A suggestion to Leslee Udwin – Ashok Chowgule

Leslee Udwin

When Katherine Mayo wrote her book “Mother India” in 1927, Mahatma Gandhi called it a drain inspector’s report.  One Reverend Samuel McCavert wrote in response:

We would like to suggest to Miss Mayo that she write one more book, this time about America.  We outline for her the following chapter headings:

“The Only Land where Lynchings Occur.”
“The Land of Martial Scandals – One Divorce to Every Seven Marriages.”
“The Land of the Crime Wave – Armoured Motors Necessary to Transport Pay-rolls.”
“The Land of Industrial Strife – Incessant Strikes and Lock-outs.”
“Child Labourers – A Million and a half No Older than Thirteen – in the Richest Land in the World.”

All the facts in this new book might be impeccably correct, but would it be a picture of America?

In the Federal Council Bulletin of December, 1927.
Reproduced from Sunderland, Jabez T, “India in Bondage: Her Right to Freedom”, R Chatterjee, Calcutta, 1929.  Pp 516.

In 2008, a film “Slumdog Millionaire” was released worldwide.  One Matthew Schneeberger wrote:

Say an Indian director travelled to New Orleans for a few months to film a movie about Jamal Martin, an impoverished African American who lost his home in Hurricane Katrina, who once had a promising basketball career, but who — following a drive-by shooting — now walks with a permanent limp, whose father is in jail for selling drugs, whose mother is addicted to crack cocaine, whose younger sister was killed by gang-violence, whose brother was arrested by corrupt cops, whose first born child has sickle cell anaemia, and so on. The movie would be widely panned and laughed out of theatres.

Is Slumdog Millionaire worth the praise?
http://www.rediff.com/movies/2009/jan/29is-slumdog-worth-it.htm

This month (March 2016), the BBC broadcast a documentary called “India’s Daughter”.  At:

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/mar/01/indias-daughter-documentary-rape-delhi-women-indian-men-attitudes

Lesleeji is quoted as saying:

“I began this film with a narrow focus.  ‘Why do men rape?’ I discovered that the disease is a lack of respect for gender. It’s not just about a few rotten apples, it’s the barrel itself that is rotten.”

And in the headline we read the following: “I made a film on rape in India. Men’s brutal attitudes truly shocked me”.

Clearly the barrel that she refers to is India.

Now we would like to suggest to her that she, after a reasonable time in resting to get over a mental ordeal of the last two years, make a film on the Rotherham grooming scandal in the UK.  When she does it, we would like to suggest to her to cover not just the attitude of the perpetrators of the crime, and their culture, that made them groom some 1400 very young girls in an around the town, but also the failure of the UK establishment to have allowed the crime to have continued for such a long time.  Some of the girls complained to the appropriate authorities, but they were ignored or brushed aside as being the girls’ fault.

Here is the BBC analysis of why the first complaints in the grooming scandal in Rotherham in the UK was not followed through properly:

Analysis
Chris Buckler BBC News
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-manchester-19739073

Some of the failings that allowed years of abuse were to do with workload, resources and training.

But what is most worrying is that this review reveals that a proper culture of concern was lacking within children’s services in Rochdale.

When victims – often from chaotic backgrounds – asked for help, they were assumed to be “engaging in consensual sexual activity” or even involved in prostitution.

In reality they were being sexually exploited by a grooming gang who on occasions used threats and violence.

There is no doubt that the abuse that affected dozens of teenagers could have been stopped earlier but in the aftermath of the Baby P scandal social workers were more concerned about cases involving younger children than teenagers.

Parents were fobbed off with suggestions that their daughter was simply hanging out with a bad crowd.

Yet child sexual exploitation was not an unknown concept to care teams in this area. They first identified girls at risk of grooming in 2007. But even at the end of last year they were still making mistakes in efforts to tackle the problem.

This review is about learning lessons in terms of policies and procedure. However it also needs to ensure that children are listened to, irrespective of their background or upbringing.

The article in the BBC where the analysis is attached can also provide some pointers that Lesleeji would like to cover.

In addition, there is the following article:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/11069178/Rotherham-researcher-sent-on-diversity-course-after-raising-alarm.html

The first three paragraphs in the article says:

A researcher who raised the alarm over the sexual abuse of teenage girls in Rotherham more than a decade ago was sent on a ‘ethnicity and diversity course’ by child protection bosses who refused to act on her evidence.

