Noam Chomsky shows solidarity with NE’s indigenous people over CAA. Along with Noam Chomsky, James Scott and Survival International also extended support to the concerns of Northeast people over Citizenship (Amendment) Act, informs Richard Kamei, He is a PhD candidate at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
The passage of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) encountered vehement protests from Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and other Northeast Indian states. Despite opposition at Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the President of India gave his assent to it and CAB became an Act — Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). This spiralled into a spontaneous protest across the country with violent incidents against students and protesters starting off at Assam, Shillong (Meghalaya), Jamia Millia Islamia and other parts of New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and other states. Internet ban was implemented in various places including Assam, Tripura, then in Meghalaya, and later in parts of Uttar Pradesh.
CAA goes against the values of secularism, equality and democracy, and rights of indigenous people. CAA aims to grant citizenship to persecuted minorities from three neighbouring countries, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan on the basis of religion, excluding Muslims.
In the case of Northeast India, the opposition is on the grounds that foreigners irrespective of their religions must not be settled in Northeast region. They fear that it might further change the demography of the region and challenge its diverse ethnicities and identities, culture, custom, and the question of lands. Assam began the protest early on in the year 2016, it then spread to neighbouring states of Northeast India. The region was simmered with intense protests in early 2019; facing the heat, Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) lapsed in Parliament early last year.
However, the BJP promised to reintroduce CAB through its election manifesto. They campaigned in Northeast with the help of local ruling class by assuring people that they will not be affected and their concerns will be taken care of. They went on to win majority of the seats in Northeast region. As promised, CAB got introduced and passed in both Houses of Parliament and became an Act with the assent of the President.
To facilitate its passage, Inner Line Permit (ILP) was re-introduced in Manipur, and in Dimapur district of Nagaland. The Centre also assured that areas covered by Sixth Schedule will not come under CAA. The assurances and exemptions for Northeast states still leave out major parts of Assam and Tripura where people anticipate that they will be affected by CAA. It is on these that all the Northeast states continue to protest against CAA as they see it to be going against the rights and interests of indigenous people. Professor Noam Chomsky and few other prominent figures were being reached out through an email at this Richard Kamei’s personal capacity. They were informed of the situations of indigenous people of Northeast India and sought their solidarity and support for indigenous people of Northeast India who have been opposing CAB and later CAA through protest, since 2016. A brief history of colonial and settler colonialism in Northeast and CAA implications was written on informing the personalities. The Northeastern part of India is a land of indigenous people numbering hundreds of tribes with their distinct languages, cultures and customs, and identity. The British colonial time is marked with the introduction of settler colonialism into the Northeast region changing its demography, the state of Tripura, for instance, is tremendously affected by it. Tripura, a tribal state, experienced a reduction of tribal population from 87.07% in the year 1881 to 31.78 % of its total population in the year 2011 as per Population history of Tripura recorded in tripura.org.in website. The existence of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in large parts of northeast was also being pointed out, in the time when Article 14 of Indian Constitution gained prominence in the minds of people.
They were being informed that these bases made indigenous people in northeast India despite having protective mechanisms like Inner Line Permit (ILP) and autonomous units, fear about losing their identity, culture, and custom, and lands with another wave of settler colonialism through CAA by settling foreigners in the lands of Indigenous peoples. The protest in Assam witnessed the death of five persons, several injured, detained and arrested, and internet blockade for close to 10 days.
Prof Chomsky took time to read and responded within two days. He shared the message to remind indigenous people of Northeast, and people in general opposing CAA, that his support and solidarity is with them: “I have been following these shocking and dangerous developments with deep concern. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act poses intolerable threats to indigenous people, along with many others, and should be strongly condemned by international opinion, which should also support the resistance to the attacks on secular democracy and fundamental human rights being carried out by the Modi administration.”
Professor Scott and Survival International, a human rights organisation that campaigns for the rights of indigenous and/or tribal people and uncontacted peoples, also extended their support and solidarity for the indigenous people of Northeast. They were also being informed about the pending Naga peace talks where the search for its solution continues.
Indigenous people and their struggles more often than not find themselves in a different direction which resides outside of political correctness on the basis of ideological spectrum. Turning towards themselves and devising at their own volition in protecting, preserving and practicing their cultures and customs, traditions and importance of land, has been a marker of indigenous people. The Inner Line Regulation of 1873, as explained by AS Shimray in his book, Let Freedom Ring: The Story of Naga Nationalism, is rooted in the backdrop of flourishing tea plantation where the planters intruded into the lands of the Nagas by trespassing the borders. Land remains inseparable from the identity of indigenous people.
These features encompassing them become more important for assertion as per their past experiences of colonialism and racism, and the vulnerability and threat they face today from the same oppressive forces. It will be unwise to superimpose “borderless imagination” into indigenous people for they are yet to be on equal footing with people from mainstream societies.
On the question of immigrants, the state has a big role to address it in humane ways by prioritising indigenous peoples rights and ensuring at the same time that foreigners/persecuted minorities from neighbouring country get a fair support to lead a dignified life by settling them in other parts of the country which does not come under tribal lands. Last but not the least, taking into accounts of solidarity message from prominent figures like Chomsky and his ilk is not about seeking validation. For indigenous people where survival is their immediate concern, ‘visibility’ is important to carry forward their cause and struggle. It is in this that voice of renowned figure is important to ‘amplify’ tribal peoples’ voices and their struggles.(Richard Kamei can be reached at email@example.com. )
Delhi: NEW DELHI: Kick-starting the long overdue process for integration among
the Army, Navy and IAF, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat has
directed his tri-Service integrated defence staff (IDS) to prepare a plan for
the creation of an Air Defence Command (ADC) as well as “common
logistics support pools” for the armed forces.
