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Archives for : Censorship

India – Online posts can put you in Jail ,but you can get away with death threats

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Hindutva Radicals Vandalise ‘Game of Ayodhya’ Film Director’s House, Threaten to Kill Him #FOE

Anuja Jaiswal| TNN |

Agra: A group of protesting right-wing activists allegedly blackened the wall of the residence of Sunil Singh, director of the controversial movie ‘Games of Ayodhya’, in Aligarh on Sunday. They also put a lock on the gate of his house, as a mark of protest against the release of the movie.

Protests against the movie have gained momentum in Aligarh over the past week. The movie is slated for release on December 8.

According to police officials, personnel from three police stations along with Rapid Action Force were deployed outside the director’s house to avoid any untoward incident. However, except a security guard, no one was present at the house when the protest took place.

Renu Singh, additional city magistrate (ACM) II, who arrived at the spot, said the situation was under control.

Talking to TOI, director Sunil Singh, who is also the national president of Lok Dal expressed shock at the incident. He said, “The people who did this are self-proclaimed arbiters of religion. Police should have prevented them from committing these acts. If the Censor Board has approved the movie, who are they to stop its release? They are threatening to kill me and set fire to my house, and police has been keeping mum.”

Singh claimed that the movie is based on “truth” and there are no distortions in it, as being claimed by some. “These so-called Hintutva activists are not ready to accept the truth, but people need to know the truth behind the events,” he said. Singh added that he was trying to get the movie screened at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) before its release in theatres and he was in touch with university authorities.

“The purpose behind screening the movie at AMU is to clarify to the other community that there is nothing against them in the movie,” Singh said.

However, university authorities claimed that they were not aware of any plans for screening the movie in the campus and maintained that they would not allow it.

Yogesh Varshney, city president of Hindu Jagran Manch in Aligarh said that they would not allow the movie to be released in Aligarh. He said, “Today we have blackened the wall of Singh’s house. If he doesn’t back down, we will kill him.”

Aligarh senior superintendent of police (SSP) Rajesh Pandey said that police will file an FIR if any complaint is received regarding the incident.

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Naseeruddin Shah- ‘Is our faith so small that it gets endangered by a movie?’ #SundayReading

Film bans, censorship and death threats — the veteran actor says it like it is!

Naseeruddin Shah is known to speak his mind. This actor doesn’t mince words or thoughts — a rare quality these days. While there’s plenty on his mind all the time, right now, he’s irked about Nude, a Marathi film that features him, and the ire it’s facing, owing to its title and supposed content. In a conversation with BT, the actor makes a terse point about how the definition of freedom of speech has changed over the years, and how we have lost our sense of humour with it. Excerpts:

Nude was dropped from the list of films that were screened in the Indian Panorama section at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which led to an outrage. What do you make of it?

It’s absurd! The reason they gave, finally, after much begging, is that it’s an incomplete film, which is absolute rubbish because several times, films are sent to festivals as work-in-progress copies. I don’t think anyone even knows what the film is all about. They’ve simply recoiled at the mention of the title. I think it’s an appropriate title and the film deserves to be seen. It’s arbitrary and scary that the government has now decided to assume the role of a censor.


Naseeruddin Shah



What do you think has triggered all this?

Nude has not even been seen by the Censor Board, they’ve just recently passed the trailer. I feel Pahlaj Nihalani was only a mouthpiece. That his reasoning was completely idiotic is a different matter. This is an age of moral policing and prudery. Look at the rising number of young couples being harassed on the roads, or even the way Mithali Raj and Priyanka Chopra were trolled for merely wearing a skirt and a dress. Sania Mirza has been a regular target for these people. We live in scary times. Are these the things we should be getting habituated to? We can’t expect the film industry to come out in support of movies like S Durga and Nude, can we?

But during the Udta Punjab controversy, sections of the film industry did come out in support of it…

(Cuts in) Let’s see how many come out in support of Padmavati. No one has spoken yet. Just how thinskinned have we become that we take offense against just about anything. Is our faith so small that it gets endangered by a movie? Are our beliefs that fragile that the world will start believing a movie, and not what has come down as legend? How insecure are we? Today, when thousands are rising in protest, I wonder how easily our sensibilities can be flamed.

What runs across your mind when you hear threats to maim and behead people being made on public platforms?

What is frightening is that none of these people have really bothered to see the film. They are just determined to crush anything that has a whiff of an independent sensibility. For God’s sake, it’s just a movie! That is the trouble with our country. Our audience swallows so much crap because they think that the actors and technicians were out on a holiday while making a movie. I am not a part of Padmavati, and neither have I seen it, but I’ve seen Bhansali’s work. He puts his all into the film.

Most people who’re commenting about Nude also have probably not seen the film. Do you think it’s a reactionary syndrome where people act merely on what they hear?