The researcher, who was seconded to Rotherham council by the Home Office, was told she must “never, ever” again refer to the fact that the abusers were predominantly Asian men.

Speaking to the BBC’s Panorama programme under the condition of anonymity, the researcher said that she identified more 270 victims of trafficking and underage prostitution by mainly Muslim gangs in Rotherham.

Lesleeji would like to investigate a culture which tried to sweep the extreme tragedy of the victims under the carpet.

In another two years we expect to see another interesting film by Lesleeji.

Postscript:

It would not be out of place to mention about the issue of sexual abuse by Jimmy Saville while he was with the BBC.  Please see:

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/may/30/bbc-staff-child-sex-abuse-allegations

This was in May 2013.  The BBC established an inquiry commission, but till now, nearly two years later, the commission has not complete the work.

And this is a March 2014, nearly one year ago, statement by the BBC:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/statements/djs-review

I have read a December 2014 media article on the subject, at:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/sexual-abuse-inquiry-investigation-into-jimmy-saviles-years-of-abuse-at-the-bbc-delayed-for-a-third-time-9938082.html

Perhaps the sanctimonious BBC can inform its viewers, given that it has broadcast a documentary on the Nirbhaya rape case, what is the latest on the case. – Hindu Vivek Kendra, 6 March 2015

 » Ashok Chowgule is the Working President (External) of the VHP.  

Leslee Udwin

Wikipedia’s Shame – Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard“Wikipedia is an incredibly useful project, and it should be applauded for making the details of how its [salad] is made available to all. The construction of truth is always going to be a messy business, whether by the New York Times or Salon or the most decorated historian alive — or a bunch of Wiki editors. But Wikipedia’s openness hardly makes it perfect, or somehow, inherently better than the New York Times. Not when a look inside the machine gives us such clear glimpses of  rage and obsession.” – Andrew Leonard

Wikipedia LogoIs Wikipedia sexist? Or is it merely an unreliable mess of angry, ax-wielding psychos engaged in agenda-driven editing? Or is it something much more complicated than that?

Last Wednesday, novelist Amanda Filipacchi published an Op-Ed in the New York Times recounting her discovery that Wikipedia editors were culling women authors from Wikipedia’s list of “American Novelists” and relegating them into their own subcategory: “American Women Novelists.”

“The intention appears to be to create a list of ‘American Novelists’ on Wikipedia that is made up almost entirely of men,” she wrote, noting that there was no “American Men Novelists” subcategory. (Although, amusingly, just such a category was created shortly after the Op-Ed appeared.)

In the furor that erupted on Wikipedia in response to Filipacchi’s article, it was quickly determined that the bad behavior she noticed appeared to be the work of a single misguided Wikipedia editor. One could argue that, if true, this made the Times’ headline “Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists” unfair and inaccurate. All of Wikipedia was being tarred by the unthinking stupidity of one bad editor.

But then things got a lot worse. In a follow-up Op-Ed published on Sunday, Filipacchi recounted the all-too-predictable reaction from aggrieved Wikipedia editors.

As soon as the Op-Ed article appeared, unhappy Wikipedia editors pounced on my Wikipedia page and started making alterations to it, erasing as much as they possibly could without (I assume) technically breaking the rules. They removed the links to outside sources, like interviews of me and reviews of my novels. Not surprisingly, they also removed the link to the Op-Ed article. At the same time, they put up a banner at the top of my page saying the page needed “additional citations for verifications.” Too bad they’d just taken out the useful sources.

Welcome to the age of “revenge editing.” The edits didn’t stop at Filipacchi’s page. Edits were also made to pages about her novels, stripping content from them on the grounds that they were overly self-promotional (a big Wikipedia no-no.) One editor, as recently as Monday morning, even started editing the pages devoted to Filpacchi’s parents, and slashed huge swaths from a page about the media conglomerate Hachette-Filipacchi, whose chairman emeritus happens to be Filipacchi’s father, Daniel Filipacchi.

