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Archives for : Censorship

Threatened, young Bangladeshi blogger forced to flee to Kolkata #FOE


At 21, Md Sazzadul Hoque seems to have been abandoned by everybody he ever cared for. His family, in Bangladesh’s Chittagong, has stopped supporting him and Hoque has been expelled from his college in Dhaka. For the last one-and-a-half years, he is living near Kolkata on a tourist visa. His fault: Hoque dared to write on issues such as secularism, atheism, gender equality, sexual and human rights and protested the killings and persecution of bloggers in Bangladesh.

“I now fear for my life. I could also be killed in India by fundamentalists who support the goings on in Bangladesh. I protested the atrocities being committed on the minority Hindu population in my country and the obstruction of free speech. I also write on the systematic political corruption and superstition that obstructs reasonable and critical thinking. I also campaign for ‘Be Humane First’, which aims to establish civil liberty. Now, I have nowhere to go,” Hoque says.

He belongs to a very conservative family and received religious lessons since childhood. However, as he grew up, Hoque started questioning certain beliefs and rituals.

“ People who were my best friends are my worst enemies now and would turn me over to the fundamentalists any time. Before coming to India, I ran from one shelter to another with imams baying for my blood. I was branded an atheistwho deserves death under Islamic laws,” he added.

Hoque claims that his ordeals began on May 25, 2017 after he posted on Facebook that: “I want to live like a human, not a Muslim – things I was taught and made to believe are wrong.” The post went viral and his Facebook account was suspended. “The threats started thereafter. I fled,” Hoque said.

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Who will speak truth to unfreedom?

The latest effort to control research and prevent academics from protesting will kill the spirit of critical inquiry

It is time to re-read the politically charged play, The House of Bernarda Alba, (1936) by Federico García Lorca. After their father’s death, five young women are forced to live in a barricaded house of mourning for eight years. The doors are latched, windows are curtained with thick black fabric, and every nook and cranny closed. The consequences of living in claustrophobic spaces without men are tragic. The sisters repeatedly attack each other in grotesque performances of frustrated desire.

Bernarda, the mother, is the poster-girl of fascism. One of her daughters dares to wear make-up, Bernarda snatches the make-up and viciously smears it on the face of the young woman. Beyond the barred room, we catch tantalising glimpses of sunlight. Within the house we encounter pitifully deformed psyches and disturbed minds. Lorca authored a formidable play. It was to be his last. Shortly after, he was murdered by fascist forces in Spain. His message remains with us, repressed sexuality is a powerful metaphor for political frustration.

Costs of subjugation

Lorca proved prophetic. Open societies encourage us to accept and welcome different ideas and practices. They liberate and expand our imaginations and our commitments. When societies turn inwards, they construct barricades between themselves and the outside world. At some point members transfer the notion of the outsider to parts of the collective self. Political subjugation carries heavy costs.

Ruled by a government that verges on authoritarianism, Indians have turned savagely on their own fellow citizens, sometimes in the name of cow-protection, and often because someone has identified A or B as a kidnapper. Sometimes individuals are attacked because they are migrant workers and therefore ‘outsiders’, and often because they are represented as ‘infiltrators’. Disorder is the order of the day, and violence is the currency of social transactions. Sane voices have to speak up.

But where will these sane voices come from? The party in power has identified and cracked down on three sites of debate and dissent, the media, civil society and the public university. Incalculable damage has been done. Public universities are accessible and affordable. They provide training in skills, but more importantly, they expose young minds to nuanced debates in the social sciences and the humanities. The objective is to fine-tune sensibilities and push back horizons, familiarise young people with the best in literature, philosophy, political science, history, sociology, aesthetics and psychology, and keep alive the spirit of critical inquiry.

Power of the humanities

That is why imaginatively designed courses in the humanities and social sciences lie at the heart of any university worth its name. They encourage students to challenge and interrogate, even as they explore the past and the present. Teachers inspire students to understand the complexities of the human condition, to know what should be done for human beings, and what should not be done to them. Above all students are introduced to categories that allow them to think, reflect, and critically engage with people, places and things.

When academics acquaint students with Indian politics through the searing prose of Shrilal Shukla’s Raag Darbari, communicate the densities of human emotions through King Lear, acquaint them with spectres of domination and the exhilarating prospect of resistance through the poetic lens of Antigone, or convey the horrors of communal conflagration through the powerful pen of Yashpal in his Jhootha Sach, they do not just transmit information — they contribute to the making of knowledge. In the process, university teachers promote the notion of citizenship as solidarity with the less advantaged and warn students of the horrors of authoritarian rule that seeks to control and dominate. The idea is to produce aware and enlightened citizens conscious of their own power and the responsibilities of an elected government.

This is precisely why the latest avatar of capitalism in the 1990s, neoliberalism, devalued social sciences and humanities. Capitalism demands docile bodies and submissive minds. In 2010, Terry Eagleton, the celebrated literary critic, spoke of the death of universities. Academia, he rued, has become a servant of the status quo. Can we have a university without the humanities? It would be like a bar without alcohol! If history and philosophy vanish from academic life, they may be replaced by a technical training facility or corporate research institute, he wrote. But this will not be a university in the classic sense of the term. Eagleton is perceptive. Without critical disciplines, universities are no more than teaching shops, producing so much unthinking labour for the market.

The second attack on the university has come from the current government. Shortly after they came to power in 2014, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party began to demonise one of the finest centres of academic excellence and enlightened debate, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Ignoble attempts to subjugate the faculty and students followed. This was replicated in other Central universities by the appointment of Vice-Chancellors of questionable merit, and the elevation of storm troopers of the ruling party to faculty positions.

Now the government has decided that teaching and research have to be controlled. University administrations have ruled that faculties of Central universities will be subject to Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules. This, it is said, is the diktat of the University Grants Commission, which is at best a funding and administrative organisation. In JNU, the decision has been adopted without regard for procedures of rule-making: the passage of a proposed policy through the Academic Council, the Executive Council and the University Court.

