In Blow to Free Speech, Modi Govt Assumes Powers to Determine, Take Down ‘Fake News’; India Office Archives Reveal New Facts on Colonial Loot
Pawar breaks ranks on Adani, SC to hear Gyanvapi namaz plea, reaction to acquittals in Maliana riots and Jaipur blasts a study in contrast, climate change may be leading to quakes, cheetah lingo
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Snapshot of the day
April 7, 2023
In what is being seen as a major blow to free speech in India, the Modi government on Thursday introduced new rules giving itself the power to create a regulatory regime that will allow an officially appointed fact-checking body to label online content related to the Union government as “fake” or “misleading”. Content marked as such will have to be taken down by online “intermediaries” if they wish to retain their “safe harbour”, which is the legal immunity they enjoy with regard to third-party content. The takedown diktat may extend to news sites too. The changes have been brought about by notifying amendments to Information Technology Rules, 2021.
The notification of these amended rules will “cement the chilling effect on the fundamental right to speech and expression”, particularly on news publishers, journalists, activists and others, said digital rights group Internet Freedom Foundation. The Editors Guild of India said it is “deeply disturbed” by the amendments notified. The junior IT minister, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, has said fears of censorship are unfounded: “Free speech does not mean that you say misleading things in any situation. Fake content then goes viral, and you do false propaganda about the government or individuals. State actors abroad, who are our enemies, publicise such things to subvert our democracy. We are balancing."
Meanwhile, Twitter has been accused of bowing to government pressure in India by blocking scores of journalists, politicians and activists from its platform in recent weeks. The Indian government issued notices to Twitter to remove people in the aftermath of an internet shutdown in Punjab during the search for Waris Punjab De’s fugitive leader Amritpal Singh. Twitter agreed to block more than 120 accounts, including the Canadian politician Jagmeet Singh, the Canadian poet Rupi Kaur, several journalists and an Indian MP. Twitter also blocked the handle of the BBC’s Punjabi bureau.
As for Amritpal Singh, before returning to India in August last year, he went to Georgia, where he reportedly underwent cosmetic surgery to look like Khalistani militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, reports the Indian Express, quoting unidentified intelligence sources. The sources told the newspaper that Singh’s close aides who are now lodged in Dibrugarh central jail had revealed this on questioning, and that the information was being verified.
On the political front, Friday was a good day for the BJP. NCP leader Sharad Pawar broke ranks with the Opposition, accused Hindenburg of ‘targeting’ the Adani group and dismissed the demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the business house’s questionable activities. He said this in an interview to NDTV, the channel owned by Adani. And in Andhra Pradesh, Congress leader N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, the last chief minister of the unified state, joined the BJP.
An investigation by the Guardian has brought to light many unknown facts about the extent of colonial loot in the Indian subcontinent. The newspaper has uncovered a remarkable 46-page file in the archives of the India Office, the government department that was responsible for Britain’s rule over the Indian subcontinent. The file details an investigation, apparently commissioned by Queen Mary, the grandmother of Elizabeth II, into the imperial origins of her jewels. Among the jewels identified in the document is a “short necklace of four very large spinel rubies”, the largest of which is a 325.5-carat spinel that later came to be erroneously identified as the Timur ruby.
In a batch of pleas concerning the Gyanvapi mosque-Kashi Vishwanath temple dispute, Muslim parties have moved the Supreme Court seeking permission to carry out the practice of wuzu, or ablution, inside the mosque premises during the month of Ramzan. The issue was mentioned by senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi on Thursday before a bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, who agreed to list the case for April 14.
The ministry of home affairs on Thursday recommended a probe by the CBI into the affairs of Oxfam India for alleged violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, PTI reported, quoting unnamed MHA sources. Unidentified sources claimed that a survey carried out by the income-tax department in September found “multiple emails” which showed that Oxfam India was planning to circumvent FCRA provisions by routing funds to other FCRA-registered associations or through the for-profit consultancy route. Denying the allegations, Oxfam India said it is fully compliant with Indian laws and has filed all its statutory compliances, including FCRA returns, in a timely manner since its inception.
Five people have been arrested by Assam police over a human sacrifice incident that took place near Guwahati’s Kamakhya temple in 2019, reports the Hindustan Times. A 64-year-old woman, Shanti Shaw, was allegedly beheaded during the Ambubachi Mela. Police could not identify the culprits due to lack of evidence at the time, but a recent investigation led to the arrest of three sadhus and two others. The investigation is ongoing as several accused are still absconding. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 103 cases of human sacrifice have been lodged in India between 2014 and 2021.
The PMO has claimed that the number of rural internet users surpassed that of urban users on March 22. FactChecker looked at data from reports released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Nielsen’s India Internet Report 2023 and Oxfam’s India Inequality Report 2022 – Digital Divide, and found that while the claim is true, it conceals a huge digital divide. Meanwhile, 300 organisations worldwide have written to the Indian government urging it to desist from reflexive internet shutdowwns.