The “proposal” for the ADC should be prepared by June 30, said General
Rawat, while also setting out “the priorities for execution of synergy”
among the armed forces in different arenas in a time-bound manner by
“Some of the areas identified for jointness and synergy include creation of
common logistics support pools in stations where two or more Services
are located. The Army and Navy, for instance, should share their logistics in Mumbai to avoid duplication and save resources.
The CDS also said efforts will be made to cut out infructuous ceremonial activities, which are manpower intensive,” said an
“While emphasising the collegiate system of functioning, General Rawat directed that all three Services and the Coast Guard
must be consulted and their views obtained in a time-bound manner. Decisions, however, will be taken to ensure optimisation
of resources,” he added.
General Rawat proposes setting up of an integrated Air Defence
Command and common logistics for armed forces
03/01/2020 General Rawat proposes setting up of an integrated Air Defence Command and common logistics for armed forces – Times of India
If and when the proposed ADC comes up, it will only be the third tri-Service or unified command in the country. The first and
the only theatre or “geographical” command till now was set up in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago in October 2001,
while the “functional” Strategic Forces Command to handle the country’s nuclear arsenal was established in January 2003.
In contrast, there are as many as 17 single-Service commands (Army 7, IAF 7 and Navy 3). Three new small tri-Service agencies,
not full-fledged commands, were also established last year for the critical warfare domains of space, cyberspace and special
The setting up of integrated commands and structures, by overriding the proclivity of the three Services to zealously guard
their own turfs, will lead to an integrated land-air-sea war-fighting machinery, save resources and right-size the almost 15-lakh
strong armed forces, as earlier reported by TOI.
Though IAF is primarily responsible for the country’s air defence (AD) against enemy aircraft, missiles and drones, the Army and
Navy also have their own AD weapons with individual infrastructure and logistics chains.
The wide variety of AD weapons in the armed forces include the Israeli low-level Spyder quick-reaction surface-to-air missile
(QR-SAM) systems (15-km range), the indigenous Akash area defence missile systems (25-km range) and the medium and longrange Barak-8 SAM systems (70 to 100-km range) jointly developed by Israeli Aerospace Industries and DRDO.
IAF is also slated to begin inducting five squadrons of the advanced S-400 Triumf missile systems from Russia from next year
onwards, under the $5.43 billion (Rs 40,000 crore) deal inked in October 2018.
With the S-400 systems, which can detect, track and destroy hostile strategic bombers, jets, spy planes, missiles and drones at
a range of 380-km, India plans to boost its air defence coverage along the unresolved borders with China and Pakistan as well
as around cities like New Del
Police brutality and detention of students, activists and citizens in U.P. bring to the fore apex court’s 38-year-old question
Police brutality and detention of students, activists and citizens, including allegations of custodial violence against a 66-year-old Muslim cleric in Uttar Pradesh in connection with anti-CAA protests bring to the fore the Supreme Court’s 38-year-old question: “Who will police the police?”
An exaggerated insistence on “proof beyond reasonable doubts” by courts in cases of custodial violence by ignoring ground realities and fact-situations would make the justice delivery system suspect, the apex court has cautioned. If courts adopt an “unrealistic approach,” it would only reinforce a belief in the police that no harm would come to them if an odd prisoner dies in the lock-up.
“Who will police the police? Police methodology with sinister potential to human liberty deserves strong disapproval and constitutional counteraction by this court,” the Supreme Court observed in Prem Chand versus Union of Indiain 1981.
Use of force in custody against a helpless and lonely individual is unlike muscling back a violent mob or a “violent bad character.” “The use of force against an individual in custody in his loneliness and helplessness is a grossly unlawful and most degrading and despicable practice that requires to be condemned in the strongest of terms, and we do so,” the court had observed.
Nothing is as degrading as the police “practising torture of any kind” in custody, especially when India had adopted and signed the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment in October 1997.
In the D.K Basujudgment, the court held that custodial violence, including torture and death in lock-ups, strikes a blow at the rule of law. The same judgment insists that police officers carrying out arrest should wear “accurate, visible and clear identification and name tags with their designations.”
The court, in Prakash Singh case, held that the Constitution mandates the police to perform their dual role of a law enforcing agency and an institution to protect citizens’ rights with autonomy, accountability and efficiency. The Code of Conduct for the Police in India of 1960 insists that police personnel recognise themselves as members of the public.
LUCKNOW, India — When Sadaf Jafar headed out with hundreds of others on Dec. 19 to join a demonstration against India’s contentious new citizenship law, she told her children she would be home that evening.
She never made it back.
The 43-year-old actress and activist had been live-streaming video from the protest site, a bustling crossroads in Lucknow, on her Facebook page. But as the rally descended into chaos and Jafar pleaded with police to detain the violent protesters, officers instead grabbed her, the video shows before ending abruptly.
Perturbed by Jafar’s disappearance, a family friend and fellow actor, Deepak Kabir, went to a police station to inquire about her whereabouts. But he also did not return. Both are now in jail and under investigation for attempted murder and assault of public servants, according to police documents reviewed by The Washington Post. Two other prominent activists, S.R. Darapuri and Mohammad Shoaib, both in their 70s, were detained before the protest and are also in jail.
They are among 5,500 people seized by police in Uttar Pradesh state alone in recent weeks in an intensifying clampdown on dissent. Twenty-four people have been killed in protests across India, 19 of them in Uttar Pradesh. Police deny accusations that they fired on protesters, detained people arbitrarily, ransacked homes and beat women and children. On Friday, authorities shut down Internet access in about a quarter of the state.
