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Rakesh Sharma, producer of award winning documentary on the Gujarat riots called the Final Solution has issued an urgent press release protesting false claims made by Anupam Kher with regard to his film. Since MSM is unlikely to broadcast these, readers of this blog are urged to spread the message and demand accountability from CNN-IBN and Times Now. The Press Release is as follows.

It has been brought to my notice that Mr Anupam Kher, ex-Chairman, CBFC has been making patently false claims about the sequence of events surrounding the ban on my film Final Solution (on the Gujarat 2002 carnage) during his tenure. It seems that on Times Now (April 16) and CNN-IBN (April 17), Mr Kher, while engaging in debates with Anand Patwardhan, said:

a. The film was ‘cleared’ while the BJP (NDA) was still the ruling party b. He was personally responsible for ‘clearing’ the film. c. His actions filled me with immense gratitude.

Mr Kher seems to be suffering either from serious memory lapses or is indulging in his age-old affliction of ‘creativitis’, merrily distorting and falsifying facts to score points in a live TV debate. Even though his claims are too ridiculous to be dignified with any response, I do so in the interests of setting the record straight.

(All documents can be seen here:https://www.facebook.com/notes/rakesh-sharma-final-solution-other-films-upcoming-work-and-more/final-solution-censor-ban-ruling-facts-on-record/196593510407145)

Details-at-a-glance:

1. Final Solution was submitted to the CBFC in March-April 2004, while the NDA was in power.

2. Right from the start, CBFC tried to harass the film-maker by raising all sorts of objections concerning the submission of the application itself (eg, ‘improper’ binding of the script, typefaces etc).

3. Ever since its international premiere at the Berlin International film festival on Feb 5, 2004, the film started getting invitations to several filmfests as well as many awards. At Berlinale itself, the film got 2 awards, including the Staudte Award (now known as Golden Bear for Best Debut), which has never gone to a documentary before or ever since.

The CBFC responded by sending two legal notices to the film-maker on matters outside its purview (customs and foreign exchange related violations for international film festival screenings). The CBFC was formally advised that it had no jurisdiction and these notices were malafide.

4. After many representations to CBFC, an Examining Committee was finally convened on July 30, 2004 where the film was denied certifications and thus ‘banned’. Their exact ruling text can be found on the URL above.

5. Apprehending such a possibility, we had requested 2 independent journalists (The Telegraph and Mid-Day) to unobtrusively be present at CBFC (with an asstt director) to observe the entire process. The committee took less than 3 hours to watch the film, hold extensive discussions and then draft a ruling citing all relevant legal provisions therein. The problem: The film was over 3.5 hours long! Both the journalists published details of this sham the next day. I personally wrote to Mr Kher at CBFC on Aug 4, 2004 (letter available on URL above).

6. By this time, at the centre, a UPA government was sworn in following NDA’s defeat in the national elections. I now approached Mr Jaipal Reddy, Minister for I & B, urging him to invoke a rarely-used provision of the Cinematograph Act, to overturn the CBFC’s partisan ruling. In subsequent meetings with him and senior officers of the Ministry, I also demanded stringent action against the CBFC personnel involved in illegal and malfide actions.

7. Following serious protests by the documentary film-makers fraternity, and after the Ministry's own internal inquiries into the episode, Regional Officer Mr Singla was reverted to his parent cadre, permanently removed from the CBFC. Assistant RO Amitabh Sharma was transferred from CBFC, Mumbai to CBFC, Cuttack. As this action was being finalized in Delhi, Mr Kher saw the writing on the wall.

8. He called me and urged me to re-apply; I declined on the grounds that the CBFC had never seen the film in its entirety. Applying to a Revising Committee was tantamount to sanctifying the illegal and partisan proceedings of the earlier committee. One he failed to have me re-apply, Mr Kher took a suo moto decision to convene a special committee, headed by the noted director Shyam Benegal, which cleared the film without a single cut.

9. 4-5 days after this, Mr Kher was summarily sacked by the Government of India. He accused 'documentary film-makers' of orchestrating his removal, strangely claiming credit for clearing my film, while attacking me for my lack of ‘gratitude’. At the time, I rebutted all his claims, even calling his regime one of the worst tenures in the history of CBFC (reported extensively by all leading newspapers in mid Oct, 2004).