According to new research, nearly two in every 10 infants or toddlers in India face the risk of not receiving any food for a complete day, the Telegraph reports. SV Subramanian, a professor of population health at the Harvard School of Public Health said: “The data contained something unusual and unexpected – we don’t expect young children aged between 6 months and 23 months to go entirely unfed for a whole 24 hours.”
Six police officers have been transferred by the Tamil Nadu government following allegations of brutal custodial violence in Tirunelveli district that surfaced last month. The action was taken a few days after IPS offer Balveer Singh, assistant superintendent of police at Ambasamudram, was suspended after several complaints of custodial torture were reported against him.
Seven Indian-origin Labour councillors have been deselected by the Labour Party from its list of Leicester councillors ahead of the May local elections. The action is significant as it has taken place in the city that recently saw communal violence.
Apple will open its first retail store in India later this month. The store will be located in Jio World Drive – a mall owned by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani – in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex. The company will also launch a similar store in Delhi’s Saket locality soon. Until now Apple has sold goods and offered services in India via authorised third-party retailers or online portals like Amazon.
While Asean and its member states are seeking to forge closer ties with India, this report by ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute’s State of SouthEast Asia 2023 is a telling one.
Distribution of fortified rice through PDS ‘on track’
As many as 269 districts in 27 states have started distributing fortified rice under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), fully meeting the target set for Phase II of the rice fortification programme, union food secretary Sanjeev Chopra said on Thursday. He said the government had decided to supply fortified rice in every Social Safety Net Scheme of the Centre throughout the country by 2024 in a phased manner. However, several states, including Kerala, have complained against the quality of fortified rice.
Trains ran over 13,000 cattle in 2022
Indian trains ran over more than 13,000 cattle in 2022, according to data released by the government. This is up 24% from 2019, when 10,609 cattle came under trains, according to data shared by 9 of 17 railway zones with the BBC. The massive Indian Railways network, which spans 67,546 miles and mostly runs through rural terrains, is nearly entirely unfenced, allowing all types of animals to freely cross tracks. A common accident involves hitting cattle that are feeding on trash or grass next to railway tracks.
Fake Gujarati PMO official back to home state
The fake Gujarati PMO official, Kiran Patel, who was arrested in Jammu & Kashmir last month, has been handed over to Gujarat police. The chief judicial magistrate in Srinagar granted his custody to Gujarat police. On Friday, the con man reached his home state.
‘Climate change leading to more earthquakes’
Climate change may have marginally increased the frequency of earthquakes in the Himalayas, though there is no reliable system of forecasting them, Jitendra Singh, minister of earth sciences, told the Lok Sabha in response to a question from Badruddin Ajmal. Singh added that melting of glaciers could reduce load on the earth’s crust leading to “micro-level earthquakes” – those with a magnitude less than 3. The Hindu reports there is an emerging consensus among scientists that warming and climate change are after-effects of earthquakes, which are generating tipping points to an already unstable geological fault line.
The Long Cable
Reaction to Acquittals in Maliana Riots and Jaipur Blasts a Study in Contrast
I distinctly recall the report I wrote in the Patriot newspaper about the infamous Maliana massacre. In May 1987, a sleepy village called Maliana, outside Meerut, was surrounded by a mob accompanied by personnel of UP’s Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC). The mob, and allegedly the PAC jawans, gunned down 68 villagers, all Muslims.
There were no private TV channels those days. Jasvinder Singh, then an intrepid BBC correspondent, and I happened to be in Meerut on that fateful evening. We were heading back to Delhi when we learnt of the Maliana firing. Riding a scooter, we reached the village. The BBC broke the story around midnight. Memories of Maliana’s horror came streaming back this week when a district court in Meerut acquitted all 41 accused in the massacre.
Some 36 years later, a court has acquitted all 41 accused, citing lack of credible evidence!
Is this how the rule of law works? Muslim families in Maliana are angry at the shoddy investigation and prosecution that has led to zero conviction. The victims’ families are preparing for an appeal. The prosecution could not even produce original post-mortem reports during the trial, according to a report in the Indian Express. The report further says the main investigating officer was not even cross-examined – a most basic procedural requirement. One key witness to the massacre said he was asked to randomly name people from the voters’ list as accused. Little wonder the district court threw the case out.
Coincidentally, the Maliana judgment came just a few days after the Rajasthan high court passed severe strictures against the police for an “incompetent” investigation into the 2008 Jaipur bomb blasts in which 71 people had been killed. The high court acquitted all four men who had been sentenced to death in 2019. The court further said it was “cognizant of the heinousness of the crime, but in the absence of any serious investigation and proof as per law, a conviction could not be recorded on moral persuasion or suspicion alone. Indeed, the more heinous the crime, the stricter the scrutiny should be.”