Human Rights Watch said police used “deadly force” against protesters.
“It’s been harrowing,” said Jafar’s sister, Naheed Verma. “It’s clear that we’re heading towards a police state.”
P.V. Rama Shastri, a senior police official, said it would be inappropriate to comment on Jafar’s case because the matter was before the courts.
The turmoil stems from India’s approval this month of a law that makes religion a criterion for nationality, a step critics and protesters say undermines India’s founding secular ethos and moves the country closer to becoming a Hindu nation under Narendra Modi, the stridently nationalist prime minister.
The law creates an expedited path to citizenship for immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan but excludes Muslims — the key point of contention in a nation whose 200 million Muslims account for almost one-sixth of the population. Modi defended the law, saying his government has never discriminated on the basis of religion.
The targeting of activists who have spoken out against the measure is intended to “send a chilling message to everyone,” said Yogendra Yadav, an activist and political scientist. “If they [Jafar and Kabir] can be picked up, is anyone safe?”
Jafar, a single mother of two, had recently finished work on a film directed by the internationally acclaimed director Mira Nair.
In August, the government revoked the autonomy and statehood of India’s only Muslim-majority state — Jammu and Kashmir — and implemented a crackdown. Last month, the Supreme Court allowed a Hindu temple to be built at the site of a 16th-century mosque that Hindu extremists, led by senior figures in Modi’s party, razed illegally in the 1990s.
Uttar Pradesh, in India’s northern heartland, is one of the poorest states and home to large numbers of Hindus and Muslims. Ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, its chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, is a firebrand Hindu monk who has previously called on his followers to kill Muslims and declared that the state would exact revenge on violent protesters.
Although people from all faiths have participated in this month’s demonstrations, critics say the state’s police have especially targeted Muslims, raising concerns about religious profiling. Nearly all who have been killed or detained are Muslims. A fact-finding team of activists that visited the state accused police of a “reign of terror” and “brazenly targeting” Muslims and activists.
In Bijnor, a district in western Uttar Pradesh where two people died of gunshot wounds during recent protests, there is widespread fear and shock among Muslim residents, many of whom have fled.
Arshad Hussain, 46, a tailor, said his son, Anas, stepped out to buy milk when a bullet hit him in the eye, barely 30 yards from his house. “Everyone standing around said he was hit by police firing,” he said. “He has a 7-month-old son. His wife is devastated.”
Sanjeev Tyagi, the local police superintendent, said there was no order to open fire at the crowd and denied Anas was killed by police. He acknowledged, however, that a 20-year-old student from the locality was killed when a constable fired in self-defense.
In the same neighborhood, Mohammad Imran watched from a neighbor’s terrace as a dozen police officers barged into his house. “I was so scared that I couldn’t dare to do anything,” he said, describing how the officers beat his 62-year-old, paralyzed father and dragged him away. “I learned yesterday that he was sent to jail.”
Tyagi denied police were carrying out arbitrary arrests. The “police’s job is like a surgeon, and if there is a problem, we have to do a surgery to solve the problem,” he said.
In Lucknow, the state’s capital, the police face allegations of vandalism and beating women and children.
On Dec. 19, Tabassum Raza, 26, heard loud noises in the narrow lane outside her house in the Hussainabad neighborhood. She peeked through the metal door and saw dozens of police officers chasing young men. Within minutes, officers were inside her home, having broken in through a wooden window that hangs limp from its frame.
“It was mayhem,” she said. “Someone threw down the fridge, another snatched my phone. They were lashing their sticks, sparing nothing and no one.”
Raza has purple bruises on her right arm and both thighs from the beating. Raza’s sister-in-law, Shahana Parveen, 29, lowered her pants to show dark bruises on her right hip. Her 10-year-old nephew was left with a black bruise at the back of his knee.
The police officers, Raza said, repeatedly asked them to give the names of the men in their house. The two women pleaded with the police, but the “rampage” went on for nearly 40 minutes, she said. A video shot by her cousin after the police left shows a trashed room with belongings strewn across the floor.
Shastri, the state police official, said that there is a process for public grievances and that if anyone complains to the police, the law would be followed. “On the basis of the account of an accused or their kin, it may not be fair to come to any conclusion,” he said.
The anger and division sweeping the country has spilled into unlikely places. At a court in Lucknow on Dec. 20, several lawyers assaulted nine detained protesters as they were brought into the chamber, local media reported.
Navigating the corridors of another ramshackle court building, Verma, Jafar’s sister, said her arrest has left the family traumatized. A lower court rejected Jafar’s bail application, meaning she must spend at least another week behind bars before the court reopens in the new year.
“The highhandedness of the police and disregard for civil rights is appalling,” Verma said. “We have protested under multiple governments but never faced this.”
Tania Dutta in New Delhi and Asad Rizvi in Lucknow contributed to this report.
Ramachandra Guha, noted social scientist opposed CAA detained in Bengaluru
The Indian cabinet has approved funds for a census and a population survey to be held next year despite weeks of protests over a citizenship law that critics say is anti-Muslim.
Authorities say the updated National Population Register (NPR) will be a comprehensive list of all residents.
However, critics say it will be a list from which “doubtful citizens” will be asked to prove they are Indian.
More than 20 people have died in protests over the citizenship law.
What is the NPR?
Authorities say the aim of the NPR is to create a comprehensive identity database of every “usual resident” of the country.
