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Tips on how to avoid circulating fake news #mustshare


Fake news: Time we started thinking of consequences of our actions online

Traditional media would check and recheck facts, hold stories till a version could be attained, but now editorial judgement is limited to hitting publish or share.

By:  |  FE
Fake news, actions online, online actions, thinking of consequences, consequences of our actions online, air crash, whatsapp groupJust as I started writing this piece, a friend posted a video of a supposed air crash on our WhatsApp group. (Image: Reuters)

Just as I started writing this piece, a friend posted a video of a supposed air crash on our WhatsApp group. He had shared a video and a note as if it was something he vouched for, although even he would have realised at second glance that it had to be false. But these days we don’t really care about what we share. Gone are the days when our inbox would be flooded with jokes and GIFs that would bring the server down every now and then. Now, it is all about getting likes and shares on anything you post, so the idea is to create stuff that you know will get shared. Those who have read Irving Wallace’s Almighty will get a better idea of what I am implying. As almost everyone with a smartphone claims to be a journalist, or a content creator, it has become a free for all when it comes to news and information. While traditional media would check and recheck facts, hold stories till a version could be attained, now all editorial judgement is limited to hitting publish or share. What most us don’t realise is that, in this rat race to get more emojis on our posts, we are unwittingly helping promote certain agendas, often extending the reach of the posts, despite something, somewhere telling us that it can’t really be right.

It is time we started thinking about the consequences of our actions online. That funny political meme that just came in on one of your WhatsApp groups might be unwittingly helping bring down a government or prop up an unworthy candidate. After all, over the past year or so, the impact of our virtual choices has started making themselves felt in our real lives. The risk is not confined to the episodes of Black Mirror, it is very much here … in every click you make. That’s why maybe you should read my dos and don’ts for internet readers in India.

-Play the editor. Don’t leave yourself at the mercy of one source, read different viewpoints and voices.

-Of course, you love to read about Salman Khan, but read some boring, but good, journalism too. If you read less of the good stuff, publishers will start investing less in it. Remember, Salman won’t come to your rescue when the world you are used to starts to crumble, but good journalism might.

-Even if you are pretty sure of the source, don’t trust it blindly. Validate/verify it with another source that you believe. Yes, times are such.

-Don’t become a slave of the algorithm, make it your slave. If you keep reading the same stuff, the algorithm will keep pushing more of it. So, make sure you follow and read sources that you might not really like. Doing so will ensure your timeline is not skewed in favour of a person, an ideology or party. The balance that newsrooms used to strive for is something you the reader will now have to take charge of.

-Anybody can post on WhatsApp and anything can go viral, so don’t give it more credibility than you would a wall poster on a dusty street. Use good sources to verify that outlandish claim you just read on a messaging platform. Forward only if you are convinced about its veracity.

-Don’t trust the videos either. Anything that can be faked, will be. People just have so much time or are paid to fake it. From CCTV to archival footage, everything has the potential to go viral with a little bit of tweaking. You have the power to discern, don’t surrender it.

-Do your own research if you are in doubt. But do go deeper than Wikipedia or wiki anything, those can be changed—and often are—to suit a certain agenda or narrative.

-Internet is all about search and find, but don’t fall for content that is made to be found. Ask yourself, is this the best I can get? It often won’t be.

-Trolls don’t matter. The best way to put them down is by not responding to their 140-character grammar-challenged vitriol. Nothing frustrates them more than a target who refuses to engage. That said, do indulge yourself by slaying a troll or two once in awhile.

-Trust no one, no single source. Remember, the reader is no longer the king, the traffic is. So more of what you are reading will be created instead of what you should be reading. The internet will only be as good as you are.

There’s a deluge of fake news on social media and some TV news channels, leading to the spread of dangerous disinformation. But there are websites such as AltNews, Boomlive and SMHoaxslayer which regularly call out such lies

An informative video by Pratik Sinha of Altnews

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Swarajya acknowledges error after Alt News exposé; Author hurls abuses for pointing out the error

In an article titled, “Swarajya magazine and Jaideep Mazumdar spread falsehood about Suhrawardy Avenue in Kolkata“, Alt News had exposed how Swarajya had pushed out false information regarding a road called Suhrawardy Avenue in their article titled, “It’s A Crying Shame That ‘The Butcher Of Bengal’ Has A Road Named After Him In Kolkata“. The author of article Jaideep Mazumdar had claimed that Suhrawardy Avenue in Kolkata was named after Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy while it was actually named after Sir Hassan Suhrawardy. Swarajya has now put out an apology regarding the same.

Many appreciated Swarajya’s act of apologizing for the error.

Swarajya in their apology claimed that the name of the road wasn’t the central focus of their article while stating, “article primarily focused on the pivotal role played by Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy in fanning the violence during the Direct Action Day“. However, multiple sections of the article, i.e. the title, the snapshot section of the article and the concluding paragraph referred to the road. The concluding paragraph even demanded that the road be renamed while stating, “It is high time the name of the road is changed. Bengal does not lack heroes, and it is high time one of them is honoured instead of a criminal who caused so many deaths and such destruction in the city.

Some Twitter users did not buy Swarajya’s apology and pointed out that the name of the road was indeed the central focus of the article and suggested that Swarajya’s apology was a watered down apology. Saikat Datta, who is the Consulting Editor for, put out a series of tweets on his timeline and contested that Swarajya’s apology was in fact a non apology.

A classic case of how a non apology is to be written. More details in further tweets on how this harms journalism + 

This is how the story was portrayed & made relevant. The key premise was that a road was *named* after the “Butcher of Bengal”. It *wasn’t*+

Clearly, with such overwhelming evidence, this shows that @SwarajyaMag had produced what can now be labeled as . This is disturbing

What @SwarajyaMag now claims is that only portions of the story was wrong. That is incorrect. The whole story was wrong.

