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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


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 


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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