As is usually the case with Wikipedia, high-profile “revenge editing” clearly motivated by animus tends to draw a lot of attention. A frequent result: ludicrous “edit wars” in which successive revisions are undone in rapid succession.  Eventually, someone higher up in the chain of hierarchy steps in and freezes a page in which an edit war is occurring, or some measure of consensus is reached after a lot of shouting. Indeed, hardcore Wikipedia advocates argue that no matter how dumb or ugly the original bad edit or mistake might have been, the process, carried out in the open for all to see, generally results, in the long run, in something more closely resembling truth than what we might see in more mainstream approaches to knowledge assembly.

Wikipedia’s saving grace is that all the edit wars — all the ugly evidence of “revenge editing” — is preserved for eternity for anyone curious enough to investigate in the “talk pages” that reveal precisely how Wikipedia’s knowledge is constructed. A review of the talk pages associated with the various Filipacchi-related Wikipedia pages edited after the Op-Ed’s publication reveals the vast majority of the anti-Filipacchi edits to have been made by just one person, a Wikipedia editor who goes by the user-name “Qworty.”

Here are some excerpts from “Qworty’s” talk page postings in the last few days.

From the talk page for Amanda Filipacchi:

Oh, by all means, let’s be intimidated by the Holy New York Times. Because when the New York Times tells you to shut up, you have to shut up. Because that’s the way “freedom” works, and the NYT is all about promoting freedom all over the world, which is why they employed Judith Miller. Meanwhile, there were no fewer than FOUR Filipacchi articles on Wikipedia that were little more than blatant WP:PROMO. And she’s using this scandal in order to promote and revive her writing career, since she hasn’t been able to publish a book in eight years. Mmmmmm-hmmmmm. But you needn’t worry about me, no sirree. I will certainly do as the Holy New York Times says and shut up now. Just as I and millions of others obediently shut up when they were spreading their lies about Saddam having WMD. Because the Holy New York Times never makes mistakes, don’t you know. The fact is that there was never a sexist conspiracy against women writers on WP–it was the misguided categorization work of a SINGLE user, as has now been shown. Would the Holy New York Times care to print TWO retractions? No, of course not. The NYT never lies, is never wrong, and their shit smells and tastes like ice cream, and we must all eat it with a smile.

Talk page associated with the user Qworty:

The bloody p.o.s. New York Times supposedly employs fact checkers, but they have allowed this incompetent woman to libel Wikipedia not once, but two times. They owe Wikipedia two separate retractions. They have no journalistic integrity whatsofuckingever. They are nothing better than a blog, a barrel full of dog feces offered to the world as the “truth.” There is one thing you are wrong about, however. This incident is never going to be forgotten. Not by anyone involved in it. Retribution will be taken five, ten, fifteen, twenty years from now. That’s just the way people seem to be, unfortunately. It is the way these things work, and that’s something about the world which many of us actively dislike, and are working hard to change. The documented fact is that this woman has sent thugs after certain Wikipedia editors. This is no slight affair, I am afraid.

The New York Times has a vested interest in trying to undermine Wikipedia. For one thing, the Times has only 600,000 digital subscribers, which makes it a piece-of-shit website in terms of numbers. On Sundays, its biggest day, the Times adds another 1.4 million readers in its paper edition, for a total of 2 million. Meanwhile, HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE are reading you and me on Wikipedia EVERY DAY. You can see why the Times feels it has a very very short and stubby and ugly little penis compared with us. This is the real reason why they want to run baseless articles slamming us. Because we are the future and they are already the distant past.

Wow! We’ve got Judith “weapons of mass destruction” Miller, penis comparisons, dog feces and accusations that Filipacchi “sent thugs” after Wikipedia editors, all popping up in the context of an apoplectic defense by one Wikipedia editor of actions that other Wikipedia editors labeled “revenge editing.” There’s a lot of anger here (not to mention an unhealthy fixation with excrement!). Call me persnickety, but reading Qworty’s comments did not give me the greatest faith in Wikipedia’s internal process for building an encyclopedia of human knowledge.

As of Monday morning, most of Qworty’s most objectionable edits appear to have been reverted. It’s true, when the world shines a harsh, scrutinizing light on Wikipedia, Wikipedia tends to respond reasonably well. Inch by inch, the project gets upgraded. But one has to wonder what is going on in regions that haven’t attracted the attention of someone with the media pull necessary to land an Op-Ed in the New York Times. How many other passionate agendas are playing out in neighborhoods less traveled? There are a lot of very angry people on the Internet, and some of them are extraordinarily busy. The rest of us do not have the time to examine the talk page give-and-take for every Wikipedia article we want to consult.

