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Analysis

Critical need to ensure freedom of India’s free press

“The Free Press is a cornerstone of democracy. People have the need to know. Journalists have the right to tell. Finding the facts can be difficult. Reporting the story can be dangerous. Freedom includes the right to be outrageous. Responsibility includes the right to be fair. News is history in the making. Journalists provide the first draft of history. A Free Press, at its very best, reveals the truth.”

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As an Indian American, I have had the privilege of living in the two largest democracies in the world. One of those, the United States of America, came into being in part because of the free press. The other, India, has the reputation of having the most vibrant and free press in the developing world.

Since its establishment as a free nation, the free press in India has grown substantially and contributed significantly to the evolution of Indian democracy. Sadly, in recent times, the freedom of India’s free press is seen to have been under threat.

In September this year, well known journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh and television reporter Santanu Bhowmik were killed in separate incidents. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based NGO, over the past 25 years, there have been “41 instances” in which Indian journalists have been murdered “in direct reprisal for his or her work”.

Combine this violence upon journalists with a raid on the homes and offices of the founders of NDTV, India’s oldest television news station, by the Central Bureau of Investigation in June this year for “an alleged loss” incurred by a private bank and there is some cause for concern regarding the freedom of the press in India. The New York Times highlighted this in an editorial on the raid that began, “Press freedom in India suffered a fresh blow on Monday…”

Freedom House, an organisation that evaluates countries in terms of their freedom of the press, rated India’s press status as only “partially free” in 2016 and gave it a score of 40, with 0 being the best and 100 being the worst. Consider some key developments:

—  The killing of at least two journalists in connection with their work
—  A Supreme Court ruling to retain criminal defamation, despite calls for decriminalisation
—  Journalists in Chhattisgarh facing tremendous pressure with some relocating due to concerns for their safety
—  Heavy-handed restrictions on the press in Jammu and Kashmir with newspapers being shut down and a clampdown on mobile internet services

In sum, the news about the freedom of India’s free press is not very good. Maybe that’s not so bad one might think. Is freedom of the press such a big deal?

Absolutely! In fact, it is almost impossible to overstate the importance of the free press to a vibrant and vital democracy.

Let me elaborate on why the free press is so essential by using a quote from the Newseum, a wonderful museum in Washington, D.C. In the Newseum is the following etched statement:

“The Free Press is a cornerstone of democracy. People have the need to know. Journalists have the right to tell. Finding the facts can be difficult. Reporting the story can be dangerous. Freedom includes the right to be outrageous. Responsibility includes the right to be fair. News is history in the making. Journalists provide the first draft of history. A Free Press, at its very best, reveals the truth.”

The Constitution of India makes no specific reference to freedom of the press. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, on the other hand, guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression and since then there have been several Supreme Court judgements that have interpreted this article to also include freedom of the press.

There is also an emerging consensus that over the past few years that freedom of the press has been hamstrung. This is neither consistent with the Constitution nor healthy for Indian democracy.

The citizens of India gave the United States and the world a lesson in democracy by turning out in record numbers to vote in the last national elections of 2014. As we move towards 2019, it is time for the current administration in India to give another lesson in democracy by ensuring and guaranteeing the freedom of the free press as an exemplar to the rest of the world.

India remains a vibrant democracy, in large part because of the resilience of its questioning press. The free press is critical to the future of India and its citizens. We should praise the free press, not bury it. There are others who want to do the opposite.

Journalists should not stop asking the hard questions and writing the tough stories. They have the responsibility to seek and report the truth. We need journalists now more than ever. The overriding responsibility of the media is to separate fact from fiction and to hold governments and leaders to the same standards.

(Frank Islam is an entrepreneur, civic leader and thought leader based in the Washington, D.C., area. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted [email protected])

Analysis

India’s Sri Lanka challenge

From all accounts, India’s encirclement has begun with ruthless efficiency. Pakistan is gone. Maldives is about to fall. Nepal is almost there.

