Hounding whistle-blowers

Kashmir Times. Dated: 9/5/2019 11:50:02 AM

Criminalising truth-tellers or intimidating potential critics is harming Indian democracy

The foundations of Indian democracy are threatened when a paranoid regime that cannot tolerate even a speck of criticism begins exercising its might to criminalise those who dare to speak truth or those the state fears could speak truth. In an age of chest-thumping predominant media that has virtually converted itself into an extension of the BJP-government's media publicity department, a powerful government is scared of even one adverse word that punctures the rosy picture of its functioning . In doing so, it is leaving no stone unturned to crackdown on any whistle-blower. The most shocking and brazen is the case of Uttar Pradesh police lodging a criminal case against a journalist and a village head representative, accusing them of maligning the Uttar Pradesh government by recording a video of children at a school being served roti and salt as their midday meal. The video of students being served salt and roti in their midday meal had gone viral on social media on August 22, triggering widespread outrage and leading to the suspension of two teachers. The journalist has now been booked under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharging duty), 193 (false evidence) and 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code, a senior police officer said. According to the complaint, the journalist and the village-headman had conspired and deliberately made the video in a well-planned manner and did "despicable work" of maligning the image of the state government. This is a perfect example of shooting the messenger and endangers the right to freedom of expression as well as the public's right to information. In a petition to the Supreme Court, chairman of the Press Council of India, the toothless statutory media watch-dog that has rarely ever taken a stand in pursuit of freedom of the press, went a step ahead in justifying curbs and restrictions on media in Kashmir on misplaced grounds of security and national interest, averring that some facts are best not reported. The plea has been made by propping up a narrative of national interest versus individual interest of the media but this argument is flawed as the right to free person does not only pertain to media professionals, it pertains to the entire public that media-persons inform. By treating all its wrong-doings as some kind of an official secret and clamping down on those who dare to expose these, the government is embarking on a war-path against truth. The level of intolerance to truth-telling is so high that the government is even torpedoing anybody who can be a potential critic.
The case of Kashmir based senior journalist Gowhar Geelani, who was stopped from flying out to Germany for a training course before his employment with a German media organisation earlier this week, without any explanation or written reasons is one such example. Stopping him from flying out, arbitrarily and unlawfully, impinges on his civil liberties and his right to employment. There was nothing that the government had against Geelani, who has hardly written anything during the month-long information clampdown in the Valley other than the apprehension that the government is apprehensive that his visit abroad will give Geelani the liberty to speak freely about Kashmir and counter the government's claims about the ground reality. How long is the government intending to put under the lid each and every uncomfortable truth that the public has a right to know. Truth is important not only for the sake of fundamental rights of the people. It is important because it warns the public of the impediments to a peaceful and a democratic country.

 

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