Wikipedia is an incredibly useful project, and it should be applauded for making the details of how its [salad] is made available to all. The construction of truth is always going to be a messy business, whether by the New York Times or Salon or the most decorated historian alive — or a bunch of Wiki editors. But Wikipedia’s openness hardly makes it perfect, or somehow, inherently better than the New York Times. Not when a look inside the machine gives us such clear glimpses of  rage and obsession.

What’s Judy Miller got to do with whether Amanda Filipacchi is improperly using Wikipedia for self-promotion? Absolutely nothing. And what place does “revenge editing” have in the context of the quest to create the greatest repository of human knowledge ever put together? Zero. – Salon, 29 April 2013

» Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter @koxinga21.

Hiding India’s history from the people – Claude Arpi & Subroto Roy

Claude Apri“The study of the subcontinent’s history using archival material is crucial to disentangle difficult problems like the Jammu & Kashmir issue or the border problem with China. Yet today nobody can access independent India’s primary sources locked in South Block and North Block in New Delhi. Most bizarrely, Jawaharlal Nehru’s papers are under control of his descendants like Priyanka Vadra and Sonia Gandhi, who claim copyright. Someone may need to tell them there is a universal principle that there can be no copyright on the public life-work of historical figures like presidents and prime ministers.” — Claude Arpi & Subroto Roy

A. K. AntonyThe Government of India continues to hide India’s history from India’s people using specious excuses. An example is the Henderson-Brook report on the 1962 war, a single copy of which is said to exist locked away in the Defence Ministry. An anti-Indian author like Neville Maxwell is among the few ever given access to it; he has reiterated his factually incorrect theory (accepted by Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai and the US and Chinese establishments since) that the 1962 war was due to Nehru’s aggressive policy and China had no choice but launch a “pre-emptive attack”.

In Parliament not long ago, Defence Minister A. K. Antony said: “Considering the sensitivity of information contained in the report and its security implications, the report has not been recommended to be declassified in the National Security interest.” This is nonsense. Nothing from as far back as 1962 can possibly affect anything significant to India’s security today. In any case the Defence Ministry’s official history of the 1962 war, though officially unpublished, is openly available.

Even the 2005 Right to Information Act goes against transparency of research into India’s history. Article 8 (1) (a) says, “there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,— (a) information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.” This can cover all files of the MEA, Defence and Home; there seems to be no right to academic freedom for India’s people to research their own history.

Indian Archives!China itself is more open with its archives. Since 2004, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing has begun a systematic process declassifying more than 40,000 items from its diplomatic records for the period 1949-1960. The Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC has recently published Inside China’s Cold War; the Project Director admits this has been possible due to China’s “archival thaw”.

In the USA, official documents are made available after 30 years or when a reasonable demand is made under the Freedom of Information Act. Numerous groups exist whose only work is to make sure the law is followed. The recently released Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume XVIII, China (1973-1976) published by the American foreign ministry reveals several interesting aspects of the India-USA-China relationship. Last year the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) posted some 320,000 declassified cables on-line. The text of once-secret diplomatic cables indexed is today retrievable from the NARA Website. It also includes withdrawal cards for documents still classified, so these can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act. Out of 119,356 documents for 1973 and 200,508 for 1974, some 7,484 were related to India. Indians scholars today have to rely on US documents for their own history!

RTI Activist LogoIn an open society, the ordinary citizen has reasonably easy access to any and all information relating to the public or social interest—whether the information is directly available to the citizen himself/herself, or is indirectly available to his/her elected representatives like MPs and MLAs. Different citizens will respond to the same factual information in different ways, and conflict and debate about the common good will result. But that would be part of the democratic process. In an open society, both good news and bad news is out there in the pubic domain—to be assessed, debated, rejoiced over, or wept about. Citizens are mature enough to cope with both—the experience causes a process of social maturation in formulating the common good as well as responses to problems or crises the community may face. People improve their civic capacities, becoming better-informed and more discerning voters and decision-makers, and so becoming better citizens.

