Sibal’s Censorship-Agenda

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Paradoxically, the attempt made by Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal to consider censoring certain social networking sites has given a new boost to anti-corruption drive of Anna Hazare and his team members. This was reflected at the token fast undertaken by Hazare last Sunday (December 11) at Jantar Mantar. The Anna-team lashed out at the government, including Sibal stating that his censorship-agenda aimed to “control their anti-corruption movement.” Irrespective of whether Sibal’s “censorship” –move takes off or not, it has certainly provided his and his party’s rivals sufficient political ammunition to target the government with.

Undeniably, Sibal’s move has not been received favourably in most circles, even though he has gone overboard to justify the need to censor “dangerous material” from some networking sites. In Sibal’s view, if the material he views as dangerous is not blocked, it can incite communal violence across the country. As evident, his censorship-plan has been viewed differently by others. The Anna-team, for instance, regards it as Sibal’s move to check their anti-corruption movement. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to analyse Sibal’s censorship-agenda from his perspective.

If Sibal does go ahead with censorship agenda, would it really contribute to check communal violence in India? Considering the controversial debate ignited by Sibal considering such a policy, one is tempted to deliberate on whether it can turn out to be counter-productive? It may incite those opposed to Sibal’s moves to become more active in promoting their agenda through Internet, as seems to be intention of Hazare-team. This also raises the question, whether Sibal’s agenda will prove to be effective in actually censoring “dangerous” material? Besides, even if Sibal succeeds to an extent, is there any guarantee that this move would check and prevent other means of communication from provoking violence? Also, it is pertinent to focus on whether Sibal’s censorship-motive is seriously directed towards banning “dangerous material” that can provoke communal violence across the country?

The last point demands evidence of “dangerous material” that has actually contributed to provoking communal violence or has the potential to do so in the coming days. Undeniably, the recent years have been marked by a new importance gained by these websites. The same period, however, has not been witness to any one or more incidents of communal violence being provoked and/or spreading across the country. Before networking sites had gained importance in India, the major incidents of communal violence had been provoked by elements based in the country and their using other means of communication. This point is supported by Gujarat-carnage as well as nation-wide riots provoked during 1990s over Ayodhya-issue and demolition of Babri Masjid.

Ironically, Sibal’s comments suggest a parallel increase in dangerous material on websites and risk of communal violence in the country. This point, as indicated earlier, stands defeated by virtual non-existence of such a link. Besides, rather than wait for a censorship-policy to be activated, the Indian government should start giving greater importance to taking legal action against those promoting dangerous material and also the ones who are being influenced by the same.

It may be noted, Sibal has also voiced India’s inability to check elements and their dangerous intentions, if they are based outside India. In other words, even if the Indian government goes ahead with blocking dangerous material from certain networking sites, the country cannot take action against the ones who may continue to indulge in these activities from outside the country. This implies, the external elements would retain option of using other networking tools or means of communication, including fax and telephone to continue with their communal designs. Even if Sibal succeeds in activating his censorship-agenda, it does not guarantee a check on spread of dangerous material which may provoke communal violence across the country. 

Irrespective of who is responsible for using dangerous material to create communal chaos in the country, the Indian government remains legally committed to control, check and prevent the same from assuming the nature of communal violence across the nation or even in few places.  There is no denying that some extremist elements with a strong communal prejudice are still on the look out for opportunities to incite riots against minorities in India. The recent past has, however, been witness to common people adopting a passive approach to these elements’ intentions. This also means that they no longer retain the influence, which they earlier had, to provoke mobs to stage of communal frenzy. In other words, whether these elements use Internet or other means of communication, their impact is dependent on whether the Indian public choose to be influenced by them or not.

The last point may also be made about Sibal’s actual intention being to block criticism of the government on the Internet, though he has talked more about censoring dangerous material that can engulf the nation in a stage of communal violence. A substantial percentage of the list of “dangerous material,” the government is keen on being censored, reportedly includes government criticism. Whether Sibal’s censorship-agenda is directed towards preventing criticism of government or to check provocation of communal violence, either ways, it is time that it is understood that the Indian public is too smart to be fooled by his intentions or the ones “propagated” through the Internet. 

