of offence: Sajan Venniyoor

How India Makes E-books Easier to Ban than Books (And How We Can Change That): Pranesh Prakash

Without getting into questions of what should and should not be unlawful speech, this guest post by PRANESH PRAKASH chooses to take a look at how Indian law promotes arbitrary removal and blocking of websites, website content, and online services, and how it makes it much easier than getting offline printed speech removed.

Banning E-Books is Trivially Easy
E-Books Are Easier To Ban Than Books, And Safer
Contrary to what Mr. Sibal’s recent hand-wringing at objectionable online material might suggest, under Indian laws currently in force it is far easier to remove material from the Web, by many degrees of magnitude, than it is to ever get them removed from a bookstore or an art gallery. To get something from a bookstore or an art gallery one needs to collect a mob, organize collective outrage and threats of violence, and finally convince either the government or a magistrate that the material is illegal, thereby allowing the police to seize the books or stop the painting from being displayed. The fact of removal of the material will be noted in various records, whether in government records, court records, police records or in newspapers of record.

By contrast, to remove something from the Web, one needs to send an e-mail complaining about it to any of the string of ‘intermediaries’ that handle the content: the site itself, the web host for the site, the telecom companies that deliver the site to your computer/mobile, the web address (domain name) provider, the service used to share the link, etc. Under the ‘Intermediary Guidelines Rules’ that have been in operation since 11th April 2011, all such companies are required to ‘disable access’ to the complained-about content within thirty-six hours of the complaint. It is really that simple.
Continue reading How India Makes E-books Easier to Ban than Books (And How We Can Change That): Pranesh Prakash

SAHMAT invites Salman Rushdie to Delhi

This release comes from SAHMAT, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, Delhi

We have watched with dismay the unnecessary controversy which erupted over the presence of Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literary Festival. We strongly disapprove of the threats – real or perceived – issued against the participation of Rushdie. The state has once again succumbed to retrogressive forces using works of creative expression for their own narrow, partisan and divisive political agendas. SAHMAT has stood by Rushdie in the past, when we defied an unofficial ban on The Moor’s Last Sigh by readings on the street in Delhi in 1995. Rushdie has been a frequent visitor to India in the last few years with no problems being raised. Indeed, he visited us at SAHMAT and was serenaded by chance by some of the greatest singers of the Rajasthani Manganiyar tradition.

SAHMAT is issuing an open invitation to Salman Rushdie to come to Delhi to deliver a lecture or participate in a discussion on literature at any time of his choosing. We will host him under any circumstances along with an exhibition of the works of the late MF Husain, driven into forced exile by the similar retreat by the state in it’s cowardly unwillingness to stand up against communal politics.

New Delhi

‘सलमान रूश्दी के कार्यक्रम रद्द होने पर निराशा’; PUCL regrets cancellation of Salman Rushdie’s visit to Jaipur

Given below is the text of a press statement issued today by the PEOPLE’S UNION FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES, Rajasthan. The Hindi original is followed by an English translation.

प्रेस विज्ञप्ति
सलमान रूश्दी के कार्यक्रम रद्द होने पर निराशा
दिनांक: 20.01.2012

सलमान रूष्दी के जयपुर आने के कार्यक्रम के सम्बन्ध में जब कंछ मुस्लिम संगठनों ने हिंसक विरोध की चेतावनी दी थी तभी पी.यू.सी.एल. ने तुरन्त उसके विरोध में अपना वक्तव्य दिया था और कुछ प्रभावषाली मुस्लिम संगठनो तथा उस समाज के प्रबुद्ध नागरिकों से सम्पर्क कर उनसे विस्तृत चर्चायें की थीं। उन्होने भी हमारे दृष्टिकोण को समझा था और किसी प्रकार के हिंसक विरोध के सम्बन्ध में अपनी असहमति भी प्रकट की थी। परन्तु वह सलमान रूष्दी का जयपुर आगमन पर अपने विरोध के स्वरो को मुखरित करने के अधिकार को सुरक्षित रखना चाहते थे। इसमें कोई आपत्ति भी नहीं हो सकती थी परन्तु ऐसे विरोध की सीमायें कहॉं तक हांेगी इस पर चर्चा जारी थी। इसी बीच सरकार की ओर से यह वक्तव्य दिया गया कि सलमान रूष्दी के आने से कानून और व्यवस्था की स्थिति बिगड़ सकती है। इसलिए उनके आने पर पाबंदी लगाने पर विचार किया जा रहा है। पी.यू.सी.एल. ने सरकार के इस रवैये का जमकर विरोध किया था और इस पर एक प्रदर्षन भी आयोजित किया था। मुस्लिम संगठनों से इसके बाद विस्तृत चर्चा हुई और उन्होने भी यह स्वीकार किया कि कानून और व्यवस्था की स्थिति नहीं बिगड़ने देगें। लेकिन लगता है कि सरकारों को यह प्रयास रूचिकर नहीं लगे और आज सलमान रूष्दी ने ई-मेल सन्देष भेेजकर अपना कार्यक्रम रद्द करते हुए यह कहा है कि उन्हें राज्य सरकार से सन्देष प्राप्त हुआ है कि कुछ उग्रवादी तत्व किसी अन्य प्रदेष से आकर उनकी जान लेने की कोषिष कर सकते हैं। हंालाकि उन्होने स्वयं इस प्रकार की खबर को सन्देहात्मक बताया है परन्तु अपना कार्यक्रम रद्द करने का यही कारण बताया है। Continue reading ‘सलमान रूश्दी के कार्यक्रम रद्द होने पर निराशा’; PUCL regrets cancellation of Salman Rushdie’s visit to Jaipur

