Bengal government probing ‘Poonam Pande’ episode

Internet intermediaries in India are not willing to learn lessons from their past mistakes. From time to time objectionable contents have been appearing in both print and digital formats of press and media. This is despite that fact that such publication is criminal offence under various laws of India.

Recently, a nude picture that was published in Kolkata’s Telegraph edition caused a furor among the citizens, leading to a road blockage for over six hours. The same picture was also published in Hindustan Times that was subsequently taken down from the electronic version of the paper/website.

There are many pertinent questions to be asked about the unbridled (and burgeoning) use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media as a source of news by newspapers and TV stations—not to mention websites like these.

One of those questions faces The Telegraph, Calcutta, which carried a picture* posted by the actor-stripper Poonam Pandey on her Twitter account (@iPoonampandey) in its tabloid t2 section on Monday.

In the picture*, Pandey—who threatened to pose nude if India won the cricket 2011 World Cup—stands naked with a photograph of “God” as an offering to Sachin Tendulkar, who scored his 100th hundred in Dhaka last week.

“Thinking what pic should I gift the “God of Cricket”…. This historic moment reminds me of an old pic which one of my fans had morphed…. this was the pic….”

The use of a tiny picture* in a city tabloid to celebrate the momentous occasion has resulted in a fullblown communal issue in Calcutta.

Wednesday’s Telegraph carried a front-page appeal by the chief minister, Mamata Banerjee.

“Some people are trying to stoke violence over a photograph published in a newspaper. I appeal to all members of the Hindu and Muslim commuities to steer clear of any provocation. The newspaper which carried the picture today tendered an apology.”

The Telegraph‘s apology, also carried on page one, read:

The Telegraph tenders an unconditional apology for reproducing a tweet by @iPoonpandey in Monday’s edition of t2. The publication was the result of a technical error. The Telegraph had no intention to hurt the sentiments of any community. We sincerely apologise for the hurt the publication of the tweet has caused.”


* photograph for representative purposes

Adding another chapter to this episode, the West Bengal government has on Friday sent bulk SMS to various individuals, companies, newspapers and media houses directing them not to publish any further objectionable material in this regard.

According to Praveen Dalal, managing partner of ICT law firm Perry4Law and leading techno legal expert of Asia, this single episode attracts Civil and Criminal Liabilities on the part of those involved in the making, uploading, publication and circulation of the same in paper and electronic form. The Cyber Law of India prescribes stringent Due Diligence Requirements that paper based and electronic publishers must follow. If they do not follow Cyber Due Diligence, they can be Criminally Prosecuted by the Government, opines Praveen Dalal.

In fact, the Bengal government has already started the probe in this regard and the culprits would be brought to the book very soon. However, the way this episode has been handled by media shows great disregard to the laws of India, especially the cyber law of India.

Media is India is largely Self Regulated but the Indian Government has recently formulated the Press and Registration of Books and Publications Bill 2011 to regulated “Publication of Contents” informs Praveen Dalal. The Bill has been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology for its inputs before it may be presented in the Parliament of India, informs Dalal.

Media must be vigil to follow the laws of India, especially the cyber law of India, to retain the self regulation privileges that it is enjoying. If casual and careless publications would continue, there would be no other option left for the government but to regulation their affairs in a more intrusive manner.

(courtesy: churumuri & CJNEWS INDIA)

Attacks on journalists- A.G. Noorani

| Opinion | 

IN many places, bashing media persons seems to have become the order of the day. The chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, has been constrained to write letters to the chief ministers of a good few states warning them of the consequences of failure to protect journalists from physical attacks.

He wrote to the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir Omar Abdullah referring to allegations of assault on four reporters by the police but drew a rude reply. He received a positive response from the chief minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan. Protests were sent also to the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Chattisgarh.

The nadir was reached on March 2 in Bangalore. At least 20 media persons and police personnel were injured when they were attacked by, of all persons, lawyers, and that too in the premises of the city’s civil court. They singled out the crew of the electronic media for particular attention. They were assaulted and their expensive cameras and other equipment smashed.

The media’s coverage of the protest staged by lawyers, last January, highlighted the huge traffic gridlock in the nerve centre of the city and the anger voiced by ordinary citizens. The protesters’ lack of any sense of responsibility stood exposed.

