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If Malayalam classic Chemmeen were made today, it would be banned for glorifying ‘love jihad’

By The Last Caveman   @CarDroidusMax

The 1965 film would cause the Sangh Parivar to take major umbrage at its inter-faith romance.

If Malayalam classic Chemmeen were made today, it would be banned for glorifying ‘love jihad’

Chemmeen, the 1965 Malayalam-language movie needs no introduction to any Keralite. This movie-adaptation of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s eponymous novel is a Malayalam cinema classic that weaves the story of the tragic romance between Karuthamma (the daughter of a Dalit Hindu) and Pareekkutty (a Muslim trader), set in a tiny fishing village in coastal Kerala.

An article in The Hindu, published on Chemmeen’s 50th anniversary in 2015, describes the eternal and ethereal beauty of this jewel in Malayalam cinema’s crown. An excerpt:

“Set against the vast expanse of the sea, the narrative of Chemmeen offered immense visual possibilities, which the cinematographer and editor exploited creatively. In the film, the seascapes – its various moods, turbulences, ebbs and tides, and also its bounties – punctuate the narrative, virtually turning the sea into a character, raging and roaring, cheering and embracing the human drama unfolding on and before it. The legends and beliefs among the fisher-folk community are evoked time and again, through songs and dialogues, to paint the story in darker, dramatic hues.”

What if Chemmeen were to be first released in the present day?

If the recent “review” of Angamaly Diaries aired by Janam TV – a pro-Sangh Parivar Malayalam TV channel – were any indication, then Chemmeen would have been in for a rough ride. Angamaly Diaries was one of the biggest box-office successes of 2017, apart from the immense critical acclaim it received from even outside Kerala.

However, Janam TV’s film critic chose to trash the movie – and he is well within his rights to do this as a film critic. However, the review ended up being cannon-fodder for the famed Malayali social media satire, due to its blatantly communal colour.

The review, for example, criticised the movie for “showing too many visuals of churches” and even went on to ask whether there aren’t any temples in Angamaly, the real-world town the story is set in. It appeared to be lost on the reviewer that the movie IS about a group of Christian youth in Angamaly who set out to float their own pork-meat trading business.

Or perhaps it was not lost on him at all.

Kerala in 2017 stands tall like the little Gaul village of Asterix and Obelix – a perpetual thorn in the side for the rampaging legions of Caesar Amit Shah. Be it the state’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan or Congress politicians like Shashi Tharoor (the sitting Lok Sabha MP for Thiruvananthapuram) or Malayalam social media’s top political satirists like International Chalu Union – nobody misses an opportunity to push back and lampoon the Sangh’s attempts to impose their version of religiosity and “sanskar” on Kerala.

chemmeen-690_082017055525.jpgAre there no vegetables in Purakkad?

What would a young Sangh-supporting intellectual do in Kerala? Nothing much, other than cheer wildly about election results from faraway places like Bundelkhand and Kota. As far as career ambitions go, their best bet would be to butter up BJP’s North Indian bosses and hope to land a job in Prasar Bharati. Or maybe in CBFC, if Pahlaj Nihlani’s successor too manages to get himself fired.

If Chemmeen were to make its first appearance now, how would Janam TV see it? By the looks of it, they might jump at the opportunity to trash it, and perhaps even get it banned.

And why not? It has every ingredient that rubs a Sangh supporter the wrong way: a Hindu-Muslim love angle (“love jihad”), extra-marital love, glorification of local fables, and worst of all, fish-eating (the movie’s name itself translates to “Prawn”).

This is what they might come up with:

World cinema is dotted with works that tell the stories associated with the sea. Jaws, Titanic, Sharknado 1Sharknado 2Sharknado 3 are some of the most renowned in this category. None of these are merely sea yarns shouted from the rooftops; instead, they narrated global issues in a sea-setting. Titanic, for example, told the story of post-colonial Anglo-Irish immigration to America, couched as a love story on board an ocean liner. Jaws and all the Sharknado movies were stellar advertisements for ocean conservation and beach tourism, apart from being great action-thrillers.

However, when it comes to Chemmeen, things turn upside down. All that the Sathyan and Sheela starrer does is to glorify the lives of a bunch of fisherfolk in a tiny fishing village called Purakkad in Kerala, as if they were great seafarers from the Vedic era. Does the village of Purakkad have any historical, cultural or political significance in Kerala? One wonders whether the producer Babu Ismail Sait had any role in deciding to ignore the more historically, culturally and politically significant fishing villages in Kerala, such as Marad (communal rioting in 2003) or Poonthura (communal rioting in 1992).

What Chemmeen does is to portray such an insignificant village and its people in the mould of glorious ancient seaside towns like Rameshwaram. A small fishing community, of the kind one would find in most seaside villages, their day to day trials and tribulations, songs, dances, moral decadence — this is the gist of Chemmeen.

The movie’s technicians have succeeded in giving a colourful facade to an inherently weak story using professional editing and decent outdoor shoots. The author Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai should give serious thought to his future as a novelist.

Chemmeen continues the un-Indian trend in Malayalam cinema of glorifying meat- and fish-eating. The last decade has seen a deluge of Malayalam movies that glamourise meat eating. Angamaly Diariesglorified pork eating to such an extent that opportunistic restaurateurs have started pairing even pure indic food items such as idly and dosha with pork varattiyathu — an abomination that was otherwise paired only with deracinated and un-indic food items like appam and pathiri.

A meat sub-culture is growing in Kerala and the prime culprit is cinema. Chemmeen is director Ramu Kariat’s contribution to this carnivore-isation of Malayali youth. The movie is littered with seafood symbology from the beginning to the very end. There is even an elaborate sequence where Karuthamma (the female lead played by Sheela) serves rice and copious quantities of fish curry to Palani (played by Sathyan). Hasn’t Thakazhi heard of more traditional Kerala food such as rice, sambar, aviyal and puzhukku?

Are there no vegetables in Purakkad?

Even the songs — couched as folk songs — are actually nothing but inane glorification of seafood. The lyrics are replete with words “karimeen”, “chakara” etc and that too set to close up visuals of fresh fish. The highly impressionable youth of the communist-ruled state cannot be blamed for flocking to seafood joints after every screening of the movie. Paragon Restaurant in Kozhikode for example, has reported a 300 per cent increase in their number of fish-mango-curry orders ever since the movie released. By the time the movie ends one begins to get alarmed, wondering if Kerala is some kind of Republic of Fish Eaters, totally disconnected from vegetarian India.