Satanic Versus Moronic: How Salman Rushdie Lost the UP Election

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?

Continue reading Satanic Versus Moronic: How Salman Rushdie Lost the UP Election

Invisible Censorship – How India Censors Without Being Seen: Pranesh Prakash


The Indian government wants to censor the Internet without being seen to be censoring the Internet. This article by Pranesh Prakash shows how the government has been able to achieve this through the Information Technology Act and the Intermediary Guidelines Rules it passed in April 2011. It now wants methods of censorship that leave even fewer traces, which is why Mr. Kapil Sibal, Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology talks of Internet ‘self-regulation’, and has brought about an amendment of the Copyright Act that requires instant removal of content.

Power of the Internet and Freedom of Expression
The Internet, as anyone who has ever experienced the wonder of going online would know, is a very different communications platform from any that has existed before. It is the one medium where anybody can directly share their thoughts with billions of other people in an instant. People who would never have any chance of being published in a newspaper now have the opportunity to have a blog and provide their thoughts to the world. This also means that thoughts that many newspapers would decide not to publish can be published online since the Web does not, and more importantly cannot, have any editors to filter content. For many dictatorships, the right of people to freely express their thoughts is something that must be heavily regulated. Unfortunately, we are now faced with the situation where some democratic countries are also trying to do so by censoring the Internet. Continue reading Invisible Censorship – How India Censors Without Being Seen: Pranesh Prakash

‘Locking up gods within caste’

This note comes via Malarvizhi Jayanth. Those in support can leave a comment saying so, and add their designations to their names, if they wish.

We call for all those who support democracy and free speech to express solidarity with Thirumavalavan, Meena Kandasamy and Samya.Kathavarayan and Madurai Veeran are among the gods who are acknowledged to be Dalit and are worshipped by many castes. Clearly, in the oral history of the people, the gods have castes and these castes are not determined by who worships them. The twin brothers Ponnar Shankar inhabit the realm between hero and deity. They have been fictionalised, recreated for the silver screen, and are worshipped across communities. Their origin myth remains contested territory – it is variously read as symbolic of the conflict between agriculturists/warriors and hunters, as part of founding tale of the land-owning agriculturist Kongu Vellala Gounder sub-caste and, in a textbook example of how Hindutva functions, have recently been claimed as reincarnations of the Pandavas. Like other deities of the people, they are firmly located in a historical imagination among a society of human beings, and not in a mythos of gods.

In a footnote in Uproot Hindutva: The Fiery Voice of the Liberation Panthers by Thirmavalavan, MeenaKandasamy describes Ponnar Shankar as dalit. M Loganathan, an advocate from Nanje Goundanpudur and Students Wing Convenor of the Kongu Nadu Munnetra Kazhagam (KMK), has been quoted in news reports as saying that there is evidence proving that Ponnar and Shankar are Kongu Vellala Gounders and claiming that depicting them as Dalits will lead to caste tension. Continue reading ‘Locking up gods within caste’

On sedition: Sarim Naved

In this guest post, SARIM NAVED gives a chronological account of sedition in Indian law, and discusses the procedural aspects laid down for a magistrate to take cognisance of sedition