It’s beyond comprehension for me. Probably, it’s just the title in case of Nude. These days, it’s difficult to make a small film like Nudewithout facing issues like money and time crunches. We expect a more enlightened reaction from the government. People believe a film like S Durga is defaming the goddess, as if there is no other girl by that name. There are so many books that mock the Bible and aspects of Christianity. We had also banned Jesus Christ Super Star (a stage musical that faced a ban for about 25 years). We’re the protectors of every government’s faith, or so it seems, whether they care or not. Some people are convinced that what they are doing — threats of arson and all — is right. They are misguided people. I’m sure we have an equal number of people who feel alienated from this kind of philosophy.

Years ago, we could make a film like Bombay with relative ease, although it also had its share of controversies. Do you think one can attempt a film like that today?

Today, you can’t even shoot the last scene of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, let alone a film like Bombay. Why? It’s because we’ve clearly lost our sense of humour. What everyone talks about till date is Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’s last scene. You wouldn’t be able to shoot it if it were to be made today because of self-censorship, the threat of someone damaging your set, or for that matter, the fear of your film not releasing.

Come to think of it: several interesting films have been screened at IFFI, but it was S Durga and Nude’s elimination that grabbed headlines.

The controversies around the festival have done films like S Durga and Nude some good. Everyone is at least talking about them. People were curious about Nude anyway. It’s heartening to see the way the Marathi filmmakers are rallying for the film. And it’s not surprising. Neither is the fact that not one filmmaker (from Bollywood) has come forth to speak for Padmavati. Maybe it’s difficult to do that.

Do you think all these episodes will ever let any filmmaker present an independent interpretation of literature, culture or a popular thought in our movies?

At the moment, it seems difficult, though this can’t last. These two films (S Durga and Nude) deserved to be seen internationally. Now, it’s to be seen whether they are barred completely from being sent to any film festival. I won’t be too surprised if that happens. The definition of freedom of speech has changed. Now, anything dissenting is seen as abuse of freedom of speech. The space for rational debate has shrunk. It’s not possible anymore. I posted a statement by Albert Einstein once on a social media page, which had something to do with war. The amount of abuse I got for it was astounding. I can understand what happened when I commented on Rajesh Khanna, he has a fan-following. While I don’t take back what I said, I apologised to Dimple Kapadia and her daughter (Twinkle Khanna). These days, you just can’t speak. It’s scary.

Naseeruddin Shah and Satish Shah in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro


Still from

S Durga

Still from Marathi film Nude

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‘Padmavat’ poet wrote on unity of Hindus, Muslims: Native village


Jais (Amethi district):

Even as the world is caught up in a storm over ‘Padmavati’, people in this quiet village – the birthplace of Malik Mohammad Jaisi, the writer of ‘Padmavat’ – wonder what the fuss is all about.

For the residents, most of whom can recite couplets from the tale written in Awadhi in the 16th century, “mahakavi” Jaisi’s work revolved around the unity between Hindu and Muslims, bereft of any hurtful sentiments towards any community.

People in Jais, about 100km from Lucknow, are dismissive about the controversy around ‘Padmavati’. “I had studied the book in school. Those who are opposing it have not seen the movie. They have perhaps not read the book either. It seems to be a political gimmick to oppose it. The book has no controversial element,” said Mohammad Nizam Khan, who lives right across the place where then PM Rajiv Gandhi laid the foundation stone for Malik Mohammad Jaisi Research Institute in 1988. The institute, however, never saw the light of day.

Khan recited a quatrain from ‘Padmavat’, which he had memorised as a child, to elaborate on unity that Jaisi wrote about: “Briksh laagi ek bhaee dui daara / Aae rehte nana parkara / Maatu ke rakat, pita ke bindu / Kehlaave Turuk au Hindu (God had planted only one tree that had two branches with different kinds of people living together. And both Hindus and Muslims are children of the same god.” Jais residents say ‘Padmavat’ was an “amalgamation of fact and fiction”.

Aseef Jaisi, a scholar, said, “Jaisi mixed fact and fiction to compose the book in Persian script and Awadhi language in 1540. Several editions of the book were produced over time in different languages. Had there been any hurtful content to any community, it would have been raised over the years.”

Shiv Nayak Singh (84), founding principal of Malik Mohammad Bharatiya Intermediate College, said in Jaisi’s epic, Rani Padmavati has been depicted in the “most graceful manner” and the poet has kept her royal lineage in mind. “The trailer of the film does not indicate that anything around her character and personality has been distorted. Any protest ahead of the release of the film is amusing,” he said.

Youths of Jais are gearing up to download the movie on their phones once it is released as the nearest theatre is 40 km away. “We watch news and see people going berserk over the film. Once it is released, I am going to download it and see for myself what is there which is worrying a community,” said Muzaffar, a youngster.

Mamata: Welcome to show film in Bengal

Mamata Banerjee, on Friday, said ‘Padmavati’ director Sanjay Leela Bhansali was welcome to West Bengal to premiere and release his film. “If they cannot release ‘Padmavati’ in any other state, we will make special arrangements… Bengal will be very happy and proud to do that,” the CM said.

