Free Speech Watch

Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden.

– Rosa Luxemburg

With the proliferation of sedition cases, the ubiquity of S. 66A IT Act, the dull compulsion of S. 144 CrPC, and the relentless siege upon academia and art, free speech is an endangered concept in India at the moment. This page is an attempt to chronicle, in real time, the attacks upon free speech throughout the country.

(Please email incidents/pending cases/court decisions/relevant private action to gautambhatia1988@gmail.com)

September 3, 2015

The Hindu reports upon how an RTI Activist in UP has been booked under the Goonda Act, and threatened with prosecution for “anti-national activities”, for leading a series of protests against power projects and land acquisition.

June 10, 2015

Scroll.in reports on cases against Kancha Ilaiah (for asking whether God is a democrat) and Joe D’Cruz (for allegedly “defaming” a fishing community).

The Wire reports on how encounter cops are using criminal defamation laws to muzzle investigative journalism.

April 18, 2015

The New Indian Express reports that several channels have been taken off air for violating the Programme Code. In particular, Al-Jazeera has been banned for five days for committing “cartographic aggression”.

April 11, 2015

SpicyIP highlights another instance of “subterranean censorship” – the use of defamation notices to chill speech, from a Copyright Collecting Society (PPL) to the Telengana Chamber of Events Industry.

On March 25, FirstPost reported that a case was registered against the actor Shekhar Suman for his comments on the Dera Sacha Sauda chief. “According to a complaint registered by Satish Kumar, a native of Khadarwal village, Suman had made “wrong comments” about the Dera chief and the word ‘insaan’ associated with the Dera chief during a live programme, said Narvana Sadar police
station SHO Mandeep.”

March 8, 2015

Scroll.in reports that the Tamil writer, Murugesan, has been threatened and physically assaulted for his work. This comes soon after the Perumal Murugan incident.

The Mangalore police arrested a software engineer for posting Facebook comments that “questioned the basic tenets of Christianity.”

The controversy over the ban on India’s Daughter probably needs no links to be found online!

January 13, 2015

The Central Board of Film Certification has refused to certify “MSG: The Messenger of God.” According to a member of the Board, this is because “the godman has showed himself as god and the film looks more of an advertisement. Besides, some scenes show miracles taking place which are not substantiated by logic.

One wonder where in 19(2) it logic is a ground for reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech.

In a truly astounding turn of events, the Supreme Court refused to interfere with a Censor Board order requiring cuts to a documentary film about Kashmir. According to reports, the SC said:

““Why is it one-sided? Where is the alternate picture? We don’t know why it has become fashionable and a question of human rights to talk about one side of a story. Rights are always conferred on two parties and not only on one of them… this is what is happening with activists.”

The Indian Express reports that “the 18-day protests over controversial Tamil novel, Madhorubhagan, on Monday ended with its author Perumal Murugan tendering an unconditional apology for “hurting the sentiments of the people of Tiruchengode”. He also decided to withdraw all his novels, short stories, essays and poems published so far. He said he would compensate the publishers. He told Express that he made the decision fearing protests in the future against his published work.”

24th November, 2014

The Delhi High Court has upheld a government decision blocking the channel Comedy Central for six days, under the Cable Network rules, on the ground that its programs “deprave, corrupt and injure” the “public morals”. Scroll.in has a report, with a link to the judgment, which also calls India a “nascent republic that needs stability.”

In other news, on a “directive” from the Karnataka government, the leading news channel, TV9, has been taken off air by a number of cable operators. Hindustan Times carries a report.

28th October, 2014

The Times of India reports that a Delhi High Court judge has slapped contempt charge against entire editorial staff of a magazine for a ‘false’ report about a bar owned by his son. In addition, the judge has ordered that copies of the magazine be confiscated, as well as gagging the media from reporting on it.

Livemint reports that “the Supreme Court on Monday restrained the media from reporting the proceedings of a case in which a former woman district judge in Madhya Pradesh (MP) has alleged sexual harassment by a MP high court judge.

18th October, 2014

Three recent incidents:

The Times of India reports that  “a youth was arrested in Malda district of West Bengal on the charge of making a derogatory remark against chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Facebook.” Presumably, it is a S. 66A case.

In a particularly egregious case of speech-restricting laws being used as a form of cultural regulation, Scroll.in reports that “the Delhi Police… raided the offices of Forward Press, an anti-caste magazine, and confiscated copies of its October issue on grounds that it carried objectionable material about Goddess Durga.” As the report further states, the directions came from the Home Ministry.

The Indian Express reports that “an FIR has been lodged against a state government official in Balrampur district for allegedly posting objectionable photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah on his Facebook account.”

