Constitutional morality, a term cited by B.R. Ambedkar, has been given fresh life and relevance in the Supreme Court’s five-judge verdict decriminalising homosexuality. Framing this verdict as one relating solely to a section of society that identifies itself as LGBTQIA+, as many media entities have sought to do, would be doing it great disservice.
Before we go on, let us pause a bit on the nomenclature. While ‘LGBTQ’ has been in general use for a while now, The Wire I have noticed has gone with LGBTQIA+ which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual – and Plus, for others. The rainbow is certainly the right symbol for such an all-encompassing category!
Without doubt, this judgment relates intimately to the unpardonable historical wrongs that the LGBTQIA+ community have experienced and suffered grievously for, and The Wire did well to call out the heroes and villains of this story (‘A Look Back At Those Who Aided, and Hindered, the Fight Against Section 377’, September 6). I remember, B.P. Singhal, BJP MP, policeman and pop physician, delivering public lessons on the “unnaturalness” of gay sex. This struggle of the community for selfhood is far from over (‘Section 377 Is Gone but We Still Have to Fight the Kangaroo Court of Society, LiveWire, September 7), but the journey towards the closure of an ugly chapter in India’s history has begun.
What also needs to be flagged are two values – constitutional morality and freedom of expression – which are embedded in this unanimous verdict. Just a couple of sentences from what the various judges had to say, all of them relating directly to the case at hand, would iterate this: “When the liberty of even a single person is smothered under some vague and archival stipulation….then the signature of life melts and living becomes a bare subsistence and resultantly, the fundamental right of liberty of such an individual is abridged.” (Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar); “We must, as a society, ask searching questions to the forms and symbols of injustice. Unless we do that we risk becoming the cause and not just the inheritors of an unjust society” (Justice D.Y. Chandrachud). The media too need to “ask searching questions about the forms and symbols of injustice”, otherwise they too risk becoming “the cause and not the inheritors of an unjust society”.
This rainbow illuminating the skies in the wake of the Navtej Singh Johar Ors vs Union of India judgment, needs to encompass other human rights defenders who are presently either imprisoned or living suspended lives under house arrest – two of whom are touching 80 years of age. The trauma, the violence, the violation, of a police raid is beyond imagination – read the piece written by Sudha Baradwaj’s daughter, ‘I Haven’t Earned Money, I Have Earned People’: Sudha Bharadwaj’s Daughter Pens Emotional Note’ (September 8).
Civil society activists and lawyers, those arrested on August 28 – Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Stan Swamy – as well as those now in prison – Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale and Rona Wilson – have been framed with utmost cynicism for allegedly being the progenitors of the Bhima Koregaon violence and hatching a plot to assassinate the prime minister. They urgently need the attention and support of the country and its media, because they have now come to symbolise the absolute fragility of our constitutional morality. The fate visited upon them under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) is designed for the chilling effect it has on everybody’s speech and activism (‘Why Are So Many ‘Urban Maoists’ Surfacing All of a Sudden?’, August 29). As The Wire editorial, appearing a day after this flurry of police action across four states on August 28, argued, “If the police are allowed to get away with criminalising dissent in this way then no citizen should consider herself safe. Indeed, the purpose behind levelling terrorism charges against prominent anti-establishment voices, including lawyers, is to intimidate actual or potential critics and ensure their silence.”
This is the time for the media to unpack the confections of the Pune police. Each bit of evidence they have presented prematurely to the public would have to be put to the test of whether it constitutes admissible proof. What about the so-called banned organisations the activists were allegedly affiliated to? If any of them have been banned, the point of time when they were banned needs to be considered. Already some scrutiny of these alleged allegiances is fortunately being done (‘Arrest of activists: Cops name 7 groups, only one is banned’, Indian Express, September 7).
Take someone like Gautam Navlakha, a long-time civil rights and political activist, well-known commentator on current affairs. As the lawyer representing him put it, there is nothing to link him with the Bhima Koregaon violence. The sheaf of papers that Pune police presented at his door in Delhi and which accused him of alleged terror activities was in a language he could not read (‘Watch | Activist Arrests: Where Is the Evidence?’, August 31). After all, even anti-terror laws like UAPA would need to be based on credible information that links the accused directly to the terror act and this was not the case.