The Grand InquisitorThe opposite of an open society is a closed society—in which a ruling political party or self-styled elite or ‘nomenclatura’ keep publicly important information to themselves, and do not allow the ordinary citizen easy or reasonably free access to it. The reason may be merely that they are intent on accumulating assets for themselves in the dark as quickly as possible while in office, or that they are afraid of public anger and want to save their own skins from demands for accountability. Or it may be they have the impression that the public is better off kept in the dark—that only the elite ‘nomenclatura’ is in a position to use the information to serve the national interest. Bad news comes to be suppressed and so good news gets exaggerated in significance. News of economic disasters, military defeats or domestic uprisings gets suppressed. News of victories or achievements or heroics gets exaggerated. If there are no real victories, achievements or heroics, fake ones have to be invented by government hacks—though the suppressed bad news tends to silently whisper all the way through the public consciousness in any case.

Such is the way of government propaganda everywhere. Closed society totalitarianism permitted the general masses to remain docile and unthinking while the ‘nomenclatura’ make the decisions. PericlesDostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor said that is all that can be expected of the masses. Open society transparency was instead defined by Pericles for the Athenians: “Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well; even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics—this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.”

The study of the subcontinent’s history using archival material is crucial to disentangle difficult problems like the Jammu & Kashmir issue or the border problem with China. Yet today nobody can access independent India’s primary sources locked in South Block and North Block in New Delhi. Most bizarrely, Jawaharlal Nehru’s papers are under control of his descendants like Priyanka Vadra and Sonia Gandhi, who claim copyright. Someone may need to tell them there is a universal principle that there can be no copyright on the public life-work of historical figures like presidents and prime ministers. – Business Standard, 31 December 2008

Section 66A of the IT Act has to go – Ravi V.S. Prasad

Shaheen Dabha's FB post

Ravi V.S. Prasad“In view of the various instances in which Section 66A has been misused by the police to harass citizens who were exercising their right to free speech, there is a strong case for the judiciary striking down Section 66A. The instances of Ms Banerjee jailing a professor for forwarding a cartoon, the arrest of two women for posting their opinion about Bal Thackeray’s funeral disrupting public life, and the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, are all instances which have outraged the nation and indicated to the world that India is not a democracy which values freedom of expression.” – Ravi V.S. Prasad

Freedom of ExpressionThe arrest of two women in Mumbai for posting their views on their Facebook profiles regarding Bal Thackeray’s funeral has drawn attention to the draconian provisions of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Numerous eminent lawyers are of the opinion that this section is in violation of several provisions of the Constitution, especially the right to freedom of speech and expression, and should either be amended suitably by the government or struck down by the judiciary as unconstitutional.

On November 20, the Madurai bench of the Madras high court issued notices to the Central government on a public interest litigation filed by the People’s Union For Human Rights seeking direction to repeal Section 66A on the grounds that it violates freedom of speech guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Further, an officer of the Indian Police Service filed a writ petition in the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad high court praying for Section 66A to be declared as ultra vires of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression. This will be heard tomorrow (November 23).

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which was inserted vide the Information Technology Amendment Act of December 2008, states:
“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; or (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 fine.”

Terms such as “causing annoyance”, “causing inconvenience”, “causing obstruction”, “causing ill will” etc are vague and ambiguous, and can be interpreted in multiple ways by different people.

Markandey KatjuMost insidious is sub-section (c). While sub-section (b) uses the qualifier “persistently”, the phrasing of sub-section (c) implies that the sending of even one single message or piece of information, which may be construed as being sent with the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience, shall be punishable with a jail term. An April Fool joke among friends or a quarrel among family members could be interpreted as causing annoyance or inconvenience, and punishable by a jail term if sent over the electronic medium, whereas these would hardly be punishable in the offline, physical world.

Section 66A has been used by state governments and the police to jail their opponents several times in the last few months. In addition to the arrest of the two Mumbai women, Section 66A was used by the Puducherry police to arrest a man who posted tweets about the son of finance minister P. Chidambaram amassing more wealth than Robert Vadra, and by the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal for arresting a professor who forwarded cartoons about her.

It appears that the intention of the legislature in drafting Section 66A was to prevent cyber stalking and cyber harassment of the kind that thousands of women face everyday through anonymous emails and SMSes. Indeed, two people were arrested under this section for posting obscene comments about the singer Chinmayi Sripada on Twitter.