4th September, 2014

India Today reports that filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma was booked by the police (under, inter alia, S. 153A) for “offensive tweets” about Lord Ganesha (he has since apologised).

26th August, 2014

The abuse of sedition law in Kerala continues unabated. Medianama reports that a student has been arrested by the Kerala police, and charges filed under S. 124-A “following complaints filed against him for allegedly changing some of the words of an undisclosed patriotic song with abuses in a Facebook post.

On a more positive note, ZeeNews reports that a division bench of the Delhi High Court has rejected pre-censorship upon advertisements.

22nd August, 2014

The Indian Express has reported that the Centre has decided to withdraw the license certificate which the censor board had granted to the film “Kaum de Heere”, on the assassination of Indira Gandhi. This is under Rule 32 of the Cinematograph Act, according to which “the Central Government may, if it considers necessary so to do, direct the Chairman to re-examine any film (in respect of which a complaint has been received by it directly or through the Board) in such manner and with such assistance as may be specified in the direction.” The stated reason given by the government is that the film, which apparently “glorifies” the assassination of Indira Gandhi, would spark a “law and order” situation in various parts of the country.

Of course, this is directly contrary to the Supreme Court’s decision in S. Rangarajan vs P. Jagjivan Ram, where the Court refused to allow a heckler’s veto, and held that the duty of maintaining law and order is upon the State, and one which it cannot abdicate.

21st August, 2014

DoolNews has reported that a college student from Kerala has been arrested and charged under Sections 124-A IPC and 66A IT Act for not standing up while the national anthem was being played in a cinema.

14th August, 2014

The journalistic website Scroll.in carries a good analysis of just how the sedition law is being grossly abused, with reference to the politician K. Kavitha’s comments about Kashmir and Hyderabad being “forcefully annexed by India” prompting a Court to direct the police to register an FIR against her.

30th July, 2014

NewsMinute reports that the Tamil Nadu state government has filed 75 defamation cases against the media (including newspapers), part of a continuing trend of that particular state government using defamation law against the press.

28th July, 2014

In the pages of Foreign Policy, Neha Dixit has written a fabulous piece on the recent misuse of criminal defamation laws to silence speech that is critical of the government.

25th July, 2014

Legally India reports: “Mulla & Mulla, acting for its client Anil Ambani, has served a legal notice on Google and Pranav Sachdeva, a junior of advocate Prashant Bushan, for a blog post on Ambani entitled “Black money of Anil Ambani (Prashant Bhushan’s Complaint SIT)”, allegedly posted by Sachdeva on Google’s blogging platform.”

SpicyIP has a great analysis of the SLAPP nature of this lawsuit, here.

17th July, 2014

The Times of India reports:

“A documentary on Muzaffarnagar riots was denied permission to be screened at Charukala Bhavan’s Abanindra Sabhagriha adjoining the Nandan cultural complex on Saturday. On June 30, the Kolkata regional office of Censor Board had denied certification, following which the filmmaker decided to move the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal in Delhi.

Slated to be screened on Saturday afternoon, the theatre authorities withdrew permission to ‘En Dino Muzaffarnagar’ by Subhradeep Chakravorty on Friday evening. Too late to inform the invitees, the director then sought permission to at least allow a discussion on the subject, but this too was denied.”

5th July, 2014

In what is perhaps the first instance of a company taking recourse to S. 66A, SAP Labs has complained about “malicious and offensive emails” being sent to its directors.

Megha Kumar, the Oxford scholar whose book was (at least temporarily) recalled by OrientBlackswan following legal notices by Shiksha Bachao Andolan, has spoken out against repeated instances of publishers buckling to legal pressure of this sort. Kumar talks about how “historical truth” not being a ground of defence under S. 153A takes history-writing entirely out of the hands of historians.

18th June, 2014

The Hindu reports: Following an opinion by Soli Sorabjee stating that “adherence to the strict path of history is not by itself a complete defence” to a charge under Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code, Orient Blackswan (OBS) has informed Megha Kumar, the author of Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969, that some paragraphs of her book may have to be revised.

This was following a complaint by the now-ubiquitous Shiksha Bachao Andolan, and Dinanath Batra. Note that on Sorabjee’s logic, no history-writing is safe from 153A.

16th June, 2014

More from Kerala: an anti-Modi “crossword clue” (yes, you read that right!) in a college magazine has resulted in the arrest of nine students under S. 153A IPC (provocation with intent to cause a riot!). Moreover, the magazine has been withdrawn.

The News Minute reports: “A case has been registered in a Bangalore court against Kannada writers U R Ananthamurthy and M M Kalburgi for allegedly offending religious sentiments. The allegedly offensive incident in question happened decades ago, when Ananthamurthy was a child and the book in which he wrote about it, was published 18 years ago.