Starkly put, these regulations stipulate that academics cannot protest, howsoever grave be the provocation. In the academic world, invitations to join editorial boards of prestigious journals are rightly seen as a justifiable reward for academic excellence. This is now banned. Faculty members cannot criticise the policies of the government in their research work. Nor can they dare to critique a flawed foreign policy. And they cannot join political parties.

Just court history

The policy strikes at the very idea of a public university that embodies the spirit of critical inquiry. Now no academic can ask her students to reflect on the shortcomings of economic policies that reproduce inequality, on social practices that foster gender and caste discrimination, on the politics of intolerance, on historical inquiry, or on cultural practices that disable rights in the name of tradition. Academic research has been reduced to court history.

It is clear that holders of power and their academic courtiers have extracted retribution and punished those who have dared to speak back to unfreedom. But in the process, the ruling party and compliant Vice-Chancellors have shot themselves in the foot. A society is known ultimately by the knowledge its universities and research centres produce, by the excellence of the faculty and by the curiosity of the students. Today, knowledge has been replaced with trite information. Mediocrity rules, and eminent academics are crudely harassed. Above all, the order demeans reputed academics the precise way in which Bernarda, the mother in Lorca’s play, humiliated her daughter. The difference is that now the censor board will gag analytical and insightful scholarship. Instead of strengthening the public university, which was meant to be a training ground for citizenship, the government has deliberately weakened an academic structure that has great potential to chart a route to opportunity and social justice.

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India-The most undeserving man is on his way to becoming a free speech martyr

The Right-wing’s use of draconian anti-free speech laws comes home to roost.

It is outrageous that one Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a freelance writer, has been arrested by Odisha police for ‘hurting’ Odiya pride.

According to his lawyer, this was one of the offending tweets:

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra@Iyervval

Shocking!!!! Please mass report this troll spreading malicious fake news clearly intended to incite communal disturbances!!! Everyone knows of course there is no such thing as Odisha!!! It is merely southern Bengal. Happy Roshogolla Day to all

SAMBIT SAHOO@sambitmini

Happy #RasagolaDibasa (Rasagola Day) to @Iyervval . Come to Odisha. I would personally take care that you eat “Real” Rasagola; not the imposter sponge ball you have been eating. 😂🙏😂

Mr Mitra has, over the course of his tweeting, offended Odiya sentiments many times, all in jest. Arresting him for doing so is draconian and shows what’s wrong with India’s free speech laws. The Odisha government should immediately withdraw the case and free him.

Mr Mitra should be freed not only because his incarceration is a gross violation of his right to freedom of speech and expression, but also because he does not deserve to be a free speech martyr. He has long been a champion of getting people arrested whose views he does not agree with, and has consciously advocated using the law as a means of harassment to silence and censor people whose views offend him.


In April this year, he advocated filing of cases against American historian Audrey Truschke. “File a criminal ‘hurting sentiments’ case against her and bog her down in the legal system – can’t leave on bail,” he said on Twitter, and proceeded to tag two lawyer friends. One of them, who is associated with the RSS, even asked, “Is she in town?”

This is why we have these draconian laws – people are happy to misuse them. The Odisha government’s use of these laws to persecute Mr Mitra is not very different from Mr Mitra’s advocacy of the use of the same laws against Audrey Truschke.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra has asked for people to be jailed for much less than hurting religious or sub-nationalist sentiments. For instance, he wanted India to put members of Human Rights Watch in jail only because he thinks the organisation supports US interests. Tweeting in the context of the demolition of Leftist statues in Tripura earlier this year, Mr Mitra advocated “lefty scum” should be put in jail because they don’t obey the law and went further to say “legally machine gun them down”.

Who’s allowed to mock a Hindu temple?

This is not to say Mr Mitra deserves to be in jail. Nobody deserves to be in jail for exercising free speech unless the speech act is directly inciting violence. Hurting sentiments should be allowed too – because who’s to decide what amounts to ‘hurting’ sentiments?

But Mr Mitra doesn’t seem to agree. He wants “editors thrown in jail,” endorsing the decision of the Karnataka assembly of imprisoning two editors for publishing allegedly defamatory articles against legislators. Ironically, Mr Mitra is now himself facing the wrath of the Odisha assembly, apart from the police and protestors, for mocking a famous Hindu temple. The Odisha assembly is ‘inquiring’ into Mr Mitra’s “derogatory remarks” on “Konark Sun Temple, legislators, Odisha culture and Lord Jagannath”.

On 16 September, Mr Mitra posted a video from the Konark Sun Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site. In the video, Mr Mitra pointed out the erotic sculptures on the temple’s facade and said it is not a temple but a “humple” (sic) and that such a site could not possibly be sacred.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra@Iyervval

Odisha 8: looks like an ordinary waterfall? Oh no – this is a sheer 1000 foot PLUS drop in the 4000 foot high ranges of the Simlipal National Forest. The reservoir region looks like Austria’s Lake District: pristine. Photos don’t do it justice

We can’t show you everything!

We automatically hide photos that might contain sensitive content.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra@Iyervval

Odisha 9: my special message to you from the Konark temple expressing my utter disgust at this monumental conspiracy against the Hindu Civilisation

He is facing two FIRs for this video, and an inquiry by the Odisha assembly, before which he has already apologised for the video. Mr Mitra, well-known for his support of Right-wing politics, has had many leading lights of the Indian Alt-Right support him. Freedom of expression, you see.

But had such a video been posted by someone who wasn’t a card-carrying member of the Hindutva club, Mr Mitra would perhaps have been advocating jail. Had such views about an ancient Hindu temple been addressed by someone of the Left-liberal persuasion, the Hindu Right would have been protesting to ensure their arrest, and the Alt-Right would have been supporting the cause with hashtags. Had such a video been made by a Muslim, the person would have been declared a jihadi and a terrorist. Mocking a Hindu temple seems to be ok if the person doing so is a Right-winger. Many would have taken a legalistic approach: The law of the land must be respected, the law will take its own course, let the courts decide.