After the 1857 revolt, the Press Act of 1857 which prohibited all publications, without licensing, was passed. This Act known as Lord Canning’s Act  applied to all kinds of publication, including books in all languages and other printed papers in all languages. 1860 saw the enactment of the Indian Penal Code, which remains in force today in a relatively unchanged manner. The Indian Penal Code, while not directly dealing with the press, does incorporate provisions that impinge upon and regulate the activities of the press. The code dealt with issues ranging from offences against a person’s body or property to criminal breach of trust to offences like defamation and obscenity that directly concerned editors.  In the words of Rajeev Dhavan, “It was a comprehensive code. Not all these provisions were directed against free speech but virtually all could be used against it.” Amendments were later introduced to bring in the offence of sedition in 1870, the offence of promoting enmity between classes in 1898, the offence of outraging religious feelings in 1928 and imputations or assertions prejudicial to national integration, which were added by the government of independent India in 1972. Continue reading On sedition: Sarim Naved

A Dialogue with God and Dialogues that go missing

Guest post by SUDEEP KS and BOBBY KUNHU

On Sunday 4 July 2010, T J Joseph, a college lecturer, was attacked by a group of people on his way back from the church in Muvattupuzha in central Kerala, and his right hand was chopped off. We believe this heinous act deserves to be condemned, and that such acts pose a major threat to the secular fabric of the Kerala society.

The attack has attracted immediate media attention, and it is said to be related to a recent controversy over a question paper. Joseph, in his Malayalam question paper, had asked one question that apparently hurt the religious sentiments of some people.

The Kerala society’s response to this whole episode has been equally disturbing. Pinarayi Vijayan, state head of Communist Party of India (Marxist), calls it ‘Talibanization of Kerala’. It has been made out to be a question of ‘freedom of speech’. The media, politicians and intellectuals are busy expressing serious concerns over a ‘religion’ that is intolerant and fanatic. The Police has also let out suspicions on some groups involved in this incident, and both the television and print media have been religiously reporting it. Continue reading A Dialogue with God and Dialogues that go missing


(Uma Singh, a journalist with Radio Today in the southern town of Janakpur in Nepal, was killed on 11th January 2009. The Federation of Nepali Journalists has mounted a campaign asking for immediate action against Uma’a killers and a firm commitment by the government to the freedom of press. Uma’s killinng comes in the wake of attacks on different media houses in Kathmandu. Like Lasantha Wickrematunge in Sri Lanka, Uma was killed for writing and speaking fearlessly at the other end of Southasia.)

Janakpur: It was impossible to believe that Uma Singh at Ganga Sagar Ghat on Tuesday morning – an FNJ flag draped over her still body, face bandaged all across, the cuts on the head visible – was the same Uma I had met two months ago.

Uma’s looks were deceptive, for the tiny frame contained abundant energy. By the time I strolled into Radio Today’s studio at 6 am in mid-November, Uma had wrapped up her morning bulletin. She was running around the office and passing instructions in a matter-of-fact professional way

She briefed me on the format of Janakpur’s most popular Maithili political discussion show, Garma garam chai. I still remember how Uma said to both her co-anchor and me, “Please avoid English words. The programme is meant for people in villages.” I nodded, a little ashamed my Maithili was not as fluent. Continue reading “Why?”

The use of “Lese majeste” in Thailand against freedom of speech

Lese majeste literally means an offense or crime committed against the ruler or supreme power of a state – or, in other words, the crime of dissent. In Thailand, this provision is routinely used to silence any form of criticism of the government.

A recent case that has been brought to our attention is that of Associate Professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn, from the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University. He is facing Lese Majeste charges for writing a book A Coup for the Rich, which criticised the 2006 military coup. He also wrote an article on the coup for Asia Sentinel. Others who have been accused of Lese Majeste are former government minister Jakrapop Penkae, who asked a question at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Bangkok, about exactly what kind of Monarchy they have in Thailand. There is also the case of Chotisak Oonsung, a young student who failed to stand for the King’s anthem in the cinema. Apart from this there are the cases of Da Topedo and Boonyeun Prasertying. In addition to those who opposed the coup, the BBC correspondent Jonathan Head, an Australian writer names Harry Nicolaides and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa are also facing charges. The latest person to be thrown into jail and refused bail is Suwicha Takor, who is charged with Lese Majeste for surfing the internet. The Thai Minister of Justice has called for a blanket ban on reporting these cases in the Thai media. The mainstream Thai media are obliging. Thus there is a medieval style witch hunt taking place in Thailand with secret trials in the courts.

A petition of protest in support of Giles is available here.

The press freedom bogey

…is raised every time there’s talk of a law “regulating” TV News channels in India. A rajya Sabha committee now says self-regulation is not enough, the media needs a set of rules from the government. I think that one shoudn’t necessarily view the idea of a law, or regulation, with suspicion. After the despicable 26/11 coverage and even before, many channels have lost the right to hide their TRP-driven sensationalism behind the free speech bogey. 

That may sound self-contradictory, but see what the committee has concluded on the subject:

Continue reading The press freedom bogey