But there is ambiguity about whether posting on a website or on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is governed by Section 66A. This is because the first sentence of Section 66A begins with “Any person who sends…”, and the term “publish” does not appear anywhere in this section. In contrast, the phrase “publishing or transmitting” is used in several other sections of the Information Technology Act.

Since Section 66A does not use the term “publishes” but only the term “sends”, it appears that the intention of the legislature in using the term “sends” instead of “publishing or transmitting” was to cover harassing email messages between a single sender and a single recipient, rather than publishing on a website or on social networking platforms. Further, since sub-section (c) of Section 66A uses the phrase “…or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages…” it appears that the legislature had a single sender and a single recipient in mind.

Kapil SibalIndeed, during his TV appearance on Monday, information technology minister Kapil Sibal insisted that the entire Section 66A applied only when there was an intent on the part of the sender to deceive or mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages. That may have been the intention of the legislature, but Section 66A uses the word “or” before this phrase. The use of “or” between phrases makes the various clauses stand alone and independent. Thus, as phrased, it appears that Section 66A can be used to punish a single email message which causes annoyance or inconvenience, even when there is no intention to deceive or mislead the recipient about its origin.

There are other inconsistencies as well. The offence, for instance, “of criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication” is punishable under the Indian Penal Code by a jail term of two years, whereas if the same message is sent by electronic means, the punishment may extend up to three years.

With regard to the use of Section 66A by politically powerful persons to harass their opponents, courts in several countries have held that governments and political parties cannot sue for defamation. In the Lingens case in 1986, the European Court of Human Rights held that “…The limits of acceptable criticism are wider as regards a politician than as regards a private individual…When choosing his career, a politician knowingly allows himself as open to close scrutiny, and must therefore tolerate more…” In Goldsmith versus Bhoyrul in 1997, the Queen’s Bench Division in the United Kingdom ruled that governments and political parties could not sue for defamation.

In view of the various instances in which Section 66A has been misused by the police to harass citizens who were exercising their right to free speech, there is a strong case for the judiciary striking down Section 66A. The instances of Ms Banerjee jailing a professor for forwarding a cartoon, the arrest of two women for posting their opinion about Bal Thackeray’s funeral disrupting public life, and the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, are all instances which have outraged the nation and indicated to the world that India is not a democracy which values freedom of expression. – Asian Age, 22 November 2012

» Ravi V.S. Prasad heads a group on C4ISRT (Command, Control, Communications and Computers; Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting) in South Asia.

Shaheen Dhaba and friend Renu

Blasphemy laws empower Muslim extremists – Trudy Rubin

Trudy Rubin“Attempts by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or any U.N. bodies, to promote a legally binding global ban on criticism of Islam (or all religions) are out of order. They should be roundly opposed by Obama and other Western leaders. Advocates of one religion can’t put a muzzle on free speech worldwide. As Obama said Tuesday, ‘The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.'” – Trudy Rubin

Barak ObamaIt’s about time. After a week of anti-American violence in the Muslim world over a video that offends Islam, President Barack Obama finally made a rousing defense of free speech, even if it insults religion.

Following the outburst of outrage in Libya and Egypt, American officials repeatedly deplored the video. There should have been more U.S. outrage over a campaign of violence orchestrated by Islamists and abetted by some Muslim leaders.

In his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Obama went a good ways toward setting the record straight.

“We do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs,” Obama said. “Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views — even views we disagree with.

“We do so,” he went on, “because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics or oppress minorities.” He added, “On this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence.” Sadly, this is a message key Muslim leaders haven’t grasped.

Indeed, both Egypt and Pakistan, the two countries where the most widespread violence was incited in the name of the anti-Islam video, have blasphemy laws that are frequently used to pursue vendettas, target minorities and curb free speech.

Yet in Pakistan, where the notorious law is most draconian, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has called on the United Nations to adopt blasphemy laws outlawing criticism of religion worldwide. He’d do better to confront the disastrous impact of Pakistan’s blasphemy law at home.

RishmaJust recently, a 14-year-old mentally impaired Christian Pakistani girl, Rimsha Masih, was imprisoned after being accused by a neighbor of burning pages of a children’s religious book. It turned out that a village cleric who wanted to drive Christians out of the village had fabricated evidence. The case became so notorious, the charges may ultimately be dropped. But about 600 of her Christian neighbors had to flee out of fear of reprisals, and she probably can’t ever go home lest vigilantes kill her.