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70th Independence Day celebrations in Colombo

My wife and I recently visited Sri Lanka on a holiday with friends. For both of us, it was the first visit after almost 15 years. At that time, the idyllic island country was caught up in a deadly civil war that claimed countless lives and devastated the economy. When Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed power as the Sri Lankan President, he made the elimination of the Tamil Tigers his foremost objective. After 30 months of relentless assaults, the 26-year-old civil war finally ended in 2009, with the killing of Tamil Tigers (LTTE) leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and the ruthless decimation of his supporters.

It is argued that widespread human rights excesses occurred and that the Tamils were openly discriminated against. This is true. Yet, what is also true is that the island country finally saw peace for the very first time after decades of unrest, uncertainty and terrorism. The Sri Lanka we visited was in complete contrast with the one I had grown accustomed to, with gun-toting security personnel everywhere. Now there was a sense of calm. Even impatience, at being held back for so many years. It is as if it was time to claim the life that had been long denied.

For India, the end of the civil war and of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was good news. It had already declared the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, but domestic compulsions — with its allies in Tamil Nadu openly aligning with Prabhakaran — forced New Delhi to opt for covert support for the anti-LTTE military operations. Tragically, with the end of the civil war, history repeated itself and India, once again, lost its momentum. Today, we are on the brink of losing Sri Lanka to Beijing.

The Chinese presence in Sri Lanka is not covert. Far from it. You see them everywhere and the pace of the activity is hectic. Chinese dredging ships can be openly seen working at a furious pace. Work on the Hanbantota port has started. Chinese workers are everywhere, from shopping malls to pubs. Many are learning to speak Sinhalese. Hotels, roads and infrastructure, performing arts theatres, a swanky cricket stadium are not simply projects on the drawing board. People can see them. The importance of the visual should never be underestimated. And given the speed with which the Chinese execute projects, a real estate transformation is credibly under way.

Over a period of 12 years (2005–17), Beijing has poured in $15 billion into projects in Sri Lanka. The Chinese Ambassador conveyed an unambiguous message to India, which sees Chinese presence in Sri Lanka as an intrusion in its immediate sphere of influence, when he said, “No negative force can undermine the cooperation between Sri Lanka and China.”

For India, this is a disturbing development. Indian foreign policy has relied heavily on “time-tested civilisational links”. While this is undoubtedly appealing, there is an aspirational impatience among Sri Lankans that India failed to see and respond to with the scale, speed and imagination that only Beijing appears capable of.

It is common enough to hear Sri Lankans say how disgruntled and unhappy they are with the intrusive presence of the Chinese, who are loud and arrogant. It is like a deadly embrace but one that they find lucrative, if they wish to fast-track to a prosperous future. Artists impressions of future Colombo tell Sri Lankans that it will rival Singapore. It will bring in investments, tourism, employment and economic well-being. This can be seriously tempting.

From all accounts, India’s encirclement has begun with ruthless efficiency. Pakistan is gone. Maldives is about to fall. Nepal is almost there. And Sri Lanka is under an understandable hypnotic trance. India genuinely faces its most serious security challenge.

If India is to get its act together, it needs not only imagination but the speed and efficiency to deliver on its promises to offer Sri Lankans a future that the civil war denied them. For Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, India’s neighbourhood will be a disturbing challenge. The problem he would face is convincing the political, bureaucratic and corporate partners that India faces its greatest-ever security threat and one that we are on the brink of losing.

As the legendary chess player Bobby Fisher once remarked, “If you are playing the game, you play to win. But if you’ve lost the game, it’s because you took your eyes off the pieces and then, you deserve to lose.”

By : Amit Dasgupta

(Amit Dasgupta is a former Indian diplomat. The article is in special arrangement with www.southasiamonitor.org)

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Analysis

Air war in 1971: A view from the other side

Where does one seek authentic information about India’s contemporary military history?