A “usual resident” is a person who has lived in an area for at least six months or a person who plans to live in an area for the next six months or more. This means foreigners living in India would be included in the NPR.
After Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, minister Prakash Javadekar said the government had allocated 39.4bn rupees ($553m; £427m) for the NPR and that it would be updated between April and September 2020.
Meanwhile, another 87.54bn rupees will be spent on the census, which will collect data on population, economic activity, migration and demography, among other things.
Mr Javadekar said the first NPR was created in 2010 and was updated in 2015.
He said better data would help the government formulate improved policies.
Critics say the NPR is the first step towards the creation of a controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) that is being championed by the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, but the government has denied this.
The NRC has already been implemented in the north-eastern state of Assam.
People in the state had to prove that they moved there before 24 March 1971, a day before neighbouring Bangladesh became an independent country. The exercise left nearly two million people people off the register.
The authorities have not yet clarified what documents would be needed for the NRC in the rest of India.
What is the controversial citizenship law?
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed earlier this month. Critics say it targets India’s 200 million plus Muslims.
The law offers amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and the government says it has been brought in to protect religious minorities fleeing persecution.
The move has drawn criticism from opposition parties and international rights groups which say it’s discriminatory and undermines India’s secular constitution.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defended the legislation and insisted that India’s Muslims “don’t need to worry” about the law.
Protesters have continued to take to the streets in spite of police bans and internet shutdowns across the country.
How large have the protests been?
On Tuesday, thousands held another protest march in the capital, Delhi, even though police imposed a law preventing people from gathering.
The opposition Congress party leaders, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, were turned back from reaching the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 16 people have died in protests in the past few days. They were on their way to meet a victim’s family.
Over the past two weeks, hundreds of thousands have swarmed the streets in the southern cities of Bangalore and Chennai (formerly Madras). At the weekend, nearly 300,000 people held a protest march in the northern city of Jaipur.
Three people have died in India and thousands have been detained amid demonstrations against a controversial new citizenship law.
A protest ban has been imposed in parts of the capital Delhi and throughout the states of Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.
The new law offers citizenship to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Critics fear the law undermines India’s secular constitution, and say faith should not be the basis of citizenship.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi has dismissed their concerns, and said the opposition had been spreading lies.
There have been days of protests against the law. India’s home minister has called a crisis meeting to discuss the demonstrations.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the country on Thursday, despite the police order based on a severely restrictive law which prohibits more than four people from gathering in a place.
Two people died in the city of Mangalore after officers opened fire on demonstrators allegedly trying to set fire to a police station.
Commissioner Dr PS Harsha told reporters that a curfew is in place in the city, and that he was waiting for a post mortem before announcing the cause of death for either man. Internet services have also been suspended in Mangalore for 48 hours.
Another man also died in the city of Lucknow, where violent clashes between demonstrators and police earlier in the day saw vehicles set alight. More than a dozen officers were injured and 112 people were reportedly detained in the city.
Civil society groups, political parties, students, activists and ordinary citizens put out a steady stream of messages on Instagram and Twitter, urging people to turn out and protest peacefully.
Among those who were briefly detained were Ramachandra Guha, a prominent historian and outspoken critic of the government, in the southern city of Bangalore; and political activist Yogendra Yadav in Delhi.
Speaking to the BBC’s Newshour programme, Mr Guha said he had been arrested with hundreds of others from various different backgrounds, “which clearly shows that a large section of Indians are actually opposed to this discriminatory legislation”.
Thousands gathered to demonstrate in Mumbai. Bollywood actors and filmmakers were expected to join the demonstration there.
What is the law about?
The law – known as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – offers amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The federal government says this is to protect religious minorities fleeing persecution in the three Muslim-majority countries.
But what has made the law especially controversial is that it comes in the wake of the government’s plan to publish a nationwide register of citizens that it says will identify illegal immigrants – namely, anyone who doesn’t have the documents to prove that their ancestors lived in India.
A National Register of Citizens (NRC) – published in the north-eastern state of Assam – saw 1.9 million people effectively made stateless.
The NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Act are closely linked as the latter will protect non-Muslims who are excluded from the register and face the threat of deportation or internment.
Why are people protesting against it?
Many Muslim citizens fear that they could be made stateless if they don’t have the necessary documents; and critics also say the law is exclusionary and violates the secular principles enshrined in India’s constitution.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the law would have “no effect on citizens of India, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Christians and Buddhists”.
He also blamed the opposition for the protests, accusing them of “spreading lies and rumours” and “instigating violence” and “creating an atmosphere of illusion and falsehood”.
Missing from India’s citizenship law: 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees
Nearly 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees living in India are not eligible for citizenship under a new law, sparking concerns they may be forced to return to the island nation they fled during a decades-long civil war, many with no homes to return to.
A Sri Lankan Tamil refugee cleans utensils outside her house in a refugee camp in Perambalur district, about 250km from Chennai [File: Nathan G/EPA]
India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) aims to fast-track citizenship for persecuted Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who arrived in India before December 31, 2014, from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The law excludes nearly 100,000 Sri Lanka‘s Tamils, an ethnic minority, who live in India, including about 60,000 in camps in southern Tamil Nadu state, according to the home department.
Most of these refugees are Hindu or Christian, whose forefathers were born in India, said S Velayutham, an advocacy officer at the non-profit Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation in the southern city of Chennai.
“Many were sent by the British as indentured labourers on Sri Lankan tea plantations, and hoped for a better life in India when they came here during the war,” he said.
“Some 25,000 children were also born in the camps. They do not know any country but India, but now they may have no choice but to go to Sri Lanka,” he told Reuters news agency.