A 40-year-old man’s corpse was found hanging from a wall of the Nahargarh fort with inflammatory slogans scribbled on the fort walls

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Padmavati – Marathi Play Had Not Sparked Any Protests

Actor who played Padmavati in 70s says Deepika must be fond of queen

Mumbai: Asha Kale’s landline hasn’t stopped buzzing ever since the ‘Padmavati’ row erupted. The noted actor’s friends and admirers want her to recall ‘Maharani Padmini,’ a Marathi play in which she essayed the iconic Chittor queen. “I am happy Marathis still remember ‘Maharani Padmini,’” Kale told TOI on Thursday. Written by P B Bhave, whose loyalty to Hindutva, it was said, often impinged on his near-impeccable literary credentials, the play chiefly views the Padmini-Allauddin Khilji faceoff through the prism of religion.

Premiered in Mumbai in December 1971, ‘Maharani Padmini’ coincided with the rise of the Shiv Sena; veterans are quick to point out Padmini’s soliloquies had not-so-faint echoes of Bal Thackeray’s outburst against “anti-national” Muslims. Yet the Congress, which then reigned supreme, struck a balance between politics and the arts, said Shantaram Mankame, a theatre aficionado. “The ‘Ghashiram Kotwal’ controversy of the 1970s pales before the present madness over ‘Padmavati,’” he said.

Kale remembers the rigorous schedule that Bhave and director Purushottam Darvhekar planned for her preceding the premiere. “Rehearsals went on for three months. Bhave’s highly Sanskritised lines were difficult to remember, leave alone mouthing them with emotions,” she said. “Bhave told me I should show the dignity of Padmini who, he said, had 12 children when Khilji set eyes on her,” said Kale. Was she ever told Padmini may have been the imagination of a Sufi poet? “No, I was told she was a true person, a brave queen.”

Preparations were elaborate: master make-up artist Pandharinath Jukar was on board and Padmini’s sequined ‘ghagras’ and Khilji’s robes were designed by craftsmen of V Shantaram’s Raj Kamal Studios. Vasant Desai set to tune songs penned by Raja Badhe, while noted actor-singer Faiyyaz did the playback.

“The song when Padmini’s friends prepare her for the final act, the self-immolation, was moving,” said Faiyyaz. Sets were lavish and producer Prabhakar Panshikar, who played Khilji, was liberal with funds. Shashikant Nikte, a National School of Drama alumni, portrayed Ratansinh Rawal, Padmini’s husband.

“The play demanded intensity and understanding. I was barely in my 20s and I’d be nervous at the start of every show. But soon I got fond of Padmavati. I am sure Deepika Padukone too felt the same,” said Kale. “TOI wrote a rave review and praised my role too,” she added.

Yet the play hardly created ripples in the cultural and political domain. While it luckily didn’t spark protest, it didn’t witness big-ticket success either. After 90 performances, Panshikar decided to stop the play for financial reasons. And no one has been talking about it since then, except its brief revival which too bombed. Kale thinks people may have found it “punishing” to sit through a 4.5-hour performance. But, according to a prominent theatre person, Bhave’s anti-Islam rant and lop-sided view of history must have left Marathi connoisseurs cold.

Kale is surprised the Rajput community is up in arms against ‘Padmavati.’ “Maharashtra has by and large adhered to tolerance and creative freedom. Protest has to be peaceful and within the framework of law,” she said.

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Uttarakhand teen’s arrest for ‘offensive’ Modi photo underscores a wider problem #FOE

Not standalone:

(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

It is not everyday that the police of one state travel two hundred and fifty odd kilometres, into another state, to bring an offender to the book. So when the Haryana Police undertook such a journey you would have expected them to be giving chase to some dreaded criminal.

In reality, however, they were in pursuit of a humble tailor, Mohammad Shaqib. His crime: sharing an “offensive and morphed” photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi via WhatsApp.

WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted. To get a hold of the image and the sender, the police must have been shown the image by the complainant — in this case a Haryana resident — and then done some fieldwork.

“The exact chain of events is not too clear, but I am guessing this involved the police asking people who sent them the message until they found the person they wanted to arrest,” says Alok Prasanna, Senior Resident Fellow and head of the Bengaluru office of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.

The cops started from Tohana in Haryana’s Fatehabad district and picked up 19-year-old Shaqib from Aadulla village in Uttarakhand‘s Vikasnagar, near Deharadun, according to a Times of Indiareport. Clearly, they were pretty serious about the complaint.

“The Information Technology Act leaves much scope for abuse by authorities,” says Vikram Hegde, an advocate at the Supreme Court of India. “The arrest is technically correct, but unconscionable. Even if the meme was something terrible, an arrest seems too much.”

Such instances of the police being hyeractive regarding complaints related to social media messages is becoming increasingly common.

Earlier this month, Meerut-based journalist Afghan Soni was arrested and charged with defamation and “computer-related offenses” for posting a derogatory video of Narendra Modi. Soni had, in the video, asked the rally about ‘achhe din’ and got his responses from a herd of goats.

