GEETA SESHU writes from Bombay: The year 2012 ended with a Kannada TV reporter, Naveen Soorinje, in jail for more than 50 days after the Karnataka High Court denied him bail.
Mangalore-based Soorinje, was incarcerated on November 7, 2012 after police charged him under the UAPA and under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for reporting on the raid on a homestay party by a Hindu fundamentalist group in July.
Soorinje’s bail application was rejected on December 26.
The same month, a television journalist, Nanao Singh, was shot dead in a police firing in Manipur.
In 2012, India was a grim place for free speech. It recorded the death of five journalists. Another 38 were assaulted, harassed or threatened.
There were 43 instances of curbs on the Internet, 14 instances of censorship in the film and music industry, and eight instances of censorship of content in the print medium.
The year began with the brutal killing of journalist Chandrika Rai (42), his wife Durga (40) and their two teenage children — son Jalaj (19) and daughter Nisha (17) — at their residence in Madhya Pradesh’s Umaria distict in February.
Other journalists to die this year were Rajesh Mishra in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, Chaitali Santra in Kolkata and Raihan Naiyum, in Assam.
We list and detail below all the incidents which occurred in the course of the year.
That the death toll of journalists would have been higher, is clear by the brutality of the assaults and threats to journalists: Thongam Rina, associate editor of Arunachal Times, was shot at and critically injured in July; Kamal Shukla in Chhattisgarh was assaulted by a local politician because he wrote a story on illegal tree-felling in Koelibeda, the constituency of the state’s forest minister Vikram Usendi; in Gujarat’s Palampur district, television journalist Devendra Khandelwal was attacked with iron pipes by relatives of MLA Mafatlal Purohit for reporting their involvement in illegal construction.
Sec 66 (a) and internet freedom: The 41 instances of free speech violations related to internet use in the Free Speech Hub’s ‘Free Speech Tracker’ testify to the growing use and abuse of this medium.
Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan, two young Facebook users, in Palghar, Maharashtra, in October, were arrested under the draconian Sec 66 (a) of the Information Technology Act, one for posting a critical status comment on the shutdown of the city in the wake of the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray and the other for ‘liking’ the post!
The nation-wide protest that followed forced a review of the charges against them and a closure report by police. However, they will still have to wait till January 2013 for the formal dropping of charges against them.
Already, the fears over the misuse of the controversial Section (66 A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, were confirmed by other instances: the arrest of two Jadavpur University professors in April 2012 for their e-mails on the cartoons poking fun at that projected West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee; the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for sedition, for insulting national honour and for sending offensive messages under Sec 66 (a) of the IT Act in August 2012: two employees of Air-India, Mayank Sharma and K.V.J. Rao, who were sacked (and reinstated after the protests) after their arrest over a Facebook post, three youth arrested in Kashmir for allegedly anti-Islamic posts and the arrest of industrialist A.S. Ravi for tweeting about Karti Chidambaram, son of Union minister for P. Chidambaram.
Earlier, in June 2012, the union government ordered the blocking of more than 250 sites and web pages following the widespread panic and exodus of people from the North East out of Pune, Delhi and Bangalore.
Some accounts that disproved the morphed pictures and the propaganda were also blocked.
The Google Transparency Report put India top on the list of countries making demands to take down content.
Censorship in other media: Censorship continued in all arenas, from the literary and cinematic worlds, to art and theatre.
Protests of vigilante groups against all manner of expression continued with political parties and social groups taking offence against film songs, dialogues and titles of movies, art exhibitions and theatre performances and even the use of mobile phones by women.
In May, the Human Resources Development Ministry’s attempt to expunge cartoons from NCERT and CBSE textbooks for their alleged anti-Dalit connotations sparked an inconclusive debate on casteism in educational content while the cancellation of Salman Rushdie’s proposed visit to the Jaipur Literary Festival in January only showed the pusillanimity of the state administration.
Covert state surveillance was on the rise, with an increase in government interception and monitoring of emails and telephone conversations, privacy violations and hate speech cases are also under the scanner.
(Veteran journalist Geeta Seshu hosts the free speech hub at the media blog, The Hoot)
Also read: 3 deaths, 14 attacks on journos in 2011