The only bit where Thakazhi and Ramu Kariat deserve praise is for their willingness to expose the menace of “love jihad” that is spreading all over Kerala. Pareekkutty’s (has to be short for Fareed Kutabbudin) character, played by Madhu, demonstrates the depth to which jihadis go to infiltrate our communities to cause wide-ranging issues ranging from marital discord to economic downturn. This is the only saving grace amongst all the cacophony about “sea”, “karimeen”, “chakara” and immorality that make up the glorified sea-trash called Chemmeen.

[The mock review – an English take on the infamous Janam TV review of Angamaly Diaries – first appeared on the author’s Facebook page. For DailyO, he has provided a preface to explain why Chemmeenwould have seen strong reactions from the ruling regime’s moral police.]

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Why we should not support a ban on Pehredar Piya Ki , or of any other show #Censorship

You can’t cry foul at channels censoring Game Of Thrones or not giving a film certificate to Lipstick Under My Burkha because you like their storylines, even if the government doesn’t
A still from ‘Pehredar Piya Ki’.

A still from ‘Pehredar Piya Ki’.

Almost a month ago, I had written about Sony TV’s new show, Pehredaar Piya Ki, which had appalled me. Not because of its garish sets and poor acting and very loose grasp on logic and reality. But because of its storyline of a 10-year-old Rajput boy whose father arranges his marriage with a 19-year-old Rajput woman, so she can protect him from his extended family, who want to kill him for his property. Of course, the very concerned father could have hired top security to protect the child, but that would make for a very boring serial.

The premise of the serial borders between silly and vile. Because it essentially celebrates child marriage – and poor scriptwriting. It’s also telecast at 8.30pm aimed at primetime family viewing. Which I do have a problem with. Going by how observant and firm parents seem to be with their children nowadays, by airing it at 8.30pm, Sony TV has ensured that child marriage becomes entertainment for the entire family. And yes, it’s true, children are impressionable and a child watching the show may indeed want to marry an 18-year-old woman by the end of it.

But does that mean that the show should be banned? Or that any creative content should be banned for that matter?

Well, people are so outraged that petitions have been floated on asking for the show to be banned. The petition by Mansi Jain states, “A 10-year-old impressionable little kid (”piyaa”) caressing and stalking a lady who’s more than double his age and filling sindoor in her “maang” is being telecasted at prime time, family time. Imagine the kind of influence it will steadily and perpetually infuse in the viewers’ mindset. We want a ban on the serial. We do not want our kids to be influenced by such TV serials”.

While Jain is correct that we do not want our kids or anyone for that matter — including scriptwriters — being influenced by such TV serials, a call for a ban on it seems not only absurd but dangerous as well. Thanks to everyone, including people who are usually against bans by the government, sharing this petition and then sending it to new information & broadcasting minister Smriti Irani, the government has now gotten involved. Remember, this is the same government which has a propensity for enforcing bans — against cow slaughter, beef intake, homosexuality. The list is long. And it needs no encouragement to interfere with what we watch or read or eat or the adults whom we have consensual sex with.

Irani, rising to the demands of the people, has sent the petition to the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) and has asked it to take immediate action against the show on a priority basis.

Once you open the door to requesting — actually demanding — that the government take action on curtailing what we watch or read, it’s a slippery slope. How are the people signing this petition asking for a TV show to be banned, any different from the government banning Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses or Gulzar’s Aandhi or the Bangladeshi government banning Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja? Or more recently, when the Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC) decided that Nawazuddin Siddique’s film, Haraamkhor, did not deserve a certificate because the CBFC felt it glorified sexual relationships between teachers and students. Or when the CBFC decides what we can or can’t watch — from a lesbian sex scene in Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde to Lipstick In My Burkha because it will give wrong ideas to women.

The petition against Pehredaar Piya Ki claims that the show encourages child abuse. I’ve watched the show and other than the intelligence of the audience being abused, there is no other abuse. I have written earlier about how other than for PPK, there are shows such as Balika Vadhu and Udaan with mature storylines which have child protagonists or supporting actors ranging from the age of 2 months to 12 or 13 years at most. Who is monitoring how much these kids are working or where the money they’re being paid, is going? That is child abuse. Not to mention the reality shows with child contestants. As Cine & TV Artistes’ Association (CINTAA) had informed me, there are no laws monitoring the employment or participation of children in TV shows. What needs to be put in place are legal guidelines which are enforced.

If you must petition the government for anything, petition them to implement the CINTAA guidelines. Not to ban shows. TV channels already self-censor foreign shows and bleep out words ranging from “cow” to “beef” and even “Muslim”. A nude statue in the background of Downton Abbey was blurred out in one episode. Why? Because the Indian Broadcasters Federation created a set of self-regulatory guidelines which channels follow blindly. And with good reason.

In 2014, Comedy Central had to go off air after a viewer complained about two shows – Stand Up Club, and Popcorn – which were aired in 2012. Why? Because he was offended. And he managed to get the channel banned for SIX whole days.

Of course, you should be concerned about your children. But if you don’t like the show, ask that the timing be changed — much like Bigg Boss was shifted to a late-night slot to spare us from feeling lobotomised every evening. You can place social media pressure on people to stop watching the show. If TRPs drop, the show will anyway be pulled off air. Criticise, comment, build awareness, shame the producers if you must through these tools – but do not ask for a ban.

Because all bans are equal. You can’t cry foul at channels censoring Game Of Thrones or not giving a film certificate to Lipstick Under My Burkha because you like their storylines, even if the government doesn’t. This is the most counter-productive and self-serving reaction to a programme which deserved nothing more than to be boycotted by audiences and pilloried in the press. Watching Pehredaar Piya Ki is less harmful than the petition asking for it to be banned.–or-of.html

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The architecture of censorship


Gautam Bhatia17 AUGUST 2017 00:02 IST

Censorship exists in India to the extent it does because it is both easy and efficient to accomplish

Independence Day is an occasion to celebrate freedom from a colonial regime that not only cast chains of economic and political bondage upon Indians, but also fettered their freedom to think, dissent, and express themselves without fear. Demands for a right to free speech, and for an end to political, cultural and artistic censorship, were at the heart of our freedom struggle, and which culminated in the celebrated Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. Last week, however, two events revealed that 70 years after Independence, the freedom of speech still occupies a fragile and tenuous place in the Republic, especially when it is pitted against the authority of the State. The first was the Jharkhand government’s decision to ban the Sahitya Akademi awardee Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s 2015 book, The Adivasi Will Not Dance, for portraying the Santhal community “in bad light”. And the second was an order of a civil judge at Delhi’s Karkardooma Court, restraining the sale of Priyanka Pathak-Narain’s new book on Baba Ramdev, titled Godman to Tycoon.