A Tamil Nadu government official who oversees Sri Lankan refugees in the state did not return calls seeking comment.
A Sri Lankan Tamil refugee takes water from a hand pump outside a common toilet in a refugee camp at Thuraimangalam in Tamil Nadu’s Perambalur district [File: Nathan G/EPA]
Earlier, state government officials said Home Minister Amit Shah had promised Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami he would consider the issue of Tamil refugees excluded from CAA.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a rally on Sunday, said the government has introduced reforms without any religious bias.
Thousands of people were killed in Sri Lanka’s civil war, which ended in May 2009 after nearly three decades.
Tens of thousands fled, or were forced from their homes in the country’s north and east, and many sought refuge in neighbouring India, particularly in Tamil Nadu.
While many of them would like to return to Sri Lanka, repatriation has been slow because there is scant assurance on homes and jobs, human rights groups said. Many had their properties seized during the war.
In Tamil Nadu, the refugees get free education, healthcare, rations and a modest allowance but they have limited access to jobs and cannot get official documents.
The decision to exclude some marginalised groups from the CAA is “extremely disturbing”, said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at advocacy group Human Rights Watch, calling on the government to revoke the CAA.
Thousands of Indians have taken to the streets to protest the new law, as well as plans for a National Register of Citizens (NRC), with at least 25 people killed in clashes with police in the biggest challenge to Modi’s leadership since 2014.
On June 9, Prannoy Roy stood at a lectern in front of a crowd of journalists at the Press Club of India in New Delhi. The journalists had gathered to protest against the recent raids on NDTV, India’s oldest TV news channel, by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
“They’re trying to tell us we can suppress you even if you have done nothing wrong … and to be clear, that is a signal for the entire free press of India,” he told his audience. Roy, who co-founded the channel with his wife Radhika, had seen their own home raided in an investigation into bank fraud charges which he dismissed as “ridiculous, concocted”.
U Oo Hla Saw, an ANP member of the Lower House for Mrauk-U, speaks at the protest and urges the international community to help end the internet suspension. Photos: Nyan Zay Htet
The NDTV raids follow a busy year and a half for Indian free speech activists. In February, finance minister Arun Jaitley drew a sharp rebuke from liberal onlookers and critics of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when he argued that freedom of expression should be subordinate to upholding the sovereignty of the country.
Jaitley, speaking at the London School of Economics (LSE), had been asked to comment on the term “antinational”, recently hurled at left-wing students during bloody clashes at Ramjas College in New Delhi. There, a two-day seminar had been derailed when members of the ABVP, a right-wing student group linked to the BJP, grew violent to mark their displeasure at some of the speakers in the programme.
The ABVP objected particularly to the scheduled presence of left-wing student leader and PhD candidate Umar Khalid. A year earlier, Khalid had been branded “antinational” by political opponents and right-wing media personalities and had spent close to a month in jail after being arrested on colonial-era sedition charges for participating in an event commemorating the 2013 execution of Kashmiri separatist Afzal Guru.
Attacks on free speech
Khalid is clear: the government is “criminalising very normal political activity as seditious”, he tells Al Jazeera. He is among the many activists, journalists, lawyers and academics who are concerned that threats to freedom of speech and the press have intensified since the BJP government of Narendra Modi took office, and that new forms of censorship are proliferating.
In the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, India sank three places to position 136 (“least free”). The 2017 India Freedom Report, published in May by media watchdog The Hoot, spoke of “an overall sense of shrinking liberty not experienced in recent years”. It counted 54 reported attacks on journalists, at least three cases of television news channels being banned, 45 internet shutdowns and 45 sedition cases against individuals and groups between January 2016 and April 2017.
Chhattisgarh has been one of several major flashpoints. Arrests, death threats and even alleged torture of journalists, human rights activists and lawyers by agencies of the central Indian state created what a 2016 Amnesty International report called a “near total information blackout”. The state is the epicentre of a decades-old Naxalite-Maoist insurgency and its security forces have a reputation for violent excess. Under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, they also have broader powers of arrest than their counterparts in many other parts of India.
Last year saw 29 internet shutdowns, compared to 15 in 2015. Many of these were instituted in Kashmir, where mobile internet services were suspended from July 9 after Burhan Wani, the 22-year-old commander of the Kashmiri separatist Hizbul Mujahideen group, was killed by Indian security forces. For many users, access was only restored in late January 2017. In October 2016, the Kashmir Reader, a prominent English-language newspaper, was asked to stop publication; it returned to newsstands in December.
Meanwhile, The Hoot declared 2016 the year that “sedition went viral”. The independent media monitor recorded 40 cases filed by the year’s end – including those against Khalid and his fellow student-activists. On June 20 this year, 15 Muslim men were arrested and charged with sedition in Madhya Pradesh for cheering on Pakistan in a cricket match against India. The charges were dropped two days later.
Some experts say a constriction of free speech is not unique to the Modi era. New Delhi-based political analyst and commentator Ashok Malik says that the threats to freedom of expression have been more or less constant since the 1950s.
“The ecosystem that fosters freedom of expression in India has always been imperfect, from the beginning of the constitutional process,” he tells Al Jazeera. “In India,” he explains, “we have the right to free speech, but we don’t have the right to offend.”
India encodes freedom of expression as a constitutional right under Article 19, though it is a heavily qualified prerogative. Laws classified in the constitution as “reasonable restrictions” to freedom of expression are numerous, broad in scope, and, according to a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, “prone to misuse”.