It is in their bid to prove that they indeed had credible information that the Pune police staged that extraordinary Keystone Cops-like press conference of August 31, which invited censure from both the Bombay high court and the Supreme Court (‘Activists’ Arrests: PIL Filed Against Maharashtra Police for Press Conference’, September 4; ‘Bhima-Koregaon Case: SC Extends House Arrest of Five Rights Activists Till September 12’, September 6).
Scrutiny of the role played by television channels like Zee News and Republic also needs to come under the scanner. The manner they have amplified the police narrative without any evidence, both before and after that infamous press conference, is a huge blot on the independence of the media. The letter flashed by the Pune police which they claimed was written by “Comrade Sudha” to “Comrade Prakash”, had earlier been given an outing on Republic TV (‘Sudha Bharadwaj Says Letter to Maoists a ‘Fabrication’, Police Claims Big Plot’, September 1) and explicitly rubbished by her, threatening a law suit against the channel. A day before the police press conference, Zee News had a go at the same letter (‘Naxals are suffering due to lack of funds; reveals Sudha Bhardwaj’s letter’, Zee News), its report accompanied by scary visuals of a balaclava-wearing figure aiming a rifle straight at the heart of the viewer. These platforms also made innocuous words like “activist” sound positively dangerous (watch the anchor amplify the word “activist” in the Zee News report just cited).
Within a few hours of the press conference, Sudha Bharadwaj, now under house arrest, through a handwritten note, dismissed the police evidence as “totally concocted”. She accused the Pune police of seeking to “criminalise me and other human rights lawyers, activists and organisations” (‘Sudha Bharadwaj Says Letter to Maoists a ‘Fabrication’, Police Claims Big Plot’, September 1). Shortly thereafter, Stan Swamy, under house arrest in Ranchi, also denied outright the allegations of the police, terming it a “mixture of innocuous and publicly available facts and baseless fabrication,” adding that he was being targeted because he was working for under-trial prisoners (‘The Maharashtra Police Case Against Me Is an Absolute Fabrication: Stan Swamy’, September 3).
Many of those who have undergone such raids have pointed to the manner in which evidence was gathered. Bharadwaj had even made it known, while talking to the media as the raid on her premises was taking place, that her mobile phone, laptop, pen drive were being seized and that she apprehends that the data in them could be manipulated. Books that conformed to anything that the police construed as “dangerous”, were carefully put aside and sealed. The Wire piece, ‘My Anti-National Bookshelf Could Get Me Into Trouble’ (September 4), may have been a spoof, but it made scary reading because it was based on what really happened: the police in a Hyderabad raid did pick up from bookshelves all publications that were red in colour.
Can we trust our lives and liberty to such forces? Today, it is human rights defenders who are being pronounced guilty by association. Tomorrow, it will be us. Which is why the Supreme Court needs to revisit what it said in the Navtej Singh Johar Ors vs Union of India judgment when it goes on to deliberate on the petition submitted by Romila Thapar et al, which termed the actions of the Pune police as the “biggest attack on freedom and liberty of citizens by resorting to high handed powers without credible material and evidence”.
Anumita Goswami, an Indian student living in Finland, wanted to make a contribution to The Wire, but found that the Instamojo payment method only allows contributions via Indian cards. She wanted to know whether there is any other method of payment which does not involve an Indian card. The manager of The Wire responded thus:
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I also keep receiving mail asking for help in getting pieces published in The Wire. I had responded on this subject earlier and I am repeating what I had said:
First, as the public editor/ombudsperson, I myself do not take editorial decisions. So questions like the possibility of getting a particular piece published, and so on, had best be addressed to [email protected]
Unsolicited pieces should ideally be 800 to 1,200 words in length (including hyperlinks) in MS Word.