Neither the ban on The Adivasi Will Not Dance, nor the injunction on Godman to Tycoon, are the last words on the issue. They are, rather, familiar opening moves in what is typically a prolonged and often tortuous battle over free speech, with an uncertain outcome. Nevertheless, they reveal something important: censorship exists in India to the extent it does because it is both easy and efficient to accomplish. This is for two allied reasons. First, the Indian legal system is structured in a manner that achieving censorship through law is an almost costless enterprise for anyone inclined to try; and second, the only thing that could effectively counteract this — a strong, judicial commitment to free speech, at all levels of the judiciary — does not exist. Together, these two elements create an environment in which the freedom of speech is in almost constant peril, with writers, artists, and publishers perpetually occupied with firefighting fresh threats and defending slippery ground, rather than spending their time and energy to transgress, challenge and dissent from the dominant social and cultural norms of the day.

The Jharkhand ban

The Jharkhand government’s ban on The Adivasi Will Not Dance followed public protests against the writer, with MLAs calling for a ban on the book on the ground that it insulted Santhal women. The legal authority of the government to ban books flows from Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (which, in turn, was based upon a similarly worded colonial provision). Section 95 authorises State governments to forfeit copies of any newspaper, book, or document that “appears” to violate certain provisions of the Indian Penal Code, such as Section 124A (sedition), Sections 153A or B (communal or class disharmony), Section 292 (obscenity), or Section 295A (insulting religious beliefs). Under Section 96 of the CrPC, any person aggrieved by the government’s order has the right to challenge it before the high court of that State.

The key element of Section 95 is that it allows governments to ban publications without having to prove, before a court of law, that any law has been broken. All that Section 95 requires is that it “appear” to the government that some law has been violated. Once the publication has been banned, it is then up to the writer or publisher to rush to court and try and get the ban lifted.

The CrPC is therefore structured in a manner that is severely detrimental to the interests of free speech. By giving the government the power to ban publications with the stroke of a pen (through a simple notification), the law provides a recipe for overregulation and even abuse: faced with political pressure from influential constituencies, the easiest way out for any government is to accede and ban a book, and then “let the law take its own course”. Furthermore, litigation is both expensive and time-consuming. Section 95 ensures that the economic burden of a ban falls upon the writer or the publisher, who must approach the court. It also ensures that while the court deliberates and decides the matter, the default position remains that of the ban, ensuring that the publication cannot enter the marketplace of ideas during the course of the (often prolonged and protracted) legal proceedings.

The Karkardooma injunction

The most noteworthy thing about the Karkardooma civil judge’s injunction on Godman to Tycoon is that it was granted without hearing the writer or the publisher (Juggernaut Books). In an 11-page order, the civil judge stated that he had given the book a “cursory reading”, and examined the “specific portion” produced by Baba Ramdev’s lawyers in court which he found to be potentially defamatory. On this basis, he restrained the publication and sale of the book.

In this case, it is the judicial order of injunction that is performing the work of Section 95 of the CrPC. Effectively, a book is banned without a hearing. The book then stays banned until the case is completed (unless the writer or publisher manages to persuade the court to lift the injunction in the meantime). Once again, the presumption is against the rights of writers, and against the freedom of speech and expression.

In fact, the Karkardooma civil judge’s injunction order is contrary to well-established principles of free speech and defamation law. Under English common law — which is the basis of the Indian law of defamation — it is recognised that injunctions, which effectively amount to a judicial ban on books, have a serious impact upon the freedom of speech, and are almost never to be granted. The only situation in which a court ought to grant an injunction is if, after hearing both sides in a preliminary enquiry, it is virtually clear that there could be no possible defence advanced by the writer or publisher. The correct remedy, in a defamation case, is not to injunct the book from publication on the first hearing itself, but to have a full-blown, proper trial, and if it is finally proven that defamation has been committed, to award monetary damages to the plaintiff.

In 2011, the High Court of Delhi held that this basic common law rule acquired even greater force in the context of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and reiterated that injunctions did not serve the balance between freedom of speech and a person’s right to reputation. The high court reaffirmed the basic principle of our Constitution: that the presumption always ought to be in favour of the freedom of speech and expression. In this context, the Karkardooma civil judge’s order granting an injunction before even hearing the writer and publisher is particularly unfortunate.

The way forward

While the banning of The Adivasi Will Not Dance reflects the structural flaws in our criminal law that undermine the freedom of speech, the injunction on Godman to Tycoon reveals a different pathology: even where the law is relatively protective of free speech, it will not help if judges — who are tasked with implementing the law — have not themselves internalised the importance of free speech in a democracy.

The first problem is a problem of legal reform. The solution is obvious: to repeal Sections 95 and 96, take the power of banning books out of the hands of the government, and stipulate that if indeed the government wants to ban a book, it must approach a court and demonstrate, with clear and cogent evidence, what laws have been broken that warrant a ban. The second problem, however, is a problem of legal culture, and therefore, a problem of our public culture. It can only be addressed through continuing and unapologetic affirmation of free speech as a core, foundational, and non-negotiable value of our Republic and our Constitution.

Gautam Bhatia, a Delhi-based lawyer, is the author of ‘Offend, Shock, or Disturb: Free Speech Under the Indian Constitution’

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Full Text of Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar’s Independence Day Speech Taken Off DD and AIR

Doordarshan and All India Radio on Tuesday refused to air Tripura CM Manik Sarka’s speech and instead asked him to “reshape” the speech, which he refused.

Is this Why Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar's Independence Day Speech Was Taken Off Doordarshan and All India Radio?
Chief Minister of Tripura Manik Sarkar inspects soldiers on a parade during Independence Day celebrations in Agartala (Getty Images)

“Great values of secularism have helped in keeping Indians together as a nation. But today, this spirit of secularism is under attack. Conspiracies and attempts are underway to create an undesirable complexity and divisions in our society; to invade our national consciousness in the name of religion, caste and community, by inciting passions to convert India into a particular religious country and in the name of protecting the cow.”

Was it passages like these in Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar’s Independence Day speech that led to it being blocked by Doordarshan and All India Radio?

Dear people of Tripura

On the occasion of Independence Day, I convey my greetings and best wishes to you all. I pay my homage to the great memory of the martyrs of India’s freedom struggle. I would also like to offer my profound regards to those freedom fighters who are amongst us today.

Celebration of Independence Day is not just a ceremonial occasion. Keeping in view the historical significance and tremendous emotional attachment to this day for Indians, it has to be treated as an important ceremonial occasion for national introspection.

manik1_081617013034.jpgTripura CM Manik Sarkar. [Photo: Press Trust of India]

Before us on this year’s Independence Day are quite a few relevant, important and contemporary issues.