While it is appreciable that Swarajya put out an apology, it was shocking to see how the author of the article and the Associate Editor of Swarajya hurled abuses at those who questioned his claims on Facebook and Twitter. Jaideep Mazumdar’s response in some cases was a retaliation to people branding him a ‘Sanghi’ etc. Even so, his language is inexcusable even as a retaliation.

Jaideep Mazumdar Since u a an islamist, you will obviously be anti Hindu. Shame on you lowlife converts. Yes it is. Do some research. Why r u defending Suhrawardy? R u a jihadi? Or a lowlife convert? No point in defending Suhrawardy unless you are an islamist jehadi or a descendant of some lowlife convert.

Jaideep Mazumdar: Nothing better can be expected from apologists of Islamists and jihadists like you. You are obviously a lowlife communist, so engage with you ilk. You don't qualify to enage with me, you imbecile. This is the only way to talk to communists and congressis. It is actually you who is a dumb imbecile and a half-baked doctor. All the likes of you are necessarily lowlife and devoid of brains.

Jaideep Mazumdar: Samik Mukherjee I am very well informed about Gopal Mukherjee. And you seem to be a fucking bootlicker of communists and kangressis, you miserable lowlife

At the time of writing, Swarajya hasn’t put out any statement regarding the abusive behavior of a senior member of their staff. Does Swarajya condone Jaideep Mazumdar’s behavior? Does Swarajya support the act of branding people as ‘lowlife’, ‘jihadi’, ‘imbecile’ when their stories are questioned? Their apology means for nothing if this is how their staff conducts themselves in public life.

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End Bullying and Shaming Tactics in ‘Sawachh Bharat ‘ campaign


Salute The Memory Of Comrade Zafar


Comrade Zafar gave his life defending the dignity of the poor and of women – in the process exposing the ugly face of Prime Minister Modi’s Swachh Bharat campaign.

Universally liked and respected by everyone in the Bagwasa Kachchi Basti, Comrade Zafar had for a couple of decades been spearheading efforts to get the basti regularized, to achieve basic sanitation and water facilities for the basti, and to prevent eviction from the basti.

The Swachh Bharat campaign claims to encourage people in rural and urban India to give up the widespread practice of open defecation (which has serious public health consequences) and switch to toilet use.

But the Pratapgarh episode culminating in the lynching of Comrade Zafar highlights the Government-led campaign’s callousness, cruelty and contempt towards the poor.

Comrade Zafar and the people of the Bagwasa basti were not among those resisting toilet use – on the contrary Comrade Zafar and the colony’s women had submitted memorandums and led delegations seeking funds from the Government to build individual and community toilets and ensure proper water and cleaning facilities for such toilets. Instead of welcoming their demand and acceding to it, the elected Chairman of the municipality – a BJP leader Kamlesh Dosi – tore up their memorandum and mockingly told them to get rid of eviction of the entire colony instead of trying to provide toilets for it.

Meanwhile, every morning, in the absence of proper toilets, the colony’s residents had no option but to defecate in the open: and the municipality personnel would harass, bully, and shame them for so doing! Comrade Zafar and the colony’s women had specifically demanded in their memorandum (submitted to the offices of the municipality and the Collector days before Comrade Zafar was killed) that the coercive tactics be suspended at least until funds be provided so that toilets can be built and functional. But funds were denied, the colony lacked both toilets and water, and yet the poor were shamed and bullied and the women sexually harassed for being ‘dirty’ and uncouth enough to defecate in the open! Not only are the poor condemned to live in the most appalling and inhuman conditions – they are mocked, bullied and shamed for those conditions.

A story in (‘Dirty Backstory to ‘Swachh Bharat’ Lynching: No Toilets, No Water and the Threat of Eviction’ by Shruti Jain, 22/06/2017) tells how there is one single community toilet with ten commodes in the Bagwasa basti which houses 3000 residents – and that toilet has no water, the flushes do not work and consequently the toilets are clogged and unusable. (Whenever these toilets are ever cleaned, it will be a job of manual scavenging which is supposed to be illegal but which continues to widespread. The Swachh Bharat campaign claims eradication of manual scavenging as one of its goals: but makes zero effort in this direction.)

The Rajasthan Chief Minister, police and Government are trying to claim, based on the post mortem report, that Zafar just happened to die of a heart attack and that he was not attacked by government personnel at all. But it is clear from eyewitness accounts and even from the selective, short video clips released by the government personnel themselves, that Zafar did not just happen to drop dead and suffer a ‘demise’ on a morning walk. He had no history of heart problems or hypertension. He was undoubtedly in an altercation and scuffle with Government personnel minutes before his death in an attempt to prevent the personnel from photographing and videographing women of the basti while they were defecating. Multiple eyewitnesses from amongst the women bear witness to the fact that he was beaten to death by the personnel for offering resistance to their bullying and sexual harassment of women.

The killing of Comrade Zafar by Government personnel in the name of the Swacch Bharat campaign has brought a host of issues about the draconian and undemocratic character of the campaign to a head. Liberation takes a closer look at the stated aims and goals of the campaign, its methods and its performance.


Zafar’s lynching should come as no surprise, given the tactics adopted by the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan (henceforth SBA) as well as by government campaigns against open defecation predating SBA. Under the SBA, police are government personnel instructed to form vigilante mobs to patrol villages at dawn and dusk to harass and bully people defecating in the open, with a view to shaming them. These vigilante mobs are instructed to whistle, cat-call, clap; groups of women follow men and groups of men follow women and photograph/videograph them when they are defecating. These mobs grab the lotas (mugs of water) and shout slogans. These are the tactics to which Zafar objected.

