Not Everyone is as lucky as Prasant Kanojia
Since television news is obsessed with Mamata Banerjee, you might not have heard that Supreme Court has ordered the release of journalist Prashant Kanojia, who was arrested after he posted a video on Twitter of a woman proclaiming her love for Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The police booked him under Section 505 of IPC (statements conducing public mischief) and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act (publication or transmission of obscene material in electronic form).
Ishq chupta nahi chupaane se yogi ji pic.twitter.com/dPIexKheou
— Prashant Jagdish Kanojia (@PJkanojia) June 6, 2019
But not everyone is lucky enough to have a Jagisha Arora as a partner who can quickly file a habeas corpus writ petition in Supreme Court after her husband was arrested by Uttar Pradesh Police in plain clothes. Ishita Singh and Anuj Shukla who work for television channel Nation Live were also arrested after they reported on the same incident, at the time of publishing this piece, there hasn’t been any update on their case.
Prasant Kanjoria, thanks to his years of connection building, is fortunate to accumulate the social capital that he has. Lesser known reporters like Kishorchandra Wangkhem (whose name we can’t pronounce) and Somaru Nag (whose field is too deep in the jungles of Jharkhand) have to wait months before they are released. There are no Twitter hashtags to save them.
Of all the crimes that are happening in Uttar Pradesh, UP Police took sou moto cognizance of a tweet by a freelance journalist. In Ron Weasely’s words, they really “need to sort out their priorities”.
If this becomes a norm, which is to say that police starts arresting people who use social media to air their political thoughts, then it’s over for us, bitches. Hopefully, Shreya Singhal, whose advocacy repealed section 66A of IT act, will take it upon herself again and save us.
The term “shooting the messenger” is often used to describe the intimidation of media personnel. However, if a quick history of arrests of artist and journalist tells us something then it’s that the correspondents and editors who are incarcerated are not mere “messengers”.
If they were messengers then they wouldn’t be jailed. Those in power don’t love anyone more than a “messenger” who can act as a mouthpiece. The arrested folks are myth-breakers and whistleblowers, they question the information that’s being given to them in press conferences, they read between the lines, and piss off politicians with humor.
Divided They Fall
Times like these call for solidarity amongst fraternity members but it looks like Indian media has lost that grace. Direct and indirect taunts between fellow journalists have become a daily affair (Afzal-premi gang vs Deshbhakts). When a journalist sanctions censorship then we know this is a lost cause.
In the 2019 press freedom index, Reporters Without Borders ranked India at 140th position out of 180 countries. We dropped two places since last year. Such claims are not baseless. One simply needs to look Chhattisgarh based journalists.
In past few years, several reporters have been arrested (only to be released on court orders), two killed in cold blood and many were hounded out of Bastar, one of them was International Press Freedom Award the winner Malini Subramanium.
Though local reporters are most vulnerable, the correspondents from international media platforms like BBC are also threatened when they try to cover the conflict zones. The threat comes from Maoist, state, and state-sponsored groups (allegedly) like Samajik Ekta Manch alike. For instance, journalist Sai Reddy was declared a Naxal sympathizer under Special Public Security Act of Chattisgarh but was killed by Naxalites who accused him of being a police informer.
Constitution: Protector and Prosecutor
There is nothing new in Prashant Kanojia’s case, politicians and their entitled parade of stooges who take the offense on their behalf, have always filed cases and arrested people. This work has been done by all parties, regardless of ideology. (Google Aseem Trivedi and you’ll know what Congress did with State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act and sedation.)
Our constitution has many provisions that can be used as a jail entry card, be it defamation, contempt of court or IT acts. Of all the dense judgments that judges write, the lack of clarity in them is astounding.
Why do our “milords” and netajis waste the word count with rhetoric, I will never know. One can interpret our laws in as many, if not more, ways they can interpret Mona Lisa’s smile. One can argue this started when the Nehru government introduced the clause of “reasonable restrictions” in Article 19 (Right to Speech and Expression). Initially included to control hate speech and misinformation, the “reasonable restrictions” have had an unreasonable history.
With broad limitations of what consists as offensive, someone or the other is always going to be offended. In all honesty, my cynophilist friend finds Sholay’s famous dialogue “Kutte main tera khoon pee jaunga” offensive. The word “offensive” is be made more specific, like sexist, casteist, homophobic, etc.
If some content is offending our vast population of the wife beating men then that content must be great even as it unnerves lakhs of people. Tasleema Nasreen’s Lajja irked hoards of Muslims who couldn’t come in terms with the fact that the Hindu minority in Bangladesh was discriminated against by Muslims.
One can’t make polite, sweet art and expect to make a statement. The limitations of “friendly relations with foreign States” means no anti-America or anti- Pakistan film. The limitation of “decency and morality” means no masterpieces like Fire.
As some who takes offense at every sexist-castist joke and excels at ruining the party because of her overbearing political correctness, I think Freedom of Speech should be absolute. Even if it means putting up with Vivek Agnihotri’s work.
If Freedom of Speech is not absolute then it won’t be worth it. As Abhinandan Sikhri puts it “The worst among us must be endured so that the best among us are not silenced.”