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Here’s how much Modi government is spending on Twitter, Facebook #socialmedia


Ministries Go All Out to Tackle Social Media
New Delhi
PROFESSIONAL AID Ministries employing pvt consultants and agencies to manage space

The Modi government has brought a professional touch to its public interface. From an almost-mandatory Twitter presence for all ministries to hiring professional agencies to manage social media messaging for as much as ` .2 crore a year, the BJP government is leaving no stone unturned to get its messages across.ET filed applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 56 central ministries to find out their social media presence and whether private consultants or professional agencies were hired to handle their Twitter and Facebook accounts.The information reveals that almost all Twitter and Facebook accounts across ministries ­ barring external affairs, information & broadcasting and tourism ­ were opened between June and December 2014, soon after the Modi government came to power in May 2014.All ministries, except civil aviation and micro, small & medium enterprises, replied that they had Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The information showed that since 2016, the government increasingly took professional help ­ either hiring agencies or private consultants ­ to handle the accounts. Ministries that have taken professional help include home, information & broadcasting, food processing, tourism, housing & urban affairs, Niti Aayog, drinking water & sanitation, AYUSH, women & child development and environment, forests & climate change.

The ministry of housing & urban affairs employed a firm named Quantum for a contract worth ` . 7 crore for three years. The I&B ministry signed a memorandum of understanding with BECIL, a public sector unit under the ministry , for` . 2.92 crore. BECIL, in turn, has farmed out the work to three companies.BECIL has been involved in similar work with I&B since 2013.

The food processing ministry shared the name of the agency Samhita Media Networks without divulging the amount spent on the order. The tourism ministry employed Stark Communications for a contract worth ` . 1.04 crore. Niti Aayog has given the contract to YAAP . 96 lakh for one year.Digital for ` The women & child development ministry has hired five private consultants for its social media work but refused to divulge their emoluments. The environment ministry has hired two consultants on a monthly salary of ` . 20,000 each. The ministry of drinking water & sanitation does not have a Twitter handle but its flagship initiative Swachh Bharat Rural has one. The ministry said in its RTI reply that various development partners provide services on a pro bono basis.

While all ministries divulged details of private firms and consultants, the home ministry refused to reveal the amount it spent on hiring private consultants and firms invoking the national security exemption clause. “This is to convey that MHA has been engaging consultants on short-term basis for activities in the interest of national security , including monitoring of social media content. Such activities are secret in nature and have a direct bearing on several facets of internal security. The information sought is, thus, about matters which are related to the security interests of the country and hence denied,“ the ministry said in its response.

The RTI applications were filed in February and March.

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BJP IT cell secretary’s bail rejected twice in connection with fake video post

BJP west bengal, tarun sengupta, BJP it cell, BJP it cell secretary, BJP bengal IT cell, BJP social media, BJP newsTarun Sengupta, the BJP IT cell in charge in Asansol, West Bengal

The Birbhum district court on Wednesday rejected the bail plea of BJP IT cell (secretary) Tarun Sengupta who has been in jail for over a month for his alleged fake Facebook post.

“His bail prayer has been rejected today for the second time by the lower court Birbhum,” Adg (CID) Rajesh Kumar told the Indian Express. According to officials, the case was heard on Monday and the order was kept preserved till today. The court after seeing the case diary rejected his bail prayer, said officials. His earlier bail plea was rejected by August 3. Sengupta was arrested on 12th of July 2017,

Sengupta was arrested on July 12 this year after he allegedly uploaded a fake video of a Muslim police officer beating a Hindu man. Officials said the video was accompanied by an image of chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The CID noticed the Facebook post in July and subsequently nabbed him. His arrest came at a time when the state government was cracking down on social media following communal flare ups in Baduria and Basirhat areas.

“The post had named two IPS officer from the minority community and had claimed that they were deliberately targeting Hindus,” added an official.

The BJP’s Asansol president Tapas Ray said, “Tarun Sengupta was IT convenor. Till date, he hasn’t resigned. He is still with us.”