“Enough research has shown that the police in India is extremely prejudiced against Muslims, Dalits, and women so it’s probably no surprise that they chose to act in this manner in this case,” Prasanna adds.


Social media-related arrests are not new, according to Prasanna. “I don’t know if this is an increasing trend to be quite honest. Data about such arrests is scarce but yes, it is getting reported a lot more thanks to the spread of mass media,” he says.

Two Mumbai girls were arrested over a Facebook post when they questioned the shutdown of India’s financial capital during Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray‘s funeral. Shaheen Dhada was arrested for her comments on the social networking site. Her friend, Renu, was arrested merely for ‘liking’ the post.

Ambikesh Mahapatra, a professor of chemistry at Jadavpur University, was arrested for forwarding a cartoon ridiculing West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

A businessman was arrested in Puducherry for allegedly posting ‘offensive’ messages on microblogging site Twitter. The complainant had said on three occasions Ravi posted “offensive” messages against Karti Chidambaram, the son of former Union finance minister P Chidambaram.

Those arrests were made back in 2012 under the draconian Section 66A of the IT Act in the. In 2015, the controversial UPA-era section was scrapped by the apex court. Still, freedom of expression continues to be muzzled.

Even this month Nayeem — a youth from Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh — was put jailed after a heated discussion with his friends on WhatsApp over India’s loss to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final. “The Indian team deliberately lost that match as it was already fixed. The Indian team had taken money to lose this match,” he had said.

Like Nayeem, thousands have been arrested under Sec 66A even after it has been scrapped.


Freedom of speech has always been a thorny issue in India. “This trend is clearly violative of the freedom of speech and expression,” Hedge says. “Criticism of government is necessary for a functioning democracy. The fear of penal consequences has a chilling effect on free speech and erodes the very basis of a democratic country”.

Prasanna says that freedom of speech is a liberty granted only to the rich and influential. “The police in India are totally arbitrary about who they arrest and for what. The point is, even if their actions are totally illegal and unlawful, there are no consequences unless the person in question is very influential, rich and tenacious.

“So the short answer is: it depends on who is complaining, about what and against whom. As a member of a ruling party, you can pretty much get away with anything you post but if you post something even mildly disagreeable about someone in power, the police will come down hard on you.”


The problem comes in two forms. First, the wording of the IT Act. Sec 66A may have been struck down but Section 67 (Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) is still a problem area as it “does not make a distinction between “private” and public message,” Hegde says.

Second, it is the police bowing down to the government and not wanting to follow the laws of the country. “When it comes to issues like this, it is somewhat meaningless to talk about laws because the police don’t believe in following them in the first place,” according to Prasanna. “This is partly because they continue to be a colonial force intent more on controlling the population for the government rather than maintain law and order, and even when they don’t follow the law, nothing really happens to them,” he says

Prasanna reiterates this, saying that the celebration of Sec 66A came a little too swiftly and that there are deeper-rooted problems in our society. “The real problem was with the police and their absolutely unaccountable and arbitrary behaviour and FOE in India will remain restricted to the elites unless this changes,” Prasanna says. “The police system set up by the British has been neatly co-opted by the privileged classes in India to ensure no one questions their rule, which includes stomping out any dissenting voices.”

A morphed image in a piece of satire or a caricature of a politician isn’t illegal or a criminal act and can’t be grounds for arrest. Rumours also aren’t an offense per se. Unless any of these incite violence, an arrest seems farfetched.

These arrests send a chilling message to those who just want to have a little bit of fun: Everyone would think twice before saying something even if it is in a ‘private’ message to a friend of theirs. This will just cause conversations and debates to be subdued and not a free-flowing one.

As for what should be done to prevent such cases from cropping up in the future, it striking down more laws that go against what any democratic norm should be and also make the police force accountable to the citizens of the country and not the government that governs.

“I think the laws relating to criminal defamation and blasphemy (under the Indian Penal Code) need to be struck down, but like with Sec 66A of the IT Act, it will not have any impact on arrests such as these unless there is root and branch of reform of the police forces in India,” Prasanna adds. “This will require putting the police outside the direct control of the state government, but making them accountable to citizens, courts and the government equally.

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A creeping quiet in Indian journalism?

There is a creeping quiet spreading across India’s otherwise loud and lively journalism. Front pages, websites, and news programs are brimming with stories, but “people are afraid”, one editor told me recently in Delhi. “We come under a lot of pressure” says a journalist from Chennai. “I have never experienced anything like this” is how a veteran reporter from Calcutta put it. They are among the journalists I spoke to on a recent trip to India, all of whom describe how a combination of government pressure, harassment by political activists, commercial actors including both some advertisers and some media owners is exercising a chilling effect on Indian journalism.