Such tactics have resulted in dehumanising violence and have sparked social conflict and sharpened social divisions all over the country. One elderly man in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh in December 2016, for example, was beaten and forced to clean his feces with his hands by civic body authorities – and a video of the whole degrading scene was uploaded by Ujjain Municipal Corporation (UMC) deputy commissioner Sunil Shah in a WhatsApp group. (‘Villager forced to clean his feces with hands in Ujjain as part of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, Salil Mekaad, Times News Network, December 29, 2016)

In Maharajpur village in Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh in October 2016, Vipin Sahu was dragged out of his home, beaten and stabbed to death by a mob in front of the whole village because he had delayed construction of a toilet in his home and has sought more time till Diwali to do so. (‘Man killed for buying time to build toilet’, Rashmi Drolia, TNN, October 8, 2016)

Such tactics predate the SBA of the Modi Government. A report by Liz Chatterjee in the Guardian (‘Time to acknowledge the dirty truth behind community-led sanitation’, The Guardian, 9 June 2011) details the coercive tactics adopted by government officials in Karnataka to deter open defecation: “A local official proudly testified to the extremes of the coercion. He had personally locked up houses when people were out defecating, forcing them to come to his office and sign a contract to build a toilet before he would give them the keys. Another time, he had collected a woman’s faeces and dumped them on her kitchen table.”


Government campaigns against open defecation, including SBA, openly instigate and encourage violence against women. The Madhya Pradesh Government in 2013 titled its campaign to end open defecation, ‘Maryada Abhiyan’. The word ‘Maryada’ in Hindi signifies women’s sense of dignity and/or womanly shame, and a campaign booklet issued by the MP Government harps on the theme of how open defecation threatens women’s dignity and puts women in danger of sexual harassment. In the process, however, the booklet itself openly instigates sexual harassment of women!

The booklet (found at this link asks people to imagine a young woman defecating in the open and being watched by voyeuristic men. It even carries a voyeuristic drawing to this effect. It does not ask why any men watching should not be punished for voyeurism – a crime under Section 354 C of the Indian Penal Code!

Instead the booklet itself prescribes such voyeurism and sexual harassment, by asking ‘Sanitation monitoring committees’ (basically vigilante mobs) to patrol villages, whistle at people defecating in the open, and take photographs and videos of open defecators ‘with the threat and possibility that the photos might be displayed or the videos shown.’ The district administration of Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje’s own constituency of Jhalawar in June 2016 asked teachers to conduct similar patrols and take photos and videos of open defecators (‘Rajasthan Wants Teachers To Make Early Morning Rounds, Click Pics To Check Open Defecation’, Huffington Post, 06/06/2016).

Do PM Modi and the various State Governments not know that taking or showing photos or videos, or even ordering such photos or videos to be taken, is a crime of voyeurism under Section 354 C of the IPC (see box)? Chief Ministers, Sanitation Ministers, as well as local administrators could and should be booked under Section 354 C for ordering and approving voyeurism in the name of SBA. The SBA tries to create fear in women that open defecation will expose them to voyeurism and sexual violence – and then unleashes government-sponsored voyeurism and violence on them!

The booklet harps on patriarchal notions of ‘maryada’ as meaning the enforced imprisonment of women behind veils and inside four walls of the home. It suggests that in meetings of groups of villagers, mothers-in-law be asked why their daughter-in-law covers her head while sending her out to bare her bottom. An advertisement by one of the celebrity ambassadors of SBA, actress Vidya Balan, also raises the same question. One of the most common SBA slogans is Bahu-betiyan door na jayen, ghar par hi shauchalay banvayen “Daughters-in-law, daughters should not go far, construct a toilet in your house.” In the process, the campaign endorses, invokes and reinforces the notion that young women and daughters-in-law should be made to wear the veil and prevented from going outdoors to maintain ‘maryada.’ Instead of emphasizing that open defecation harms health of people, especially children, it is more obsessed with suggesting that open defecation harms patriarchy!

The SBA’s assumption that women do not like to go outside the house to defecate is misplaced anyway. The Sanitation Quality Use Access and Trends (or SQUAT) survey 2014 found that many women in fact cherished open defecation because it offered an opportunity to go out of the house: “A young daughter-in-law in Haryana, whose household owns a latrine, explained that: The reason that [I and my sisters-in-law] go outside [to defecate] is that we get to wander a bit…you know, we live cooped up inside.”

Moreover the survey found that it was a myth that open defecation increases the danger of sexual violence, noting that: “Of 1,046 women interviewed by the SQUAT survey, 4.3% told us that while going to defecate, they had been the victim of someone attempting to molest them. Of the same group, 7.6% reported that this had happened to them while going to the market. …The point is that it is not a serious policy response to these facts to suggest that women should stop going to markets.”

Instead of appealing to patriarchy and using patriarchal violence and shaming to deter open defecation, campaigns should aim to raise consciousness about the dangers of open defecation to public health. As the SQUAT survey notes, patriarchal messages “give villagers the impression that latrine use is for women, but the message that the government should be sending is that latrine use is for everyone. Men’s faeces as well as women’s faeces spread germs that make other people sick.”


The public shaming tactics of the SBA and of other government campaigns too reek of contempt for the poor and expose the attitude of governments towards the poor. The latest example is the Rajasthan Government order instructing local administrations to paint a bright yellow sign on their homes stating “I am poor and I receive food from National Food Security Act” on the homes of BPL families. Like the SBA tactics, such tactics too amount to shaming the poor for their poverty.

In many states, rations are withheld until families construct toilets. Madhya Pradesh enacted a law barring those not having a flush toilet in their homes from contesting in Panchayat elections. Such coercive tactics withholding basic facilities and rights amount to grave human rights violations.

