Sequence of Events:
Despite mainstream media’s efforts to confuse and obfuscate issues, the sequence of events that began with morphed videos as a means of inciting a certain community, leading to attacks on individuals from the North East in some cities; riots in Mumbai, Lucknow, and other cities; and a panic-led exodus of North Eastern Indians from many cities is now well known. In many cases, individual attacks and threats led to panic and the resultant exodus. In other instances, rumors through SMSs that suggested large-scale violence against North Eastern Indians prompted fear, panic, and exodus.
Celebrity media journalists first insinuated that right-wing Hindu groups were behind morphed videos and SMS that ‘incited’ the community in question into attacking North East Indians and running amok in Mumbai and Lucknow. Later, it was learned that the chief source of morphed videos was a website from a neighboring country in the North West. For a good expose on how insinuations were flung around, please check the six-part expose (links to Part 2 and Part 3 provided here).
The source of morphed pictures and videos was confirmed as the neighboring country while circulation through mass SMSs was carried out by some anti-national elements from India, as evident from this arrest in Coimbatore. Thus, when it was seen that it had no links with Hindu groups, celebrity media journalists then insinuated that the rumors to spread panic and encourage the large-scale exodus from cities of North East Indians originated from saffron sources. It was insinuated that since these saffron groups were running help lines for, assuring safety and security to, and providing food at railway stations to the fleeing North Easterners, such rumors were being spread by these very saffron groups to project themselves in a good light. However, even after extensive investigation, not even a single saffron source has been found to be connected with SMSs that spread panic. Instead, so far, the ‘incited’ community that engaged in violence against North East Indians (for which arrests have been made in some cities) was also found to be spreading panic through SMSs (as evident from arrests made in Bangalore and Pune. Some additional links for these are here).
Hate Speech and Free Speech:
Free speech is meant to protect unpopular speech. Popular speech, by definition, needs no protection….Neal Boortz
What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist…Salman Rushdie
Censorship as a Response to Breakdown of Law and Order:
Given the history of the UPA2 in attempting to curb and censor free speech, the mass breakdown of law and order was once again deemed to be an opportune ‘rationale’ for blaming as well as censoring social media and targeting what they call ‘hate speech’. (In the past, in December 2011, Kapil Sibal had raised the issue of controlling ‘blasphemous’ content on social media. At that time, it was learned that what was considered blasphemous was content that portrayed Sonia Gandhi and PM Manmohan Singh in a poor light as well as content that would hurt the sentiments of communities. Later again in April this year, in the light of the leaked video of the then Congress spokesperson Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the issue of censorship was once more raised spurring debates on where to draw the line between privacy and censorship.)
Most of the mainstream media intellectuals did not question the basis where speech is the culprit and violence in ‘reaction’ is permitted without condemnation. Media celebrities failed to point out that the censorship policy is based on the assumption that rioters are entitled to riot. While most from the Indian mainstream media were silent or defensive of censorship there were some healthy responses to the clamp down that came from outside. For example, Dean Nelson (@DelhiDean) tweeted “The casual way web content has been blocked without notification or explanation begs serious questions of the world’s largest democracy”.
There is then the question of differentiating between speaking/writing the truth and deliberately spreading canards spread with the intention to incite. Can truth, however harsh, constitute a hate speech? This is a question that needs to be addressed. The distortion and re-writing of history in India, which has been rampant is just another example of curbing truth by labeling it as a ‘hate speech’. Attempts to distort even recent history such as the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from J&K shows that the Congress party along with its Media Enablers has redefined hate speech as ‘presenting facts that portray members of a certain community in a poor light’. It is lamentable that none of the media celebrities and self-christened liberals ask the question: Should truth be censored?
A Tangled Web:
What lies at the root of the situation we find ourselves in? The question is how did India get here in the first place?
Oh! what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive!—Walter Scott
Divide and rule policies were initiated by the British while they ruled India. Post-partition, for the obvious and now scarcely undisguised goal of ensuring a vote bank, the Congress party (which has been in power for 55+ of the 65 years of India’s independence, and which is currently in power for the last eight years) has, ensured that secularism be understood as policies and actions that please and favor the largest religious minority group in India, namely Muslims.
In propagating that policies like repealing Article 370 or enforcing a uniform civil code (UCC) are ‘communal’ issues, the Congress party has arrived at a twisted definition of secularism.
An intelligent debate on the UCC, for example, would reveal that, for laws pertaining to marriage, divorce, adoption, inheriting property, etc., such a code would include best practices drawn from laws across the world and would not be Hindu laws imposed on other groups. Best practices are those that ensure gender equality, and the Indian Constitution does guarantee equal treatment to all citizens irrespective of gender.
Similarly, on the repealing of Article 370 in J&K (which, includes Ladakh with a near equal Buddhist Muslim population, and Jammu, with a majority of Hindus) as was envisaged by the creator of the Indian Constitution, Dr. Ambedkar, a healthy debate is essential.
The thesis propagated by the Congress is that issues like the UCC and revoking Article 370 in J&K pertain only to the Muslim minority, and not to the country as a whole. Modern democratic states where citizens follow one law of the land and settlement and property ownership rights are uniform across states strengthen the national and social fabric. Separate laws for separate groups and different settlement policies in different states tend to breed (and in the Indian context have bred) separatism.
Another issue with the Muslim appeasement approach is that it assumes that the radical amongst the Muslim community (Imams/Mullahs that currently control the discourse) represent and speak for the whole Muslim community. This assumption is rarely questioned if at all. Politicians collaborate with radical elements from the community so as to control thought processes and attitudes of a large segment of the Muslim population. Reports of certain Imams being extremely close to top Congress party leaders are an open secret.
A political party is of course expected to devise strategies that ensure its repeated electoral success, but this specific strategy of twisted secularism selected by the Congress disregards the basic principles of equality of all before the law and separation of religion from state. This approach also works towards preventing the mainstreaming of the Muslim community and instead breeds ghettoization. This means that many Muslims are kept away from mainstream education which would enable them to think for themselves and not vote blindly as per the diktats of the local Imam of their mosque. Such alienation from mainstream exposure and education also perpetuates a spiral of poverty and victimhood, easily exploitable by: 1) certain community leaders with vested interests, 2) Imams/mullahs, and 3) by the political party seeking electoral leverage from this state of affairs.
However, what is questionable is that the mainstream media and English language media has shied away from taking on Islamic fundamentalism head on. Like domestic abuse victims with the Stockholm syndrome, these media celebrities dare not speak up against the increasing radicalization among Muslims, and also try to restrict truth from being spoken by others by labeling it as ‘hate speech’.