Pepe Reina writes: “I was going through your content and I was wondering why it was so Anglo-centric at the expense of authenticity. I understand that westernisation is an unfortunate by-product of globalisation from an Indian perspective but that does not mean we lose everything that makes us who we are. You have an article praising Wes Anderson (‘Veere Di Wedding” is Patriarchal, Classist and Straight Up Bad, but Groundbreaking Nonetheless’, June 13). Are the people on this site even aware that Wes Anderson films tell stories from a white myopic perspective that reduce other cultures to props?
Subodh Dakwale, Executive Director (Corporate Communications Branding), Indian Oil Corporation, sent this rejoinder to The Wire piece entitled, ‘Petrol Dealers allege they were told to put up Modi photos or face a supply block’ (August 26):
It is clarified that oil marketing companies (OMCs) have neither verbally nor in writing issued any directive to dealers for display of PM’s picture and have at no point in time issued threats regarding stoppage of supplies. The news item is completely baseless and incorrect. Needless to say, such news items adversely impact the image of the Indian Oil and Gas industry. In the first instance it may be noted that OMCs own and maintain outdoor hoarding sites at all Petrol stations. Hoardings have been erected and are maintained by the oil companies themselves. OMCs utilise these outdoor hoarding sites for sales promotion campaigns or advertisement related to their products. OMCs are using some of their hoarding sites for promotion of welfare schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna, cashless transaction at retail outlets etc. Since the oil companies own and maintain these hoardings, the question of forcing dealers to display any material or threatening to block supplies does not arise. The very premise of the news report is incorrect and misleading.
The article also mentions that OMCs are seeking staff bio data from dealers for some ulterior motives, which is completely false. It may be clarified here that a detailed procedure has been devised to train and certify customer attendants (CAs) at petrol stations. Healthcare Sector Skill Council (HSSC) has informed OMCs that National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) with the approval of MSDE has issued guidelines that all existing manpower in identified trades (including CAs) needs to be certified under Recognition of Prior Learning Scheme (RPL-4).
HSSC has shared a template for Candidate’s details with OMCs assessors to get CAs details from all retailers. The template comprises details regarding assesses qualification, age, bank account details etc. The data collection drive thus is conducted for all employees at petrol stations including CAs. HSSC will collate the database of the assesses (Customer Attendants) and design job role-wise exam with questions as per approved Qualification Packs (QP). Assesses scoring 70% and above will be certified.
The certification programme shall categorise the job of Customer attendants (CAs) at petrol stations as a specified trade thus recognising this unorganised group of 1.25 lakh CAs as a skilled workforce in the oil and gas retail business. This is a positive step that will enhance the skill sets and employability of this hitherto unskilled workforce and will result in enhancing service standards thereby enhancing customer experience at ROs.
At a time when words have been reduced to being loose change in the pockets of policeman, and the state does not want you to use the term ‘Dalit’, seeking to defang it, sanitise it, force it into the bureaucratese straitjacket of ‘Scheduled Castes’, I was delighted that the mickey is being taken out of the term “urban naxal”. Hundreds of young people are now holding up placards, “I am an Urban Naxal” and tweeting #MeTooUrbanNaxal. The sheer idiocy of it comes through in the piece by a civil rights activist, ‘If the Govt Thinks I’m a Terrorist Masquerading as a Human Rights Activist, so Be It’, (September 8)
The phrase is not in the Indian Penal Code and neither does it figure in the Criminal Procedure Code. In short, it has no legal status. Yet it has leapt from being the title of a quickie written by a favourite of the political establishment, into the vocabulary of the police seeking to criminally frame human rights defenders. Like ‘tukde tukde gang’ and ‘anti-national’ before it, this term too been buoyed up by an army of trolls, whipped up by prime time propagandists, only to be bandied about by the Pune police in their now infamous press conference. As for the print media – and I include a status-conscious pink paper in this list – some have been using the term without the quote marks that should mandatorily have accompanied such a duplicitous construction. This, alas, is precisely how expressions that demand critical scrutiny are rendered banal and part of everyday vocabulary.
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