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Sibal’s Censorship-Agenda

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Paradoxically, the attempt made by Communications and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal to consider censoring certain social networking sites has given a new boost to anti-corruption drive of Anna Hazare and his team members. This was reflected at the token fast undertaken by Hazare last Sunday (December 11) at Jantar Mantar. The Anna-team lashed out at the government, including Sibal stating that his censorship-agenda aimed to “control their anti-corruption movement.” Irrespective of whether Sibal’s “censorship” –move takes off or not, it has certainly provided his and his party’s rivals sufficient political ammunition to target the government with.

Undeniably, Sibal’s move has not been received favourably in most circles, even though he has gone overboard to justify the need to censor “dangerous material” from some networking sites. In Sibal’s view, if the material he views as dangerous is not blocked, it can incite communal violence across the country. As evident, his censorship-plan has been viewed differently by others. The Anna-team, for instance, regards it as Sibal’s move to check their anti-corruption movement. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to analyse Sibal’s censorship-agenda from his perspective.

If Sibal does go ahead with censorship agenda, would it really contribute to check communal violence in India? Considering the controversial debate ignited by Sibal considering such a policy, one is tempted to deliberate on whether it can turn out to be counter-productive? It may incite those opposed to Sibal’s moves to become more active in promoting their agenda through Internet, as seems to be intention of Hazare-team. This also raises the question, whether Sibal’s agenda will prove to be effective in actually censoring “dangerous” material? Besides, even if Sibal succeeds to an extent, is there any guarantee that this move would check and prevent other means of communication from provoking violence? Also, it is pertinent to focus on whether Sibal’s censorship-motive is seriously directed towards banning “dangerous material” that can provoke communal violence across the country?

The last point demands evidence of “dangerous material” that has actually contributed to provoking communal violence or has the potential to do so in the coming days. Undeniably, the recent years have been marked by a new importance gained by these websites. The same period, however, has not been witness to any one or more incidents of communal violence being provoked and/or spreading across the country. Before networking sites had gained importance in India, the major incidents of communal violence had been provoked by elements based in the country and their using other means of communication. This point is supported by Gujarat-carnage as well as nation-wide riots provoked during 1990s over Ayodhya-issue and demolition of Babri Masjid.

Ironically, Sibal’s comments suggest a parallel increase in dangerous material on websites and risk of communal violence in the country. This point, as indicated earlier, stands defeated by virtual non-existence of such a link. Besides, rather than wait for a censorship-policy to be activated, the Indian government should start giving greater importance to taking legal action against those promoting dangerous material and also the ones who are being influenced by the same.

It may be noted, Sibal has also voiced India’s inability to check elements and their dangerous intentions, if they are based outside India. In other words, even if the Indian government goes ahead with blocking dangerous material from certain networking sites, the country cannot take action against the ones who may continue to indulge in these activities from outside the country. This implies, the external elements would retain option of using other networking tools or means of communication, including fax and telephone to continue with their communal designs. Even if Sibal succeeds in activating his censorship-agenda, it does not guarantee a check on spread of dangerous material which may provoke communal violence across the country. 

Irrespective of who is responsible for using dangerous material to create communal chaos in the country, the Indian government remains legally committed to control, check and prevent the same from assuming the nature of communal violence across the nation or even in few places.  There is no denying that some extremist elements with a strong communal prejudice are still on the look out for opportunities to incite riots against minorities in India. The recent past has, however, been witness to common people adopting a passive approach to these elements’ intentions. This also means that they no longer retain the influence, which they earlier had, to provoke mobs to stage of communal frenzy. In other words, whether these elements use Internet or other means of communication, their impact is dependent on whether the Indian public choose to be influenced by them or not.

The last point may also be made about Sibal’s actual intention being to block criticism of the government on the Internet, though he has talked more about censoring dangerous material that can engulf the nation in a stage of communal violence. A substantial percentage of the list of “dangerous material,” the government is keen on being censored, reportedly includes government criticism. Whether Sibal’s censorship-agenda is directed towards preventing criticism of government or to check provocation of communal violence, either ways, it is time that it is understood that the Indian public is too smart to be fooled by his intentions or the ones “propagated” through the Internet. 

