Tuesday 2nd Sep 2014
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Are We a Functional Democracy?

Governance

, by N. JAMAL ANSARI

Recently two incidents involving media persons have taken place. In both the cases, concerned media persons were harassed. Unfortunately the national media chose to black them out. In one incident, a documentary film maker Mr. Shubhradeep Chakravorthy was chased out of Jaipur (Rajasthan) because he wanted to organise a show of his documentary film on fake encounters. Despite prior booking of the Pink City Press Club, he was not allowed to release his film. When he went to Muslim Musafirkhana to organise the same show, the police authorities again hounded him out on the pretext of threat to peace and public order. The documentary film, Encountered on Saffron agenda? is based on the investigations of four encounters, covering the encounters of Sameer Khan Pathan (October 2002), Sadiq Jamal (January 2003), Ishrat Jahan and Javed Sheikh (June 2004) and Sohrabuddin Sheikh (November 2005) in Gujarat.
The other incident is more unfortunate and exposes the real face of our governance. The Milli Gazette, a fortnightly published from New Delhi, deputed its reporter Nadim Ahmad to report on the recent developments in and around Aroda village, Balwada (District Indore, M.P) where some arms were found and four suspected SIMI activists were arrested. Nadim was picked up from Aroda village and was kept in illegal detention for full 42 hours. He not only faced highly objectionable questions but also his belongings including camera, mobile and papers were confiscated. The fact is that every effort was made to link him with banned SIMI but the Editor of Milli Gazette, Dr. Zafrul Islam Khan became active in Delhi and got him released.
The politics of silence played in such cases by mainstream media has forced me to discuss some basic questions about our democracy, media and even the Constitution of India. Let us discuss some very important issues which I fear may turn our democracy into a mere functional democracy.
The right to information is derived from Article 19 of the Constitution which safeguards many democratic entitlements including free speech and expression. The Supreme Court of India too beginning with the case of Bennett Coleman and Co Vs the Union of India (1973) read it as an integral element of Article 19. The majority judgement opined, “Freedom of speech and expression includes within its compass the right of all citizens to read and be informed.”
Another judgement in Manubhai D.Shah Vs Life Insurance Corporation said, “The basic purpose of freedom of speech and expression is that all members should be able to form their beliefs and communicate them freely.”
We must realise that the first sign of eroding a system is that its instruments are turned against it. Arthur Koestler writes, “We must not forget that it was by using legitimate democratic means that Hitler murdered democracy.” Then there is another symptom of the pathology of our democracy: the more the people lose their faith in and respect for law enforcing agencies, the more the nation will suffer. The harsh reality is that people as people have ceased to matter to the managers of Indian Democracy. Just see the situation around you, custodial deaths, illegal detentions, fake encounters and all sorts of harassments are order of the day and no police official has been punished for all these extrajudicial activities. How can I call it a functional democracy?
Personally for me, it is most shocking that the national media remained aloof from all sorts of assaults on mediamen. Why this conspiracy of silence? The national media is fast becoming only news seller and does not bother to take up the issues involving small newspapers or mufassil towns. Applying the logic of consumer industries to the media is very unfortunate because in India newspapers have managed to secure for themselves an exalted and protected status. The history of fascist governments and even of periods such as Emergency (1975-77) has taught that press freedom is not something to be interfered with.
Serious gaps exist between Constitutional provisions and governance, between democratic values and their implementation and between rule of law and law enforcing agencies. Saner elements of the Indian society and more particularly intellectuals should break their deadly silence. It becomes imperative for us to look into our own hearts and into our Constitution and law books before we can lay claim to being the largest democracy.


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