Azaadi of speech

Over the past month, the English press has put up a united front against the Sena for pressuring Mumbai university to withdraw Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey. Mistry himself has praised the press’s campaign saying: “This sordid story, however, does have a bright spot. Civil society has responded, in Mumbai elsewhere, with outrage, questions, petitions; it is inspiring to see. The stand taken by teachers, citizens’ groups, bloggers, journalists is exemplary.” So it’s ironic that there’s no defence of the speeches made at a meeting on Kashmir in Delhi by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Arundhati Roy that were termed seditious by the government. Or not. For we all know that when it comes to Kashmir and Maoists, the media weighs heavily in favour of the establishment. All of a sudden it’s permissible to curtail freedom of expression because what’s at stake is the “sovereignty of the nation”.

The media has focused overwhelmingly on the “seditious” nature of the declarations made by Shah and Geelani. Both called for azaadi. But from the accounts of those who were present at the meeting that took place on October 21, there was more to it than these demands. The press’s myopic coverage unfortunately has little on what was actually said. One of the panellists, Shuddhabrata Sengupta writes: “There was a great diversity of statements and styles present in abundant splendour at yesterday’s meeting. There was no way by which the meeting could be reduced or simplified a single monotonous statement. Yes, all the panelists, spoke unambiguously about the necessity for ending the military occupation by the Indian state in Kashmir. This does not mean that their statements and sentiments were a manufactured and processed uniformity. The people on the panel may have significant political and philosophical differences amongst themselves, they may even think differently about what ‘Azaadi’ might mean, but this was a sign, not of the weakness, but of the strength and vitality of yesterday’s gathering.
‘Azaadi’ if and when it comes, will not be the parting gift of an exhausted colonial power, it will be the harvest of the fruits of the imaginations and intelligences of millions of people, of their debates and their conversations.”

But how can these conversations take place in the public sphere if they are denounced in the undemocratic manner that this meeting was? By doing so, the press has glossed over the most important issues: the uncertainty and brutality of life in Kashmir, civilian deaths, the rape and murder of Kashmiris by the army, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

I barely watch television but I understand that Arnab Goswami was the chief perpetrator. It’s not surprising as Goswami often vents his right-wing outrage on parties he considers national threats. I have a theory that Goswami is good for Times Now’s TRPs not because viewers are interested in what he’s saying but how he’s saying it. Goswami delivers a burlesque performance every night, fuming, blustering, stabbing his pen in the air. He bobs indignantly in his chair like a tethered balloon. What we need, after responsible journalism, is azaadi from Goswami.

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