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The Air and Naval War 1971

Disregarding the counsel of wise men, from Herodotus to George Santayana, Indians have consistently ignored the importance of reading, writing and learning from history. So, when retired US Air Force Brigadier “Chuck” Yeager, head of the US Military Assistance Advisory Group in Islamabad during the 1971 War, says, in his autobiography that the “Pakistanis whipped the Indians’ asses in the sky… the Pakistanis scored a three-to-one kill ratio, knocking out 102 Russian-made Indian jets and losing 34 airplanes of their own…”, we are left fumbling for a response. Other Western “experts” have alleged that, in 1971, the IAF was supported by Tupolev-126 early warning aircraft flown by Soviet crews, who supposedly jammed PAF radars and homed-in Indian aircraft.

Where does one seek authentic information about India’s contemporary military history? The Ministry of Defence (MoD) website mentions a History Division, but the output of this organisation is not displayed, and it seems to have gone into hibernation after a brief spell of activity. A Google search reveals copies of two typed documents, circa 1984, on the Internet, titled “History of the 1965 War” and “History of the 1971 War” — neither of which is designated as “official history”.

A chapter of the latter document deals with the air-war in the Western theatre, and opens with a comparison of the opposing air forces. The 1971 inventory of the IAF is assessed at 625 combat aircraft, while the PAF strength is estimated at about 275. After providing day-by-day accounts of air-defence, counter-air close-support and maritime air-operations, the “History of the 1971 War” (or HoW) compares aircraft losses, on both sides, and attempts a cursory analysis of the air war.

The IAF is declared as having utilised its forces “four times as well as the PAF” and being “definitely on the way to victory” at the time of ceasefire. Commending the PAF for having managed to survive in a war against an “enemy double its strength”, it uses a boxing metaphor, to add a (left-handed) compliment: “…by its refusal to close with its stronger enemy, it at least remained on its feet, and in the ring, when the bell sounded…”

This is the phrase that Pakistani Air Commodore M. Kaiser Tufail (retd) has picked up for the title of his very recent book: “In the Ring and on its Feet” (Ferozsons Pvt Ltd., Lahore, 2017) about the PAF’s role in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Commissioned in 1975, this former Pakistani fighter-pilot is a historian and bold commentator on strategic affairs. Currently unavailable in India, the book may, prima facie, be accepted as authentic, because the author asserts that in two of his appointments, he was the “custodian of PAF’s war records”, which he was, officially, permitted to access in writing the book.

Tufail starts with an attempt to dispel the “ludicrous Indian fabrication about Pakistan having initiated the war”, and offers the thesis that since war was already in progress, the ineffective 3rd December PAF pre-emptive attacks were merely “first strikes” meant to overburden the IAF’s retaliatory capability. Apart from this half-hearted attempt at obfuscation, the rest of Tufail’s narrative is refreshingly candid, free of hyperbole and — one hopes — reliable. Having served in an IAF fighter squadron during the 1971 war, I was fascinated by Tufail’s account, and share a few of his frank insights into wartime events in this article.

Tufail suggests that the wartime PAF Chief, Air Marshal Rahim Khan, was an inarticulate, short-tempered and lacklustre personality, who, at this crucial juncture, chose his two most important advisers — the ACAS (Operations) and the Deputy Chief — from the ranks of transport pilots. His problems were compounded by low service morale, due to the massacre of 30 airmen in East Pakistan and defections by Bengali PAF personnel.

As far as the two orders-of-battle are concerned, it is interesting to note that the HoW figures of 625 combat aircraft for the IAF and 273 for the PAF are pretty close to Tufail’s estimates of 640 and 290 respectively. A fact not commonly known, in 1971, was that while the IAF’s work-horses, Sukhoi-7s, Hunters, Gnats, HF-24s, Mysteres and Vampires were armed only with 30/20 mm guns, the opposition had the advantage of air-to-air missiles. While all PAF western-origin fighters carried Sidewinders or R-530s, Yeager tells us, “One of my first jobs (in Pakistan) was to help them put US Sidewinders on their Chinese MiGs… I also worked with their squadrons and helped them develop combat tactics.”