The low point for press freedom came in the 1970s during the Emergency, a 21-month period during which Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ruled by decree, imprisoned many of her political opponents and imposed draconian censorship standards on the news media.
In 1989, the Rajiv Gandhi government banned Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Versesin response to protests by Muslims. Famously, in the 1990s and 2000s, painter MF Husain faced a battery of cases under laws against the promotion of enmity between religious groups, the outraging of religious feelings, the distribution of obscene materials and more. And after flying banners allegedly mocking the Indian constitution at a rally in 2012, political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was briefly jailed on multiple charges related to insulting the state, including sedition.
A polarised debate
While restricted free speech is far from unprecedented in India, many observers describe a decline in the quality of the freedom of expression in India since Modi took office in 2014. The numbers on internet shutdowns and sedition cases don’t tell the whole story: some analysts see the change most clearly manifested as a shift in the climate of debate.
Maitreesh Ghatak, a professor of economics at the LSE who has written about freedom of speech, points to a trend of extreme polarisation in Indian political discourse in recent years.
“What’s really happening is that there’s a certain angry mob mentality, especially on TV and digital media, that is drowning out certain kinds of discussions and making people unwilling to engage on certain topics,” he says. Ghatak believes that political leaders have played a role in setting the tone for political discussion: “We can’t avoid the fact that many of our leaders have said, on record, things that are provocative and divisive.”
Since 2014, Modi’s BJP, a right-wing political party rooted in Hindutva, a term often translated as “Hindu nationalism” and which contains Hindu supremacist elements, has held power. Currently, the BJP is the most popular party in the country, ruling in 14 of India’s 29 states.
As popular as the BJP is, its religiously inflected brand of nationalism has raised concerns about government-backed sectarianism and low tolerance for dissent.
Forms of censorship
Satish Deshpande, a professor of sociology at the University of Delhi, thinks the government’s failure to condemn violence has contributed to its normalisation and, in turn, an increase in self-censorship.
“A climate of fear is created, which elicits a kind of voluntary censorship,” he says. “There is evidence that this is happening in sections of the press and certainly in civil society.”
The latest World Press Freedom Index, too, noted that self-censorship is on the rise in Indian mainstream media.
In the first half of 2017, 20 incidents of religiously inspired “cow-protection” lynchings were reported. The murders, targeting mostly Muslims, were met largely with silence by BJP leaders. After a Muslim man named Pehlu Khan was killed by Hindu vigilantes, Rajasthan’s home minster Gulab Chand Kataria, a senior BJP figure, responded that the attackers had done “a good job by protecting cows from smuggling”. He then went on to say: “But they have violated the law by beating people brutally.” In June 2017, the murders, and the hushed response from leaders, prompted #NotInMyName, a series of protests against normalisation in cities around the country.
BJP members have occasionally been directly linked to efforts to stifle free press and smear journalists. Union Minister for External Affairs VK Singh has repeatedly used the common online slur “presstitutes” to refer to journalists. Journalist Swati Chaturvedi, who wrote a book about her trolls, spoke to one former BJP “cyber-volunteer” who alleged that vicious trolling campaigns were directed by the party. Party spokespeople dismissed the account.
Chinmayi Arun, who heads the Centre for Communication Governance at the National Law University Delhi, identifies the rise of “horizontal censorship of speech” – where censorship is not imposed “top-down”, by the state, but by private entities – as yet another emerging trend.
“There are very few legal safeguards against horizontal censorship of speech. So many people are silenced by trolls on social media acting in concert with each other,” Arun told Al Jazeera over email. “Sometimes online platforms take down political speech, but the speaker has no recourse.”
In the wake of Burhan Wani’s death, Facebook took down dozens of posts and deleted accounts which addressed the situation in the Valley. In a statement, Facebook said there was “no room for content that praises or supports terrorists.”
Whipping up nationalism
Meanwhile, some prominent media companies have swung towards an aggressively hyper-nationalist stance and an inflammatory style of broadcasting in recent years.
Zee News, a popular Hindi and English language TV channel which has faced criticism for both its slant and standards, including for allegedly falsely captioning footage from the JNU protests that led to the arrests of student leaders, recently refused to cover an India-Pakistan cricket match. The boycott was announced by the media house’s owner, Subhash Chandra, who in 2016 won a seat in India’s Upper House with BJP support.
Sevanti Ninan, founder-editor of The Hoot, notes that Times Now, a TV channel owned by the usually “pretty liberal” Times Group, seems to have adopted a jingoistic-patriotic stance to compete with the ratings earned by politically right-wing channels.
“It’s the style. You can’t necessarily say that it’s just a pro-BJP thing, but it’s certainly in alignment with what the BJP does,” Ninan told Al Jazeera. “It’s about whipping up a sort of nationalism. Panels where a newscaster will shout at a guest, ‘Are you an Indian?’ We never had that before.”
But Ninan says India is simultaneously seeing a blossoming of new independent online media – some funded by civil society rather than owned by big media corporations – which tend to have a liberal leaning and are more balanced and objective. Among print media, she says, many remain independent.
Above all, Ninan argues, India’s media landscape is complex and fragmented – and this might offer cause for modest optimism. While English-language media have disproportionate influence in elite political discussion, their audiences account for a tiny fraction of India’s whole. “Much of the country watches a channel in its own language, and what those do depends on the politics of that region; they’re not reflecting BJP bias,” she believes. “There are so many languages, and it’s such a huge country. That’s why there’s freedom.”
In Umar Khalid’s view, however, the landscape of freedom is deteriorating alarmingly quickly. He remembers hearing the term “antinational” for the first time – a slur hurled by right-wing student activists – around 2009. “We laughed at the absurdity of the entire thing,” he says. A few years later, the word has mainstream political significance.
