Month: January 2012

Salman Rushdie controversy

Jaipur Literature Festival 2012 made news for controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie. The festival started on 20/1/2012 and ended on 24/1/2012. Over the years Salman Rushdie had come and gone. He had attended one Jaipur Literature Festival. He had attended one seminar in Delhi. The events had passed off peacefully.

This time TV channels gave wide publicity to statements of some Muslim leaders, some clerics and some politicians. The statements began in UP where elections are going on and spread to other parts. No party wanted to offend Muslims and lose their votes. If the TV channels had ignored the statements there would have been no controversy. Once those leaders demanded Salman Rushdie should not be given a visa and it was widely telecast the controversy began. Salman Rushdie tweeted he did not need a visa to come to India. Being a Person of Indian Origin he had Indian Overseas Citizen card and could come to India anytime. If he had kept quiet the Muslim leaders would have thought he would not get a visa and stopped the protests. The Muslim leaders continued the protests and demanded he should be stopped from attending the festival. The organizers said the invitation stands. Ashok Gehlot, Rajasthan’s chief minister went to Delhi. Law Minister Salman Khurshid told him Salman Rushdie cannot be stopped from coming to India. Ashok Gehlot met P. Chidambaram and returned to Rajasthan.

Rajasthan police told Salman Rushdie hired assassins from Bombay are ready to kill him. Salman Rushdie believed them, cancelled his visit and tweeted about it. He did not want to put other people at risk. He hoped to talk on video link. That would have been the end of the matter but it was the end of the beginning.

Bombay police denied Rushdie’s claim. Bombay police had to save themselves. There was one question. If they knew the don and the contract killers why did they not arrest them? There was no don, no contract killers, just a threat fabricated to stop Rushdie from coming. Rushdie came to know Rajasthan police have lied to him and was furious. There was no co-ordination between Bombay police, Rajasthan police and Intelligence Bureau. This farce repeated when Bombay police contradicted Delhi police about Naqi Ahmed Sheikh. Delhi police said he was an informer. Bombay police said he had a role in triple blasts in July 2011.

Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi read passages from the book and they had to leave the festival. Some filed complaints against them. Hari Kunzru said he wanted to demystify the book. It was just a book, not a bomb, not a knife or a gun. Some authors led by Nilanjana Roy signed a petition to revoke the ban. Some said the authors did not read from the book but read from comments on the book and did not defy the ban. Rushdie tweeted regularly.

On 24/1/2012 video link to Salman Rushdie that was to take place at 3.45 p.m. was cancelled on police “advice”. Sanjoy Roy said “We have been bullied.” Police told him some people are ready to protest and they are in the crowd. May be there were no people in the crowd who would create trouble and Rajasthan Police lied as they lied to Salman Rushdie. The owner of Diggi Palace Ram Pratap Singh did not want video link. He wanted to save his property and the people. Aruna Roy, Shobha De, Javed Akhar, Tarun Tejpal, Mark Tully and some others spoke about the incident. They called it a pity, national shame or a black day. The police should have stopped protestors from coming close to Diggi Palace. Political Parties joined the fray. BJP and Left Front condemned the cancellation. However they do not have a good record in defending freedom of speech. BJP was opposed to many things that were supposed to hurt Hindu sentiments. Gujarat had banned Jaswant Singh’ book and BJP had expelled him for that book without reading it. Left Front hounded out Taslima Nasreen. BJP was quiet for long saying the matter was between Centre and Rajasthan, both places where Congress was in power. If Congress wanted they could have prevented the mob from disrupting Jaipur Literature Festival. When Shiv Sena said they will not allow Rahul Gandhi to come to Bombay the government provided him security. He came; he stood in a queue to buy train tickets, travelled in a train, took out money from an ATM, met some people and returned to Delhi.

At 8 p.m. NDTV 24×7 telecast Salman Rushdie interview. He called the whole episode a farce. When I saw the word exclusive on the screen I thought it was meaningless as many channels interview the same person and claim it is exclusive. But this was different. This was exclusive to NDTV 24×7 and other channels did not have Salman Rushdie interviews. CNN-IBN and Headlines Today showed clips of the interview.

It was foolish on the part of Muslim leaders to raise a hue and cry about Salman Rushdie. He and his book got publicity. The ban was 23 years back in 1988. Many who were not aware of the book came to know about the book. Sahmat invited Rushdie. The controversy dominated news channels and overshadowed other events.