Unity in diversity is India’s traditional heritage. Great values of secularism have helped in keeping Indians together as a nation. But today, this spirit of secularism is under attack. Conspiracies and attempts are underway to create an undesirable complexity and divisions in our society; to invade our national consciousness in the name of religion, caste and community, by inciting passions to convert India into a particular religious country and in the name of protecting the cow. Because of all these people of minority and Dalit communities are under severe attack. Their sense of security is being shattered. Their life is under peril. These unholy tendencies cannot be harboured or tolerated. These disruptive attempts are contrary to the goals, dreams and ideals of our freedom struggle. The followers of those who were not associated with the Independence movement, rather sabotaged the freedom movement, were servile to the atrocious, plunderer and merciless British, aligned with the anti-national forces having decorated themselves today in different names and colours are striking at the root of unity and integrity of India. Every loyal and patriotic Indian must take the pledge today to remain committed to the ideal of a united India and to counter the attempts towards such destructive conspiracies and attacks. We must all work and collectively strive to ensure security of the Minorities, Dalits and preserve the unity and integrity of our country.

Today, the gulf between the “have” and “have-nots” is speedily widening. Nation’s vast resources and wealth arc being concentrated in the hands of a very few. A large majority of our people are suffering from poverty. These people are the victims of inhuman exploitation. They are being deprived of food, shelter, clothing, education, health care and security of job for assured income. This is contrary to the aims and objectives of our Independence struggle. Our current national policies are squarely responsible for this state of affairs. Such anti-people policies shall have to be reversed. But words alone will not achieve this. For this, we need the deprived and the suffering Indians to arise, become vocal and to protest fearlessly, collectively in a ceaseless manner. We definitely need an alternative policy that serves the interests of the vast majority of Indians. To bring this alternative policy into reality, the deprived and suffering Indians need to take a pledge on this Independence Day to launch an economic, political and social movement unitedly in a broadway.

The mounting problem of unemployment has created a sense of despondency and gloom in our national psyche. On one hand, lakhs of employed are losing their jobs. On the other hand, crores of unemployed youth are waiting for jobs, which is nothing but like a mirage to them. It is not possible to solve this gigantic national problem without reversing the national economic policies which work to strengthen the very small group of profiteering corporates, and without increasing the purchasing power of the common people of India. Hence, the students, youth and working classes will have to take a pledge on this Independence Day to launch a collective and continuous movement to reverse these destructive policies.

In contrast to the anti-people policies of the government at the Centre, the State government of Tripura despite its limitations has been pursuing policies for the welfare of people in all walks of life with a special focus on the downtrodden and to advance forward with their cooperation. This is a totally different and an alternative path. This path has been able to not only attract the people of Tripura but also elicit a positive response of the downtrodden people of our country. This is not being tolerated by the reactionary forces here in Tripura. Hence, conspiracies are being hatched up one after another by the enemies of the people to disturb peace, fraternity and integrity of the State. And at the same time attempts are on to disrupt the realm of developmental works. We need to counter all these unholy designs and isolate the reactionary forces. In this background, on this Independence Day, all the right thinking, peace loving and development seeking people of Tripura need to take a determined pledge to come forward and to work unitedly against such disruptive forces.

Going by Sitaram Yechury’s tweet, it would seem so. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary claimed that the speech was blacked out “after orders from Delhi” and attached the text of the speech with his tweet.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

The text of the Independence Day speech by Tripura CM, Manik Sarkar: blacked out by DD & AIR after orders from Delhi. 

The Left Front government engaged in a war of words with Prasar Bharti on Tuesday, when they refused to broadcast Sarkar’s Independence Day speech on Doordarshan and All India Radio. The broadcasters instead asked the CM and his government to “reshape” the speech, which they refused.

“Because of all these, people of Minority and Dalit communities are under severe attack. Their sense of security is being shattered. Their life is under peril. These unholy tendencies cannot be harboured or tolerated.” “The followers of those who were not associated with the independence movement, rather sabotaged the freedom movement, were servile to the atrocious, plunderer and merciless British, aligned with the anti-national forces having decorated themselves today in different names and colours are striking at the root of unity and integrity of India.” Yechury further tweeted that

Neither Modi’s cronies at Prasar Bharti nor BJP or RSS, have any locus standi to decide on what an elected CM of a state speaks on August 15

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Pahlaj Nihalani’s removal marks the end of an anachronistic tool in the hands of an uncultured brigade

If there is one thing that irks a regime — however much it may deny it and makes a virtue out of being an unsophisticated boor – it is being accused of being an unsophisticated boor.

Things have thankfully changed quite a lot since Culture, with a capital C, was the monopoly of a particular kind of aesthetics and its custodians. It was elitist, patronising, turning its nose up to popular culture, and came wrapped in expensive handlooms and was regularly seen – and seeing itself being seen — in the international film and cultural festival circuit.

Today, that brand of Culture has a name that sticks: Lutyens’ Culture — in hindsight, a curious division of the high arts and the low arts, its height being determined by the nature and class of its consumers and patrons.

Like the revenge of the nerds, however, when this social, cultural and political class started to recede into the background – rather it stood still while the rest of the world moved into the foreground – the new lot of culture-keepers who took over started having their own notions of Culture poured into the old silos built by the ancien, now un-empowdered regime.

While earlier, under Nehru-Gandhi rule and taste, cultural requirements for the masses were seen purely from the point of view of required entertainment, like gladiator fights during the Roman Empire to keep hoi polloi happy – and not bored enough to think up of dangerous stuff like insurrection. This was distinct from the finer stuff that the Culturewallas saw themselves (and were seen) hardwired to appreciate.

So Peter Brook’s theatre production of Mahabharata was the talk of the town. While Ramanand Sagar’s gaudy pre-Ekta Kapoor TV serial Ramayan was the fodder of the nation. The ban on the import of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in 1988 during the Rajiv Gandhi government (the possession of the book itself was not banned by a ‘liberal, literate’ government, of course) after a bunch of Muslim clerics went loco, was appeasement as much of the ‘Muslim electorate’, as of the unsophisticated redneck dehati.

But in all this grand separation of Indian Culture was the nervousness of the culturati about the unwashed masses, slowly waking up to the virtues of branded soaps and deodorants, storming Lutyens’ Bastille via some cultural slight, some aesthetic transgression. Thus, the honing of that colonial device that earlier kept a colonised class in check, now being used to ostensibly keep the peace of the land, the passions of a polyphonic in check: the censor board.

Well, of course, post-Independence, the institution of the censor board would be called something suitably post-colonising – Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). This was as benign-sounding as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. And yet, its function, over the years, has been crystal clear: to control passions from spilling over. With film being the most directly impressionable of cultural tools available to literate, literary or illiterate man, it was controlling the knobs and buttons of the CBFC that has come to become the dominant agency by which to keep the nation safe from marauding mobs and villagers with pitchforks easily susceptible to getting their sentiments hurt.