Tufail provides a tabular account of both IAF and PAF aircraft losses, with pilots’ names, squadron numbers and (for PAF) aircraft tail numbers. To my mind, one particular statistic alone confirms Tufail’s objectivity. As the squadron diarist of IAF’s No. 20 Squadron, I recall recording the result of a Hunter raid on PAF base Murid, on December 8,1971, as “one transport, two fighters (probable) and vehicles destroyed on ground.” In his book, Tufail confirms that 20 Squadron actually destroyed five F-86 fighters in this mission — making it the most spectacular IAF raid of the war!

Particularly gratifying to read are Tufail’s reconstructions, of many combat missions, which have remained shrouded in doubt and ambiguity for 47 years. Personally, I experienced a sense of closure after reading his accounts of the final heroic moments of 20 Squadron comrades — Jal Mistry and K.P. Muralidharan — as well as fellow naval aviators — Roy, Sirohi and Vijayan — shot down at sea. Tufail also nails the canard about Soviet Tupolev-126 support to IAF, and describes how it was the clever employment of IAF MiG-21s to act as “radio-relay posts” that fooled the PAF.

Coming to the “final reckoning”, there is only a small difference between the figures given in the HoW and those provided by Tufail for IAF losses; both of which make nonsense of Yeager’s pompous declarations. According to the tabulated Pakistani account (giving names of Indian aircrew), the IAF lost 60 aircraft. The HoW records the IAF’s losses in action as 56 aircraft (43 in the west and 13 in the east). However, a dichotomy surfaces when it comes to PAF losses. While Tufail lists the tail numbers of only 27 aircraft destroyed, the HoW mentions IAF claims of 75 PAF aircraft destroyed, but credits only 46 (27 in the west and 19 in the east).

Using the “utilisation rate” per aircraft and “attrition rate”, as a percentage of (only) the offensive missions flown by both air forces, the HoW declares that the IAF’s utilisation rate being almost double, and its attrition rate being half that of the PAF, “…had the war continued, the IAF would certainly have inflicted a decisive defeat on the PAF”.

Adopting a different approach, Tufail concludes that the overall “attrition rate” (loss per 100 sorties) for each air force as well as aircraft losses, as percentage of both IAF and PAF inventories, are numerically equal. Thus, according to him, “…both air forces were on par… though the IAF flew many more ground-attack sorties in a vulnerable air and ground environment”.

He ends his narrative on a sanguine note, remarking: “The PAF denied a much stronger IAF… the possibility of delivering a knock-out punch to it.”

Air Commodore Tufail’s book clearly demonstrates that there are at least two good reasons for writing war histories: Lessons are learnt about the political sagacity underpinning employment of state military power, and militaries can test the validity of the Principles of War. Sensible nations, therefore, ensure that history is not replaced by mythology. There is a whole new crop of young scholar-warriors, like Kaiser Tufail, emerging in India, eager to record its rich military history. But as long as our obdurate bureaucracy maintains the inexplicable “omerta” vis-a-vis official records, this deplorable historical vacuum will persist.

By : Admiral Arun Prakash

(Admiral Arun Prakash is a former chief of the Indian Navy. He can be contacted at [email protected] )

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Analysis

Kashmir’s laugh doctor: He wants to bring mirth back to Kashmir’s depressed lives

There is no source of entertainment in Kashmir. Cinema halls have been closed. There is no local film industry as many other Indian states have.

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Hazaar Dastaan

Srinagar, Feb 18 : Long before it was infected by violence and its streets reverberated with sounds of slogans and gunfire, Kashmir was a place where one could hear laughter in every household in the evenings when Nazir Josh, Kashmir’s very own “Charlie Chaplin”, used to come on Doordarshan (DD), the national broadcaster, with his facial expressions of total bewilderment, the street impressions of a joker and strong Chaplinesque elements in his walking style.