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Communal Violence Bill Incites Heated Debate

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Heated political debate is brewing between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over Communal Violence Bill cleared recently by National Advisory Council (NAC), led by United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-head Sonia Gandhi. The Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Regulations) Bill 2011, if adopted by Parliament, will permit the center to intervene in cases of communal or targeted violence by invoking a provision in article 355 of the Constitution. As per this article, the bill permits the central government to declare any case of communal violence as “internal disturbance” and take actions considered appropriate. The center’s duty, according to article 355, is “to protect every state against external aggression and internal disturbance and ensure the government of every state is carried on in accordance with provisions of this Constitution.” 

Criticizing the proposed bill, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said it would lead to intrusion into states, make the majority community culpable and damage inter-community relations. Countering BJP’s stand, Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: “We are shocked at the BJP’s reaction. Firstly, nothing has been finalized. Opinions are being sought from diverse sections. The BJP is trying to further its communal agenda. It is trying to do so by pre-emptive strike and debunking a draft bill under discussion.” He added: “The country knows which political party has communal agenda from its birth, continues to be bound by umbilical chord of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and carries the shame of Gujarat, Karnataka and Babri with ease.” With the party (BJP) being “naturally worried,” it has opted for this “pre-emptive strike,” Singhvi said.

The bill has also been described by the BJP as “dangerous, draconian, discriminatory and damaging to India’s federal policy.”  The Congress has retaliated by saying: “We will fight them to the end on this issue, there won’t be compromises. There will be a huge political cost involved for anybody who sides with the BJP on this issue.”

The Congress is confident that the BJP would be isolated in its opposition to the bill when it is introduced in the Parliament. “The BJP is free to challenge the constitutional validity of the law after it is enacted. Let it be tested in court instead of trying to abort it before its birth on petty and trivial grounds. The BJP’s pernicious propaganda is reflective of its communal agenda and guilt complex,” Singhvi said. The Congress is “determined” to bring the bill in the next session of the Parliament.

Rejecting BJP’s allegation on center’s plan to encroach into states’ domain, Singhvi said that the clause which permits this, also has safeguards. Before intervening, the center would first advise the state, if there was a communal flare-up. The center would wait for action and would intervene only if state’s inaction led the situation to further flare up.

Justifying the need for central intervention in serious cases, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal cited the experience of Gujarat-carnage. Despite nine years having passed by, FIR had not been registered in many cases, Sibal pointed out. A Special Investigation Team (SIT), appointed by Supreme Court, was still examining the need to lodge an FIR in the Gujarat-cases, which only necessitates the need for central intervention in extraordinary cases, Sibal said.

Demanding explanation on controversial provisions of the bill, which allegedly hold only majority community as responsible for riots, BJP senior leader Ravi Shanker Prasad said: “Tell us clearly, Soniaji- can the majority community in India become victims of communal violence or not?” Dismissing the need for the bill, Prasad said: “We all agree that riots should be prevented. But prevention should not become worse than the disease. There is civil society, courts and the media in the country which have helped in curbing riots.”

“There is no need for the bill. It will work to divide the majority and minority communities,” BJP leader Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said. Blaming the Congress for using the bill to divert attention, Hussain said: “There is peace and harmony in the country today. The Congress is not able to digest this.” Hussain also expressed apprehension on the bill being used against National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-ruled states. As current laws were enough to check communal violence, he said priority should be given to legal measures for tackling terrorism.

The sensitive bill was introduced in the Parliament in 2005. It has taken several years for the government to finally act on pushing the bill through the Parliament.  Despite the BJP sparing no measure to attack the Congress, the latter is confident that the party will be able to push the bill through the Parliament.  Describing the bill as “minority appeasement,” the BJP is hopeful of consolidating the support of majority community’s votes. The Congress is sure, according to party leaders, that parties such as Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Biju Janata Dal, Rashtriya Janata Dal together with the Left and Telegu Desam are least likely to side with the BJP on the bill.

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Gujarat Carnage: Modi Summoned!