I am deeply shocked to find that Mr Kher is once again claiming credit for ‘clearing’ my film in his TV studio discussions! Factually speaking, Mr Kher and his coterie of partisan officers first harassed me, while refusing to schedule the film for a CBFC panel screening. When they finally did so, it was done with utter malintent, hurrying the ban on the film. Mr Kher is believed to have personally called up the Police Commissioner, Bangalore to prevent a public screening of my film as the curtain raiser to the Films for Freedom Festival in Bangalore on July 29, 2004, a day before the CBFC ‘banned’ the film.

If Mr Kher’s conduct as Chairman, CBFC was less than professional and even partisan, his behavior now defies credulity. His rightwing beliefs are too well-documented to bear repetition here. His association with Panun Kashmir and his proximity to the BJP too have been in public realm. His attempts to present himself as some sort of champion of free speech as the CBFC chairman amount to sheer duplicity and dishonesty.

I’d, in fact, prefer him to resort to the truth and proudly claim his role in preventing public screenings of my film as well as denying it a censor certificate through a carefully-planned drama on July 30, 2004.

I do hope you carry this clarification and invite me to rebut the next time Mr Kher is invited!

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A leaked copy of an agreement where Penguin India undertakes to recall and destroy all copies of the book "The Hindus: An Alternative History" has taken Twitter by storm. Unsurprisingly, it is the Hindutvawadis with their rigid insistence on controlling the correct interpretation of Hinduism who have been the challenge. A case filed by Dina Nath Batra, convenor of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti makes all kinds of important or bizarre (depending on your perspective) observations.

To me, this was mostly a good opportunity to run riot with my favorite accusation, now also a pun. "The Hindutvawadis are destroying The Hindus" and variations thereof.

Perhaps I don't take the matter with the gravity it deserves. Or perhaps there is a knee jerk intellectual tendency to park on the opposite side of the Hindutvawadis (which is a pretty solid default to have, most of the time), but I don't see this as a matter of censorship. It is simply a configuration of prevailing circumstances ranging from the laws to orthodox mindsets, and frankly, India has worse problems.

I don't believe in absolute free speech. It is a myth. What any place has is an agreement that draws a line demarcating where you swing your hand and where I have my nose, so to say. Some places have the line pushed so far to one side that it doesn't exist. These would be lawless places, and the free speech probably wouldn't get compensated by the other risks in terms of quality of life. Other places have a heavy set of rules on what can be said and what cannot. Most places lie somewhere in the middle. For instance, leaking out secret passwords or other information won't count as your right to free speech (unless it is your information). While the line should never be drawn in a place where it ends up putting collective preferences over an individual's autonomy, such a utopia does not exist and whether we "see" the "unfairness" or not is largely about whether people like us are bothered by it.

freedom of speech quote
May Freedom of Speech be always in the streets and on the net

 

So while I wouldn't be offended by such a book, being an atheist, I wouldn't be offended by any book reinterpreting religion. I don't do religion. I dare say I'd be offended by a book promoting fascist thoughts being sold openly. I bet the RSS wouldn't mind. And it is complex. Not many free speechers for example protested for banned extremist sites to be unbanned. I most certainly didn't, and I'd oppose them being unbanned. My reasoning would be that it promotes results in real life that will harm people. The case against the book took a similar and opposite stand, that it would attack the Hindu identity by distorting it into something people don't recognize.

And this can be argued till the end of time. Right wing intolerant thoughts are unbalanced, one sided and primitive. I have no hesitation accepting this is my opinion. At the same time, primitive or not, they are a large part of the country and in a democracy have the right to influence that "line" of what is allowed and what isn't as per their wish as well. I don't have to like it, and I don't like it. But I have to suck it up and accept that our laws are what they are, and we have created them as a country.

In my view, if orthodox Hindus with "injured" feelings have been fighting a four year case in courts without killing, injuring somone or burning their belongings, or at least a car or thrashing a few people or calling the author a slut, etc, it actually counts as a welcome change in India. To those who cannot fathom it, Indian right wing rules on the street rather than lose intellectual battles on paper. It is fascist, yes. I am not defending it. Only describing what is normal. Countless incidences of vandalism, riots, aron  and more stand witness that the Hindu right in India has to really mellow down to fight a case by the rules alone.