Ananthamurthy wrote about that childhood experience in an essay titled “Bettale Puje Yake Kudadhu”, in which he discusses the idea of sacredness in the context of the nude-worship ritual performed by Dalits at the Chandraguthi temple in Sorab taluk of Shimoga district. Nude worship was banned by the government in the 1980s. The statement in question appears on page 39 (in certain editions, and roughly translated as): “I had to breach the Puranic traditions in which I had been brought up. I wanted to ascertain that there was no greater supernatural power than me. So I urinated on the Devva stones of our village. I still remember the fear I had that night. The themes of the stories I wrote in my youth were about the dilemma of transgressing the notion that everything was sacred.”

10th June, 2014

It has not been a good week for free speech. In Kerala, four students have been booked for putting Modi’s image in a college-magazine collage under “negative faces” – inter alia under criminal defamation and “provocation”.

In Maharashtra, the Nanded police have said that they will book even those people who “Like” “controversial Facebook posts” under S. 66A, IT Act.

The Hindu reports: “Another case filed by the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (SBAS) against a textbook published a decade ago has resulted in Orient Blackswan (OBS) — a publisher specialising in academic books — undertaking a pre-release assessment of books that might attract similar reaction. One such book, Megha Kumar’s Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969, was withheld from release after it was put on sale. The publishers had announced the book on their website under the segment “New Books and Events” in March along with several other books which continue to be available.”

In Punjab, a warrant has been issued against the singer Kailash Kher for allegedly “hurting the sentiments of the Hindu community” in one of his songs.

Infosys has slapped defamation notices on three newspapers, and is seeking “damages of Rs. 2,000 crore for “loss and reputation and goodwill due to circulation of defamatory articles.”” Archaic defamation laws apart, how the figure of 2000 crore has been arrived at is anybody’s guess.

In Bombay, S. 110 of the Bombay Police Act has been used to fine twelve women 1,200 rupees for “indecent activities” – leading to calls for its repeal.

Competing with the rest, the Supreme Court now wants people not only to apologise for contempt, but to be “sincere” in their apology, and to demonstrate “genuine remorse and repentance”. Criminal law is normally unconcerned with the peoples’ motives for obeying laws, but that does not seem to have bothered the Court much.

25th May, 2014

Two disturbing instances of 66A misuse in the aftermath of the elections.

(a) FirstPost is reporting the arrest of a shipbuilding professional for a Facebook post. According to FirstPost:

“During the run up to the Lok Sabha polls, Chodankar, in a post on Goa+, a popular forum with over 47,000 members, had claimed that if elected to power, Modi would unleash a ‘holocaust’. He deleted his post subsequently.

However, justifying his post subsequently on another popular local Facebook forum, Goa Speaks, Chodankar while apologising for his choice of words had stood by the sum of his argument, calling it his crusade against the “tyranny of fascists”. He also claimed that some elitist right wing elements were in the process of filing a first information report with the Goa Police’s Cyber Cell.”

Other relevant provisions that have been invoked are Ss. 125A and 295A of the IPC.

(b) The Hindustan Times reports that in Karnataka, an AAP activist has been arrested for the following spoof MMS:

The MMS that got Waqas into trouble shows a corpse morphed with Modi’s face. Spoofing the BJP election slogan “Abki Bar Modi Sarkar”, the image runs with the headline “Abki Baar antim sanskaar”.

30th April, 2014

The Reliance group has served a legal notice upon the Moneylife website for hosting articles about the book Gas Wars, as well as upon the author of the articles. This follows Reliance’s well-publicised legal notice to the author of the book, Gas Wars.

19 April, 2014

The Sahara Group has send a defamation notice to Amul for one of its cartoons. A perusal of the cartoon reveals the absurdity of the notice – and highlights, yet again, how defamation laws are providing ample scope for legal harassment, especially when there is parodic speech attacking powerful players.

12 April, 2014

The Hoot has published its quarterly censorship report, and lists 52 instances of censorship already, in 2014.

The Kerala high court on Tuesday issued an injunction for three months against the publication, circulation and sale of ‘Oru Sanyasiyude Velippeduthalukal’, by DC Books, on the grounds of spreading “religious hatred”.

The Times of India reports that in terms of Facebook censoring, India has the dubious distinction of coming in as the top-ranked country over the second half of 2013, with FB censoring 4765 pieces of content on request. The Times says:

Explaining the nature of content that was censored in India, Facebook said, “We restricted access in India to a number of pieces of content reported primarily by law enforcement officials and the India Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) under local laws prohibiting criticism of a religion or the state.”

As a matter of law, this is incorrect. “Criticism” of a religion or the State has repeatedly been upheld by the Courts. What is legally prohibited is willful “insult” (in the case of religion), or sedition (in the case of the State).