Both the Maliana and Jaipur judgments point to shoddy and callous investigation and lack of accountability in the criminal investigation system. However, one must note the sharp contrast between the official responses to the two judgments. In the Jaipur blasts case, the optics are largely political as every party wants to be seen as being tough on terror. The BJP as well as Rajasthan’s Congress government has expressed outrage at the shoddy investigation and the acquittals. The state government has sacked its additional advocate general. It has also announced it will appeal against the acquittals in the Supreme Court. In the process, there seems little acknowledgement of the fact that some of the accused have been wrongly convicted. After all, the high court has clearly said that there was “absence of serious investigation” and that the accused can’t be convicted on mere suspicion. So what is really needed is a serious re-investigation. That is precisely how the state and its prosecutors can re-establish their credibility.
Compared with the Rajasthan government’s response in the Jaipur blasts case, the Maliana judgment has evoked little response from the BJP government in UP, which has remained silent so far. Other major political parties, too, have said little. There is hardly any great mileage perceived by our political parties in protesting against the shocking Maliana acquittals. It only shows how morally bankrupt our society and polity have become.
The BJP on Thursday celebrated its foundation day. But there is confusion galore in the leadership whether it was the 43d or the 44th foundation day of the party. In the morning, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath wrote: “Congratulation to all the nationalist workers on the 43rd Foundation of BJP.” The party’s national president, JP Nadda, called it the “44th sthapana diwas”. In the video attached to home minister Amit Shah’s message, it was 43rd. But in another post in which he put up Prime Minister Modi’s address to party workers, Shah stated: “Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji is addressing the workers on the occasion of 44th Foundation Day…”
Prime Number: 1390
That’s the number of days that have gone by – unprecedented – that the Lok Sabha has not had a deputy speaker. There has just been one instance in the past – 269 days during the 12th Lok Sabha – when it took over three months to elect a deputy speaker.
Is there a desperate need for sustainable fishing off the coast of India? Will putting a ban on shark fishing help? Certainly not. A Frontline report answers the questions.
Opeds you don’t want to miss
Venkatesh Varma warns Indian foreign policy strategists against the risk of exaggerating (1) the strategic convergence of Russia’s relations with China; (2), the capacity of the US to pursue a prolonged dual containment strategy against Russia and China simultaneously; (3) the convergence of Indian security interests with that of the US in facing the China challenge.
Rajmohan Gandhi writes on textbook deletions: You can’t delete Gandhi’s truth.
Deleting history from NCERT textbooks is lying to children and betraying parents, writes Vir Sanghvi.
Gautam Bhatia unties the complexity of jurisprudence on proportionality, sealed covers and the Supreme Court’s MediaOne judgment.
The Hindu editorial on the MediaOne case: The Supreme Court of India strikes a blow for both media freedom and open justice.
India’s new “mezzanine elite” classes enable majoritarian politics, writes Ajay Gudavarthy.
Social media narratives on Article 370 show how opinion is manufactured and manipulated, write Christophe Jaffrelot, Vihang Jumle and Vignesh Karthik KR
Xi and Putin are tapping into a still-rich vein of anti-westernism around the world and so many are buying what the two autocrats are selling, writes Pankaj Mishra.
An excerpt from newly translated Nepali novel “Fruits of the Barren Tree” by Lekhnath Chhetri, which is set in the 1980s’ Darjeeling and is a cautionary tale of a failed movement. Read here.
Yogendra Yadav reminds why the politics of secularism desperately needs new friends.
India should drag its pharmaceutical industry out of the dark ages and into the real world – one that is driven by transparent, evidence-based medicine and safety data shared across borders, writes Ruth Pollard.
Remembering Manikda, Adoor Gopalkrishnan writes how Satyajit Ray combined the spirit of traditional and the mind of the modern – lighting up Indian cinema.
Writer and journalist Nilanjana Roy's new novel, Black River, is a police procedural set in a dusty little town in northern India that revolves around the horrendous murder of an 8-year-old girl. In this episode, she joins Sandip Roy to talk about writing the book, why she likes killing in print and much more.
Dubai plays an oversized role in the subcontinent's imagination of goodies and all things shiny. Indians think of Dubai as the city of gold. But what draws the gold mafia to Dubai? An investigation shows how criminals use the city’s pro-business policies to smuggle gold and clean dirty cash.
Over and out
Kolgaon, a village rife with farm suicides in Maharashtra, has emerged as a “bloggers village”. LiveMint features how hundreds of people have taken to blogging to make money.
Namibian Cheetah Oban snuck out of Kuno national park. Then? “Thinking the Namibian cheetah might not understand Hindi, the forest officials and farmers present at the site were heard driving away the cheetah in English.”
Bonbibi pala gaan is among the many musical dramas performed by locals in the Sunderbans. However, because of income shortage, the artists have been forced to migrate from the region, making it difficult for the artists to perform.
That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you on Monday, on a device near you. If The India Cable was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) book your own copy by SUBSCRIBING HERE.