Not everyone is silenced. In October, the non-profit news site The Wire published “The Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah”, showing how Jay Shah, the son of Amit Shah, the president of the ruling BJP party, had seen a dramatic increase in his business fortunes since Narendra Modi became prime minister. The article used company balance sheets and annual reports filed with the Registrar of Companies (RoC) to show how Shah’s Temple Enterprise had seen revenues increase 16,000-fold after Mr Modi and the BJP party his father presides over took power. The response was interesting. On the one hand, Jay Shah, his lawyers insisting he was a private citizen entitled to privacy, filed a criminal defamation case and a civil defamation case seeking a billion rupees ($15.5m) in damages. On the other hand, a number of high profile government ministers and BJP officials defended Shah publicly and attacked the Wire for publishing the story.

In parallel, the Indian Express has reported on allegations that a top official at the Indian Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) had repeatedly dismissed tax fraud allegations against various parts of the Adani Group, a large Indian multinational conglomerate company headquartered in Mr Modi’s home state Gujarat and seen by many as closely aligned with the Prime Minister. (As the business paper the Mint reported, “[Gautam] Adani has travelled with Modi in the past year more than any other billionaire, helping him emerge as the most prominent face of India Inc.”) Following up on earlier stories first published by the Economic and Political Weekly in 2016, the Indian Express in Augustreported that the adjudicating authority of the DRI K V S Singh had passed an order striking down all proceedings against the Adani Group firms. In October, the paper reported that Singh struck down another case, alleging that an Adani subsidiary had inflated the declared value of imports to avoid taxes. The sums involved are estimated to be in the region of 15bn rupees ($233m).

What is striking is how little attention these stories have generated in other news media. Imagine if ProPublica reported that Donald Trump Jr. had seen a 16,000-fold increase in his business income after his father took office, or that the Washington Post found that federal officials had repeatedly dismissed allegations of tax evasion by the Trump Organization. Every serious and self-respecting news organization in America would cover the story and follow up to see what else they could find. After the The Wire broke the Jay Amit Shah story, NDTV, the country’s leading English-language news channel, began to do exactly that. A follow-up story focused on the loans given to Jay Shah, asked whether this was “cronyism or business as usual”. But while a video version is still available, the web version of the story was taken down briefly after, according to NDTVbecause it was being “legally vetted”. As of early November, the story has yet to be republished. The case has been widely discussed on social media under hashtags like  #AmitShahKiLoot, but news media have covered the coverage more than the substantive allegations. Similarly, the Economic and Political Weekly and Indian Express coverage of the Adani Group has been mentioned by some other major news media, like the Times of India as well as digital-born news sites like Scroll and the Quint, and has been discussed on social media under hashtags including  #adani and  #stopadani. But the substantive allegations have not received the attention one might expect of what could look like an explosive mix of politics and private business at the highest levels. What we see instead is what the media watchdog site NewsLaundry calls “an eerie silence in the media.”

Both the Jay Amit Shah case and the Adani case play out against a backdrop of what many journalists I spoke to in India describe as a climate of fear. People are reluctant to be quoted, so I will not name names here, but in my conversations, journalists and editors point to five different factors.

· First, public attacks on the press by prominent politicians, including for example the BJP minister VK Singh referring to journalists as “presstitutes”, another BJP minister Kiren Rijiju telling journalists to “stop this habit of raising doubt, questioning the authorities”, and the Rajastan state government trying to limit reporting of public officials and withdrawing government advertising from some papers.

· Second, private pressure by government ministers and elected officials. One journalist I spoke to described how he had overheard editors reluctantly negotiating the wording of headlines of stories about government initiatives with politicians before they were even published—others asked whether the Central Bureau of Investigation’s raid on NDTV and on the NDTV founder Prannoy Roy’s private home in June 2017 and the 2016 decision to force the station off the air for 24 hours over its coverage of a terror attack in Pathankot were intended as warning shots for the media.

· Third, systematic trolling of journalists by both volunteer militants and paid provocateurs, especially by right-wing Hindutva activists, sometimes allegedly orchestrated by political parties. Much of this is online, but sometimes goes beyond that to involve offline harassment and even officials, as in the case of a journalist in Uttar Pradesh charged with defamation by the police for sharing a satirical video of Mr. Modi in a WhatsApp group.

· Fourth, commercial considerations including instances of either major advertisers or even media owners themselves pressuring journalists to present feel-good stories and avoid controversial and polarizing issues. (While most major newspapers are owned by independent publishing groups, parts of the local and regional press is controlled by politicians, and many television news channels have been bought up by large corporations or are subsidized by local business interests.)

· Fifth, the kinds of defamation suits pursued by Jay Shah against the Wire, as well as by the Essel Group against the Caravan, by Jet Airways founder and chairman Naresh Goyal against the journalist Josy Joseph, and in many other cases. These suits are often eventually dismissed by courts, but create a period of pressure and uncertainty in any case, and drain the resources of the publication or individual targeted.