Indeed, the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, were killed last year after criticizing the apostasy law in another case involving a poor Christian woman who is still rotting in prison. “Anyone can file a complaint, so there are often ulterior motives for bringing charges,” says the Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea, co-author of Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide.

Shea says thousands of such cases have been brought since the 1980s. Since Islam covers most issues of ordinary life, apostasy charges can be brought for innumerable reasons, including personal quarrels; the accused can’t get bail and may receive the death sentence.

In one notorious case in 2000, a medical professor in Islamabad offended a Pakistani military officer with something he said in a lecture and was suddenly accused of blasphemy. After being held for more than three years, he was finally released, perhaps because he became an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. Many others aren’t so lucky.

“The law empowers extremists within the society,” says Shea. Adds the courageous Pakistani parliamentarian Farahnaz Ispahani: “Government after Pakistani government has appeased the extremists, who use the blasphemy laws to stir up the public and enhance their own political power.”

Adel ImamBlasphemy laws also threaten to muzzle speech in post-Arab Spring governments, especially those where Islamic parties hold power. In Egypt, the actor Adel Imam was cleared of defaming Islam on Sept. 12, the day after the anti-video protests started.

His alleged crimes: his film roles, including one in which he played a corrupt businessman that contained a scene parodying bearded Muslim men, and a second, called “Terrorism and Kebab,” in which good-hearted Egyptians challenge corrupt bureaucrats. If he hadn’t been so famous, he might be doing time.

Earlier this year, two courts rejected blasphemy cases against a Christian media mogul who had formed the leading opposition party. His alleged crime: He tweeted a cartoon of Mickey Mouse with a beard and Minnie with a veil.

This might seem funny if it weren’t so serious. Egypt’s new president, Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, clearly has a limited understanding of free speech. He just instructed his Washington embassy to bring legal charges against the California videomaker and may be indifferent to the dangers of blasphemy laws.

In the words of the late, great Indonesian Muslim scholar and political leader Abdurrahman Wahid, blasphemy laws “narrow the bounds of acceptable discourse in the Islamic world and prevent most Muslims from thinking ‘outside the box,’ not only about religion but also about vast spheres of life, literature, science, and culture in general.”

Even more to the point, attempts by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or any U.N. bodies, to promote a legally binding global ban on criticism of Islam (or all religions) are out of order. They should be roundly opposed by Obama and other Western leaders. Advocates of one religion can’t put a muzzle on free speech worldwide.

As Obama said Tuesday, “The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.” – Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, 28 Sept. 2012

» Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Julian Assange: Conduct trial in neutral venue – Madhav Nalapat

M.D. Nalapat“It is clear that Julian Assange ought to face his accusers in a neutral venue. Hopefully, either Assange himself or Ecuador will make the suggestion to the international community, to conduct the trial of the Wikileaks hero in a venue that is independent of NATO influence. An alliance that is blind to its own transgressions while constantly hectoring others about (what it considers to be) theirs is hardly the unbiased body that is needed if a trial is to be fair. Julian Assange ought to agree to face a trial, one in which hopefully his name will be cleared, provided that it take place in a neutral venue.” – Prof. Madhav Nalapat

Jawaharlal NehruEspecially during the 1950s, it was India led by Jawaharlal Nehru that incessantly lectured other countries about how they should behave. The then PM of the world’s most populous democracy fancied himself to be expert on global issues, the reason why he retained the External Affairs Ministry till the last day of his life in 1964. Sadly, the glowing testimonials to Nehru by his numerous acolytes cannot disguise the fact that by that year, India had been comprehensively isolated.

With the exception of Bhutan, no country backed Delhi in the 1962 war with Beijing, even Colombo and Kathmandu, which have long been close to India. Even after Nehru imposed a cease-fire in Kashmir and took the dispute to the UN, more countries backed Pakistan than India, a list that included the US. Of course, it needs to be remembered that the administrative elite in the UK could still not bring itself to “forgive” India for the effrontery of believing that freedom was preferable to bondage under the Union Jack. Officials such as Philip Noel-Baker worked tirelessly at the UN to ensure that opinion swung against India, a situation that continued till the dawn of the 21st century, when 9/11 resulted in a sharp decline for backing within the US and the EU to those favouring the breaking away of territories from India.