And Penguin did not have to agree with them. The public seems to be under some belief that Penguin is a humanitarian organization promoting their political goals of free speech (read resistance to right wing suppression of liberal thought). They are a publishing house with a business to run in an era when publishing is already fighting to survive. They cannot take over our job - that of creating laws condusive to free speech. If their book breaks laws, at the end of the day it will be cheaper to pulp it than fight a losing battle in court AND earn the ire of the political right as well (which the supposed vanguards of free speech won't support an inch beyond writing op-eds). Besides Penguin probably knows that the book got more publicity with this ban than without it.

People who wouldn't touch a book called "The Hindus" with a 10 foot pole out of sheer disinterest, will probably buy it out of rebellion or curiosity for accessing the forbidden. Sheer titillation. "If it got banned (for the public, this is as good as a ban), there must be something really scandalous in it. Which probably means I can claim to own it or have read it and tell others with great effect." Penguin is an old player. Penguin knows this. Cold blooded? No more than any other business playing with the cards they have been dealt.

The way I look at it, if we want people not bowing down to laws we find unfair, then it is our job to change unfair laws as a country before expecting Penguin to take a lead in fighting religious intolerance in this instance because it is them directly targeted. And we can try to change laws, but we will fail. Because we are a minority occupying our own corner in the media, while the media getting mass consumed is still showing three shocked reaction shots per slightest lack of respect to Gods, which in turn is possible by people clearly marked as "villain".

It is time for the assorted seculars, liberals, free speechers to realize that the country does not seek them out in their armchairs and update their opinions based on what they say. Most of India doesn't even know the names of the newspapers where these lofty thoughts reside. They will need to come across thoughts that show them why one way of thinking is better than another, and we have done a pathetic job of it so far. I am not leaving myself out of this accusation.

I am just sucking it up and realizing that my "The Hindutwadis wrecked The Hindus" metaphors will have to wait, because in this instance The Hindus got screwed by the creators, because the Hindus failed to evolve thoughts of the Hindus as a whole. Which probably is another metaphor.

Press release
12 May 2012

INDIA

Two cyber-activists end fast but campaign against IT Rules gathers  pace  <http://fr.rsf.org/two-cyber-activists-end-fast-but-12-05-2012,42614.html>

More than a year after they came into force, Reporters Without Borders reiterates <http://en.rsf.org/inde-media-freedom-threatened-by-19-04-2012,42334.html> its demand for the repeal of India’s information technology regulations, known as the IT Rules 2011, as activists and Internet users rally to the Save Your Voice <https://www.facebook.com/saveyourvoice> campaign against these repressive measures.

Two of the movement’s campaigners, the cartoonist *Aseem Trivedi* and the citizen journalist *Alok Dixit*, were forced today to end a hunger strike they began on 2 May. Their health had deteriorated considerably and they were hospitalized.

“We have just ended the hunger protest, but not the struggle,” <http://art-leaks.org/> they were quoted as saying. They are demanding the repeal of the IT Rules and support a motion to this effect proposed by Shri. P. Rajeev, a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament. The motion was due to be discussed on 11 May but was postponed until a later session.

The IT Rules 2011 <http://en.rsf.org/inde-new-rules-reinforce-internet-19-05-2011,40317.html> were adopted in April last year as an addition to the 2000 Information Technology Act, which was amended in 2008. They require Internet companies to withdraw any content deemed objectionable, particularly if its nature is “defamatory,” “hateful,” “harmful to minors,” or “infringes copyright” within 36 hours of being notified by the authorities, or face prosecution.

“This has turned technical intermediaries into Web censorship police informants,” Reporters Without Borders said. Although some content categories are justifiably objectionable, other more vague or subjective definitions could jeopardize informational content.”

The IT Rules also impose on cybercafé owners drastic regulations that violate personal data privacy and place a presumption-of-guilt burden on all Indian netizens.

India <http://en.rsf.org/india-india-12-03-2012,42074.html> was added in March to the list of countries under surveillance in Reporters Without Borders’ latest report on Internet Enemies.