In combination, these five factors are creating a climate of fear and lead to the creeping quiet across Indian journalism, an eerie silence on crucial matters even as the hustle and bustle of day-to-day reporting carriers on. This is an environment where some journalists and news media are increasingly opting for anticipatory obedience and self-censorship to avoid trouble. None of the five factors are entirely new, but most of them have intensified in recent years. One journalist told me how rank-and-file reporters at one newspaper by now allegedly tries to avoid mentioning Mr Modi in their stories, just to avoid the additional scrutiny that almost inevitably follows. Others noted instances of even major news media pulling stories from their websites, sometimes entire sections, often without any explanation to the newsroom or to readers—like the disappearance of the Hindustan Times’ “Hate Tracker”. Launched in 2015 as a high-profile initiative by then Editor-in-Chief Bobby Ghosh to “track acts of violence, threats of violence, and incitements to violence based on religion, caste, race, ethnicity, region of origin, gender identity and sexual orientation” across India, just days after Ghosh stepped down in September 2017 (allegedly after top-level government and BJP officials had raised objections against his editorial decisions and briefly after HT Media Chairwoman Shobhana Bhartia had met personally with Prime Minister Narendra Modi). The database and story collection now just return a 404 error “We cannot find the page you are looking for.” A sad ending for an important and high-profile editorial initiative by a major news organization.


For those who are not silenced, things sometimes take a darker turn. There have been 45 attacks on journalists this year alone and journalists are also murdered in India with alarming frequency. Take just a few examples from the last couple of years. In 2015, Jagendra Singh, died from burn injuries he sustained after a police raid on his home. In 2016, Kaun Mishra was shot dead as he was driving to his home in Ambedkar Nagar. Later that year, Rajdev Ranjan, was shot at close range as he was returning to his office in Bihar. The Committee to Protect Journalists tracks killings of reporters and find that most journalists murdered in India are murdered because of their coverage of politics and/or corruption. International watchdog groups like Reporters without Borders and Freedom House continuously highlights the many and growing threats to media freedom in India, and both Indian (Press Club of IndiaEditors’ Guild of India) and international (IJF) journalists’ associations have long campaigned against the impunity with which journalists are intimidated, assaulted, and sometimes killed in India. But the implicit and sometimes explicit threat of violence is increasingly pervasive. When asked whether his journalists were pressured directly, the publisher of a major media group said to me with a straight face “our journalists are only threatened, they do not get beaten up or killed.” The “only” in that sentence is an extraordinary illustration of the mounting pressure faced by Indian journalists trying to do their job.

Till recently, the most vulnerable journalists, and most of those killed, have come from local media in rural areas and smaller cities. That does not make the killings any less terrible, but it has meant that journalists from major publications, and those in big cities, like the ones I spoke to from Delhi, Chennai and Calcutta, may have felt safer. That changed with the murder of Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore in September 2017. A well-known critic of right-wing extremism and the political establishment, she was gunned down in front of her home September 5. Her killers have not been identified or brought to justice. As the International Federation of Journalists notes drily on their website, more than 70 journalists have been killed in India since 2005. There has only been one conviction, a few arrests, and in most cases little action has been taken.

Ultimately, free media is not something one simply has. It is fought for, over and over again, against the powerful political and other interests who would rather silence journalists, avoid scrutiny, make inconvenient stories go away, and flood the media with fluff to distract us. It cannot be provided simply on the basis of journalistic courage, whether by individual organizations like the Wire and the Indian Express or individual journalists like Lankesh and others who have been murdered for trying to shine a light on some of the uglier realities of business and politics in India today. It requires an enabling environment, with legal protections and with media companies committed to professional journalism, as well as citizens and journalists fighting together for media freedom. As the historian Timothy Snyder has recently noted, “Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.” Previous generations of Indians have won that battle, against the British colonial regime, and during Indira Gandhi’s emergency. A new generation may have to fight it again to break the quiet creeping across Indian journalism today.

Director of Research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Professor of Political Communication at the University of Oxford

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Padmavati controversy: Shabana Azmi calls for IFFI boycott

As the controversy around Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmavati thickens, there are newer voices coming up — some in support while some against the film’s release which in itself is a serious bone of contention. Recently veteran actress and multiple-National Award winner Shabana Azmi came out in support of Bhansali’s film and termed all the on-going protests as “baseless”.

“The entire film industry should boycott the IFFI next month in Goa in protest against the threats issued to Padmavati, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Deepika Padukone,” Azmi said.

“If Smriti Irani is preparing for such an impressive turn-out at IFFI this year, that is possible only because the Indian film industry brings such acclaim to it. But the film industry keeps quiet about Padmavati! This is exactly like HKL Bhagat and Congress celebrating IFFI in Delhi after the murder of Safdar Hashmi,” she added.

Shabana Azmi. Image via Facebook

Shabana Azmi. Image via Facebook

Shabana wonders why so little action has been taken against the perpetrators of violence against the Padmavati team. “The CM of Rajasthan is sitting pretty. The first FIR lodged is under the Arms Act because there was open firing. Beyond that no action is taken against the criminals threatening naked violence.”

She also cannot get over the irony of the UP government asking for the postponement of the release of Bhansali’s film. “The UP govt is asking for a delay in Padmavati‘s release as they foresee a law and order problem! But the first vow the CM took was to firmly clear the state of its criminal elements. Aur film ki release hone pe ghutne tek diye?!!.”