This time, on March 2, media personnel, especially from TV, had come in strength to cover the appearance in court of a mining baron G. Janardhan Reddy who faces charges of illegal mining.

Media coverage had contributed a lot to his ouster as minister in the state government. Advocates objected to TV crew and photographers from the print media trying to film Reddy getting out of a car to proceed to court, when all hell broke loose.

The media is not only entitled as of right to cover such events but is bound to do so as a matter of public duty. Photographers, like TV crew, face greater danger. They have to protect expensive cameras as well as their own lives and limbs because a single photograph or TV frame can be more damning than words in cold print.

In the wake of this rash of media attacks, controversy erupted on whether special protective legislation is called for. It is argued by some that an assault on a journalist is no different from an assault on any other citizen. Ergo, no special legislation is called for. The objection is groundless for three good reasons.

First, such a law will itself send out a message to all that the attacks cannot be allowed to persist and will serve as a deterrent to lawbreakers.

Secondly, the Penal Code is studded with provisions which impose greater punishment for offences committed in special circumstances. For example, joining an unlawful assembly while armed with a deadly weapon carries greater punishment than mere membership of an unlawful assembly. There are half a dozen provisions on various kinds of ‘negligent conduct’ affecting public health, each in its own distinctive way. Forgery of court record is treated more seriously than forgery of any other kind.

Which brings us to the last reason which is of a fundamental character. A journalist is attacked because he is discharging a public duty, not for personal reasons. He represents an institution — the Fourth Estate. Constitutions draw a distinction between freedom of speech guaranteed to every citizen and freedom of the press. It is an institutional right available to members of an institution.

There was a time during the Raj, when the Privy Council ruled that the rights of the journalist are no greater than those of any other citizen. So, did the US Supreme Court at one time. But it shifted its position gradually. In 1978 it ruled that “the concept of equal access must be accorded more flexibility in order to accommodate the practical distinctions between the press and the general public. When on assignment, a journalist does not tour a jail simply for his own edification. He is there to gather information to be passed on to others, and his mission is protected by the constitution for very specific reasons”.

In 1980 the principle was extended in yet more explicit terms to reporting of court proceedings. In olden times the public learnt of the proceedings by personal attendance or word of mouth from those who were present in court.

“People now acquire it chiefly through the print and electronic media. In a sense, this validates the media claim of functioning as surrogates for the public. While media representatives enjoy the same right of access as the public, they often are provided special seating and priority of entry so that they may report what people in attendance have seen and heard.”

Once the fundamental principle of the media as surrogates for the public is accepted, objections to special legislation, to protect members of the Fourth Estate and deter attacks on them, fall to the ground.

One such law was moved in the Karnataka Assembly in 1988 but the government fell before it could be enacted as Clause 4 of the bill read thus: “Whoever is a member of an unlawful assembly or voluntarily causes hurt, or wrongfully restrains or confines or commits criminal intimidation or threatens to commit any of the said offences with the intention of preventing any journalist or worker in a newspaper or journal from performing his duties or discharging his functions as such or preventing the publication, circulation or distribution of the said newspaper or journal shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to six years or with fine which may extend to Rs20,000 or with both.” The media must take the lead and promote suitable legislation.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Sahitya Akademi Awardee Dr.Kasturi Desai Passed Away In Goa

Dr. Kasturi Desai’s body to be donated to Ayurvedic college

Dr Kasturi Narayan Desai (Bhattacharya), well-known writer & researcher, founder-member of the Botanical Society of Goa and co-author of its DST&E Project-based book “Conservation and Management of Coastal Sand Dune Vegetation in Goa” passed away at KLE Hospital, Belgaum, after a brief illness on Friday, March 23.She was 55.

Married to Goan educationist Narayan Desai, Dr. Kasturi, a Bengali, had won the ‘Sahitya Akademi Translation Award’ in 2010 for ‘Adhikar Aranyacho’, a Konkani translation of Mahashweta Devi’s Bengali novel, ‘Aranyer Adhikari’. She had recently told reporters that she wanted to translate Rabindranath Tagore’s book ‘Shesher Kobita’ into Konkani.