20 March, 2014

The Bombay Police have demanded the removal of two articles about the Police Commissioner, using the overbroad language of S. 66A: “annoyance, inconvenience… insult and hatred.” Interestingly, as the link reveals, the article linked is an interview with a lawyer who says the things that the Police have taken exception to. In other words, it’s a piece of reporting – not a piece of opinion.

19 March, 2014

Medianama reports the blocking of the whistleblowing website savukku.net on the orders of a single judge of the Madras High Court. From the article, it appears that the order was passed suo motu, and that there had only been a complaint of the publication of some “defamatory” articles on the website. This again stresses the dangers of judicial injunctions (which approximate prior restraints) to the freedom of speech and expression, as well as the ceaseless abuse of defamation laws to the same end.

12 March, 2014

The Hoot has a great summary of the challenges to the various free-speech issues surrounding the IT Act and the Intermediary Guidelines.

6 March, 2014

The Meerut Police have slapped sedition charges against 67 Kashmiri youths for cheering for Pakistan in an India-Pakistan cricket match. See here. We have extensively covered the sedition law, on this blog, here. Regardless of the constitutionality of S. 124A, if the state of the nation can be brought into jeopardy by a few students supporting eleven men playing with a bat and a ball against eleven other men, then it’s a rather curious nation indeed.

5 March, 2014

In yet another case of prior restraint, the Delhi High Court today stayed the release of the film Gulab Gang, based on the life of the activist Sampat Pal, on the ground that “reputation once lost is lost forever and cannot come back and can’t even be compensated with monetary terms.”

25th February, 2014

The Censor Board’s denial of permission to No Fire Zone is eerily reminiscent of the notorious Espionage Act prosecutions in the United States in the late 1910s. A film director named Robert Goldstein received a 10 year jail term for making a film about the Revolutionary War that depicted the “Wyoming Valley Massacre”, where British soldiers had bayoneted women and children. The Trial Court held that these depictions “may have a tendency or effect of sowing . . . animosity or want of confidence between us and our allies.”

23rd February, 2014:

Two short-stories have been removed from Madras University’s Tamil curriculum, on the ground that they depict Dalits in “bad taste”. The Hindu carries details here. The deep irony of this removal is that Pudumaipathan, the victim, is not only one of the most influential Tamil writers of the last century, but also – as this piece argues – was “a radical writer and thinker who foregrounded the plight of the dispossessed in his writings.” The official reason for removal has been that the stories would now be read out of context, and cause “embarrassment” to Dalit students.

22nd February, 2014

The Indian Central Board of Film Certification [hereinafter “the Censor”] has refused to permit the release of the documentary “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”, a film that chronicles alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity that have taken place during the Sri Lankan Civil War. The official reasons given by the Censor are that it may “strain friendly relations with Sri Lanka” and that “most of the visuals are of a disturbing nature”.

It needs no argument to demonstrate the patent absurdity of the Censor’s reasons. In response, the director of the film has made the documentary available online. See here for details.

22nd February, 2014

The Times of India and the Indian Express are reporting 66A cases in Kerala, for posting “adverse” or “derogatory” Facebook posts against Mata Amritanandamayi, in the aftermath of the release of a book called “Holy Hell”. Neither piece carries the content of any of the posts. The police have made it clear that they will not be going after people who shared or liked the posts, but only the originators. In light of the absurd Bombay FIR lodged against a young woman for “liking” a post about the death of Bal Thackeray, we should perhaps take our blessings where we find them.

12th February, 2014

According to a report by Reporters Without Borders, India ranks number 140 out of 180 countries in terms of Press freedom. A summary of the report, with some of the more egregious attacks on free speech, is available here.

11th February, 2014

In the face of sustained litigation in the Saket District Court at New Delhi, it seems that Penguin Publishers have decided to withdraw all copies of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History (see what appears to be the relevant document here). This unwelcome development is particularly dangerous, for two reasons: first, it demonstrates the utter lack of confidence that private parties have in the Indian court system to protect free speech. The fact that Penguin preferred to settle rather than take this case to the Delhi High Court, and then to the Supreme Court, is telling. Secondly, it shows yet again – after the instance of Ramanujan’s Three Hundred Ramayanas, that those private parties who ought to be defending free speech, and have the resources to do so in Court (big universities and big publishers), do not seem very interested in doing so.

It is still possible to purchase Doniger’s book online, through Amazon (with shipping costs), or upon the Kindle.

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7 responses to “Free Speech Watch

  1. Pingback: New Pages on the Blog: A Summary | Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy

  2. Pingback: Githa Hariharan – In Times of Siege | Travelling In the Homeland

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