News Wrap


LesleE Udwin’s BBC documentary, ‘‘India’s Daughter’’ on a brutal gang rape in Delhi of December 2012, has provoked outrage. The Indian government has imposed a ban on the film, and threatened action against the BBC. The film has an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of five men convicted of the 2012 rape and murder of a young student. Mukesh Singh expressed no remorse for the crime, blaming the victim for being out at night, and for resisting the rape. Earlier the crime had drawn global attention to sexual violence in India. Manohar Lal Sharma, one of the defence lawyers had stated that in Indian culture, there is no place for a woman. A K Singh, another defence lawyer had maintained that he would set his daughter on fire, if he found her indulging in ‘‘premarital activities’’. India’s Bar Council of India launched a probe into the too senior defence lawyers for comments that appeared to justify violence, in the film. Film maker Udwin has produced permission letters from India’s Union Home Ministry and Mukesh Singh for the film interview. Jail officials had declined to watch the complete footage, as it was 16 hours long, but had seen the edited version. Letters exchanged had not granted the prison authorities editorial control.

Free Expression
The Delhi High Court, in a recent judgement on the Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, has observed that the right of free speech and expression ‘‘Necessarily includes the right to criticise and dissent’’. Indian authorities have been directed to remove Ms Pillai’s name from a database and allow her to travel abroad; and also to expunge the ‘‘offload’’ remark from the passport of the environment activist. Criticism cannot be muzzled. As citizens, civil rights activists have the right to bring to the notice of the state the incongruity, if any, in the development policies of the state. Dissent cannot be done away with, even if the state does not accept the views of the civil rights activists. The right to travel abroad cannot be impeded, only because it does not synchronize with policy perspective of the executive. The decision of the Court elevates the right to dissent to a constitutional right. During the court hearing the Union Government had maintained that Ms Pillai was stopped, because her speech before a United Kingdom parliamentarian group, would have created a ‘‘negative image’’ of India abroad, and ‘‘whittle down foreign direct investments’’.

Purifying Muslim Brides
The RSS and its affiliates in West Bengal, instead of hounding a Hindu-Muslim couple, are actively facilitating their union, with a condition that the Muslim bride becomes a Hindu, after a ‘‘Suddhikaran’’ (purification) programme. In districts of West Bengal, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made significant electoral gains, the Hindutva brotherhood from Vishwa Hindu Parishad to Hindu Sanhati, Hindu Jagaran Manch to Bharat Sevashram Sangha have stepped up a campaign called ‘‘Bahu lao, Beti bachao’’ (bring a daughter-in-law, save a daughter), which is an answer to ‘‘love jihad’’. These Hindu groups do not hound Hindu woman–Muslim man couples, but actively ‘‘shelter, arrange’’ the marriage of Hindu man–Muslim woman couples. The rise of the BJP in the districts of South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Murshidabad, Howrah and Birbuum, has spread the campaign. Several couples are openly crediting the Hindu groups for their marriages. In the last one year, at least 500 Muslim and Christian women have ‘‘become Hindu through marriage’’. All the women have adopted Hindu names, and their families have been ‘‘advised’’ to join the BJP for their ‘‘own safety’’.

Illiberalism in TN
If aggrieved by a film, book or TV programme, communal and communitarian groups in Tamil Nadu are increasingly taking to the streets and muzzling targets. In the second week of March 2015, crude bombs were hurled at the Chennai headquarters of Puthiya Thalaimurai, a Tamil news channel, by members of the Hindu Illaignar Sena (Hindu Youth Sena). The attack came soon after the Hindu Munnani, a Hindutva outfit, protested against the proposed telecast of a debate on the ‘‘mangalsutra’’ (sacred necklace), and unidentified men assaulted a cameraman of the channel. Protesters, including senior BJP leaders, have accused the channel of promoting ‘‘anti-Hindu’’ values, even though the screening of the programme has been cancelled. In February 2015, Puliyur Murugesan, an author from western Tamil Nadu, was assaulted by activists from caste outfits, for showing their community in poor light.

Threats and Deaths
Avijit Roy aged 44, US citizen born in Bangladesh, who was an atheist and blogger known for opposing Islamic extremism was hacked to death on the street in Dhaka, at end February 2015. He was returning with his wife from a book fair at Dhaka University. He was attacked by two men with machettes at night. The killers have not yet been traced. The militant group Ansar Bangla 7 claimed responsibility for the attack, explaining that Mr Roy had been targeted ‘‘due to his crime against Islam’’. Mr Roy blogged on a website ‘‘Mukti Mona’’ (Free Mind), and was a vocal critic of Islamic extremism.

Boris Nemetsov, the Russian opposition leader was killed by an unidentified gunman, within sight of the Kremlin walls, at end February 2015. Aged 55, he was a vocal opponent of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and its military backing for Ukranian rebels. A physicist by training, Nemetsov attended numerous protest marches in Moscow in recent years. He had been repeatedly arrested for periods of several days. Investigators have not identified any suspects for the killing.

Vol. 47, No. 43, May 3 - 9, 2015