Interestingly, the BJP’s Odisha face, Dharmendra Pradhan, has said he supports bringing to book those who have hurt Odisha’s pride. The BJP’s politics is built on the foundation of taking offence over ‘hurt sentiments’.

Selective outrage of the Alt-Right

Mr Mitra’s Alt-Right supporters are writing articles and signing petitions – they’re all, apparently, the new free speech champions of India. They’re berating the “mainstream media” of not taking up Mr Mitra’s arrest in a big way. The charge isn’t correct, because Mr Mitra has been getting far more attention than most people who are arrested under draconian anti-free speech laws that are arbitrarily used against political opponents for ‘hurting sentiments’.

If you don’t support the freedom of speech and expression of your political and ideological opponents, censorship will one day come to you too. That is why it is important for everyone to be on the side of free speech. Many Left-liberals are asking for Mr Mitra to be freed. But when others face such attack, support is missing from all quarters.


How many of these Alt-Right luminaries stand up for Prakash Raj when case after case is filed against him for Hurting Sentiments? Do Kanchan Gupta and Anand Ranganathan let their outrage pour when a Telugu film critic is arrested for Hurting Sentiments for making ‘inappropriate’ comments about Ram and Sita? How many petitions did they sign for M.F. Husain, who was forced into exile through legal harassment? What was their position on the censorship of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History? Did a newspaper ad by Jawed Habib intend to hurt Hindu sentiments? Did the Alt-Right come to his defence?

Left-liberals defending Abhijit Iyer-Mitra’s free speech are being consistent in their support to freedom of speech and expression. But the Alt-Right needs to explain its inconsistency of championing free speech, only when one of their own is affected.

The most undeserving man is on his way to becoming a free speech martyr in India

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Mr Zuckererg Why is Facebook disbabling independent journalist accounts in India ?


Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg during his visit to the Facebook headquarters in the Silicon Valley.


Caravan News

NEW DELHI — In the last 10 days, Facebook has disabled personal accounts of more than a dozen leading journalists in India without any warning or notice and without offering any credible reasons. The journalists in question, many of them senior editors, have been writing critical pieces on issues of national importance and highlighting issues and concerns of marginalised groups and religious minorities. They often tackle issues that confront the ruling establishment and therefore their articles have hardly gone down well with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Since the last week of September, Facebook has disabled personal accounts of several leading journalists including Ajay Prakash (News Editor, Dainik Bhaskar), Prerna Negi (Editor,, Rifat Jawaid (Editor, and former Editor of BBC) and Aijaz Zaka Syed, an award-winning Indian journalist and columnist based in the Gulf and former Opinion editor, Khaleej Times. Syed has also been associated with Caravan Daily as a columnist.

Besides, continuing its targeted crackdown, Facebook has disabled accounts of editors of, and Mumtaz Alam, Editor of Caravan Daily and Syed Ghazanfar Abbas, National Correspondent of Caravan Daily.

“Without giving any reason, @facebook has disabled personal accounts of editors of news website @CaravanDaily. The website highlights issues of religious minorities and marginalised groups in India and publishes critical stories on issues of national importance & current politics,” tweeted

Accounts of other Delhi-based journalists like Wasim Tyagi and Sanjay Pandey have also been disabled.

After repeated requests and complaints to Facebook to restore their accounts, some of them took to Twitter to tell the public about the highhandedness of Facebook.

“Great. @facebook has disabled my personal account because it thought I was impersonating myself. Just read the reasons why it disabled it. There’s never a dull moment in social media user’s life,” wrote Rifat Jawaid.

“My account still remains disabled even after sending a new ID and writing several times to Facebook. I think it is because of my critical writings against the rising intolerance against religious minorities in India,” said Aijaz Zaka Syed who writes for a number of national and international publications, including The News InternationalArab NewsGulf NewsAl Ahram of Egypt, Straits Times of Singapore, Greater KashmirInquilab Urdu Daily and Etemaad Urdu daily etc. Syed received the European Union’s prestigious Lorenzo Natali Journalism prize in 2007 for his writings on the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.

“I think I am being targeted because of my writings criticising growing violence and bigotry of right-wing Hindutva groups against Muslims and other marginalised communities,” said Syed.

Many have questioned the unprecedented crackdown on free speech by Facebook saying it violates the right to free speech and globally accepted norms of democracy and media freedom.

“@facebook has disabled personal accounts of editors of news portal @BoltaHindustan without giving any prior notice. Is this the way that Facebook guarantees freedom of speech of its users? We expect that personal accounts of Bolta Hindustan editors will be enabled soon,” tweeted BoltaHindustan.

Journalist Sanjay Pandey commented: “@facebook does it again, please refer to below screenshot where it is openly blocking posts against @BJP4India and banning those opposed to it. This interference in internal politics of India by @fbnewsroom is not acceptable. @rsprasad can we have Facebook blocked in India.”

Journalist Wasim Akram Tyagi said: “Once Again @Facebook has disabled my ID twice. I always follow FB community standard. Is this your Free Speech? @Facebooklndia @finkd?”

Facebook disabled the accounts of Caravan Daily Editor Mumtaz Alam and National Correspondent Ghazanfar Abbas. After Abbas submitted his ID, Facebook unlocked his account only to disable it again within a couple of hours. It was restored a few days later when another complaint was registered. Though it has unlocked the account of Alam three days after getting his ID, Syed’s account remains locked for the past four days. The accounts of the three were disabled on 2nd October, on Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary and the International Day of Non-violence.

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Loveratri becomes Loveyatri: Other Indian films that have changed titles under unpopular demand

For the Indian Offence Brigade, there’s a lot in a name.