Shabana also lashes out at the censor board for delaying the certification of Padmavati. “The CBFC sends the film back because some paperwork is not complete!!! Only after 63 days will the film be screened for CBFC when Gujarat election is over and done with!! Are we fools to not see through the design of fomenting unrest and polarizing votes?”

The formidable actress-activist does not hide her resentment at what she sees as a victimisation of the entertainment industry for political purposes.

“I am very angry, film industry needs to take a strong unified action and refuse to be sitting ducks anymore. If such threats had been made against any member of the political class would the reaction have been the same? Are the people in the film industry not equal citizens of this country?”

Meanwhile, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje has written to Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani, urging her to ensure that Padmavati is not released without necessary changes to the film.

A still from Padmavati featuring Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor.

A still from Padmavati featuring Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor.

Protests against the film has also started in Bihar. On 18 November, hundreds of supporters of various Rajput organisations staged protests against Bhansali, demanding a ban on his film in the state.

Shouting slogans and chanting “Jai Shri Ram”, the protestors, including women of Rajput Mahasabha, took out a protest march here and demanded banning of the upcoming Bollywood movie. They also threatened to not allow its screening here. There were also reports of similar protests against Padmavati in Bhagalpur, Aurangabad and Supaul districts.

Virat Hindustan Sangam (VHS), a Hindu nationalist outfit founded by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and MP Subramanian Swamy, had staged protest against Padmavati on 17 November in Patna.

Earlier, Bihar minister Jay Kumar Singh and BJP MLA Gayanu Singh, both from Rajput community, senior BJP leader from Bihar and Union Minister Giriraj Singh has also extended his support toward the protests against “Padmavati”.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav took a u-turn and supported the protests, in contrast to his stand earlier during January when he, along with his son, had extended full support to Bhansali after Padmavati set was vandalised by the Rajput Karni Sena.

“Those protesting against film Padmavati are correct. The life of Queen Padmavati was glorious and full of dignity. She is an integral part of the history of Rajasthan and their sentiments should not be hurt,” says Yadav, reports The Times of India.

On 30 January, Yadav had tweeted: “Bihar hota to Bhajpayi mediawala jatibad aur jungle raj ka rayta faila kar Bihar ko badnam kar raha hota. BJP-shashit pradesh hai to ee sab chup hai. (Had it been Bihar, these pro-BJP media would have spread rumours of casteism and jungle raj to defame the state. They are silent because it happened in a BJP-ruled state).”

His son, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav had tweeted on the same day: “I invite Bollywood to come and shoot in historical, glorified, culturally rich and developing Bihar. We will extend all sorts of help all the way,” as stated in the TOI report.


(Inputs from agencies)

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The Myth of Padmavati and Its Sinister Contemporary Political Use

Stories of a Rajput queen

The Padmavati story, like many others, has undergone several mutations. Ramya Sreenivasan has traced the wide circulation and mutation of the story from North India and Rajasthan to Bengal from the 16th to the 20th century in her magnificent book, The Many Lives of a Rajput

Written by Harbans Mukhia |

To begin with, in Jayasi’s version and its several Urdu and Persian translations between the 16th and 20th centuries, Khalji was courting Padmini with a view to marrying her. File photoThe Mewar royal descendant Vishwajeet Singh’s recent differentiation, in a newspaper article, between history and fiction with regard to the film Padmavati, came as a refreshing surprise. I recount here the historical facts and the popular versions of the story.

Sultan Alauddin Khalji had earned a reputation among contemporary and modern historians for several achievements: Successfully thwarting Mongol invasions of India, conquest of large territories, strictly enforcing low prices of commodities in the markets for the common people’s daily purchases, declared defiance of the Shariat in matters of governance etc, but not for lustful pursuit of women. So how does he get tied up with Padmavati?

Khalji defeated the Rana of Chittor in 1303 and died in 1316. No one by the name of Padmini or Padmavati existed then — or at any time — in flesh and blood resembling the story. She was born in 1540, 224 years after Khalji’s death, in the pages of a book of poetry by Malik Muhammad Jayasi, resident of Jayas in Awadh, a very long way from Chittor. Jayasi was a Sufi poet and followed the poetic format where God is the beloved and man is the lover who overcomes hurdles to unite with the beloved. Khalji embodied the many hurdles. There are just two historical facts relevant to the story: Khalji’s attack on Chittor and Rana Ratan Singh’s defeat.

But then, besides recorded and verifiable historical facts, there is another set of facts too, culturally constructed and embodied in popular memory, told, retold and retold yet again. Untrained to distinguish historical facts from cultural memory, these acquire the status of history for common people. Jawaharlal Nehru was particularly sensitive to this blurring in people’s minds. As memory does not follow the norm of verifiability, it is subject to quick metamorphoses.