Which is when the change in the kind of people in power mirrored a change in the nature of control and censorship. If earlier, the authorities caved in to demands of ransacking goons who saw an MF Husain painting only in pornographic terms, if only to ‘keep the nation safe’, it had, of late, become an exercise in the nation’s taste-building. And no one personified this more proactively than CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani.

The litany of don’ts in movies became so long and weary that it really doesn’t bear repetition. But one of the last calls the CBFC made during his tenure that ended on Friday, was the CBFC’s objections to the words ‘cow’, ‘Gujarat’, ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hindutva’ in a documentary on the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, ‘The Argumentative Indian’ that was scheduled for release last month.

That Nihalani and his cultural marms were overreaching their brief even by usual Indian standards of overreach became clear when such a film – not exactly a cinema-filler – was targeted as if the CBFC’s whole point was to search and snip, search and snip, even the most irrelevant content.

The BJP government, carrying a reputation for allowing self-styled critics to do more than air their criticism, was now really looking silly. For a country that has Internet access on their phones growing every day, that has the old divide between ‘vernacular-speakers’ and ‘English-speakers’ shrink faster than shrink-wrap, for a prime governmental body to not just play ‘kabab mein haddi’ to young Indian men and women, but also actually outdo previous regimes by engaging in ‘pre-emptive appeasement’ came across as downright boorish and uncultured.

The appointment of Prasoon Joshi, admired as a scriptwriter and lyricist, could have been the only antidote to his predecessor’s uncultured goonery. Joshi is the right person to also underline the fact that the division of high and low culture has become a false one. Perhaps, under his stewardship, the censor board will do what any modern, grown-up nation does with its film certification institution: decide what films are unsuitable for kids to watch and certify them as ‘adult’. And that’s it.

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Statement against the online and offline attacks on Santal writer Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

Award-winning Santal author Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, who has written the acclaimed novel The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey (2014) and a collection of stories, The Adivasi Will Not Dance (2015), both works of fiction that explore the Adivasi life, suddenly finds himself thick in the middle of a vicious controversy. A group of Adivasis in Jharkhand, where he works as a government medical officer in the town of Pakur, have launched an online and offline campaign against him and his writing, which, they claim, objectify and exploit Adivasi women. His writings, they contest, is pure “porn” and run down Adivasi culture.

The controversy has caught the attention of local newspapers in Jharkhand, with reports stating that in a meeting his detractors  set a date and time – August 4, at 11 am – to burn Shekhar’s effigy and copies of both his books at a park in Pakur.

Several Adivasi writers and academics, meanwhile, have taken note of the online campaign and the offline threats – including a parody page called “Pornocopeia” on Facebook – calling for a boycott of his books. A group of supporters has written a joint statement rejecting “this cultural gatekeeping and thought and moral policing” and trace the beginnings of what they call a “smear campaign”.

The Statement

Turning Facebook into a make-believe court of tradition and customary law, some self-appointed “defenders” of Adivasi cultural and literary heritage – some of whom are not even Adivasi – believe they’ve levied the ultimate insult to a Santal author: pornstar, porn king, and porn writer. Adding emoticons to their declaration on July 16, 2017, the group tagged the author in question, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, a Sahitya Akademi Award-winning Santal writer.

Denunciations of Shekhar and his works have been issued in the most degrading manner, because according to this group (Ivy Imogene Hansdak, Sunder Manoj Hembrom, Francis Xavier Soren, Santosh Besra, Shirijol Dingra, Alakjari Murmu, Inncocent Soren, Tonol Murmu, Raj Kumar, Ashwini Kumar Pankaj, Gladson Dungdung and others) he has defamed Santal or Adivasi culture with his “pornographic” writing. This soon escalates into calls for bitlaha – ex-communication and lynching within the Santal people.

A letter was sent off to Sahitya Akademi on July 20, 2017, questioning the criteria used to award the Yuva Puraskar, 2015, to Shekhar’s The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskeyclaiming that as conferring this award “showed serious lack of sensitivity towards the tribal people of India”.

Even if Shekhar’s novel was the only submission for the awards in 2015, the jury would have had to read it to judge it. They read the 224 pages, 60,000-word novel, including the 1,075 words incidental to the storyline that contribute to the “unmentionable acts” (sexual activity) in three sections, and found enough merit in the narrative for the award.

The citation reads: “Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey is a novel about Santal life written from the perspective of an insider. The narrative weaves the warp and weft of Santal life in an idiom that is fresh, intimate and original. The characters in the novel are life-like and vivid and stay with the readers. His experiment and innovation with language is something that will remain a kind of milestone for new writers…”

Are we going to hold the jury accountable for not dismissing the novel and judging it solely on its 1,075 words describing sexual relations? The protestors can surely excuse this gross oversight.

Pornography is not just what the Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory defines, as Ivy Hansdak quotes in her letter to the Sahitya Akademi, but also what an individual sets as a threshold to what is acceptable to them in terms of sanction, deviance and limits in sexual activity. Hansdak forgets to mention that the dictionary cites as pornography important literary works such as Ars Amatoria by Ovid and Boccaccio’s Decameron. It even discusses pornographic elements in the Old Testament. Has Hansdak read these or does she intend to denounce them as well?

If the paragraph from Shekhar’s book quoted in the letter offends or sexually provokes the protesters, there’s little that those who do not have the same reaction can do. What and whose standards are they using to aver that “the sexual activity appears to be abnormal and deviant”? Why is sex unclean or unspeakable? Do we denigrate Marang Buru (the principal supernatural being of the Santals) for his role in getting the first Santal man and woman (Pilcu Haram and Pilcu Budhi) to engage in sex for procreation? Are we going to judge those who engage in sexual activity for reasons other than procreation?

The first time Shekhar was on a Facebook trial for his writings and this award by this very group was in 2015, when a Hindi translation of his story November is the Month of Migrations from his collection of short storiesThe Adivasi Will Not Dance was reviewed by Ashwini Kumar Pankaj, a non-Adivasi who called the story a denigration of Adivasi women and society, among many other allegations. The version that Pankaj read of November is the Month of Migrations was an unofficial Hindi translation published in the Adivasi Pratibha Ki Khoj, the special issue number 146 of the Hindi literary magazine Yudhrat Aam Aadmi, founded and edited by former trade union leader and MLA Ramnika Gupta.

Pankaj formed an opinion not only of the story but also of the character of the author from this single translation and accused the author in the choicest of words, highlighting the author’s profession as a doctor, in a short note accompanying the unofficial Hindi translation republished in the website AsurNation, a website created in the name of the Asur Adivasis.