An associate professor of Botany at a Ponda-based college, Dr. Kasturi had done studies and written books on flowers and sand dune vegetation. She was a very popular lecturer and many of her students had rushed to Belgaum to donate blood. Dr. Kasturi was also an active member of the Goa Bengali Cultural Association and had written extensively on medicinal plants. As per wish, her body will be donated to the Ayurvedic college in Shiroda.

She is survived by her husband Dr Narayan Desai, former principal of S S Angle Higher Secondary School, Mashem-Canacona and member of the Board of Studies on Agriculture based courses at the Goa Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, and their daughter, Apurva.

Dr Kasturi Desai’s body was brought to their Nageushi-Ponda residence on Saturday, March 24 at 9.30 am. There will be no cremation or burial as she has donated her body as a cadaver to the Ayurveda College, Shiroda-Ponda.

Dr Kasturi Desai completed her M Sc in Botany from Ranchi University and joined as lecturer in Botany at Ponda Education Society’s college [now the Ravi Naik College] in Farmagudi. She did her Ph D from Goa University under the guidance of Dr A G Untawale, founder-president of the Botanical Society of Goa.

She continued to teach while doing her research on different plants and eco-systems in Goa. She had done a wide study on flowers. Her articles on plants & ayurveda were published regularly in Goa’s English daily, ‘The Navhind Times’. She contributed her write-ups on science related topics for a Konkani daily newspaper ‘Sunaparant.’  She was a Sahitya Academy awardee for the rare distinction of translating a  book from her mother tongue, Bengali, into Konkani which she spoke fluently after learning it in Goa.

Earlier, she was an active member of the Ponda Jaycees and has served as its secretary during her early days in Goa. In Ponda, she was actively involved in a movement against plastic as well as several other environmental activities.

The Botanical Society of Goa, Panaji-Goa, deeply mourns the untimely passing away of its active member Dr Kasturi Desai.  May her soul rest in peace. May Dr Narayan Desai and their daughter Apurva have the fortitude to bear the loss.

Her recent interview in Konkani Rocks (

How did you react when you got the news of achieving laurels at the National level?
When Mr. Pundalik Naik gave me a call from Delhi, I was teaching in the college at that time and I could not believe my ears. I first thank God for my success, my husband- Dr Narayan Desai for guiding me and giving valuable suggestions in the process of translation and also my family who supported me all the time. I am grateful to Shridhar Kamat Bambolkar, Pundalik Naik, Ravindrabab Kelekar, Gurunathbab Kelekar, Ramesh Veluskar and many others who supported me throughtout and enlightened me to do a major job.
What is special in Mahashweta Devi’s novel?
This novel is based on Birsa Munda, a leader of a tribal community who raises voice against the atrocities of the Britishers and the higher class for the right of their forest. Basically, it talks about the tribes from Bihar, Jharkand, Orissa, Bengal and Chota Nagpur areas.
In one of the interviews, the Dnyanpith awardee- Ravindrabab Kelekar stated that your translation is a precious literary work. How you feel about this compliment?
I am very much thankful for Ravindrabab Kelekar. I am originally from Bengal and when I got married to Dr Narayan Desai (a Goan) at that time Ravindrabab Kelekar advised me “It is good to marry interstate but, it is worth when you exchange your literature with another state.” These words encouraged me and played a major role for inspiration.
What are the difficulties you faced to bring a Bengali novel into Konkani Version?
Some Bengali views were not so easy to translate into Konkani. The dialect was used at the time of 1875-1900’s. Therefore I faced quite a lot of difficulties in bringing Bengali into Konkani. Some of the plants, trees and the nature description proved to be a difficult task for me. However, the full credit goes to my husband, Dr Narayan, who guided me, throughout. Since I have completed my MSc in Ranchi, I was fortunate enough as this story is based near this place which made me understand the dialect of the locals easily.
What are your future projects for translation? 
I am thinking to translate more Bengali literature in Konkani. I want to translate Rabindranath Tagore’s book titled ‘Shesher kobita’ into Konkani.
How it makes the literature rich trough translation?
I feel that the concept in the book has to be understood by the masses from different states of the country; every civilised person ought to know what is happening in the other part of his own country. And I think translation contributes to this to a very great extent.