The Padmavati story, like many others, has undergone several mutations. Ramya Sreenivasan has traced the wide circulation and mutation of the story from North India and Rajasthan to Bengal from the 16th to the 20th century in her magnificent book, The Many Lives of a Rajput Queen. To begin with, in Jayasi’s version and its several Urdu and Persian translations between the 16th and 20th centuries, Khalji was courting Padmini with a view to marrying her. In Rajasthan, during the same period, the emphasis changed to the defence of Rajput honour which had come to be invested in Padmini’s body. It was in Bengal in the 19th century that Padmini acquired the persona of a heroic queen committing jauhar in order to save her honour against a lusty Muslim invader. Concealed in it was a vicarious patriotic resistance to colonial dominance which also characterised other literary productions in the region such as Bankim Chandra’s celebrated Anand Math.

It is this memory in Rajasthan that has been turned into a hard, unambiguous historical fact which brooks no disputation. The inversion of a character imagined by a Muslim poet into the defender of Hindu honour can pass quietly unnoticed.

This brings us to the present-day political context. While communal conflict is not a late entry into the Indian social and political scenario, for it has often been used as a form of electoral mobilisation, what is new is its propagation with the use of state power almost as an inalienable attribute. If the Congress tactically flirted with the communal card at times to corner the minority vote and at others to win the majority support, as Indira Gandhi did in Kashmir in 1983, for the Sangh Parivar this lies at the very heart of its ideology and is now flaunted openly as Hindutva.

The Parivar has long envisioned a consolidated Hindu vote bank. M S Golwalkar had sought to accomplish this by restricting the franchise to the Hindus alone. That is also the target of the present regime, by implicitly disenfranchising the largest minority, the Muslims — to begin with, by making its vote irrelevant to their electoral strategy. Social acceptance of this irrelevance is promoted by a demonisation of Muslims, past and present, in which each individual, and by extension, the community, is projected as cruel, lusty, and above all, an enemy of the Hindus.

It is strategic for it to create the image of the 80 plus per cent Hindu community under siege by the Muslims and to create a long “history” to back it up. If historical facts point to a more mixed picture of interaction, one where Hindus and Muslims do not stand in exclusive, opposing camps, manufacture a dispute, change the text books and let MLAs and ministers have the final word on what constitutes true history. There is the popular memory to be mobilised as its authentic version.

It is notable that no professional historian of the Parivar, if there is one, has come forward to engage in a discussion of what the Parivar claims is the wrong, left-liberal history, whatever it means. No serious book, or even an article, has been written on this theme so far. All we have are loud screams on TV channels and periodic declarations by non-historians that all history has so far been a single distorted version; no one has taken note of the fact that there is not one but innumerable “left-liberal” and other versions of history and that often “left-liberals” have been sharply critical of one another; nor has anyone unearthed any new facts hitherto ignored or proposed a clear new nationalist version of how history should be written.

There is much to be gained by the Sangh Parivar from this strategy. Whether the BJP wins or loses the next election, the social discourse will remain fixated on the Hindu-Muslim question, from Akbar and Aurangzeb to Taj Mahal and Padmavati, and the questions of economy, development, equality, Dalits, caste oppression, cleavages within communities etc will remain on the sidelines — the very colonial strategy of divide and rule.

The writer taught medieval history in JNU

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Rs 5 crore reward for beheading Deepika Padukone, Sanjay Leela Bhansali #WTFnews

 Chatriya Samaj jumps into Padmavati row

Demanding a ban on Padmavati, Thakur Abhishek Som, an office-bearer of the Chatriya Samaj announced the reward. Deepika has played the titular role of Queen Padmavati in the movie.

 By Zee Media Bureau | 
Rs 5 crore reward for beheading Deepika Padukone, Sanjay Leela Bhansali? Chatriya Samaj jumps into Padmavati row
File photo

LUCKNOW: Following Shri Rajput Karni Sena‘s threat to Deepika Padukone, the Chatriya Samaj in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday announced a reward of Rs 5 crore to anyone beheading Padmavati’s director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and the actress.

Demanding a ban on Padmavati, Thakur Abhishek Som, an office-bearer of the Chatriya Samaj announced the reward. Deepika has played the titular role of Queen Padmavati in the movie.

Thakur Som, who is an active member of the Samajwadi Party, warned the Bollywood actress to leave the country or face beheading. He had also threatened the Director Sanjay to withdraw release of the controversial film or be ready to face the consequences.

“The role played by Deepika has hurt the sentiments of Rajput women. No Rajput woman dances in public. Director Sanjay has no knowledge of the history of Rajputs in the country. He has distorted historical facts and should be punished,” stated Som.

Earlier in the day, the Union Home Ministry said that it will provide all help to the authorities to maintain law and order amid ongoing protests against the film.

Also, the Sarv Brahmin Mahasabha members had signed a letter in blood to be sent to the Central Board of Film Certification as a mark of protest.

The members of the unit have been asserting that the movie hurts the sentiments of the Rajputs and should not be allowed to be released. The film is slated for release on December 1.

The Karni Sena had called for ‘Bharat Bandh‘ on December 1, which is slated as the release date of the film.

(With DNA inputs)

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