Shiela Dikshit made a fool of herself. First she said Salman Rushdie is welcome in Delhi. He has won Booker Prize. He is a well known writer and there may be differences in opinion about what he writes. Later she said in a press release “No question of welcoming English writer Mr. Salman Rushdie as a guest in the capital.”

Many people find something or the other offensive but the Government of India should be careful about its protests and demands for apologies. The government demanded an apology from BBC about the programme Top Gear. There was no apology. The government protested to USA and demanded an apology from Jay Leno for his joke about Golden Temple as Mitt Romney’s summer residence. There are elections in Punjab. USA spokesperson said Jay Leno has freedom of speech under US constitution. It is fine for individuals and groups to protest but when India protests it gives prominence to people who do not deserve it and if there is no apology there is not much the government can do.

Salman Rushdie said the import of The Satanic Verses is banned under section 11 of Customs Act, there is no ban on its reading. In that case there is no ban on printing the book in India.

Decline in education

Programme for International Standard Assessment (PISA) ratings and Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2011 have shown fall in educational standards in many Indian schools. Standard V students are unable to read Standard II books. Similar is the fall in standard in arithmetics. Mostly it is the case of government schools in rural areas. Much has been made of mid-day meal scheme in schools and it is said that the scheme has ensured almost 100% attendance. It is no use if students have mid-day meals but do not gain knowledge.

Foolish policies followed by people in power are responsible for this situation. After the government banned detaining students who fail after the annual exam and made promotion to next standard upto Standard VIII obligatory there was decline in educational standards. Teachers lost interest in teaching. Students lost interest in studying. It is just a matter of three years before Standard VIII students are unable to read Standard II books. Some may not be able to read anything at all.

At one time there were public exams for Std IV or Std VII. Generations of students had gone through them. They were helpful in knowing standards of various schools and teachers taught and students studied. With abolition of exams came laxity in teaching. However there were annual exams conducted by schools. They maintained some standard. With their abolition it was downhill. In many schools there is absenteeism of teachers. In such schools if some students are able to read, write and do well in maths according to the class in which they study it may be due to their parents teaching at home.

Annual exams for all Standards and public exams for Std IV or Std VII should be brought back. There is need to detain students who do not qualify to go to next Standard. Without annual exams it becomes progressively more difficult for students. After spending years in schools they may be good for nothing. Admission for colleges in many cities is tough. For some colleges the cut-off percentage is 100%. Without annual exams students will not able to do well in Std X and consequently in higher education.

Censorship of web sites

There are attempts to censor web sites and prevent anything against the government being said or written. Kapil Sibal first raised the issue. It was said morphed pictures defaming individuals were shown to journalists. One picture showed Sonia Gandhi shouting at Manmohan Singh. It was said there was material that can hurt religious sentiments and lead to riots. There were protests against censorship and Kapil Sibal said he was not for pre-censorship.

One man went to court against 21 web sites. He claims to be a journalist. When he appeared on English TV channels for discussions he spoke in Hindi. If he does not know English does he understand what is in web sites? If he knows English he should speak in English on English channels and anchors must make sure of that. Many people have no doubt that he is a government agent. The petitioner gave the example of cartoons of Islam’s founder. The petitioner’s name suggests he is not a Muslim. If Muslims get offended due to something it is for them to approach the court. Muslims are either unaware of the cartoons or do not care. Who appointed him to argue on behalf of Muslims? How much the petitioner is paying to his lawyer?

One judge said like China we can block web sites. In China there is death penalty for corruption. It is nice if the judge says like China we can sentence to death corrupt public servants.

If someone is defamed by anything posted on web site he/she can go to court and sue for damages of 100 crore rupees and win the case as happened in one case.

Some say IT Act is unconstitutional as it restricts the freedom of speech and expression granted by the constitution. So far no one has challenged the validity of IT Act.

There have been no riots in India due to something posted on internet. Religion is used as a cover to stifle criticism against the government.

Google and Facebook are particular targets. Google is a search engine. It shows sites where someone can find something particular. Facebook is a social web site where people post about themselves or their opinions. If someone does not like something he does not have to see it or read it.

Bans are justified by saying no freedom is absolute and necessity of maintaining law and order. Trouble makers are not arrested. Criminals who announce money to people who blacken the face of an author or throw shoes at him or murder an artist or cartoonist are not arrested. It seems authors and artists have no absolute freedom but criminals who are against them have absolute freedom.

It is time somebody challenged the validity of public interest litigation.