V.K. Krishna MenonNehru’s constant preachiness ensured that critics of India remained so. In particular, his sharp-tongued favourite,  Vengalil Kumaran Krishna Menon, spewed vitriol on former colonial powers and their new-found champion, the US, while he led the Indian delegation to the UN. In contrast, Pakistan’s delegates acted in a very deferential manner towards representatives of the Great Powers, thereby making certain that Nehru’s gamble (of taking the Kashmir issue to the UN) failed to generate any positive effects for India, although it must be said that the move was greatly appreciated by Edwina and Louis Mountbatten, who suggested the reference to the UN to Nehru in the first place.

Bradley ManningAlthough Indira Gandhi and to a lesser extent son Rajiv sought to continue to preach international morality to countries that not so secretly looked down on India because of the country’s poverty, by the 1990s, this tendency had changed into one of quiet acceptance of geopolitical realities. Since that time, Nehru’s cloak of International Moralist has been worn by the senior members of the NATO bloc, principally the US, France and the UK. These three powers never cease to remind the world of their own presumed morality, and of the low standards of the rest of the international community. When emails purportedly from Asma Assad, the First Lady of Syria, surfaced in NATO media, those who procured them were presumably rewarded. However, when Bradley Manning, an idealistic soldier in the US military, shone daylight on a trove of emails from the State Department, or exposed the heinous murder of innocents by criminals piloting US combat aircraft, he was arrested and is now immured in a windowless cell.

Julian AssangeThe whistle-blower who exposed the targeted killing of unarmed civilians from the skies ought to have been given a reward rather than prison, except that NATO’s commitment to free speech extends only to that which suits its strategic objectives. And while Manning is in prison, the man who gave him a platform to reveal his secrets, Julian Assange, remains in what is effectively a prison, a room at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, in daily fear lest British police breach diplomatic protocol and apprehend him. That the sexual charges brought against Assange are serious is without a doubt. Unless the founder of Wikileaks faces a court and convinces it of his innocence, the stain will continue to cast a shadow not simply on him but on the ace whistle-blower that he helped to create, Wikileaks. However, given the fate of Bradley Manning and countless others judged to be less than helpful to the war aims of NATO, it would be foolhardy to expect fair treatment in Sweden, a country closely connected with several NATO member-states, and which fully backs the EU in its efforts at retaining in the 21st century the primacy the continent enjoyed in the 19th century. Clearly, justice will only be assured if the trial of Julian Assange takes place in a country where the long shadow of NATO does not fall. Given that India has become an auxiliary of the alliance since 1998, clearly this country would not be a fit venue.

Wikileaks LogoFar better would be Brazil or Argentina, countries that have demonstrated a feisty independence of power blocs. Just as alleged international human rights violators have been tried in Europe despite coming from Africa, on the (often specious) ground that justice is not possible in Africa, it is clear that Julian Assange ought to face his accusers in a neutral venue. Hopefully, either Assange himself or Ecuador will make the suggestion to the international community, to conduct the trial of the Wikileaks hero in a venue that is independent of NATO influence. An alliance that is blind to its own transgressions while constantly hectoring others about (what it considers to be) theirs is hardly the unbiased body that is needed if a trial is to be fair. Julian Assange ought to agree to face a trial, one in which hopefully his name will be cleared, provided that it take place in a neutral venue. – Pakistan Observer, 24 August 2012

» Prof. Madhav Nalapat is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Karnataka State, India.

Whistleblowing

Hindu Janajagruti Samiti website blocked by government – HJS

HJS website

HJS planning legal action against Government for ban on website

On the HJS website and its Facebook page, true information about Assam and Mumbai riots was published based on news published in different newspapers. Proofs were presented on the website so as to assist Police and Government on how rioting Muslims were indulging in false propaganda and creating unrest in the country; even then, it is possible that the Congress Government could have imposed ban on the website for the politics of votes. It is clear that the website of HJS has been closed for criticizing corruption and double standards used by the Govt. under the name of secularism; but the Congress Govt. should remember that the ban imposed on HJS website is not a blot on its name; rather it is a credit to HJS for undertaking patriotic activities which force the Government to take cognisance of its wrongdoing. Registering protest against this ban, HJS is planning to take legal action and stage agitations.

  • Visit HJS Facebook page. Click here.

  • Visit HJS Blogspot page. Click here.

See also