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is in news again, but not for the reasons he or his party associates appreciate. Eight years after Gujarat-carnage, in which of thousands of Muslims in the state were killed and/or injured, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) has summoned Modi. Created by Supreme Court in March 2008 to probe into 2002-Gujarat riots, the SIT has summoned Modi to appear before it on March 21. Modi, if he appears before the SIT, is expected to face questions over the murder of Congress legislator Ehsan Jaffrey. He and more than 50 other Muslims were killed by extremist Hindu rioters in Gulbarg Society, a residential complex in Ahmedabad (February 28, 2002). Modi and at least 60 others have been blamed and criticized for not doing enough to check the communal violence and protect the state’s Muslim citizens.  

“Yes, we have summoned Mr. Modi,” R.K. Raghavan, SIT head said. “On 21 March, we will ask him a few questions. Then we will send a report to the Supreme Court,” he said.

The Supreme Court is taking action on a petition filed by Jaffrey’s widow, Zakia. In her petition, she named Modi and 62 others, alleging that they conspired to “let Hindus vent their anger” after the Godhra-incident. The Godhra-incident refers to fire on Sabarmati Express, in which around 60 Hindus died. While fire’s cause was said to be an accident, extremist Hindu groups alleged that it was started by Muslim protestors because of which they reacted leading to Gujarat-carnage, with Hindu rioters targeting Muslims.

Following Zakia’s petition, the Supreme Court directed SIT to probe the alleged role of persons she had named as responsible for the riots, including Modi and 62 others. Though it is not clear, whether summoning of Modi will lead to any judicial action against him or not, according to Zakia: “I have not slept properly ever since the incident. Now, he (Modi) will also have sleepless nights.” “I hope justice will be given to us. It has been a long journey. I am very happy that Modi has been summoned,” she said.

Elaborating on the petition filed against Modi, Zakia’s son Tanveer Jaffrey said: “This is a step to file an FIR (First Information Report) against Modi. Until an FIR is filed you cannot say where the investigation will lead to.” Tanveer is hopeful, that “this will open up other cases too.”

“The summoning should have happened long ago as the chief minister of Gujarat and his government presided over the worst ‘pogram’ against minorities in independent India,” Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari said in New Delhi. The Congress felt that it would be appropriate for Modi to resign as chief minister.

The Congress in Gujarat has not yet too made too much noise about Modi facing summons. Justifying the cautious stand taken by his party, Gujarat Congress spokesperson Arjun Modhvadiya said: “The SIT must have strong evidence to issue a summon. We hope that the team carries out further investigations in right earnest and bring him to justice.” Modhvadiya, former leader of Opposition in the State Assembly, also voiced demand for Modi’s resignation inside and outside the House.  Modi should tender his resignation on “moral grounds,” he said as the summons were based on Supreme Court’s directives and on the basis of evidence collected by SIT.

Dismissing Congress demand for Modi’s resignation, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “The summons to Modi by SIT are a part of the legal process which shall be dealt with as per the process of law.”

The BJP is considering legal options to save Modi from facing a tough legal battle. “What our strategy is something that we don’t want to discuss on camera. But it takes long term planning in such cases,” Gujarat government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas said. The Congress was “day dreaming,” by thinking that Modi would resign following the summons, Vyas said. “The party may wish for anything but there is no reason for Mr. Modi to quit,” he said.

Survivors of Gujarat-carnage are fairly pessimistic on whether summoning of Modi would spell any major development in speeding action against the rioters. “What we are going to witness on March 21 is a high-voltage drama when the chief minister appears before the SIT to respond to allegations leveled against him by various witnesses. That is it. It is going to be an eyewash,” according to Mukhat Ahmad, a riot victim-turned-rights activist.

Dismissing the summons as a “hype,” a senior officer said: “What can deposition achieve? The SIT is not in a position to interrogate, grill anyone or Modi. Can it force him or anyone to say something that one chooses to hide? So what will this achieve except create a hype?” Asserting that Zakia’s petition cannot force legal action against Modi, analysts said: “There is no direct evidence against Modi.” A chief minister cannot be held as directly responsible as, they said: “There are no constitutional or legal liabilities on the CM or the political head of the state in a riot-like situation. The direct-action duty lies on the police head and local officers of the disturbed area.”

