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Info Change India - Freedom of expression

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Freedom of expression

Speaking freely

With citizens being charged with sedition for speaking their minds, with books and films being banned or censored, not just by the state but by chauvinist forces, with artists forced to flee the country for offending ‘public sentiment’, with historical enquiry stalled and history being rewritten, we are seeing increasing constraints on freedom of expression says Dilip Simeon. When such practices become common in democratic systems, they inaugurate the slide towards tyranny

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A million tyrannies now

The communal campaigns variously targeting newspapers, magazines, TV channels, books, art, cinema and music -- the entire panoply of cultural production -- today constitute the biggest threat to freedom and democracy in India. And ironically, this new censorship is as much the creation of democracy and development as it is simultaneously antithetical to it. For, the more free speech advocates confront it, and the more the media report this confrontation, the worse it becomes, says Maseeh Rahman 

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Sedition and the death of free speech

The repeated use of India’s sedition laws – most recently against human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen -- has made them one of the biggest threats to the freedom of speech and expression. Along with other colonial laws such as criminal defamation, laws dealing with obscenity, and blasphemy laws, sedition laws undermine the right to dissent and the right to criticise state policy. Is it time to seriously re-examine the need for these undemocratic laws in the world’s largest democracy, asks Siddharth Narrain

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Freedom in security

In recent months we have seen a counter-productive debate on freedom vs security, and mounting criticism of ‘draconian’, ‘colonial’ statutes such as the law on sedition, on the grounds that they are susceptible to abuse. But isn’t the problem rooted not in the legislations themselves but in the inability of the state and its agencies to implement the rule of law, and the subordination of legal processes to political expediency? Ajai Sahni explains

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Reasonable restrictions and unreasonable speech

Two cases – one related to the left-leaning journal Crossroads and the other related to the RSS mouthpiece Organizer – led to the first amendment of the Indian Constitution which, unlike the first amendment in the USA, did not promote freedom of expression but curtailed it, prioritising the promotion of national security and sovereignty over the promotion of democratic institutions. Lawrence Liang reports

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The secret life of film censorship

The processes and practices of censorship are really a series of transactions by which the boundaries of ‘prohibition’ and ‘acceptability’ are constantly negotiated. Conventional studies of censorship invariably emphasise its institutional and prohibitive aspects, writes Shohini Ghosh. But the processes, practices and consequences of censorship are also ‘productive’, suggesting not just what we may not see but also suggesting the proper way of seeing, and building a theory of cinema, of spectatorship and the idea of the public

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When is 'news' better off not reported?

Did it make sense for the Gujarat government to ban use of the image of the burning Sabarmati Express in the media before the Godhra judgment, nine years after the event? Is some limit on press freedom necessary in order to keep the peace at all costs? This article, by Jyoti Punwani, explores this and other dilemmas of mediapersons

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Cultural memory and the politics of intolerance in Maharashtra

How should the scholar or historian negotiate a community’s cultural memory, and public outrage against perceived misrepresentations of its icons such as Shivaji? The liberal perspective is quick to spot the threat posed by chauvinist forces to freedom of expression. But how is such freedom to be reconciled with the imperative of respecting popular sentiment, asks Mangesh Kulkarni

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Dissent vs incitement?

Are human rights organisations failing to draw the line between prisoners of conscience and individuals who espouse extremist and violent forms of identity-based politics? Are organisations such as Amnesty International failing to make clear that some of the people whose rights they were upholding intended to destroy fundamental human rights? Gita Sahgal explains

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Freedom gagged

Much of the information circulated in the Kashmir valley tends to be half-truths and one-and-a-half-truths, if not outright fabrications, writes Sualeh Keen. There are no clearly set standards of what is allowed under free speech, and what constitutes the abuse of this right. Information asymmetry is counterproductive. Any lopsided and biased perspective is far from ‘free’ if it closes itself to other narratives. This is equally true for the state, which must realise that not allowing people space to protest democratically will lead to protests in less desirable forms

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Out, dark spots: History and the state in Russia

Under the Putin regime there is a reversal of the exercise to infuse authenticity into Soviet history that started in 1986 under the banner of glasnost. This article, by Arup Banerji, explores Russia’s attempts to mould a usable past and construct a ‘positive’ history that would ‘create patriots’ rather than ‘smear the Motherland with mud’

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Repression and resurgence in Tibet

Before the Tibetan uprising of 2008, resistance to Chinese rule emanated mainly from monasteries and nunneries, with intellectuals and educated people staying away from political activism. Now, writes Tenzing Sonam, schoolchildren and university students have joined the protests, over 60 Tibetan writers, bloggers, intellectuals and cultural figures have been arrested, and every form of dissent is being targeted, including recording, selling and listening to songs considered subversive

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Assaults on freedom of expression

Any hopes that the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka would inaugurate renewed freedom of expression have been dashed, says Rohini Hensman. Several outspoken journalists have been attacked, web journals focusing on corruption and human rights violations have been blocked, and a state plan to set up an Internet filtering system with the help of Chinese experts was exposed

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'Dissent is the quintessence of democracy'

The March 2011 judgment of the Delhi High Court on the censorship of Had Anhad, a documentary on the legacy of Kabir, outlines the broad principles governing censorship in India and makes a strong case for the right of the viewer/reader to think autonomously while reacting to the speaker/filmmaker, and to make informed choices without being controlled by the state. For “stability in society can only be promoted by introspection into social reality, however grim it be”

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The war dogma

Reporter Javed Iqbal debates the meaning of neutrality, objectivity and truth in the conflict zone of Dantewada, where everything seems to depend on where you stand. Are you standing between a crying mother and the barbed wire across which state officials are conducting an autopsy on her son whom they shot dead? Or across from a young boy whose leg was filled with shrapnel from a Maoist grenade? Or in a police van getting beaten up by the police for reporting on the burning of a village?

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Virtual democracy?

Should India celebrate the fact that we have only 11 officially banned websites compared to 12,000 in Pakistan, asks Ketan Tanna. Or worry about the increasing desire of the government to control Net freedom and push through the new IT notification that proposes to ban online content that “threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order”?

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On artistic freedom

Purushottam Agrawal’s letter to the Hindi Akademi of the Delhi government underlines the increasing attacks on artists and writers for ‘hurting sentiments’ or ‘hurting morality’ by their so-called acts of obscenity. Such intolerance, he points out, can turn democracy into a mere formality. The autonomy of creative pursuits and of the agencies dealing with them must be respected

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