Read online <http://fr.rsf.org/two-cyber-activists-end-fast-but-12-05-2012,42614.html>

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Aseem Trivedi and Alok Dixit from Save Your Voice completed the third day of their hunger strike to support annulment motion against IT Rules-2011 in Rajya Sabha. We started this hunger strike on 2nd May and we will carry on until we get any satisfactory response from the government and the opposition regarding the annulment of IT Rules-2011.

Government has enacted laws that give it a free pass to censor our Facebook posts, listen to every Skype conversation we have, monitor our tweets or blogs oraccess private photographs and documents we store online, or track our location using our mobile phones or surveil all of your online activity. We want to tell our government that they cannot use vaguely defined laws and loopholes to take away our freedom of speech and expression.

IT Acts are unconstitutional: On 11th April 2011, the Government notified the new Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 prescribing various guiding principles to be observed by all internet related companies. These rules will:

  1. Lead to a clamp down on the freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Constitution of India by providing for a system of censorship/self-censorship by private parties;
  2. Adversely affect the right to privacy of citizens by allowing Government agencies to access their information;
  3. Will severely hamper the growth of internet penetration in India, and consequently lead to a slowdown of economic growth;
  4. Limit the growth of various IT related industries and services (in particular cyber cafes, search engines and bloggers).

In addition, mandatory data retention would force the Internet Service Provider to create vast and expensive new databases of sensitive information about an individual. That information would then be available to the government, in secret and without any court oversight.

Annulment Motion in Rajya Sabha: Sh. P. Rajeev, Hon'ble Member of the Rajya sabha has moved an annulment motion to get these rules abolished and the motion has been admitted and is expected to come up in this budget session. The Bangalore MP Rajeev Chandrashekar has spoken in Parliament in support. It’s also interesting to note that a professor of chemistry of the Jadavpur University was arrested recently along with his neighbour for allegedly posting a cartoon on a popular social networking site and forwarding emails, cases were booked under the IT ACT as well.

Thanks,

Save Your Voice Team,

The notification of the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011 in April 2011 has resulted in the creation of a mechanism whereby intermediaries (such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc) receive protection from legal liability in return for trading away the freedom of expression and privacy of users.

The Rules demand that intermediaries, on receiving a complaint that any content posted online is considered grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libelous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner, have to disable the content within 36 hours of receipt of complaint. The rules also require the intermediaries to provide the Government agencies information of users without any safeguards.

Under these Rules intermediaries will be forced to disable any and all content that falls foul of the incredibly broad and ambiguous criteria laid above, as non-compliance with such requests will result in their losing the liability protection afforded to intermediaries. In short, the Rules will result in private policing of the internet.  Any content that is critical of state policy, any organization or even any individual could run the risk of being censored, thanks to the Rules.  The Rules violate the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to privacy of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

There is no due process of law, any attention to principles of natural justice or a redressal mechanism for the aggrieved victim, whose content is taken down.  The Rules are also ambiguous and arbitrary, disjointed, legislate on disparate areas and are beyond the rule-making power of the Government.

After the Avnish Bajaj case, the Legislature wanted a safe harbor for intermediaries with safeguards and not a system of back door censorship for the Government.  In view of the possible deleterious effects of the Rules, the Honorable Member of Parliament, Shri P. Rajeeve has moved a statutory motion to get the aforesaid Rules annulled. This motion has been admitted and will be coming up before the Rajya Sabha during the second half of the Budget session of the parliament that starts on 24th of April, 2012.

We urge all MPs to support the annulment motion. We also request the Government to draft new rules, that will protect our freedom and  privacy, after holding consultation among all stakeholders.

Further Material:
There is an online petition in favor of the annulment motion at:
http://www.it2011.in

FAQ's of SFLC
http://softwarefreedom.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=129:faq-on-intermediary-rules&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=50

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtA194jig3s

Names of Organisations

Knowledge Commons
Software Freedom Law Center, India
Delhi Science Forum
Save Your Voice Campaign
Internet Democracy Project
Center for Internet and Society
Free Software Movement India
IT for Change
Alternative Law Forum