Laws alone can’t stop the hate

Deccan Chronicle - - EDIT - A.G. Noorani

On July 18, 1948, home min­is­ter Val­lab­hb­hai Pa­tel wrote to Syama Prasad Mook­er­jee, the Hindu Ma­hasabha leader who set up the BJP’s an­ces­tor Jan Sangh, on the RSS and the Ma­hasabha’s role in Gandhi’s mur­der.

He made no charge but said: “Our re­ports do con­firm that, as a re­sult of the ac­tiv­i­ties of those two bod­ies, par­tic­u­larly the (RSS), an at­mos­phere was cre­ated in the coun­try in which such a ghastly tragedy be­came pos­si­ble.”

It was pre­cisely in such an at­mos­phere that the bru­tal killing of Gauri Lankesh took place on Septem­ber 5. She was re­spected for her fear­less­ness and com­mit­ment to val­ues as ed­i­tor of the journal Lankesh

Pa­trike founded by her father P. Lankesh. De­mo­li­tion of Babri Masjid in 1992 made her a strong op­po­nent of the Hin­dutva brand of politics.

A New York Times’ ed­i­to­rial ac­cu­rately summed up the root cause of the crime which “has all the hall­marks of a hit job”. It was the vi­cious at­mos­phere of re­li­gious hate which was fos­tered with in­creas­ing in­ten­sity ever since the BJP and the RSS took up the is­sue of a Ram tem­ple on the site on which stood Babri Masjid.

In this at­mos­phere, noted dis­senters fell to tar­geted bul­lets. In 2013, it was the ac­tivist Naren­dra Dab­holkar. In 2015, it was M.M. Kal­burgi and Govind Pansare; all gunned down. All op­posed Hin­dutva. Kal­burgi was a for­mer vicechan­cel­lor of Kan­nada Univer­sity. A jour­nal­ist who wrote an ex­posé of the Dab­holkar mur­der case re­ceived death threats. De­nounced also was the se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case.

The pat­tern is un­mis­tak­able and its roots were noted by NYT: “Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has let a cli­mate of mob rule flour­ish in In­dia, with his right-wing Hindu sup­port­ers vil­i­fy­ing ‘sec­u­lar­ists’. The venom that re­ac­tionary so­cial me­dia trolls di­rect at jour­nal­ists, or ‘pressti­tutes’ as they call them, is spe­cially vi­cious, but not en­tirely new… Lankesh had voiced con­cern about the cli­mate of men­ace against jour­nal­ists who didn’t toe the Hindu-na­tion­al­ist line. If Modi doesn’t con­demn her mur­der force­fully and de­nounce the ha­rass­ment and threats that crit­ics of Hindu mil­i­tancy face daily, more crit­ics will live in fear of deadly reprisal and In­dian democ­racy will see dark days.”

The Press Coun­cil of In­dia set up a fact-find­ing com­mit­tee which vis­ited 11 states and submitted a de­tailed Re­port on Safety of Jour­nal­ists. It was set up in the wake of the mur­der of crime re­porter Jy­otir­moy Dey, in broad day­light in Mum­bai. It records that in Kash­mir “a se­nior jour­nal­ist said that since 2008, the se­cu­rity forces were beat­ing up jour­nal­ists who went to cover in­ci­dents when­ever the ex­trem­ists tar­geted the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ments”.

Ap­pended to the re­port is a list of 80 jour­nal­ists killed in In­dia since 1990. It makes use­ful rec­om­men­da­tions. In­tim­i­da­tion of or at­tack on a jour­nal­ist should be made a cog­nis­able of­fence tri­able speed­ily by a spe­cial court. Novem­ber 2 may be pro­claimed as the “Na­tional Day to End Im­punity for Crimes Against Jour­nal­ists”.

The crux of the mat­ter is in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the of­fences. The re­port rec­om­mends probes by CBI. This can be im­proved by pro­vid­ing for ju­di­cial sur­veil­lance.

A model to em­u­late is Clause 4 of the Kar­nataka Free­dom of Press Bill, 1988. It pro­vided de­ter­rent pun­ish­ment for vi­o­lent at­tacks or in­tim­i­da­tion “with the in­ten­tion of pre­vent­ing any jour­nal­ist or worker in a news­pa­per… from per­form­ing his du­ties….” “Worker” was added be­cause in 1988, the Ra­jiv Gandhi regime had in­sti­gated strikes to pre­vent pub­li­ca­tion of a daily by re­sort to vi­o­lence.

Leg­is­la­tion alone can­not stem the tide of hate. It can be done only by mem­bers of civil so­ci­ety.

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