Nevertheless, all are waiting for March 21. Will Modi face the summons? If he does, what will be developments? Or will he seek a change in the date, citing some prior engagement, and thus evade the March 21 summons! 

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Indore: New Year Spells A New Beginning

December 31, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

INDORE: The New Year spells a major step forward for Indore, a city known as mini-Mumbai of Madhya Pradesh (MP). It is for the first time in recent years that a major, large-scale conference is being held here. It is for the first time that American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI) – a philanthropic, service-based and issue-based organization- is hosting its annual international convention in Indore. The 18th convention is being held with cooperation of state-based groups: Rahat Charitable Trust and Taleem Convention. The holding of the two-day conference (January 2-3) in Indore holds special significance for several reasons. Indore is also known to be a communally sensitive region. It witnessed communal violence on July 3rd and 4th 2008, following the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)’s call for an all India “bandh” (shut down). With the state being ruled by a BJP government, for a brief while, it was feared that Gujarat-carnage may be repeated here.

Pushing the political differences and communal issues to the backburner, the conference marks opening of a new chapter for the people of Indore. Among the dignitaries participating in the conference are Union Minister of State (independent charge) for Corporate and Minority affairs Salman Khurshid.

The conference spells a new beginning for the city’s population, as for the first time in recent past, Indore is making news for positive, constructive and development-oriented reasons. In this context, the two-day conference holds special significance for Muslims of Indore and elsewhere, as for a change, they are not being deliberately targeted or attacked for wrong reasons. This point has been made as Muslims are known to be given greater media coverage and attention when they are labeled as “terrorists,” even if there may be no evidence of their actually being so.

Constituting more than 12 percent of the population, Muslims are viewed as an important electoral force here. Ahead of the conference, a rough survey of the city’s residents revealed that they welcomed it as it subtly gave a message they themselves were keen on conveying to the people outside Indore. “We (Indian Muslims) are not terrorists, we are not slum dogs. We are educated Muslims, moving towards our and the country’s development.” A few were concerned about the conference being held in a city known to be communally sensitive and a stronghold of the saffron brigade. Their fears were, however, allayed when they learnt that the focus of the conference was on educational development of Muslims and that invitees as well as participants were from all sections of societies.

With AFMI aiming to achieve 100 percent literacy, the issues expected to be actively discussed at the conference are creating educational opportunities for all, leaving no child behind. Though literacy rate in India has steadily grown to 66 percent, it remains well below the world average rate of 84 percent. Statistically, if adequate moves are not taken towards ensuring education for all, it is feared that by 2020, India may be home to majority of the world’s illiterates. Madhya Pradesh is one of the six Indian states, where more than 70 percent of the people are illiterate.

Against this backdrop, the participants are expected to deliberate on how can this scenario change for the better? With Indian Muslims having high dropout rates of literacy, what measures should be undertaken to ensure that each and every child secures the needed education in today’s competitive world. Though India has several institutions of higher education, with a minority (Muslim) status, the limitations afflicting these cannot be sidelined. Of late, they have hit headlines for the wrong reasons, exposing the apparent crisis that these, including the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) are suffering from. If this remains their status, their existence does not ensure guarantee of quality education to their students. Besides, substantial importance needs to be given to ensuring quality education to Muslims from the primary school itself. The participants are expected to deliberate on the dismal conditions of primary and secondary educational institutions in Muslim-dominated areas. They aim to consider measures which should be taken to combat this problem and strengthen the educational system from the grassroots level.

Ahead of the conference, the active interest displayed by citizens of Indore towards it being held in their city conveys an important message. The people here are keen to push their past record of communal disturbances to the background and move forward towards progress at all levels, educationally, socially and economically to project a positive image of Indore to rest of the world. In this context, the conference has not simply given them the needed platform to move in this direction but has also helped them, Muslims and Hindus, to take a major step forward, with their own message: “We are for education and progress. Don’t view us as terrorists, communal extremists and/or slum dogs!”

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