The SBA has neither succeeded in ending open defecation nor has it achieved its other stated goals such as ending manual scavenging. It has not even made any serious effort to ensure the rights and dignity of sanitation workers – instead practices amounting to manual scavenging continue to thrive all over India, tacitly endorsed and enforced by governments.

Bezwada Wilson of the Safai Karmachari Andolan asks, “Why does this government and Modi not make investments in cleaning technology?” and fears that the SBA’s focus on toilet construction minus structural changes to tackle and end manual scavenging will “simply create more unsanitary latrines that will require more manual scavengers to clean them.” (‘Down the Drain: How the Swachh Bharat Mission is heading for failure’, Sagar, 1 May 2017, The Caravan)


Understanding the answer to this question is essential if we want to persuade people to make any lasting change in this practice.

The SQUAT survey found that while poverty and resulting lack of land or money for constructing toilets, as well as lack of water for maintenance of toilets are no doubt factors, they are still not the main factors responsible for open defecation in India. Its researchers observe that 70% of rural households in India do not have a toilet or latrine, while “in rural sub-Saharan Africa, where people are, on average, poorer, less educated, and less likely to have access to an improved water source than people in rural India, only about 35% of people defecate in the open without a toilet or latrine. In rural Bangladesh, only 5% of people defecate in the open.” (‘Understanding open defecation in rural India: Untouchability, pollution, and latrine pits,’ EPW January 7, 2017, by Diane Coffey, Aashish Gupta, Payal Hathi, Dean Spears, Nikhil Srivastav, and Sangita Vyas)


The survey found that Indians across social sections do not prefer to use the small twin-pit latrines (for which Governments give a Rs 12000 subsidy to rural Indians), even if these are constructed. The reason is that these latrines require periodic manual pit emptying – a practice associated with manual scavenging, associated with Dalits and consequently considered degrading and polluting. Non-Dalits will not empty the pits, and Dalits no longer want to be employed to do such labour. If affordable twin pit latrines are constructed, one of the pits can be allowed to decompose into compost while the other is in use – emptying decomposed waste is not manual scavenging. But it still carries the social stigma associated with degrading labour, and is thus shunned.

People are willing to use the larger and more expensive latrines with septic tanks – or the ones that use bio-digester gas technology to ensure that no residue is left in the pits. Since the Government does not fund such latrines which are relatively more expensive than small-pit latrines, people much prefer open defecation – even considering it to be healthier and more dignified than using small-pit latrines.

To this, add the fact that most poor people have experienced public latrines at bus stops – where they tend to be overflowing with faeces, stinking and lacking in water. Naturally, they tend to associate latrines with dirt and open defecation with fresh air and health – all the more so if their homes or colonies lack proper water, sewage and sanitation facilities.

We must remember here that caste prejudices relating to sanitation are by no means limited to Indians of the underprivileged classes. People who are privileged enough to have flush toilets in their homes also share those prejudices, as displayed in the fact that most of them would not allow workers from oppressed castes who clean their toilets to eat or drink out of their utensils. (‘Survey finds practice of untouchability’, Rukmini S, The Hindu, November 13, 2014).

So, we have to remember that the poor prefer open defecation over small-pit latrines – they would probably not prefer open defecation over fully functional, modern flush latrines. Similarly in urban areas people defecate in the open when the community toilets provided are clogged with faeces and ill-maintained. The big, unspoken question with regard to community toilets and individual pit-latrines alike is – who will clean the toilets. Campaigns like SBA do not address this question because the answer would require them to confront the reality of manual scavenging done by Dalits.

Moreover, we must remember that those who can afford large-pit latrines with septic tanks in villages and flush latrines in towns and cities are those from more privileged classes and dominant castes. It is these relatively more privileged people who tend to be tasked with shaming the poorer and more underprivileged people for defecating in the open.


Internationally, Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is recognized as having achieved results in ending open defecation. CLTS involves educating communities to recognize the health hazards of open defecation, through campaigns that teach people to recognize that through open defecation “we are eating each other’s shit.” People from the communities are then mobilized to persuade others in the community to adopt toilet use. In its spirit CLTS is meant to be persuasive rather than coercive.

In India, CLTS practices have never seriously been adopted except in small pockets. However, it is a fact that even in other countries, CLTS campaigns too have been criticized for using tactics of public shaming and coercion.

It is high time that Indian people rose up against the tactics of vigilantism, public shaming, bullying and sexual harassment unleashed in the name of SBA. We have to recognize that a campaign to end open defecation can succeed only if it is able to convince and persuade people to voluntarily use toilets and shun open defecation. This calls for a multi-pronged approach in which shaming and coercion can have no part.

    • 1) Governments must educate about the health consequences of open defecation. Campaigns must focus on health rather than on notions of social shame, status, or patriarchal culture.

2) Government officials, elected representatives, and so on must lead by example in having, using and popularizing the kind of toilets they expect people to use. Using Amitabh Bachchan who has palatial toilets to shame the poor for open defecation must stop. Let the government officials, MLAs, MPs, etc use twin-pit latrines in their own homes and regularly clean these out themselves to show people that no stigma should be associated with the use and cleaning of such latrines. Such practices would truly be in the spirit of Gandhi who emphasized the need for people to clean their own toilets. And adopting and popularising such practices would be far more meaningful and effective than the photo-ops of politicians posing with brooms as part of SBA.

3) Governments must provide toilets that people are willing to use. This means that the campaigns must engage with people. If Governments find that people are simply not ready to use twin-pit latrines, they must then fund either bio-digester toilets (which are also quite cheap and cost-effective) or latrines with larger pits and septic tanks.