“What the BJP has been successfully able to do,” says Khalid, “is to make even the people opposing them speak their language.”
Around 50 activists, mostly ethnic Rakhine, protested in Yangon’s Mahabandoola Park on December 24 against the government’s ongoing internet shutdown in northern Rakhine State.
U Oo Hla Saw, an ANP member of the Lower House for Mrauk-U who spoke at the protest, told The Myanmar Times that “from any point of view” the blackout was “a great loss” economically and socially for his constituents. He said cutting off the internet violates basic human rights.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government ordered the four telecom operators to suspend internet services on June 21 in nine townships across northern Rakhine and Chin. Ministry of Transport and Communications permanent secretary U Soe Thein previously told local media that “the ban was to maintain the stability and law and order in these areas” following clashes between the military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine rebel group.
Services were subsequently restored to five townships but the four townships of Ponnagyun, Mrauk-U, Kyauk Daw and Minbya remain cut off.
“Everybody knows that Burma [Myanmar] is in a democratic transition. But we [still] cannot fully enjoy democratic rights, especially for the Rakhine people. In Rakhine, there is communal violence, military conflict and – after that – now we have no internet access. Internet access is a universal right. But now we cannot enjoy that. This is unjust,” he said, calling on the international community to help end the blackout.
U Oo Hla Saw echoed these concerns and said that the suspension has damaged the livelihoods of local communities and their access to health and medical services.
Protester Ma Aye Thinzar Moe, an ethnic Kaman born and raised in Yangon and whose parents are from Sittwe, said that it is extremely challenging to rely on SMS messages to share and exchange information without the internet.
“It is difficult for both the young and the old. It also feels as if a blackout on news information is imposed on us [in northern Rakhine],” she told this newspaper, adding that the ban is not an effective way to counter disinformation or misinformation.
Another protester, youth activist Ma Thinzar Shunlei Yi, said the suspension was “a clear alarm” to both consumers and investors in Myanmar’s digital economy because it shows that access in the country “can be taken away anytime by giving different excuses.”
“Businesses, civil society and the media all have a responsibility to push the government to lift the internet ban and ensure this will not happen again in Myanmar,” she added.
In a statement on the protest, Maung Saungkha, a director of rights group Athan, warned that the electoral authorities would find it difficult to conduct any polls in areas without internet services. Myanmar is due to hold parliamentary elections in late 2020.
The statement, signed among others by Athan, Free Expression Myanmar (FEM), Myan ICT for Development Organisation (MIDO), Progressive Voice and Rakhine Youth New Generation Network, said the restriction would only worsen the conflict.
The Indian government has been shutting down internet services in select parts of the country amid protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The internet shutdowns have led an outcry from human activists that such measures aren’t coming down through the ‘right channels’.
The accelerated pace and expanse of the internet shutdowns also has China citing India as ‘setting an example’.
Businesses aren’t immune to the effects either as many online retailers rescheduled orders or reported a dip in sales.
Amid the protests, violence and discord over India’s newly formed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), authorities have been shutting down access to the internet in selected areas to control the situation.
When the internet isn’t being shut down, it’s at least being slowed down — known as throttling. Human rights activists claim that the order did not come down the ‘right channels’ making the entire exercise ‘illegal’.
It can only be ordered by a competent authority like Union home secretary or state home secretary, but this order was not issued by them,” technology lawyer Mishi Choudhary told ET.
And, this is not the first time that the government is being accused of using internet shutdown as a ‘quick fix’ solution for ‘potentially’ volatile situations.
In fact, India has turned so infamous for it during the last few months that China — known for its strict surveillance of online activity — is citing India as an example. India’s internet shutdown shows normal practice for sovereign countries,” said an editorial by Qing Qiu in People’s Daily — China’s largest newspaper and a controlled entity of the country’s ruling party.
Internet shutdown capital of the world
The government is allowed to sanction an internet shutdown in the case of a public emergency under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.
The problem is that internet shutdowns have become so common in India that it now has a reputation for being the ‘ internet shutdown capital of the world’. Kashmiris had to endure a four-month-long shutdown while the networks in Assam and parts of West Bengal were sporadically cut and activated.
Since 2012, the internet has been shut down in India a total of 375 times and most of them have occurred during the last two years — 134 in 2018 and 103 in 2019.
It means that shutting down the internet in a state of emergency should be standard practice for sovereign countries,” according to the People’s Daily editorial.
Impact of internet shutdowns
The damage of an internet shutdown isn’t restricted to missing messages on WhatsApp or an update on Instagram either. Although, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did ironically try and send out a tweet his ‘brothers and sisters in Assam’ when it was under an internet blackout.Internet shutdowns are affecting businesses as well. Between 2012 to 2017, they cost the economy nearly $3 billion, according to an estimate by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations ( ICRIER).
This time around, food delivery apps like Zomato, Uber Eats and Swiggy saw their volumes dip by 10 to 20% in Delhi. Grofers, an online grocery delivery service, had to reschedule 20,000 to 25,000 of its orders in Lucknow.
In addition the effect on businesses, this might not be the best time for the Indian government to be exercising its power in such a way with the Personal Data Protection Bill underway.
The bill is currently under discussion by a joint committee after being tabled in the Parliament in its last session. There are concerns that it has too many loopholes that will give the government access to user data in the name of ‘national security’ or a ‘public emergency’ — the very same reason used to justify the many internet shutdowns across the country.
