Indian Democracy: Spare Us..Spare Us…!

I can not but help observing that the subject cartoon of 1949 was published at a time when Shri. Babasaheb Ambedkar was very much alive and active in the solemn work of framing the constitution and that he himself must have had a hearty laugh at the caricature and did not take offence. As such, the comic act of our parliamentarians seething in anger at the vintage cartoon even while the affected person Shri. Ambedkar himself was not moved to anger in his time by the cartoon could itself be a subject matter of a new cartoon for the fraternity of cartoonists.

Kesava Shankara Pillai popularly known as Shanker or Sanker had drawn that cartoon way back in the year 1949! The e ‘so-called’ controversial book in which the cartoon was reproduced was published as long ago as 2006! But no one objected then, probably because in was taken in the right spirit…as it should be! To wake up now and rake it up as an issue to pound shows a mean streak of intolerance!

In India we make a mockery of everything -be it democracy, constitution, parliament, government, ..name anything! No doubt every incidence makes us cartoon characters and folds in the eyes of the World at large! The intolerance of political class for an innocuous cartoon which no way denigrates Dr.B.R.Ambedkar whilst the Indian parliament is celebrating its 60th anniversary smacks of hypocrisy and parochialism. It is surprising that even Kapil Sibal, the habitually self asserting and belligerently protective spokesperson of government issues, irrespective of merits, meekly submitted to the ‘across the board’ misdirected criticism; perhaps lost his steam sequel to the continuous failure of his government and the Congress party in recent times and the most recent, Dr.Singhvi’s disgrace, could have shaken him. Cartoons in school text books are certainly a novel idea, as thought provoking, funny visuals contribute to stimulate the young inquiring minds as to their meaning; therefore the subject is better understood and retained in the mind. This approach deserves appreciation. The argument that the cartoon could be misconstrued by the 11th standard schoolchildren who read the textbook is bogus and an insult to their intelligence.

It is laughable to see an utterly inoffensive cartoon being used to create a controversy. Most of the politicians in India are devoid of any worthwhile convictions and have zero intellectual content. It is strange that not a single one of them came out against the controversy. Really, it’s a pity to see our nominated parliamentarians squabbling instead of debating and solving issues that hinders the progress of society.

In cartoonist Shanker’s days  when cartoon was king,  appreciation of the art of lampooning through the tip of the pencil took a front seat… aided , abetted and encouraged by no less a person  than Panditji (Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru) himself ..He even used to scold   our cartoonist high priest, albeit in fond terms,  when the latter slackened on his lampooning act, saying “Don’t Spare Me Shanker” !

The cartoon incident has happened even as our celebration of sixty years of our Parliamentary democracy is on. Many citizens are worried by the way our politicians surrender to muscle power, whether it is of caste or money. If only they all had debated to make sure that all the government schemes are implemented properly, India would have been a really developed country. In school I learned that diversity (in language, religion, etc) is one of the greatest plus points of India. Now I realize that this diversity is nothing but a complex social structure which provides fuel to a massive number of inconsequential political issues. Our democracy is essentially thriving on the randomness generated from such a complex social system.

Today  Shanker would be turning in his grave, whimpering: “Spare Us..Spare Us..!”

In fact that is  precisely be our cry too…as we bemoan the state of things today!

India – Charming state of affairs

Hot-headed democracy?

So across the country, and across the different estates—government, legislature, judiciary, media—we have a charming state of affairs in which action derives only from reaction.

Talking Media | Sevanti Ninan

If you ask whether social media is a boon or bane you should also ask whether the judiciary is a boon or otherwise, and ditto for the democratic governments we elect. For increasingly they all have their zany moments. And that is a kind word.

We’ve become such a reactive polity that our daily conduct will soon be hemmed in by injunctions issued by one or the other of these estates. All of them are on a short fuse.

If a Dalit poet and activist writes on social media about a beef-eating festival in Hyderabad, she encounters a chilling barrage of hate mail on the same trendy Twitter that the chattering classes are addicted to. Including a tweet which suggests she be raped on live television. A blogger called Kevin Gil Martin has described Twitter as lazy mob justice—an apt description of something which is more and more in evidence.

Then a video allegedly featuring Congress politician Abhishek Manu Singhvi goes viral and while Twitter reacts with glee, the always-dying-to-react Press Council chairman suggests restrictions on social media.

A newspaper goes overboard and fantasizes on its entire page 1 about troop movements, and the intent behind them. Six days later the Allahabad high court responds to a public interest litigation by directing the centre and the Uttar Pradesh government to ensure that there is no reporting on the movement of troops by the print or electronic media. A blanket ban, just like that?

Mamata Banerjee is determined to immortalize herself in social media’s rogues gallery by acting like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. Metaphorically, it is off with their heads for anyone who makes fun of the chief minister, and a neat blow to their circulation for newspapers that do not play ball. Cyberspace responds as it’s wont to, and in vigorously waving the free speech flag prefers to ignore the more conventional skulduggery behind the cartoon-forwarding-professor coming to grief.

courtesy: livemint.com

Surely what also needs to be exposed along with Mamata’s reactive behaviour is Trinamool’s politicking-for-spoils culture that may be spreading in the state.