The course of true love never did run smooth. Neither does the course of some love stories, especially if they are being shot in India.

The latest to feel bumps along its ‘yatra’ is Loveyatri, Salman Khan’s home production venture that will launch his brother-in-law, Aayush Sharma.

Loveyatri, till September 19, was Loveratri. This was found unacceptable by some sensitive folks, who felt that the movie, shot around Navratri, would bring a bad name to the festival.

Such a long journeyTwo posters, one cautionary tale: Salman Khan well knows the dangers of getting on the wrong side of the wrong people. (Photo courtesy: Salman Khan Films)

Sentiments from Gujarat to Bihar were hurt, and one police complaint(Meethanpur, Bihar) and some threats (by VHP members, in Vadodara) later, Salman Bhai announced the change in the title of the movie.

However, this has not proved enough to smoothen the movie’s path. Ahmedabad-based Sanatan Foundation, which also moved a PILagainst the movie, has told the Gujarat High Court that the new name is “not acceptable” to it as it still rhymes with Navratri.

Lest you think the Foundation is a difficult bunch of people, the organisation has helpfully provided a title suggestion too: ‘Love Ki Yatra’, which, according to them, goes with the tagline of the film — ‘a journey of love’.

While Loveyatri’s journey is still uncertain, it is by no means the only movie to face such challenges.

Here are some other Indian movies that had to change their titles following unpopular demand.


The name that launched a thousand tiffs. Based on an epic by Malik Muhammad Jayasi, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati caused a furore of similarly epic proportions, with a group called the Karni Sena deciding the movie “hurt Rajput sentiments” without watching it, and several state governments giving in and banning the movie’s release.

The fictional tale led to a very real, very ugly drama. The fictional tale led to a very real, very ugly drama. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)

After a battle that involved a few high courts, the Supreme Court, historians, threats to cut off Bhansali’s head and Deepika Padukone’s nose, and the censor board demanding an ‘I’ for its aye, the movie was finally released as Padmaavat, and went on to earn a record-breaking Rs 500 crore.

S Durga

S Durga, a Malayalam movie that won awards at various international film festivals last year, originally made its appearance as Sexy Durga.

However, the censor board refused to clear the name, and the maker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan finally decided to change the ‘Sexy’ to just ‘S’.

The movie led to a huge debate on whether controversies serve as easy ways to publicity. The movie led to a debate on whether controversies serve as an easy way to publicity. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)

While many people protested against this “moral policing” by the censor board, the controversy also led to a debate about why the movie was named so at all — when the lead character was a North Indian girl whose name or “sexiness” had nothing to do with the movie’s plot — and if the controversial name, and then the furore, was just a way to get the movie some publicity.


While many members of ‘The Offence Brigade’, usually seen leading charges against movies, decry the “poisoning influence” of western culture on Indian society, at times, the western world too makes an appearance to register grievances.

The chnage in name could not change the fortunes of this movie. The change in name could not change the fortunes of this movie.  (Photo: YouTube screengrab)

R…Rajkumar, a 2013 Shahid Kapoor-Sonakshi Sinha starrer, was initially named Rambo Rajkumar.

However, the makers of the original Rambo movies, featuring Sylvester Stallone, objected to it, and not just the movie’s title, but also the name of the lead character, played by Shahid Kapoor, had to be changed to placate them.


The title of this Shah Rukh Khan production had to be snipped from the original Billu Barber after professional barbers objected to it.

The Salon and Beauty Parlors Association had earlier suggested that the name be changed to Billu Hairdresser, as ‘hairdresser’ did not have the “derogatory and insulting” connotations that ‘barber’ did.

SRK snipped the title of the movie after protests from barbers. SRK snipped the title of the movie after protests from barber asoociations. (Photo: YouTube screengrab) 

SRK, however, decided to stay away from professions altogether, and called his movie ‘Billu’.

This, however, did not end the movie’s troubles, and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena later protested against its song Marjaani, apparently because it had “objectionable words” in it.

What name Loveyatri finally releases under, and how this controversy impacts the movie’s prospects remains to be seen. But in the theatre of the absurd that is the Indian Offence Industry, the show is always going on.

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Is India going mad? I have 10 reasons to think so

Cow is our mother; cow urine can cure cancer; Congress has Brahmin DNA. Am I at the Mad Hatters Tea Party!


Sometimes I wonder whether the country is going berserk. Consider the facts:

  1. The Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly has yesterday passed a resolution declaring cow as Rashtra Mata. Not only the ruling BJP members voted for it, even the Opposition Congress supported it, and now the Central government has been asked to declare it nationwide.

cow_092018114747.jpgMoo all the way! (Photo: Reuters)

  1. The Rajasthan government has created a separate cow ministry(for looking after the welfare of cows)
  1. In Madhya Pradesh, five babas (including computer baba ) have been given status of minister of state
  1. In Madhya Pradesh again, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan declared that a gaushala (cow shelter) will be created for every five village panchayats. Not to be outdone, Congress state president Kamal Nath declared that if the Congress comes to power in the forthcoming Assembly elections, it would create a gaushala in every village panchayat.
  1. To prove he is a Shiva bhakt, Rahul Gandhi has gone on a yatra to Kailash Mansarovar, and has been tweeting regularly from there. Earlier, during the Gujarat Assembly elections, he visited dozens of temples, and was declared a ‘janeudhari’ Shiva bhakt.

computer_baba_092018114808.jpegFrom Ramdev Baba to Computer Baba (Photo: Facebook)

  1. The Congress media-in-charge, Randeep Surjewala, has said that the Congress has Brahmin DNA.
  1. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said that without Muslims, there is no Hindutva. But in the same breath, he also says that people only raise a hue and cry over lynching of Muslims, but are silent when cow smugglers attack gau rakshaks. And the BJP, which is dominated by the RSS, will not give MP or MLA tickets to Muslims, and seeks to selectively throw out Muslim illegal immigrants from Assam, while allowing Hindu illegal immigrants to remain.