We had a ringside view of this vilification and soon realised that the protesting group had not even read his works. For example, they were circulating a page of the story Semen, Saliva, Sweat, Blood stating it belonged to Shekhar’s book The Adivasi Will Not Dance. Activist Gladson Dungdung started circulating this page certifying, “the author was a porn writer”. If they’d read either or any of his works, they’d have known the stories were from two separate books – Semen, Saliva, Sweat, Blood is from the anthology Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories II published in 2012. A Facebook confession from Ivy Hansdak last week shows the works being judged without being read:

“Yes, even i don’t have the nerve to read his second book bc i heard horrible things about it. I only have the first novel which i bought out of curiosity” (July 19 at 2:46 pm)

So their initial calls for revoking the Sahitya Akademi award in 2015 were misplaced too: November Is the Month of Migrations and Semen, Saliva, Sweat, Blood are not from the book that won the award. They didn’t care about fact-checking. This circulation was deceiving and misleading – or perhaps intentionally so.

This group could have taken their objections to the author directly and engaged with him in an open-minded manner. Instead they chose to mock him with pejoratives such as “pornstar”, discussed his looks, sexuality, made homophobic taunts, commented on his last name written first, called him a rapist, sick-pervert, mental patient, a danger to female patients, intimidated him with threats of social and literary boycott, excommunication, bodily harm, doing harm to his job, and calls for the public burning of his books.

The online barrage of insults and threats then was transferred to Shekhar’s Facebook friends, people they didn’t even know. They sneered at them for appreciating his “porn”, asked one to recreate a sex scene with the author, film it and post it online. They made Islamophobic comments about the supposedly Muslim male Hindi translator of the story published in Yudhrat Aam Aadmi.

We passed the story November Is the Month of Migrationsaround to several Santals and other Adivasi friends and asked for their reactions.

All of them, without exception, said the story was painful, disturbing and sad, which made them reflect on the difficult, complex lives our Adivasi women live. This story could be about exploitation, choices borne of desperate conditions or free will, but all it did was evoke tears, a lump in the throat and profound grief. Not one of the readers said the story sexually aroused them. Doesn’t this reaction betray the definition of pornography they quote and the accusations of him?

Also, this was not the first time an Adivasi author had written a fictional piece about Santal women engaging in sex work. In an unpublished Santali short story, Mit Pai Caole – (One pai of rice), written in January 1970, the author, who went by the pseudonym Bir Baha, wrote a first person account of his maiden visit to Dumka and overhearing a conversation of Santal women displaced by the Masanjore Dam trading in sex. Bir Baha writes about a group of Santal women complaining about one of them named Cundki who had “jeopardised the rate” by working for as little as “ath ana” (50 paise). Cundki responds to this allegation by saying, “Ath ana can get us at least a pai of rice.”

This story and Shekhar’s story show that even after nearly 50 years, the situation for some Santal women in the Santal Pargana has not really changed. So how is Shekhar “pimping the adivasi woman for diku (non-tribal) consumption”? He has just stated a fact. Yet, far-fetched allegations roll off the tongues of the protesters effortlessly and with complete impunity.

Some critique Shekhar’s work as not portraying an Adivasi philosophy and worldview, especially Pankaj. Where is the Adivasi edict that prescribes what a writer should write or not and how to do so? Are Adivasis only meant to comment on their ways, customs and traditions? Do they not have the permission to explore themes in their own style and language? Can they not have an opinion on the world outside of them, world politics, science or whatever they please?

Moreover, which Adivasi philosophy allows for bullying and persecuting an Adivasi and his works, inciting the community against him and verbally assaulting anyone who tries to defend him? Is there an Adivasi ideology that promotes memes and cartoons to reinforce a prejudice against the author and his works, dragging in others from the publishing industry too into attempts at humour?

If there is anyone showing a “serious lack of sensitivity towards the tribal people of India” it is they – these trolls, both Adivasi and non-Adivasi, who are vilifying Shekhar. No matter what, they will find fault in Shekhar’s writings and his so-called “dirty” mind as they’re on a self-declared warpath to salvage Santal/Adivasi society.

There is also the accusation that “he has no literary merit, his English is sub-standard”. They’re going after him with no rationale (or a disproportionate one.) They’re now politicising Shekhar’s use of the name of a character in Semen, Saliva, Sweat, Blood, blaming him for using the name of a leader of the Jharkhand movement deliberately to defame him.

Shekhar’s disteactors even accuse him of a “major distortion of the Santal creation myth (Karam-Binti)…” These erudite protestors forget that we come from an oral tradition and that there are several versions of the Karam-Binti which are different from the written versions. There are Santals who say some sequences in the creation narrative are missing or not recognisable in the printed versions. Do they intend to say that these Santals are not the “true” Santals because their belief of the myth is different from that of the objectors? They’re using the arrogance of printed text to subjugate people of orality, like the “diku”s have been doing.

Their aim is nothing but provocation. They’ve been trying all the permutations and combinations in their desperate attempts to garner support for their supposed “movement”. They’ve made a bogeyman out of Shekhar and his works.

When we ask people supporting the protesters’ misleading narrative to read his work first, they respond, “No, no, we don’t read such stuff.” They have slandered his artistry just because they can. As for their own readings of his works, it is almost like they’re doing a speed-reading of his books and stories, digging for keywords to be incensed with, instead of reading a story without prejudice.

How are their inflammatory, threatening words and intent not reinforcing the stereotypes of tribals being “primitive savages”? Might we say this – some of their opinions and manner of speaking confirm this stereotype. If there’s anyone making generalisations about Santals, it’s this group, who think they speak for all Adivasis or Santals. Their letter to the Sahitya Akademi is certainly not “on behalf of the tribal people of India”.

Repeating that Shekhar is objectifying Santal women does not make it true. Echoing the same accusation only amounts only to propaganda. It is they who are sensationalising the narrative. If telling a story of a Santal woman and describing a sex scene is objectification, then they are missing the point. But we know all of them have turned tone-deaf to any reasoning.

Writing is not a crime, even if it were pornographic, so there is no reason to turn Shekhar into a villain. No one is forcing anyone to read material that offends their modesty. Those who claim to protect the purity of the community, by wearing blinders and dismissing the ground realities of the everyday battles our men, women and children encounter and fight, are not heroes. Their puritanical beliefs are their responsibility alone and they should not make martyrs of themselves. It is time to turn the mirror inward.

We reject this cultural gatekeeping and thought and moral policing. Hansdak, Hembrom, Pankaj and the others’ attempts to indoctrinate and mislead people are condemnable. George Orwell called such people the “thought police,” a retrograde repressive force oppressing free will and thinking.

There is no justification for these venomous attacks and this maliciousness. This Adivasi group has shown the worst of themselves and our “educated class”, which is doing more disservice and “damage” to our Adivasi community than Shekhar’s writing ever could.

In 2007 Shekhar addressed the violence against the Adivasis in Assam in a national newspaper. He was a student then. He is the same author who, last year, jeopardised his job with the government of Jharkhand when he wrote against the anti-Adivasi domicile policy in Jharkhand.