The ministry of information and broadcasting is amazing. Unable to get broadcasting regulation passed for a decade and a half, it resorts to malleable guidelines. Either you have a firm policy on what can be telecast in terms of adult fare, and when, or you don’t. Is this now going to be decided on a movie-by-movie basis, as happened last weekend with the Sony telecast of The Dirty Picture?

So across the country, and across the different estates—government, legislature, judiciary, media—we have a charming state of affairs in which action derives only from reaction. What happened to due process?

The Supreme Court is also attempting to curb runaway legal reporting. The difference is that it has initiated deliberations, which is as it should be. The purview of its deliberations to frame guidelines for how the media should report sub judice matters has arisen from an issue of allegedly leaked privileged communication between the counsel of Sahara Real Estate Corp. and the Securities and Exchange Board of India.

The court initiated a debate on the framing of guidelines for reporting of criminal trials to guard against any violation of Article 21 that guarantees the right of an accused to reputation and dignity and to ensure that his trial does not get prejudiced.

Then on 4 April, the court also ordered the inclusion of four more media guideline-related petitions. The issues raised in these petitions include norms for news coverage in electronic media, norms and guidelines to minimize presentation of sexual abuse and violence on TV channels, and contempt proceedings against journalists for publishing confessional statements of the accused before police.

The 2011 petition by Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (Anhad), which is one of the four the Supreme Court will take up, is also a response to the ad hoc manner in which police releases to the media material that can tarnish reputations.

Several journalists and media associations will be able to intervene in this judicial process of determining norms. That is how it should be. And where social media is concerned, too, that is how it should have been, before Markandey Katju (Press Council chairman) and Kapil Sibal (human resource development minister) chose to make pre-emptive statements.

But because nobody waits to give a measured response before they go their reactive way, all we will end up with is arbitrary curbs decreed by the government and implemented by service providers. Accompanied doubtless by an extended flurry of cyber abuse. As the current campaign seeking annulment of restrictive IT rules shows, undoing arbitrariness is going to take a lot of doing.

The poet Frances Trollope coined an evocative phrase with reference to Thomas Jefferson, referring to his “hot-headed democracy” which he said had done “a fearful injury” to his country. Who embodies it most here, I wonder: abusive free speech champions, the West Bengal chief minister, parliamentarians and the judiciary railing against the messenger rather than the bad news, or our hyperventilating TV anchors?

Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch website thehoot.org. She examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column.

Indian cyber law miles behind the realities of social media

Need to amend Information Technology Act, 2000 to put it in sync with the requirement of times

The last few months has seen a lot of hectic activity in India in the context of legal issues around social media. Last year, the statement by the Union minister Kapil Sibal pertaining to pre-moderation of social media generated a lot of flak.

President of Cyberlaw.net, Advocate in Supreme Court of India and Asia’s leading cyber law authority Pavan Duggal, writes in his column in Financial Chronicle (http://www.mydigitalfc.com): 

I think there is an inherent problem if you’re going in the direction of over regulation of social media. India has to realise that the Arab Spring revolution had some learning for countries. If you try to stifle social media and stifle freedom of speech and expression therein, the chances of social media having a tremendous impact upon political and social institutions of the country cannot be ruled out. Instead, social media players need to be made clearer of what could be examples of online defamation or online harassment.

I believe Indian cyber law is miles behind the reality of social media and there is need for amending the Information Technology Act, 2000 to bring it in sync with the requirements of present times.

The approach towards more regulation of social media has to give way to more balanced realisation that first allows us put our house in order. Let’s look at our own Information Technology Act, 2000, that was last amended in 2008. There is sea of change in technology since then. The said law is not at all well equipped to deal with the several nuances pertaining to social media, social media crimes, mobile security, mobile privacy, data protection, and more importantly, cloud computing. The ball lies in the court of the Indian government.

Read the full column: http://www.mydigitalfc.com/it-enabled-services/indian-cyber-law-miles-behind-realities-social-media-549

Mamata, Pawar, Ramesh, Sibal & Selja in que to start channels

After West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed her desire to start her very own television channel and newspaper to ward off the negative publicity that she has been garnering, it looks like there are many other politicians in the fray who wants to utilize the media, the Didi-way.

Similar requests have emerged from several UPA ministers to the government expressing their keenness to start TV channels to make the common man aware of the “ministries’ achievements” and “people friendly policies”. Mamata was the first among the lot who wanted a dedicated channel to propagate her and her party’s views.

Among the ministers who want themselves and their ministries featured on TV are agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, Jairam Ramesh (rural development), Kapil Sibal (HRD) and culture minister Kumari Selja. Sources have been quoted as saying that the ministries were of the view that dedicated channels were required considering the specialised nature of their domains.

The proposals are, however, stuck at the proposal level before the planning commission. The commission is taking it easy for the time being since the cost of setting up each channel would cost close to Rs 200 crore each.

courtesy: OneIndia News