rahul_092018114828.jpg‘Janeudhari’ Shiva bhakt tweeting from Mansarovar

  1. Ramdev Baba is selling bottled cow urine, claiming it to be the cure for several ailments. His Divya Pharmacy purchases thousands of gallons of cow urine daily and makes Divya Godhan Ark from it. Scientists at Junagadh Agriculture University in Gujarat claim to have discovered cure for several kinds of cancersby use of cow urine.
  1. With an eye on the Muslim vote bank (Muslims constitute almost 30 per cent of West Bengal’s population), the TMC government reportedly paid salary of Rs 2,500 per month to each of the 30,000 imams in West Bengal and Rs 1,500 per month to each of the 1,500 muezzins from April 2012 to September 2013 when it was declared unconstitutional by the Calcutta High Court.
  1. Lynching of Muslims by cow-vigilantes is a regular feature in many parts of the country.

cow-vigilante_092018114845.jpgLynching by cow vigilantes a regular news in India. (Photo: Reuters)

Not to forget, a nationwide gimmickry called Swachhata Abhiyan and Swachhata hi Seva, announced by Prime Minster Modi, is going on in the country, and has now been endorsed by the President of India, Union ministers, governors of states, chief ministers, etc.

My mind boggles at all this, and sometimes I feel like Alice at the Mad Hatters Tea Party!

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How The BJP Is Using Censorship And Surveillance To Destroy FTII

India’s premier film institute is witnessing a breakdown due to a culture of fear and ideological imposition.

Banners on the FTII campus on Tuesday.

Banners on the FTII campus on Tuesday.

PUNE — At the World Hindu Congress in Chicago earlier this month, actor Anupam Kher, one of the speakers, was described as the chairperson of FTIB—Film and Television Institute of Bharat, rather than Film and Television Institute of India as the 58-year-old institute is officially known.

Dattatreya Hosabale, joint general secretary of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), found nothing controversial in this: Bharat was “the Hindi translation of India”. There was, however, no explanation as to why only one word in the institute’s name was translated.

The use of “Bharat” in the place of India offers a glimpse at how the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has sought to bend the free-thinking culture of FTII to fit their ideological canon.

Current FTII chairperson Kher’s wife, Kirron, is the BJP Member of Parliament from Chandigarh, and Kher himself has repeatedly endeared himself to the ruling party—most famously by leading a pro-government march against his fellow artistes.

Under Kher’s watch, students allege, the administration has sought to censor all forms of intellectual exploration to the extent of allowing plain-clothed policemen onto campus to monitor those watching a documentary on the Kabir Kala Manch, a Dalit cultural group.

“There’s a climate of censorship and it manifests in various forms,” said Robin Joy, FTII’s student president, explaining that the students from the 2016 and 2017 batch have been on strike for 30 days now to oppose the “ideological imposition” by the administration as well as other issues relating to infrastructure. “It’s ironic that a liberal arts school had cops policing what we watch.”

It’s ironic that a liberal arts school had cops policing what we watch

Joy told HuffPost India that the administration is now closely monitoring the films students watch, and has issued directives that only movies with explicit approval from the administration may be screened in the classroom theatre. The administration has also been quick to deny permission to any events featuring speakers or performers critical of the current regime.

Filmmakers such as Kamal Swaroop (a vocal critic of the BJP government), Paresh Kamdar, and Fareeda Mehta, all of whom who were part of FTII’s visiting faculty and supported a long student strike in 2015, are now part of an unofficial ‘blacklist’

Kher did not respond immediately to a message seeking comment. FTII’s dean Amit Tyagi was on leave and acting dean Raj Shekhar told HuffPost India that he wasn’t “authorised” to engage with the media and that if any other faculty members did so, it would be out of “sheer ignorance”.

A detailed email with queries has been sent to FTII director Bhupendra Kainthola, who said he would respond as soon as he can. This story will be updated once we receive his response.

Policing Thoughts

In the first week of September, the FTII administration abruptly cancelled the screening of a documentary on the Dalit cultural group Kabir Kala Manch. The Pune-based group, which uses poetry and songs to talk about social injustice and caste-based oppression, has been targeted by multiple governments over their performances.

While the students alleged that the administration gave in to pressure from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the institute has denied the claim, saying the screening was cancelled because the organisers hadn’t asked for permission and the film didn’t have a Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) certificate. A CBFC certificate is not necessary for private screenings.

The 23-minute documentary, called Hora, was directed by Harishankar Nachimuthu, a former FTII student.

In 2015, Nachimuthu had led a 139-day student strike to protest the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan, an actor best known for playing Hindu mythological characters on television, as the institute’s chairman.

Nachimuthu’s film was eventually screened on 10 September, but only to a select group of students who later discovered that two plain-clothed police personnel had entered the screening room. The cops, the students claim, left the venue after they were confronted.

According to an email seen by HuffPost India, the institute’s dean told an alumnus that the film couldn’t be screened because they weren’t told about the presence of “100 Dalit activists” at the event and that their presence could create a ‘law and order’ situation. HuffPost India could not independently verify this.

In August 2016, the administration came up with a rule that revoked students’ free access to the Classroom Theatre. This happened a day after the higher-ups found out that the students were conducting a session called ‘Retracing Freedom’ that included films made by current and former students about the 2015 FTII protests as well as other titles from around the world.

“Earlier, we used to take the keys from the security officer and have our film screenings. But after the session on Retracing Freedom, we were instructed to take special permissions from the dean, the director, the registrar and the security, to watch a movie. They need the name of the film, the synopsis, everything,” said Joy. “It was only after we protested that it came down to one single permission, from the dean.”

However things were about to get worse. FTII’s famed midnight movie screenings, which would lead to heated debates about the merits and shortcomings of the film, became the first casualty of the draconian rule.