4) Governments must also ensure the availability of water in individual and community toilets alike. They must provide proper facilities for cleaning community toilets in both rural and urban India – facilities that provide the best and safest hygienic equipment for sanitation workers and do not in any way allow manual scavenging.

5) Governments must immediately declare a no-tolerance policy for any kind of naming-and-shaming, public humiliation, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment or coercion in the name of deterring open defecation. Defecation must be recognised as a human need – and people’s right to defecate with dignity, without fear or shame must be recognized as a human right. Any person or public official violating this right must face punishment.
Zafar’s lynching must serve as a wake-up call. No more bullying and coercion in the name of Swacch Bharat Abhiyan! Persuasion not coercion must be the rule for any campaign against open defecation.



The India Today channel conducted a sting operation

in which BJP leader and municipality Chairman Kamlesh Dosi boasted of releasing selective video clips to suggest that Zafar was the aggressor. The sting also showed doctors in the government hospital giving evasive responses to questions.

Kamlesh Dosi said in the sting operation that he was informed by his municipality officials at 7 am on 16 June that one of the municipality workers was bleeding due to an attack on the workers by Zafar. He said that he immediately instructed the officials to file an FIR against Zafar. He said that it was only after this that he heard that Zafar had fallen ill and needed to be taken to hospital.

But the FIRs filed by Zafar’s family and by the Government against Zafar tell a different story and belie Dosi’s version. The FIR filed by Zafar’s family shows that it was filed at 11.30 am on 16 June 2017, while the one filed by the Government against Zafar is clearly an afterthought, filed at 22.51 pm late at night on 16 June! It is quite obvious that the Government decided to file an FIR against Zafar only when they realized that national media was picking up the story of Zafar’s lynching and they needed to try and protect the accused Municipality Commissioner Ashok Jain and others by painting the victim, Zafar, as the aggressor!



(Here is what Section 354 C of IPC states about voyeurism)

Section 354C IPC: Any man who watches, or captures the image of a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed either by the perpetrator or by any other person at the behest of the perpetrator or disseminates such image shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than one year, but which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine, and be punished on a second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years, but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation I.— For the purpose of this section, “private act” includes an act of watching carried out in a place which, in the circumstances, would reasonably be expected to provide privacy and where the victim’s genitals, posterior or breasts are exposed or covered only in underwear; or the victim is using a lavatory; or the victim is doing a sexual act that is not of a kind ordinarily done in public.

Explanation 2.— Where the victim consents to the capture of the images or any act, but not to their dissemination to third persons and where such image or act is disseminated, such dissemination shall be considered an offence under this section.



As you know, CPI(ML) and AICCTU activist Comrade Zafar (55) was lynched to death on 16 June 2017 for defending poor women from attempts by Rajasthan government officials to take photos and videos of them in a state of undress. The women were forced to defecate in the open because the government had refused funds to construct toilets in their colony.

Comrade Zafar is survived by his wife Comrade Rashida, and daughters Rukhsar (who is married) and Sabaz (who is in Class X in high school). Comrade Rashida and even his young daughters are boldly fighting for justice. Comrade Rashida has refused a cheque of Rs 2 lakh as ‘compensation’ from the government officials who are covering up Zafar’s lynching and are using various threats to get Rashida to withdraw her police complaint. She is determined not to be silenced by such offers, and is demanding justice instead.

We appeal to you to contribute generously to Comrade Rashida to help her support herself and her family. Contributions can be sent directly to Comrade Rashida’s bank account:

Name- Rasida Bee w/o Zafar Khan

A/c No- 42310100020101

Name of Bank- Baroda Rajasthan Kshetriya Grameen Bank

Branch- Pratapgarh


The article orginally appeared

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NWMI Condemns Misogynist Abuse of Anna M M Vetticad, Demands End to Virtual Violence


Image result for Anna M M Vetticad,

The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) strongly condemns the online sexual harassment and abuse of film critic Anna M M Vetticad, the latest in the growing list of Indian female writers to be targeted in this manner.

Vetticad has been facing apparently coordinated misogynist abuse on social media sites since the publication of her review of the Akshay Kumar-starrer, ‘Toilet – Ek Prem Katha’ released on August 11, 2017.

Such abuse is magnified in the case of women journalists, such as Vetticad, who are subjected to virtual violence simply for doing their jobs, which involves voicing their opinions.  Over the years, NWMI members have faced similar online abuse, most recently Dhanya Rajendran, Editor of The Newsminute, independent journalists Neha Dixit and Kavitha Muralidharan, and Kavin Malar of India Today.

Vetticad, like other women journalists, notes that this is hardly the first time this has happened to her. She has painstakingly documented the sexist, violent and communally coloured abuse against her, stressing that much of it appears to stem from certain sections of the political spectrum. In Rajendran’s case the abuse was spearheaded by fans of a Tamil actor.

The NWMI unequivocally denounces such online violence against women journalists, and calls for greater tolerance for divergent views on social media. It also urges politicians, actors and other influencers to call out such behaviour, especially from among their followers, and to make it clear that such actions will not be condoned.

Vetticad has reported abuse to Twitter over the past couple of years but has received no response beyond automated mails saying they are “looking into the matter”. Such inaction is concerning, given that women across the world face misogynist abuse in online spaces, which forces many to subject themselves to self-censorship and some to quit social media altogether.

Social media sites must go further in proactively acting against such abuse. Victims of abuse should not have to both suffer abuse and ensure appropriate action against it. Twitter and Facebook have a long way to go in making their sites safe for women.

The NWMI demands that:

  • Twitter and Facebook be more sensitive to online ambush, specifically of women, and institute more robust mechanisms to combat online abuse not only in English, but also in other major languages in the region.

