“I may not always agree with what you have to say but I will defend to death your right to say it.”
And I haven’t heard democracy described in a more powerful way.
When we put a restriction on the right to freedom of speech and expression based on what is right and wrong, we also leave a very important question unanswered – Who gets to decide that? Who becomes the moral police, the ultimate unbiased entity, if any? Can there exist such a utopia?
Kashmir’s recent media policy has again brought the controversial rights of the government to impose censorship on the fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution to its people into spotlight. Under the new media policy, there will be pre-censorship of news in Kashmir, i.e. only the news approved by the police and authorities will be allowed to publish. The government now also has the authority to approve which journalists a news organisation can employ — this many editors have mourned as a move to position a watchdog of the police inside their very offices.
In a time of crisis in Kashmir, where hundreds of human rights violations have been registered, free media is what gave people some hope. Recently, three journalists from Kashmir were awarded the Pulitzer prize for their coverage on the conflict in Kashmir. Free exchange of information is of crucial importance; media was the one medium the people of Kashmir had to express their grievances to the outside world. An effort to dismantle that freedom, in the name of eliminating threat to security in the region is also eliminating something more — the possibility of democracy.
Media acts as a powerful watchdog on the government. Kashmir’s trust cannot not be restored by striking at its pillar of democracy. Shutting the region from the world and pretending normalcy will not restore the same in the region. One-State-One-Constitution is the school of thought the Government propagated when striking down Article 370, then why does it not guarantee the same freedom of speech to Kashmir as the rest of India? This paradox has its roots deep into hypocrisy. Right from Bengal to Maharashtra — official orders to censor the media have come into play, but the complete pre-censorship of news was unheard of in today’s democracy.
This direct stab in the heart of press freedom should ruffle more feathers and should raise a greater outcry. So many problematic bills — the data protection bill threaten the fabric of Indian democracy, and the press is our most powerful weapon for justice. And when that weapon is in danger, when that safeguard is attacked, it should raise alarm. The Kashmir media policy is a direct threat to the Indian democracy. This concerns me as a citizen of this democracy its time the rest of the India wakes up to it too.
Featured Image Credits: Scroll.