There are many reasons to oppose the government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) combined with a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). In its current form, the CAB seems to violate article 14 of the Constitution, which protects all persons, not just citizens, from discrimination. However, even those who support its stated objective should oppose it for one simple reason—its extremely high cost of error, which, given India’s poor state capacity, is inevitable.
The CAB aims to amend India’s Citizenship Act, which lays down the elements of Indian citizenship. The amendment states that “persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan… shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of that Act”. It protects individuals belonging to some groups from being declared illegal immigrants (and facing detention/deportation), and fast-tracks their citizenship, but categorically excludes Muslim immigrants from getting similar protection, even if they belong to minority and persecuted groups such as Ahmadis or Rohingyas.
The government is also considering a nationwide NRC. Once created, the NRC will list the names of all those included as Indian citizens. Those not on the list will get a chance to prove their status as citizens. If the exercise turns out like the one in Assam, those excluded will have a short period to appeal their exclusion, failing which they would face detention and deportation.
The exercise would be highly prone to error—both Type I and Type II. Type I errors, or false positives, mean mistakenly identifying a person as an immigrant from protected minority communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, and erroneously giving them the benefit of Indian citizenship. Immigrants are usually a net economic benefit; so the costs of Type I errors are related to national security. These costs are not nationwide and typically limited to a handful of border districts in India.
Type II errors, or false negatives, occur when those who qualify as Indian citizens are mistakenly categorized as illegal immigrants. A nationwide NRC, if similar to the one in Assam, would imply that false negatives get sent to detention centres or deported, making Type II errors extremely costly. To minimize false negatives, the bar to qualify as a citizen has to be very simple and easily identifiable. Also, the state capacity to scrutinize the paperwork for the NRC has to be exceptionally high. The Indian state usually fails on both counts. Given the CAB’s current religious exclusionary basis, Muslims are at higher risk of exclusion through false negatives, though all groups, including Hindus, are likely to be affected by errors.
There are three main issues to consider here. The first is the trade-off between Type I and Type II errors. If, to avoid false positives, the government has a high level of scrutiny for NRC inclusion, all individuals will have the burden of meeting this higher bar. In the process, some might be mistakenly excluded. On the other hand, if the bar is set very low to prevent false negatives and erroneous exclusions, then some illegal immigrants may slip through the cracks. The current CAB framework, combined with the NRC, is set up to minimize false positives, which will automatically increase false negatives.
The second issue to consider is whether the costs of both kinds of errors are symmetric. In the case of symmetric costs, the trade-off between the two kinds of errors is of less concern. However, when the costs are asymmetric, the trade-off in the system must be considered. Illegal immigration is a minuscule problem nationwide and the concern of terrorist conduits is an issue in a handful of border districts. However, false negatives—that is, mistakenly excluding an Indian from the NRC—has an extremely high human cost because of the severe penalties. False negatives could tear families apart, and force the poor, who tend to lack documents, to spend their resources on legal appeals against detention, or spend years at detention centres. So, trading Type I errors for Type II errors is a very bad bargain for Indians.
The third issue is of the magnitude of error. If the government executes the task exceptionally well, such as for voter identity, and has a Type II error rate of just 5%, 67.5 million people will face action, equalling the human displacement caused by World War II. Most Indian systems have a far higher error rate. The State Of Aadhaar Report 2017-18 by IDinsight, covering 2,947 households, found that 8.8% of Aadhaar holders reported errors in their name, age, address or other information in their Aadhaar letter. In the NRC, a spelling mistake can deprive one of citizenship and 8.8% affects over 120 million people. If the Indian state outsources the project’s execution to an organization with capacity equalling Scandinavian government systems, with a very low error rate of 1%, 13.5 million Indians would still be erroneously excluded, equalling the human displacement caused by Partition.
Those who support the idea of the CAB and NRC need to take a hard look at our state capability to execute such a policy across the country. Once the human costs of error are acknowledged, surely even they would find it difficult to support such an error-prone exercise.
*Shruti Rajagopalan is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, US
India took a major step toward the official marginalization of Muslims on Tuesday as Lok Sabha passed a bill that would establish a religious test for migrants who want to become citizens, solidifying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist agenda.
The measure would give migrants of all of South Asia’s major religions a clear path to Indian citizenship — except Islam. It is the most significant move yet to alter India’s secular nature enshrined by its founding leaders when the country gained independence in 1947.
The bill passed in the lower house a few minutes after midnight, following a few hours of debate. The vote was 311-80. The measure now moves to the upper house, the Rajya Sabha, where Modi seems to have enough allies that most analysts predict it will soon become law.
Muslim Indians see the new measure, called the Citizenship Amendment Bill, as the first step by the governing party to make second-class citizens of India’s 200 million Muslims, one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, and render many of them stateless.
Will Citizenship Amendment Bill legalise religious discrimination?
The legislation goes hand in hand with a contentious program that began in the northeastern state of Assam this year, in which all 33 million residents of the state had to prove, with documentary evidence, that they or their ancestors were Indian citizens. Approximately 2 million people — many of them Muslims, and many of them lifelong residents of India — were left off the state’s citizenship rolls after that exercise.
With the new citizenship bill, Modi’s party says it is trying to protect persecuted Hindus, Buddhists and Christians (and members of a few smaller religions) who migrate from predominantly Muslim countries such as Pakistan or Afghanistan.
But the legislation would also make it easier to incarcerate and deport Muslim residents, even those whose families have been in India for generations, if they cannot produce proof of citizenship.
In Assam, where the citizenship program began last summer, thousands of people have marched in the streets, hoisting placards and torches and shouting out their opposition to the bill.