  • Film actors, politicians and others with mass following speak out in public against such abuse.

  • The Editors’ Guild of India, the Press Council of India and other media bodies take suo moto notice of such online harassment of women journalists, condemn it and support targeted media professionals.

The Network of Women in Media, India

August 21, 2017

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Escape from freedom

The news media in India have become, variously, town criers, cheerleaders, abettors, apologists, and an advance guard of newshounds clearing the way, preparing the ground for the totalising ideology and agenda of the current BJP regime. By SASHI KUMAR

THE big news story of our times is one that will not be told by our big news media. Because, it is about themselves. It is about how, on a daily basis, they are disgracing themselves and the noble idea of an independent fourth estate. It is about how they have become, variously, town criers, cheer leaders, abettors, apologists, and an advance guard of news hounds clearing the way, preparing the ground for the totalising ideology and agenda of the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule. Such lemming-like collective self-debasement is at its starkest in the English TV news channels, which vie with one another to run down and ridicule any and every voice of opposition to the government. A good section of the Hindi and other Indian regional language channels is no different and perhaps worse. BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) spokespersons on these news programmes have become redundant or decor because the eager-beaver anchors do their job for them, nipping any dissent in the bud, swatting anything in the studio or on the show that looks like it might develop into a buzz. It is a washout and an insult to journalism.

The English language print media may, by and large, be subtler and less craven in its approach, but there is no mistaking the tamping down of the critical note when it comes to anything having to do with the RSS-BJP combine or the government it runs. Far from telling truth to power, which, if they are unable to distinguish the truth, should at least be telling it like it is, they soft-pedal and circumlocute and generally beat around the bush so that what comes across is not what those in power need to be told, but what they like to hear. Where it is inconvenient to tackle something, the media can always pretend they have not noticed it, meet it with silence. But, as Yevgeny Yevtushenko reminded us all those years back, “When truth is replaced by silence, that silence is a lie”. Diplomatic silence does not sit well with the idea of the free press and, indeed, becomes a convenient form of cowardice.

The current orchestration in the media of the alarm over political killings and the bogey of utter lawlessness in Kerala is ominously reminiscent of the agitation ratcheted up against the first elected Communist government in the State of 1957 by a political-religious-media axis (helpfully nudged along by the Central Intelligence Agency or CIA) leading to the dismissal of the E.M.S. Namboodiripad government in 1959. This time around, the TV news media have, anticipating the longing of their political masters, been whipping up the alarmist atmospherics appropriate to make it appear that the State deserves another spell of President’s Rule. If the BJP government at the Centre does not follow through and actually invoke Article 356, it will be for fear of the electoral reprisal that it would eventually have to face—although another way of looking at it is that there is nothing to lose for a party which has just one seat, for the first time and after all these years, in the State legislature.

This is not to gloss over the cycle of political murders in Kerala. It is shocking, and becomes especially jarring when set against the more enlightened and mature socio-political context and the enviable top-of-the-chart human development index enjoyed by the State. But law and order in the State is nowhere near as bad as in most other States, including and particularly those ruled by the BJP, where human life has been rendered ignobly cheap, where individual and mass caste killings, vendetta and corruption-related murders, systematic elimination of rights activists, killings by the summary and arbitrary fiat of khap panchayats, and lately, periodic organised slaughter of the minorities and serial lynchings in the name of the cow, have become almost routine. There is not even a squeak from the media about bringing these rampantly lawless States under Central rule, perhaps because nothing, least of all a direct spell under the President, can make any difference to the violence that is endemic in them.

It is in the nature of a highly news media penetrated, almost saturated, State like Kerala to be subject to scrutiny more rigorous and unrelenting than in large swathes of the country still relegated to the penumbra of feudal politics. Violence in society here rarely goes unspotted or unreported; crimes do not go unrecorded, and become an obsessive media preoccupation. One could almost speak in terms of a media morbidity peculiar to Kerala. There is, too, a class parity of the media and their constituency of viewers—an incestuous middle-class clannish affair—which make it possible to keep the discourse on political murders engaging on the front burner and on the boil, and therefore TRP-fetching for the TV channels. An interesting facet of the recent arrest of the film star Dileep in the case of the abduction and molestation of a female actor was that it saw the mass shift of viewership, for a good many days, from serials to the news on TV. There is a case for something like a Kerala exceptionalism in terms of the local news media projection and consumption behaviour. But to extrapolate this media peculiarity into an argument for subverting the legitimate political process and government in the State would be like making democracy a reality television show.

There was incidentally a telling, if weird, instance of such a reality television political moment when it was reported a while back that the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s decision on the surgical strike into Pakistan was prompted by a TV discussion in which the anchor apparently tauntingly asked the Defence Ministry whether it would have the courage to act militarily against Pakistan. It is not so farfetched, then, to imagine a media inspired or engineered takeover of a State by the Centre.

The media exceptionalism in Kerala conflates with another exceptionalism, that of the RSS in the State. The organisation has had, for some time now, more shakhas in this small State than in any other State in the country. One wonders what calculations went into this concentrated ideological investment in Kerala, given that until very recently neither the RSS nor the BJP had any electoral prospect there. Now the RSS is able to feed into the winner-will-take-all power politics of the BJP central leadership in a bid to throw the State into confusion and crisis.

What is brewing in Kerala is only the latest instance of how the press is a lever in the hand of the politician in power. Seventy years after Independence, the news media in India are at a piquant inflection point. What is happening to the news media, or what they are doing to themselves, here and now, is a throwback to the Emergency of the mid-1970s. The real difference seems, to parody the current debate on external versus self-regulation in the media, that the Emergency was one big external regulator in action, and what we see now is propitiatory self-regulation by the media. It is not love for the BJP, but fear of it, that elicits such collusive media behaviour across the board. The pattern of pressure, through veiled and open threats, through raids by the income tax authorities and the Enforcement Directorate, through calumny and vilification, is now familiar.

