'Realities of Freedom & Expression – Imprints from Pakistan and India' a talk at N.D Tiwari Bhawan, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, ITO > 3pm on 19th July 2014

Time : 3:00 pm onwards

Entry : Free (Seating on First-Come First-Served Basis)

Place : N.D Tiwari Bhawan, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, ITO, New Delhi 
Landmark : Next to Gandhi Peace Foundation

Event Description : PIPFPD’s Delhi State Chapter invites you to a Public Meeting on ‘Realities of Freedom & Expression – Imprints from Pakistan and India’.

Speakers: Shivam Vij | Jawed Naqvi | B.M Kutty | Meena Menon | Jatin Desai

A culture of intolerance is gradually overtaking the polity in both India and Pakistan. And this is increasingly targeting and suppressing freedom of expression. As far as India is concerned, this development is the inevitable outcome of the change of guard at the Centre in the second half of May this year with the Right-wing BJP/RSS-led coalition registering a resounding victory and the BJP itself securing absolute majority on its own—this is the first time in twenty five years (that is, since 1989) that any party has won such a majority. 

In the past some time, at least three cases have been filed for criticising the PM on social media.  Bloggers have been rounded up in Kerala for posting harmless blogs mirroring a sense of humour that the powers be cannot tolerate. One also recalls in this context how two young women were rounded up in Mumbai for having expressed dismay on social media at the closure of the entire city following the death of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray some time ago. And on June 2, 2014, a 28-year-old Pune-based techie, Mohsin Mohammad Sadiq Shaikh, was brutally bludgeoned to death by members of an extremist communal group, Hindu Rashtra Sena (HRS) who were incensed over morphed pictures of Shivaji and late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray that had appeared on Facebook.  Shaikh was killed as he was wearing an attire which identified his religion. The very night Shaikh was killed, another Muslim, Amin Harun Shaikh, was attacked by the same mob. The failure of the State Police to take prompt action led to the tragic death of Mohsin Shaikh. What is most alarming and reprehensible, for almost three days the police stood by while members of such Right-wing extremist groups subjected the whole city of Pune to wanton violence and destruction of public property.

While such acts of violence are a matter of serious concern there is another issue which has come to the fore reflecting attack on freedom of expression. An outfit, called Shiksha Bacho Andolan Samiti (SBAS), an affiliate of the RSS, carried on a raging campaign against a book  Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus; An Alternative History and file a lawsuit against it; finally the publisher Penguin reached an out of court settlement with the SBAS thus handing over a major victory to the Right-wing organization. Likewise, Orient Blackswan withdrew from the market Megha Kumar’s Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969 for fear of it meeting a similar fate. This kind of capitulation before threats and attacks by vested interests has also contributed to muzzling of freedom of expression.

Along with freedom of expression, freedom of the press is also on the firing line. In this case too several media houses and journalists have capitulated before pressure from the powers that be there by allowing the motivated forces of reaction to have their way. However, there are some honourable exceptions as were seen during the dark days of Emergency 39 years ago.

These are definitely threatening signs and do not augur for India and its future. However, the democratic forces have a bounden duty to fight this menace to the best of their ability.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, its democratic people and independent journalists have a long tradition of fighting military rule and dictatorships which have time and again sought to stamp out dissent and freedom of speech and expression, not to speak of freedom of press. They are once again under attack and this time it is coming from non-state actors like militants and extremist forces hell bent on suppressing expression and rights of the people.  The recent case of Indian journalists - Meena Menon of the Hindu and Snehesh Philip of PTI being told to return from Pakistan, an act for which no reason was given, is disappointing and shocking since the journalists community has for decades been one of the strongest threads that has continued to enhance peace processes between the two countries. Two Months ago in Multan, renowned human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman was brutally murdered. He had been associated with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan since the last two decades. Around the same time, Senior Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir was shot at in Karachi. These are stating just a few of the many incidents where repression and silencing of democratic voices seems to have become the norm. Some of the worst effects of this are also seen on children not being allowed to get an education, especially cases of girl children being attacked.

The situation in both the countries is different but with new governments being formed in both, it is important that democratic voices are allowed to echo and strategic political interventions be made. Intolerance in both countries has been on the rise and there is a need for the governments to not just talk of peace but engage with the critical issues that the people in both countries are facing. Journalists, lawyers, human rights activists are all voices of the people and attempts at restricting such voices is a reflection of the kind of society we are building. Moreover, attacks on common people, purely because of their belonging to a certain community or attacks on school children wanting an education are no doubt the reflections of a repressive society.

There has been much conversation on democracies, but in today’s times there is a need for clarity on what that constitutes.  What we hold dear is a democratic system, not based solely on the idea of  a electoral democracy , but that which has as it’s principles, also social and economic democracy. A democratic system that forms the basis of and protects people’s freedom and liberty rather than a democratic system that is upheld for the sake of it’s existence rather than it’s substance.

The freedom of expression and the space for dissent within a democratic framework are critical and are under threat today. This Freedom of expression needs to be re-asserted as a critical right and PIPFPD as a platform has consistently been making political interventions where these rights have been curtailed. This being the 20th year of the Forum, we hope to bring together our energies, ideas and work towards sustained and strategic political interventions.

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'Realities of Freedom & Expression – Imprints from Pakistan and India' a talk at N.D Tiwari Bhawan, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, ITO > 3pm on 19th July 2014 'Realities of Freedom & Expression – Imprints from Pakistan and India' a talk at N.D Tiwari Bhawan, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, ITO > 3pm on 19th July 2014 Reviewed by DelhiEvents on Saturday, July 19, 2014 Rating: 5

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