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Voices of the tolerant getting faint

Thursday, 21 March 2013 - 6:01am IST | Place: Bangalore | Agency: dna

Creative artistes, filmmakers, painters, are more vulnerable to political pressure and physical attacks.

A new 52-minute-long documentary film, Freedom Song, produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust and directed by veteran journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and media professional Subi Chaturvedi seeks to examine issues relating to freedom of expression in a contemporary Indian context.

Guha Thakurta in a tête-à-tête with DNA about the film which will be screened in the city on Thursday.
How timely do you think your film is?

The issue of freedom of expression in contemporary India remains timely and topical on account of a number of reasons.

The misuse of particular provisions of the Information Technology Act, notably Section 66A (dealing with "punishment for sending offensive messages through a communications service"), Section 69 (on blocking access to websites) and Section 79 (on the liabilities of "intermediaries" which have been defined in an all-encompassing manner to include telecommunications service providers, internet service providers, search engines and even cyber cafes) have been challenged by a number of organisations in the Supreme Court.

Then there was the recent order of a court in Indore following which the CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) of the department of information technology in the ministry of communications blocked access to many websites that had published material unfavourable to Arindam Chaudhuri and the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (including a notice issued by the University Grants Commission).

The July 2012 videotaping of the molestation of a young woman in Guwahati, Assam, and its public dissemination and the filming of an attack by hooligans on a group of young women and men on the outskirts of Mangalore, Karnataka, in the same month, are two other instances of how the right to freedom of expression can be misused and abused.
Freedom of expression in India has been, and remains, under threat in India, especially from intolerant, vocal groups who are often in a minority in their respective social segments. Governments at the Union and state levels tend to buckle under pressure from such groups and adopt measures that follow the path of least resistance. 

The concept of the right to offend is increasingly being countered by the notion of the right to feel offended at everything. Shouldn't freedom come first and ethics second?
Article 19(2) of the Constitution lays down what are considered "reasonable restrictions" on the exercise of the provisions of Article 19(1)(a) which specifies that freedom of expression is a fundamental right of every Indian citizen. The problem essentially is one of defining who decides what is "reasonable" and what is not. If it is the courts of law that decide, one would not have too many reasons to complain.

However, the definition of what is a "reasonable restriction" to the right to freedom of expression is decided by various  sections of society (from the law enforcing authorities to fundamentalist groups) under different circumstances and often in an arbitrary manner, thereby causing situations of chaos and confusion.

We seem to be living in a milieu where intolerance seems more fashionable. Do you see the current situation exacerbating further?
One hopes that intolerance in Indian society will not exacerbate but one can never be sure. Intolerant sections are not merely vocal. Their voices tend to be amplified in the media that on occasions look for controversies in the hope that this will "sell" well. In the process, the voices of the tolerant and sane majority are given relatively less prominence.

Are artistes, filmmakers/ writers/painters easier targets?
Creative artistes, including film-makers, painters and writers, are more vulnerable to political pressure as well as physical attacks from intolerant sections. So are ordinary individuals. Those who are influential ensure that law-enforcing agencies act on their complaints with alacrity.

An example: Ravi Srinivasan, a businessman from Puducherry, was detained by the cops in the early hours of the morning after Karti Chidambaram (son of Finance Minister P Chidambaram) complained that he had alleged in a Tweet that he (Karti Chidambaram) had amassed more assets than (Robert) Vadra.

 [The film will be screened at IIHS Bangalore City Campus on Thursday at 5pm. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Paranjoy]

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