Although conventionally the press has evolved as more in opposition to, than in agreement with, the ruling dispensation, there have been phases when it has, happily it would seem, played second fiddle to the government of the day. The earliest example of a party in power creating its own press portfolio dates back to the early 1700s in England when the most important Tory Minister of the day, Robert Harley, or the Earl of Oxford, launched a series of newspapers catering to different constituencies to take on the Whig opposition, supplemented by other forms of direct persecution. Among his trenchant lead writers was Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe), and the chief propagandist was Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels). Some of our media worthies who have blissfully practised paid news, or gallantly figured in the Radia tapes and emerged unscathed, or the big guns on camera who now forcefully prosecute all those opposed to the BJP as enemies of the state, no less, may draw solace or inspiration, as the case may be, from those early tall examples.

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The Era of Whatsapp Propaganda Is Upon Us


The future of fake news is messaging apps, not social media. And it’s going to be even worse.

In some places, the future of misinformation is already here.

A hoax about child-napping con artists led to the beating of two people this spring in Brazil. A rumor about a salt shortage last fall sparked panicked rushes to markets in several Indian states that turned fatal. And fabricated poll reports sowed doubts about the electoral standing of candidates ahead this month’s elections in Kenya, where the result is disputed and dozens have been killed in protests.

When fake news has violent consequences, journalists have a duty to set the record straight as quickly as possible. But the details of these rumors — who was behind them and why — are particularly murky and likely to remain that way. That’s due to one seemingly trivial detail: In all of these cases, the misinformation made its way to readers via the messaging service WhatsApp.

Closed messaging apps like WhatsApp and Viber continue to grow in popularity worldwide. And as the popularity of Facebook and Twitter as news sources shows signs of stagnating or declining around the world, messaging platforms are increasingly becoming a means through which users learn about the wider world. A recent YouGov survey of over 70,000 people in 36 countries found that 23 percent of respondents “find, share, or discuss” news using at least one messaging service. In Asian and Latin American countries like Malaysia or Brazil, that number is closer to 50 percent, and WhatsApp is almost as common a source of news as Facebook.

Messaging platforms have yet to provoke much discussion among misinformation and disinformation researchers (myself included) in the West, who have been trying to devise best practices for responding to viral rumor and disinformation campaigns. But these simple apps deserve attention as the dark future of misinformation and disinformation.

Unlike Twitter or Reddit, messaging apps are not designed to be public squares where users can mingle with millions of strangers. They began as cheap, data-lean alternatives to SMS texting or as ways to send private, encrypted messages.

Most of these apps restrict users to one-on-one chats with contacts in their phones or to private group chats with no more than 500 friends of friends. While a conversation with hundreds of participants certainly doesn’t feel too private, these groups chats are still closed in the sense that everyone in them must be invited by an existing member, and there’s no way to know whether a group exists unless you’re a part of it. Furthermore, with a few exceptions, there are no trending lists or social feeds providing input from outside a user’s network. Some mobile messaging companies have recognized the potential for their apps to deliver creative or editorial content, offering features through which users can subscribe to one-way chats with publishers. These are not a public forum, though; users can like messages and see how many each has been viewed, but only the publisher can post messages to subscribers.

In short, barring a few exceptions, all activity on these platforms that exists outside one’s immediate network is completely invisible. On apps with end-to-end encryption — like WhatsApp, Telegram, or Viber — ostensibly not even the platforms themselves can always see what’s being discussed by users. It’s for this reason that some who have been paying attention to messaging platforms call them “dark social.”

The obscurity of messaging apps poses obvious problems for journalists trying to quickly find and debunk falsehoods on these platforms. To begin with, it’s harder for journalists or others trying to combat misinformation to identify just what is circulating on these platforms in first place. But even when a rumor has been pinpointed, it’s harder to take the first and necessary step in the fact-checking process of identifying the original source of a piece of content. Hoaxes on messaging services often don’t come with citations or hyperlink; rather, they’re commonly standalone media or blocks of text, sometimes attributed to official sources. (“The next [Richter] scale of earthquake will be 8.2. News From NASA. Plz forward the message as much as u can” is one typical example from India.) Unattributed or falsely attributed images, videos or text can be searched on Google. However, where the original instance of the content cannot be found by Google’s web crawlers — like in cases where the content originated on the messaging platform itself or has been edited — journalists are left at a dead end.

These apps also have features that complicate matters for anyone looking to spread false information. It’s harder for actors to synthetically boost their message as they have, say, using bots on Twitter. To send someone a message on these platforms, you must have their mobile number stored in your phone or at least know their exact username. The prominent messaging apps also require users to sign up with a valid cell phone number, verified via a text message or call, in order to access their phone’s contacts to send messages.

To be sure, circulators of disinformation could easily buy a list of phone numbers or scrape online telephone directories, and there are ways for the highly motivated to bulk purchase internet phone numbers or SIM cards, as well as ways to automate group and message creation. However, most messaging services enable users to flag spammers. In addition, WhatsApp and Viber have announced spam-detection measures that supposedly prevent accounts from sending too many unwanted messages.

The more likely way for malicious actors to engineer virality on a messaging platform would be to simply coordinate with like-minded others who are already using these apps and have cultivated large networks. Similar tactics are reportedly being used by the Indian People’s Party (BJP), which is preparing for the 2018 election by training 100 volunteers to distribute messages via at least 5,000 WhatsApp groups. To be clear, this is not a suggestion that the BJP is using these methods to spread disinformation — but it’s easy to see how those with nefarious intentions could use these tactics for their own ends.