“It’s how we learnt and grew,” 27-year-old Navneetha Krishnan, a final-year direction student, said. “That whole culture has disappeared. The process to procure permission is tedious and even if we were to make peace with it, why should we accept this and normalise the idea of seeking approval for what we want to watch? It’s a way of censoring. How can a film school do that to its students?”

Krishnan said the students fear that the censorship will eventually reach the scripts they are writing. “Right now, it’s about what we watch. I won’t be surprised if soon, they will want to monitor the content of our scripts.”

Right now, it’s about what we watch. I won’t be surprised if soon, they will want to monitor the content of our scripts

A month later, in September 2016, when the students’ association invited the musician Delhi Sultanate, known for critiquing the establishment through music, permission was denied on flimsy grounds. “They said they needed to be alerted 15 days in advance to figure out the logistics. Delhi Sultanate didn’t need any complicated logistics. He only needed a power point,” Krishnan said.

Last year, on Ambedkar Jayanti, the students were planning to organise a two-day symposium on the theme ‘Dalit Expression In Indian Art, Cinema And Literature’. After initially giving an oral confirmation, FTII director Kainthola withdrew his approval after he received a list of invitees, which included prominent Dalit filmmakers, artists and photographers.

“He told us we could have the symposium for two hours with two guests that he handpicked. We had a detailed plan in place for a two day discussion. How could it be done in a couple of hours?” Joy said.

The students defied the order and went ahead with their plan as they had already secured permission to use the CRT. The next day, a notice was issued penalising the students, citing “breach of trust”.

After this, the FTII administration said that apart from the earlier rule about names of films being submitted, permission to screen them at the in-house theatre would be granted only if the request was made 48-hours prior. Students said this was put in place so the administration could scrutinise the content of the film they were planning to watch.

“Basically, it’s an unofficial censor body within FTII,” Joy said.

Aditya V, a second-year student of cinematography, said that during the orientation of the new batch in August this year, students protested against the institute’s decision which asked them to seek prior permission to watch movies. According to the students, the FTII director said that they could only watch films that uphold “the law of the land”.

“It’s very clear that this government is threatened by art. Art, whether it’s literature, music, or cinema, can sway public opinion and this regime want to suppress it at all costs. The sad part is they are using State apparatus to do this,” Krishnan said.

Students below the famous Wisdom Tree at the FTII campus in Pune on Tuesday.

Big Brother Is Watching

It’s not just the censorship but also the surveillance that’s making several students uncomfortable. FTII is patrolled round the clock not by contractual watchmen but by Maharashtra Security Force Guards—a heavily armed special reserve force that have the power to arrest people and even discharge their weapons if needed.

Amartya Ray, a second-year student, told HuffPost India that the idea was to intimidate the students.

“We often see them (cops) shoot us through their cell phones. Once, when we asked why were they doing so, the guard replied saying that they have orders. When we protested further, as shooting videos can get very uncomfortable, especially for women, they said that they aren’t answerable to us,” Sen said. “It all seeps down from top-up. Our director refuses to meet us. He doesn’t see any merit in having a dialogue with students who may have grievances,” he said.

The campus, students claim, is also being used to churn out films that promote government campaigns.

In May, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, started a Twitter campaign, #HumFitTohIndiaFit. As Bollywood and sports stars began uploading videos for the #FitnessChallenge, FTII students were asked to make a short film on the campaign. “Blatant propaganda,” said one of the protesters, a third-year student who did not want to be named. “The government basically wants to use FTII as its PR cell while ignoring real issues.”

This real issue, the students say, is the lack of a syllabus, something that should be given to the students at the beginning of the course. Third-year direction students are currently on strike as their syllabus is unfinished and are demanding eight-week lectures that specifically address core topics.

“We shouldn’t have to fight for our education. We have worked hard to reach here and this is what we get? Not even a detailed syllabus?” complained Rajesh Rajan, a final-year student. “This administration has no vision or planning whatsoever. It’s disheartening.”

The absence of an academic council to act as a bridge between the students and the authorities has worsened matters.

The students say the administration blames the infrastructural collapse within the institute on paucity of funds. The sports ground is routinely rented out as a parking lot while the swimming pool has been in disuse for over two years. But when it comes to trivial matters, funds miraculously appear.

Ahead of a visit by spiritual leader Jaggi Vasudev (popularly known as Sadhguru), originally scheduled for Wednesday, FTII spent considerable amount of money to spruce up the campus. The visit has since been cancelled due to the atmosphere on the campus.

“The good thing that has come out of his planned visit is that a garbage pile outside the boys hostel was finally cleaned up,” Joy told HuffPost India.

Students also protested against the whitewashing of an iconic pond, which was being done ahead of the spiritual guru’s visit. Due to stiff opposition, work was eventually stopped. “They don’t realise the pond looks the certain way because it carries a certain aesthetic appeal. It was installed by the great V Shantaram (Marathi filmmaker) for students to use it as a backdrop in movies. Many have been shot there. Now if you paint it all white, how’s it going to add any creative value to a frame? Instead of focusing on real issues, like the dire state of the projection system, lack of hard drives, they are doing ridiculous things such as these,” added Sen, the second-year student.

Last month, The Indian Express reported that FTII authorities were spending funds meant for academic activities on “erecting replicas of monuments… to celebrate national days”. On 26 January, FTII installed a giant replica of the Cellular Jail with a picture of Hindutva exponent VD Savarkar.

Scholarship Woes

Students from the SC/ST/OBC communities are particularly affected by the institute’s red-tapism. According to a government circular dated 2003, Maharashtra students from the OBC community are eligible for a 50% waiver on their tuition fee. However, two OBC students told HuffPost India that they were still waiting for the money to be reimbursed.

A copy of the notice that says FTII will reimburse scholarship money once it receives it from the government.

One of the students said on condition of anonymity: “I have taken a loan to pay my fees here. According to the government circular, they can’t take the entire fees (from students). But they did, saying 50% will be reimbursed later. The interest on my loan is rising but the money from FTII hasn’t come.”