In this conflict-ridden region where young people have grown up witnessing violence erupting in their public spaces on a regular basis, the 67-year-old comedy king of Kashmir says that revival of humour is the only way to bring back smiles and laughter to the stoic faces of Kashmiris deprived of a normal existence.

A local poet, script writer, director and actor, Josh is known to every household here just as “Jum German”, “Ahead Raza” and half a dozen other names based on the lead roles he has played in TV serials.

He ran regular comedy serials on the local DD which were very well received by every Kashmiri. But it was all brought to a halt when separatist violence broke out in Kashmir in the late 1990s. While he was never directly at the receiving end of the violence, in the grim, strife-torn Valley there was little space left for humour and satire, and he was left without any sponsors.

Josh believes that Kashmiris are facing many social and psychological problems which cannot be addressed by medication alone.

“People here need to unwind, and for that, humour and satire are the best avenues,” Josh told IANS.

He recalled how a local family had come to thank him for helping cure their mother of depression.

“The son of the lady being treated for depression told me his mother had laughed after a long time when she saw an episode of my comedy serial ‘Hazaar Dastaan’.

“The boy said when the family told the psychiatrist about his mother’s laughter, which came after long months of depression, the psychiatrist advised them to show her more episodes of the comedy serial. It completely cured the lady.”

Josh feels that in a place where curfews, shutdowns and street violence are a norm rather than an aberration, there is a genuine need for some laughter in people’s lives to sustain their sanity.

But as violence took centrestage in the Valley, Nazir Josh and his TV serials, which were based on social and political satire, had to take backstage.

The last TV serial based on social satire produced by him was “Jum German” in 1989. But it could not go beyond 25 episodes as the situation took a violent turn in Kashmir, Josh said, as he fixed his gaze at the clouds outside his central Kashmir Badgam district home.

A feeble winter sun was trying to make its way through the heavy clouds that preventing its rays from reaching the earth.
“This is the present situation. Heavy and dark clouds of gloom everywhere you go. Seventy per cent patients who visit various hospitals in the Valley are suffering from depression.

“There is no source of entertainment in Kashmir. Cinema halls have been closed. There is no local film industry as many other Indian states have.

“There is only one TV station in Kashmir and that too has not been doing anything to revive entertainment so that people are able to laugh tensions out of their lives,” Josh said.

He still remembers the good old days when Kashmiris would eagerly wait for humorous weekly TV dramas.

“I know of some local homes where womenfolk sold ornaments to buy TV sets so that they could watch my serial titled ‘Hazaar Dastaan’ which ran 52 episodes on the local DD channel between 1985 and 1987.

“The serial was a political satire on people in power in the state — their callous and casual approach to people’s problems was depicted through the serial.

“Some local politicians were disturbed by the popularity of the serial. They went to Delhi and complained to the central leadership that their position was becoming awkward because of this serial.

“After that complaint, each episode was first taken for a preview in Delhi with a Kashmiri translator. The preview committee said it was genuine political and social satire that needed to be encouraged,” Josh recalled.

Josh had started his career in the local theatre. In the beginning, we would stage plays at the village and district levels. In 1968, he staged a play at the Tagore Hall in Srinagar where a drama festival was organised by the state cultural academy.

He then wrote a play in 1973 for the television titled ‘Haier Kkr’. Its success encouraged him to write humorous serials regularly till 1989 — when violence brought down the curtains on entertainment and laughter in Kashmir.

He is not completely discouraged and says humour and satire can still be revived in Kashmir, provided the state and central governments support his work.

“We need at least production cost so that the past glory is regained. I am hopeful that, in the near future, better sense will prevail so I am again able to make Kashmiris laugh away their daily tensions through my TV serials,” Josh said.

He believes there is immense talent among local youth. “These young boys and girls need to be rigorously trained in acting and directing productions to ensure that theatre and TV serials do not die an unsung death here,” he said hopefully.

And he wants to re-create the past rather than merely become a wistful memory of the halcyon days of Kashmir.

(The weekly feature series is part of a positive-journalism project of IANS and the Frank Islam Foundation. Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at [email protected] )

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