It seems likely that, absent involvement from mobile messaging companies themselves, the immediate fight against hoax and propaganda on their platforms will involve crowdsourcing. And indeed, creative uses of crowdsourcing to get around the barriers of messaging apps have already begun to emerge in countries awash with WhatsApp hoaxes. As reported by the Nieman Journalism Lab, Colombian political news site La Silla Vacía has begun encouraging their readers to submit screenshots of the WhatsApp messages they suspect to be hoaxes. Then, after fact-checking a hoax, they request that its submitter share another screenshot showing they’ve forwarded the fact-check to their contacts, thereby targeting the social circles from which the hoax spread. WhatsApp tips are similarly being accepted by fact-checking groups in India and Brazil like BoomLive and Boatos.

But fact-checking, by its very nature, will always be one step behind misinformation and disinformation. In addition, journalists must utilize every proactive option available. That means educating the public on how to question and verify online content through new media literacy programs, and replenishing the deficit of trust in journalism that creates an appetite for unverified reports in the first place and thwarts any attempt at their correction.

Both will require a daunting commitment of time and resources. But the future of misinformation and disinformation is coming, and we need to begin preparing now.

Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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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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Gorakhpur Tragedy: Administration paid no heed to local journalist’s regular reports on the issue

By Siddhant Mohan

Just a few hours after news of the tragic death of children in Gorakhpur’s BRD Medical college flashed across the screens in India, the official Twitter handle of Uttar Pradesh government declared that deaths were not because of Oxygen shortage, and constituted an investigation committee to look into the matter.

But in between all the deaths and government’s denial, the truth is that one local journalist named Manoj Kumar Singh had been constantly reporting about the oxygen shortage and ongoing deaths since July.

Manoj works for ‘Gorakhpur News Line’, a local news website dedicated to stories from Gorakhpur and adjoining regions. And his stand in covering news events has always been that of an activist.

On July 22, Gorakhpur News Line published a story about the death of four children within 48 hours due to encephalitis in the same BRD medical college of Gorakhpur. These children were from Kushinagar, Deoria and Gorakhpur.

On July 28, Singh wrote for news portal The Wire and talked about the condition of encephalitis rehabilitation ward, also known as Preventive Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR) Department of BRD medical college. He reported that 11 health officials appointed in the PMR department had not been paid for the last 27 months.

Singh continued reporting on the matter and on August 8, he shared two stories regarding encephalitis and health conditions in Gorakhpur. In one of them, it was clearly mentioned that the National Human Rights Commission was supposed to meet health officials on August 11.

Singh told, “I was getting information from hospital staff on the condition of anonymity. They were not actually sharing the information, but they were asking me to spread the news about mismanagement inside the hospital and also about how they had not been paid for more than five months.”

It was due to Singh’s efforts that soon, news emerged about how RK Mishra, the Principal of BRD medical college, had instructed college staff to not to talk with media regarding any matter related to encephalitis and the ‘measures’ taken to the hospital to prevent its patients.

Singh again tried to spread the news of the deaths, but despite his best efforts, clearly, no one from the administration was paying any attention. On August 9, Singh again reported about the death of five children in a span of 24 hours. And just a day after this, Manoj reported that Pushpa sales had stopped oxygen supply following the dues amount of Rs 63 lakh.

The letter was written by Pushpa Sales to the district officials dated August 1, also surfaced yesterday in which the supplier had asked for clearance of dues. It is becoming evident that Pushpa Sales had tried a lot before the oxygen supplies were stopped. The report by Singh also mentions that BRD medical college did not have the enough oxygen content in their liquid oxygen plant and it could be used by the night of August 10.

It becomes evident from Singh’s timeline that he was continuously reporting and alerting the government about the continuously worsening situation in the hospital.

The claims of the government that it was not aware of the hospital bills is extremely difficult to digest in light of Singh’s continuous reports. Also, it is important to point out that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited the medical college not only on August 9 but also on July 9. In his July trip, Yogi Adityanath had instructed medical college officials to improve the situation in order to fight the cases of encephalitis.

Patients were already dying during Yogi Adityanath’s trip of August 9, but the administration, as well as health officials, refused to acknowledge the situation.

It is also becoming clear that the media, in an attempt to break news as fast as possible, clearly misses the number of adults who died during the same period. It turns out that 18 adults also died during the same period of 48 hours because of oxygen scarcity, but administration embezzled this fact.

District administration has deployed police force outside the BRD medical college to ‘avoid’ any conflict or protest.

Singh told, “You can imagine the condition that I was trying calling college principal RK Mishra and chief medical officer Ravindra Kumar from the past one month. But they were too stubborn to respond to calls. CMO even made several excuses for not talking to me.”

BRD medical college treats encephalitis patients from nearly 15 neighbouring districts including Gorakhpur itself. Until July this year, 829 children have lost their lives at BRD medical college with the highest haul in the month of March with 141 deaths. What is equally worrying is that despite the death from encephalitis rising every year in BRD, the services are getting poorer every month.

Most of the doctors and the nursing staff in the hospital work on a contractual basis but they get paid rarely. It is a usual job in the college to pay the contractual staff once or twice in a year. One doctor from the college told, “We do the job for at least 18 hours any day. But you can imagine the situation that we get paid after four or five months. And this happens every time.”

Singh continues to fight the irregularities inside the hospital with his little venture Gorakhpur News Line, but he hopes that administration should have taken a note of what he was saying since last three weeks.

On Saturday, the oxygen cylinders were in the hospital once again, as the attention of the social media moved to Dr Qafeel, who was constantly trying to bring oxygen in the hospital. Singh added, “I am constantly shouting that medical college needs at least Rs 50 crores to fight and manage encephalitis.”

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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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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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