We, the undersigned Adivasis strongly condemn these literary activists and self-styled guardians of Adivasi culture and morality, their hypocrisy, acts of provoking the community and their smear campaign against author Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar.

  • Ashish Birulee, Journalist and Photographer
  • Lipika Singh Darai, Filmmaker
  • Zoba Hansdah, Research Scholar, TISS, Mumbai
  • Ruby Hembrom, Founder, adivaani
  • Priyanka Priyadarshini Marandi, Research Scholar, IIT Delhi
  • Sneha Mundari, Filmmaker
  • Seral Murmu, Filmmaker
  • Akash Poyam, Founder, Adivasi Resurgence
  • Priyanka Purty, Student, IIT Bombay
  • Nora Samad, Program Assistant, Eklavya
  • Priyanka Sandilya, Research Scholar, TISS, Tuljapur
  • Sujit Kumar Soren, Director, Santali Academy, Sido-Kanhu Murmu University
  • Aashish Xaxa, PhD Scholar, TISS Mumbai

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Book by Sowvendra Shekhar Hansda -The Adivasi Will Not Dance banned

Sowvendra Shekhar Hansda is under fire for allegedly portraying Santhal women in poor light


Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

Ranchi, Aug. 11: The Jharkhand government has banned an almost two-year-old collection of short stories by the winner of a Sahitya Akademi award for young writers on the ground that it portrayed Santhal women in a bad light and could provoke a backlash.

The Adivasi Will Not Dance, a collection of 10 short stories in English, was written by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, 34, a doctor based in Pakur, 400km from Ranchi.

Ever since the book was published in November 2015, Hansda has been the target of a troll onslaught online, with some critics accusing him of writing porn to denigrate tribal culture. Hansda himself traces his roots to the tribal community.

Last week, Hansda’s effigy was burnt in Pakur and earlier this week, the Jharkhand special branch sent a confidential note to the state home secretary saying Santhals were angered by Hansda’s writings and the situation could turn volatile.

This morning, the Opposition JMM’s Sita Soren, a Santhal legislator, raised the issue in the Assembly without naming the book, saying its contents insulted Santhal women. Immediately, her brother-in-law and leader of the Opposition Hemant Soren called for a ban on the book.

Hemant Soren, leader of Opposition and acting chief of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, supported Tudu’s contention and demanded that action be taken against Hansda as he was a government doctor.
Holding that the sentiment of the entire House, across party lines, was in favour of action against Hansda, BJP chief whip in the Assembly Radha Krishna Kishore said: “The matter requires action under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.”

Presenting the government’s stand on the matter in the House, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Saryu Roy said: “The government is aware of the development and was already planning action in this regard.” The Deputy Commissioner of Pakur has been asked to inquire into the matter and take strict action, he told the House. He, however, rejected Soren’s proposal to bring the book in the House, saying it was a case where the book should be banned.

In the evening, chief minister and BJP leader Raghubar Das asked chief secretary Rajbala Verma to seize all copies of the book and start legal proceedings against Hansda. A directive added that the book should neither be sold nor promoted or circulated in any way.

Hansda could not be reached for comment tonight. A few days ago, he had told The Telegraph that one of his stories that was being labelled pornographic, November Is the Month of Migration, chronicled how hunger made a Santhal girl take a desperate measure.

“She surrenders to a man for money as she wanted to eat something. Extreme poverty pushes many to desperation,” he had said.

Hansda had won the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar for his debut novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, in 2015.

Nayantara Sahgal, among the authors who have condemned the attempts to hound Hansda online, today said: “In a democratic society, no government has the right to ban a book someone disagrees with.”


According to the news report, the third story in Hansda’s book The Adivasi Will Not Dance talks about a Santhal woman who agrees to go to bed with a man in exchange for food. The report also mentions that the Home Department has been informed about anger prevailing in Santhal Pargana region due to the book. Some tribal groups have burnt effigies and taken out marches in protest.

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Baba Ramdev seeks Ban on Godman to Tycoon #Censorship


Ramdev seeks ban on city author’s book
The book traces the arc of self-styled godman and business tycoon Baba Ramdev’s (above) life
A Delhi court’s interim injunction on sale of ‘Godman to Tycoon’ was passed without representation from the publishers and author.

Yoga guru Ramdev is not a man unused to having books written about him. In the last decade there have been several of them, including ‘The Life and Times of Baba Ramdev’, by Raj Ashok in 2010, and Kaushik Deka’s ‘The Baba Ramdev Phenomenon: From Moksha to Market’, which released last year. A week ago, though, about a fortnight after its release, a local court in Delhi restrained publishers Juggernaut Books from publication and sale of Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev. The order was passed ex-parte, that is, without hearing either the publisher, or the author Priyanka Pathak-Narain.

According to the Delhi-based Juggernaut, the order was passed exparte “in order to avoid the delay which would be caused during the process of serving the notice and hearing the defendants”. In a press release issued yesterday, the publisher said, “We have received an intimation and copy of the order on August 10, 2017 and have complied with it immediately thereafter.” The publisher will move the court to vacate the injunction.

Speaking to this newspaper, Mumbai-based journalist Pathak-Narain said that she was flummoxed at the placing of the injunction by Ramdev on the sale of the book. “There was no indication that a thing like this would happen, especially because this is not the first time someone is writing a book on him. It came out of the blue,” said Pathak-Narain. “Everything that is in the book has been meticulously researched, and attributed. I met him and Acharya Balkrishna while working on my book, and my meeting with them was very cordial. Ramdev was pretty forthcoming.”

Godman to Tycoon… traces the arc of the self-styled godman and business tycoon’s life, right from his birth in Said Alipur, in Mahendranagar, Haryana – he was born Ram Kisan Yadav – to his takeover of television channel Aastha India and the rise of Patanjali Ayurved, among the country’s fastest growing FMCG brands. Ramdev set up Patanjali Ayurved along with his close associate Acharya Balkrishna in 2006. The company had a turnover of Rs 10,561 crore in 2016-17.

Pathak-Narain told Mirror that her book is as much about the people who have been associated with Ramdev as the yoga guru himself. “There has been a lot written on him. In a way, he is overexposed. That is why the book is about the stories told about him by people who have worked with him and knew him. That was how I connected the dots.”

Twitterati were quick to lambast Ramdev’s move yesterday. Shashi Tharoor, the Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, tweeted: “As we defend #FreedomOfThePress we need to defend Freedom of Book Publishers in India too!” The order of exparte interim injunction restrains Juggernaut Books, the author, and also the printer and e-tailers Amazon and Flipkart. “As the matter is sub judice, we cannot comment on the merits of the case.