Both said that no student in the OBC/SC/ST category has received the money since 2014.

“I am from a poor background and that money is important for me. If I had received it, half my loan would have been repaid. But it doesn’t look like we are going to get it anytime soon”, said the student cited above.

On the FTII campus on Tuesday, one banner seemed to communicate the students’ frustration with the government and administration best: ‘Gai Hamari Mata Hai, Humein Cinema Nahi Aata Hai, Kyunki Yahan Sikhaya Nahi Jaata Hai (Cow is our mother, we don’t know cinema because it is not taught here)’.

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Lodge FIR against Salman Khan, actors of Loveratri, court directs police

‘Loveratri’: Interesting facts about the film

Problems seem to be springing up for Salman Khan’s brother-in-law Aayush Sharma’s debut film ‘Loveratri’ all over the country.

A court in Muzaffarpur, Bihar directed the police to lodge an FIR against actor Salman Khan and the cast and crew of upcoming Bollywood film Loveratri on the basis of a complaint that the title and contents of the movie had hurt the Hindu sentiments.

Sub Divisional Judicial Magistrate (East) Shailendra Rai directed the Mithanpura police station in the town to lodge an FIR, based on a complaint filed in the court by advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha.

Ojha has taken exception to the title of the film, alleging that it is meant to make fun of the holy festival of Navaratri. He has also claimed that he film’s scheduled release on October 5 is likely to hurt the Hindu sentiments.


In his complaint, in which Khan, who is the producer of the film, its director and actors have been made parties, Ojha has claimed that he has watched the promos of the film and they contained a lot of vulgarity.

Ojha further said that the court ordered it against Salman Khan, Aayush Sharma, Warina Hussain, and seven others, under section 156 (Police officer’ s power to investigate cognizable case) of the Code Of Criminal Procedure (CRPC), and sections 120 B (Punishment of criminal conspiracy), 153 A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 153 (Wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot-if rioting be committed-if not committed), 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and , 298 (Uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).


Earlier this year, the title of the film had upset VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) as they found it offensive. International working president of the VHP, Alok Kumar earlier told PTI, “We will not allow its exhibition in cinema halls in the country. We don’t want the sentiments of Hindus to be hurt. The film is set against the backdrop of Navratri, a Hindu festival, and the name distorts its meaning.”


Loveratri, which is said to have a backdrop of Gujarat, is slated to be released on October 5 this year, around the same time when Navaratri would be celebrated.

A number of movies in the past have faced opposition from VHP and other organisations over one or the other issue and some of them had to go for a new name, besides other changes. Deepika Padukone-starrer Padmavati had to change its name to Padmaavat.
(with inputs from PTI)

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Why Did Facebook Stop The Promotion Of The Caravan’s Story On Amit Shah And Jay Shah?


On 10 August, The Caravan published an article detailing how the BJP’s national president Amit Shah mortgaged two of his properties to enable his son Jay Shah’s firm Kusum Finserve LLP to obtain credit facilities from a cooperative bank. The BJP president’s contingent liability with respect to this credit facility was, however, missing from his 2017 electoral affidavit. Kusum Finserve has recorded dramatic increase in credit facilities in recent years despite its poor finances. The same day, The Caravan shared the story on its verified Facebook page. As part of its effort to ensure that the news story reached the widest possible audience, The Caravan then put in a request to the social network to boost the story—a facility provided by Facebook to media organisations to help promote their posts among a specified audience. Over the past year, scores of similar requests have been placed by the company’s digital-marketing team. But this was the first instance in which its digital-marketing manager received a reply from Facebook stating that The Caravan’s post had not been boosted because it “doesn’t follow Facebook’s advertising policies.”

Facebook termed the boost an ad, and stated that the request to promote the post had been denied because it “may be for housing, employment or credit opportunities,” or that it “included a multicultural affinity segment in your audience.” The social network’s notification continued: “If so, you’ll need to certify that you’ll comply with our policy prohibiting discrimination and with applicable anti-discrimination laws. Once you certify, we’ll review any disapproved ads from the past three days. Typically, this review takes a few minutes.”

The same day, The Caravan appealed Facebook’s decision on the post. Through its verified page, the publication clicked on the option to submit the post for review, and added a note clarifying that the post was regarding a news story of political relevance. Over the next week, no reply was received on the review request.

At this point, The Caravan took an editorial decision to approach the subject as an issue of public importance. Chinmayi Arun, an assistant professor of law at the National Law University, Delhi, who is member of the India Internet Governance Forum and member of UNESCO India’s Press Freedom Committee told The Caravan, “Credible news organisations need a fair chance to reach audiences. They should have the same access to the public sphere and to readers as their contemporaries do.’’

I contacted various internet researchers as well as journalists, some of whose organisations use or have used this Facebook facility for their posts. One internet researcher said that it was likely that the social network’s algorithm flagged keywords in the post, while a journalist said that it is easy for posts to get caught in Facebook’s algorithms for reviewing content. Another person I spoke to suggested that Facebook’s ad policies had become more strict after news broke that Russian agents had allegedly used the platform to influence the 2016 US Presidential elections. Another alluded to the fact that earlier this year, Facebook had taken a policy decision to deprioritise news in favour of more personal interactions between its users. One of them said that there was talk in the journalist community that Facebook may be censoring speech, but “no substantiation.” None of the news organisations I contacted reported a similar instance of a news story being denied a boost, although some said it happened due to images that violated the social network’s policies.

On 20 August, about ten days after The Caravan submitted the request to Facebook for review, I had a phone conversation with Amrit Ahuja, the director of communications for Facebook India. The following morning, I sent her an email with the following questions:

As we indicated [in] our review request, the post was not related to employment, credit opportunities or housing. Why was the promotion denied by Facebook?

Could you explain in detail how Facebook arrived at a conclusion regarding the nature of the story?