The Facebook post reportedly read, “is Birbhum a part of Bangladesh or Pakistan ? Nishat Parvez SP and ADSP Farhay Abbas ordered the brutal lathicharge and serious thrashing on the peaceful Hanuman Bhakts . Both these Muslim IPS officer were performing their religious duties of destroying the Kafors and idol worshippers without even thinking duties of of their service.Birbhum is next Bangladesh”.

Incidentally, one of the IPS officers named in the fake video is DIG (operations) of CID in Bengal.

The Trinamool Congress-led government had blamed the BJP for using Facebook to create communal tension in the past following which state agencies had increased their vigilance on social networking sites. BJP too has accused the TMC of appeasing minorities on several occasions.

BJP IT cell secretary’s bail rejected twice in connection with fake video post

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Indian-origin CEO racially abused by Trump supporters in US



  • US-born Ravin Gandhi, 44, founder and CEO of GMM Nonstick Coatings, wrote an op-ed for CNBC following Trump’s Charlottesville remarks
  • He was quickly trolled and racially abused by readers
  • Gandhi said he would speak out against such abuse as long as he has a platform to do so

Ravin Gandhi, founder and CEO of GMM Nonstick Coatings. (Photo courtesy: Twitter/@RavinGandhi1)Ravin Gandhi, founder and CEO of GMM Nonstick Coatings. (Photo courtesy: Twitter/@RavinGandhi1)

NEW YORK: An Indian-origin CEO was racially abused and told to “go back to India” and also take along Nikki Haley after he said that he will not support President Donald Trump‘s economic agenda after the US leader appeared to defend white supremacists following the Virginia violence.

US-born Ravin Gandhi, 44, founder and CEO of GMM Nonstick Coatings, a global supplier of coatings for cookware and bakeware, wrote an op-ed for CNBC following Trump’s Charlottesville remarks but was quickly trolled and racially abused by readers, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“I recently told the New York Times I was ‘rooting’ for certain aspects of Trump’s economic agenda,” Gandhi wrote in the op-ed. “After Charlottesville and its aftermath, I will not defend Trump even if the Dow hits 50,000, unemployment goes to 1 per cent, and GDP grows by 7 per cent. Some issues transcend economics, and I will not in good conscience support a president who seems to hate Americans who don’t look like him.”

Hundreds of white supremacists clashed with counter demonstrators at a rally in Charlottesville on August 12 in which a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 injured when a car drove into a crowd of protesters.

Gandhi was soon bombarded by hate comments on his opinion piece, including a voicemail from a woman who said Gandhi should “get your (expletive) garbage and go back to India.”

The woman, using abusive and inappropriate language, told Gandhi that he should also take “that other half-(expletive) Bangladesh (expletive) with you, Nikki Haley,” referring to the US envoy to the UN.

“She’s (Haley) the one that started all this when she took down the Confederate flag. So don’t tell us that you gave him a chance. We don’t give a (expletive) who you gave a chance, OK? We’re going to start taking down Buddhist statues and see how you and Nikki Haley like that,” the woman said.

In the minute and a half voicemail she said Gandhi should “go clean up your own (expletive) country, it’s a filthy mess.”

Gandhi posted the voicemail to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook and shared some of the nastier emails he received as well, the report said.

“It was obvious that people thought my professional position somewhat protected me,” he said. “I wanted to show people that racism is blind to socioeconomics. It just is. Even though my race is a complete non-issue in my day-to-day life, the sad reality is there’s a group of racists in the USA that views me as a second-class citizen,” he said in the report.

“I wanted my peers in the business community, the civic community, my friend community to see that this can happen to me. Because there’s this delusion that racism is dead because Obama was elected.”


Gandhi added that the fact that Trump “equated hate groups with those protesting hate lit me up” as he called Trump’s moral leadership on the issue “reprehensible.”


He said while his sharing a “bigoted” voicemail may not make a big difference, but he will speak out against such abuse as long as he has a platform to do so.


“My heroes are Martin Luther King JrNelson Mandela, people who stood up against insane odds. And let’s be honest – I live in a doorman-protected building in the Gold Coast. For me to say that I’m suffering in any real sense is insane. But many people in this city who don’t have resources really are suffering. I know I’m on the right side of history here,” he said. “That’s how I sleep at night.”

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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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