However, we stand by our book, will defend the case and will move the court to vacate the injunction,” Juggernaut said in a press statement. Attempts by this newspaper to get in touch with Ramdev’s lawyer Pramod Nagar were unsuccessful.

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India blocks access to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine #Censorship


In what is an inexplicable instance of censorship, India appears to have blocked access to the Internet Archive (also known as the Internet Wayback Machine). The block seems to be new, and is currently propagating. We checked, and on visiting via Airtel (Delhi, mobile) and MTNL (Delhi, wireline) connections, we’re getting the following boilerplate blocking message:

“Your requested URL has been blocked as per the directions received from the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India. Please contact administrator for more information.”

MediaNama has reached out to the Internet Archive for comment.

On MTNL (Delhi): At times the site works, and at times it shows a typical blocking message. Perhaps the block hasn’t been implemented fully yet.

On Airtel (Delhi): the site is blocked, and there’s an Airtel ad being shown.

The Internet Wayback Machine is among the most important sites on the Internet: it’s a non profit which has been archiving the web for over 20 years now. As of October 2016, it had archived over 510 billion time-stamped web objects, including 273 billion webpages from over 361 million websites, taking up 15 petabytes of storage.The site allows users to archive web pages, access archived webpages for free, and also hosts a large amount of free content, including music which is out of copyright, movies, videos, software etc. According to Wikipedia, it hosts “nearly three million public-domain books.”

Note that several UIDAI related documents, which have been otherwise removed from their website, are accessible on the Internet Archive.

A series of tweets from Anand Venkatanarayanan pointing toward UIDAI documents archived at the Internet Archive here.

How you can help:

  • We’re trying to get a copy of the blocking order, so if you have it, please do email me at [email protected]
  • Leave a comment with details of your ISP, City and whether you’re accessing via Internet or mobile Internet, and whether the link is working for you. The link for the Internet Archive: here.

On India and Blocking

As I’d mentioned in 2013, we need more transparency from the government of India when it comes to blocks. In this instance, we know that a site has been blocked, and who has ordered the block, but there are two aspects missing: why has the website been blocked, and what is the recourse for getting the block removed: there is not email address or phone number mentioned for the administrator. We won’t even know whether the block is because of a court order, or is it a ministry decision. There is clear lack of transparency from both the government of India, which does not publish a list of blocked pages, nor is the ISP clarifying any of these concerns.

Lack of transparency leads to lack of trust. Transparency will ensure accountability from government and ISPs.

India blocks access to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine

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Stories on Amit Shah’s Assets, Smriti Irani’s ‘Degree’ Vanish From TOI, DNA


TOI Amit Shah Smriti Irani assets educational qualification

New Delhi: A story carried by the Times of Indias Ahmedabad edition about an apparent increase of “300%” in BJP president Amit Shah’s assets over the past five years was removed from the the paper’s website within hours of being published on Saturday. No explanation has been given and no editor is willing to take responsibility for having pulled the plug on the news item.

The story, which reported how Shah’s assets had grown by 300% between 2012 – when he last filed a declaration as part of his nomination papers for the Gujarat assembly election – and 2017, also noted that textiles and information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani has clarified in her affidavit that she has not yet completed her Bachelor of Commerce course.

Excerpt from Smriti Irani's 2004 election affidavit. The full affidavit may be accessed at the ADR website.

Excerpt from Smriti Irani’s 2004 election affidavit. The full affidavit may be accessed at the ADR website.

In her 2014 election affidavit for the Lok Sabha seat, when she fought against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at Amethi, she had entered, under the education qualifications column, ‘B. Com. Part 1, School of Correspondence, Delhi University, 1994’.

She had made the same entry in her affidavit for election to the Rajya Sabha in 2011. Curiously, in her affidavit for the 2004 Lok Sabha election, which she fought from Chandni Chowk in New Delhi, she wrote: ‘BA. 1996. Delhi University. School of Correspondence’.

The Times of India story was also initially carried by the websites of the TOI‘s sister publications Navbharat Times (NBT) and Economic Times (ET) before being taken down from there too.

Also read: Leaked Message Throws Spotlight on Finance Ministry, Conflict of Interest of TOI Editor

Times of India editors whom The Wire contacted said they had no information about the article but also requested that they not be identified. A message to the top management of Bennet Coleman and Company Ltd, which owns the newspapers, remained unanswered at the time of publication of this story.

TOI Amit Shah Smriti Irani assets educational qualification

The Times of India (Ahmedabad edition) story which mysteriously vanished from the newspaper’s websites on Saturday.

The information about Shah’s assets and the latest iteration of Irani’s controversial educational qualifications was acquired from public affidavits filed by Shah and Irani, who are contesting for the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat.

Affidavits filed by Shah in 2012 and 2007 also showed an increase of over Rs 6 crore in his assets during that 5-year period.

In a sign that TOI pulled the Shah-Irani story in response to external ‘stimulus’ and not internal review, similar news item published on July 29 by DNA‘s print edition was also deleted from its website.

DNA Amit Shah Smriti Irani assets educational qualification
The story is, however, still available in DNA’s e-paper:

DNA Amit Shah Smriti Irani assets educational qualification

Clip of story on Amit Shah’s assets which appeared in DNA on Saturday, July 29, 2017.

This isn’t the first instance of the Times Group deleting stories without informing its readers of the reasons. Ironically, a report on India’s low ranking on the World Press Freedom index was pulled down from the TOI and ET websites in May. When News Laundry contacted the then editor, Prasad Sanyal, to know why they decided to pull down the article, they were informed that it was the media house’s ‘editorial prerogative’.

Also read: TOI Slammed for ‘Fake News’ Linking Missing JNU Student Najeeb Ahmed to ISIS

The Wire has also learned that TOI decided to delete its tweets and Facebook posts alerting readers to another story involving Smriti Irani: ‘PIL accuses Smriti Irani of fraud in MPLAD funds’. Irani is believed to have objected to the story, which appeared on July 27, 2019.

Last week, the Hindustan Times took down an opinion piece published on its website by one of its highly-regarded columnists, Sushil Aaron. The article, which was sharply critical of the effect the Modi government has had on India’s ability to deal with pressure from China, was restored after a social media backlash. A query from The Wire to the newspaper’s owner-editor, Shobhana Bhartia, on the day the article was deleted went unanswered.

Note: An earlier version of this story mentioned that Outlook India’s Hindi website has also removed their story on Amit Shah’s assets. The story still displays on the phone via Google’s accelerated media pages (AMP) but searching for a string of text from the AMP version generates a headline in Google News and a link to the Outlook site which displays an error.

Outlook Amit Shah Affidavit

Stories on Amit Shah’s Assets, Smriti Irani’s ‘Degree’ Vanish From TOI, DNA

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