What do you mean by ‘multicultural affinity segment’? What was the reason Caravan was asked to comply with this particular provision?

Facebook said on August 10 that the review takes 3 days. It has been 10 days since the review request, and neither has the Caravan got a reply nor has the post been promoted. Why is this?

What are your guidelines for holding up promotions for news stories from Indian media organizations?

Can you give examples of 10 news stories from India from Facebook-verified media organisation accounts like Caravan that were not promoted? What were the reasons?

I did not receive a reply from Ahuja. Later that day, at around 7.30 pm, the digital marketing manager received an email from Facebook stating that The Caravan’s appeal on its decision had been approved, and that the post could now be boosted. In the case of an important news story that is part of a rapidly developing news cycle, a boost 11 days after its release is meaningless. I emailed Ahuja again on 23 August, noting that the boost had been approved and inquiring a second time about the reason for the delay in its approval. I asked whether Facebook’s algorithms had flagged the story or if there was human intervention in the decision. At the time this story was published, no reply had been received. Multiple calls to Ahuja went unanswered.

As some of the people I spoke to noted in their conversations, this incident comes in the wake of several significant changes in Facebook’s approach to news content. On 19 January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook Inc, announced a policy shift regarding news at the social network. He wrote on his Facebook page that the social network had introduced updates “to make sure the news you see, while less overall, is high quality.” Zuckerberg continued: “I’ve asked our product teams to make sure we prioritize news that is trustworthy, informative, and local. And we’re starting next week with trusted sources.”

Earlier this year, Zuckerberg had been asked by the US Congress to testify, following the Cambridge Analytica revelations, which indicated that the firm had hijacked the data of millions of Facebook users, which, in turn, was subsequently used to influence the US presidential elections. Zuckerberg testified on 11 April. In response to a question asked by a member of Congress about whether Facebook had the ability to detect a foreign entity attempting to buy a political ad, if that process was automated and whether there were procedures in place to inform key government players, the CEO said, “After we were slow to identify the Russian information operations in 2016, this has become a top priority for our company to prevent that from ever happening again, specially this year in 2018 which is an important election year with US midterms. But also major elections in India, Brazil, Mexico, Hungary, Pakistan and a number of other places. So we are doing a number of things around deploying new AI tools to proactively catch fake accounts that Russians or others may create to spread misinformation.”

In the same testimony, in response to a question by another member of Congress about whether Facebook subjectively manipulated its algorithms to prioritise or censor speech, Zuckerberg said, “We don’t think what we are doing is censoring speech. I think there are types of content like terrorism that I think we all agree we do not want to have on our service. So we build systems that can identify those and remove that content and we are very proud of.”

It is not clear whether the selective bar faced by The Caravan on boosting the story regarding the BJP president Amit Shah was simply an outcome of unanticipated results from new Facebook algorithms, or the deliberate intervention of a human interface. Either possibility is hugely worrying, especially in the absence of any clarity from Facebook. Whatever the reason, Pratik Sinha, the founder of the website Alt News told me, Facebook needs to be transparent about what happened. “I don’t see any reason for Facebook to deny The Caravan’s boost because it is a verified and researched journalistic piece that deserves a wider readership. Either their content moderator is getting it wrong or I don’t know what role their algorithms are playing in this. But they need to be more transparent in terms of proper channels of communication so that media organisations can get responses.”

Why did Facebook stop the promotion of The Caravan’s story on Amit Shah and Jay Shah?

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India – Govt drops the Plan to monitor Social Media

 Monitoring Social Media Dropped: Centre To SC; Hearing On Plea Against It Closed

The Centre today submitted before the Supreme Court that it has dropped the proposal to create social media hubs to monitor social media including WhatsApp after which the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra disposed of as “infructuous” a plea filed by a TMC MLA Mahua Moitra challenging the move.

On July 13 SC had warned Centre against any plan to snoop into one’s whatsapp, email accounts or social media posts in facebook, twitter or Instagram.

At the outset of today’s hearing, Attorney General K K Venugopal told the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud: “The petition has become infructuous. We are withdrawing the RFP (Request For Proposal)”.

The submission ironically came 17 days before the tender was to be issued.

After AG’s submission, the bench recorded: “the Union of India submits that it has withdrawn its request for proposal to set up social media hubs. In view of the aforesaid nothing remains to be adjudicated”.

The Centre’s plan had got into trouble as the Supreme  Court warned that it amounted to nothing but creating a “surveillance state” and amounts to “sheer intrusion into privacy”.

SC had taken a strong note of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s decision and sought its response by today.

Significantly, it had also sought Attorney General K K Venugopal’s assistance in the matter remarking: “It seems the government wants to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a surveillance state”.

The proposed ‘Social Media Communication Hub’ was for collecting and analyse digital and social media content.

The court order came on a petition filed by Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislator Mahua Moitra.

Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Moitra, had said the government has issued request for proposal for social media hubs and the tender will be opened on August 20.

“They want to monitor social media content with the help of this social media hub”, Singhvi had argued.

The counsel for Moitra had said that the government is trying to monitor the social media content of individuals by tracking their social media accounts such as those on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and their e-mails.

Recently, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under the ministry, had floated a tender to supply a software for the project.

A technology platform is needed to collect digital media chatter from all core social media platforms as well as digital platforms such as news, blogs… In a single system providing real-time insights, metrics and other valuable data, the tender document says.

Under the project, media persons were to be employed on a contractual basis in each district to be the eyes and ears of the government and provide real-time updates from the ground.

The tender document says the platform is expected to provide automated reports, tactical insights, and comprehensive work-flows to initiate engagement across digital channels.

The platform may be used to disseminate content and hence, should support publishing features, the document says, adding the platform needs to power a real-time New Media Command Room, according to the tender document. It should also help the ministry to understand the impact of various social media campaigns conducted on Centre-run schemes, it says.

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