Sreenivasan Jain on “Democracy in Distress in South Asia”

Sreenivasan Jain on “Democracy in Distress in South Asia”


Good evening, friends. I’m Homi Bhabha. I direct the Mahindra
Humanity Center. And I’m delighted to
have you here today in the company of four
extremely interesting analysts who will take up this issue
of democracy in distress. Sreenivasan Jain, who is our
featured speaker and visitor at the Humanities Center
is Managing Editor of the New Delhi Television,
NDTV, India’s most respected 24 hour news and current
affairs broadcaster. He anchors an award winning
weekly ground reportage and investigative show
called “Truth Versus Hype” which focuses on political
corruption, conflict zones, and untold stories
of social tensions and economic inequalities. He also anchors a daily show
called “Reality Check” which aims at debunking official
myths and government propaganda. He has been with NDTV since 1995
during which he has done stints as managing Editor of Profit
NDTV’s business channel and as head of NDTV Mumbai
bureau for eight years. Welcome, Vasu. Sugata Bose is Gardner Professor
of Oceanic History and Affairs at Harvard and a
member of the Indian Parliament for the
[INAUDIBLE] constituency. His books include
Nation as Mother and other Visions of
Nationhood and His And Majesty’s opponent,
Subas Chandra Bose, and India’s struggle
against empire. Welcome, Sugata. Rohit De is a lawyer
and Assistant Professor of History at Yale. His book, A People’s
Constitution The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian
Republic, explores how the Indian Constitution
came to permeate everyday life and imagination in India
during its transition from a colonial state to
a democratic republic. Ayesha Jalal is Mary
Richardson Professor of History and Director of the South
Asian and Indian Ocean Studies at Tufts. Her books include The
Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland
and Global Politics and The Pity of
Partition Manto’s Life, Times and Works Across
the India-Pakistan Divide. Now, skeptical as I am
of global descriptions and global prescriptions,
I feel somehow that the term
democracy in distress has a resonance across
several countries and indeed continents. We usually spoke of
democracy in distress with an Utopian eye
and a Utopian vision. The distresses of democracy
were its deficits. And we often felt that through
political organization, legal reformation, we would
be able to actually overcome these democratic deficits. Even though that
might be a very a way. But it was part of a certain
progressive vision that we had, what Derrida once called
the democracy to come. It was an aspiration. Today, it seems to me, that
various democratic practices and institutions have somehow
turned against themselves. Are confronted with a
strange alienating vision of the democratic
process as if they are struck with a kind
of autoimmune disease. As if the beast and the body
is being consumed from within. The democratic body has
turned against itself. As we know that as we bemoan
many anti-democratic movements, these are movements that
have been instituted through democratic
voting patterns and through democratic
institutions. Whether or not they have
been subject to corruption or subject to manipulation
or nepotism is an issue. But this notion of
an autoimmunity kind of a devouring from
within, strikes me as this particular
kind of distress that we’re witnessing now. And of course, there
have been other moments such as the interwar
period in Europe where something very
similar was happening. But of course today,
this autoimmune disease afflicts the US, India,
Turkey, Pakistan, Venezuela, Philippines. Of course in each case,
in its different ways. But I want to
emphasize that this is a kind of global condition. But of course to make the
global a critical hermeneutic, we can’t simply
rest on comparisons. We have to talk about
systemic differences and structural issues. There is, we believe, a
crisis in certain voting practices and patterns. A crisis in political volition. A crisis in
constitutional issues. A crisis in
demographic situations. And a crisis of a kind
and civil society. What I’m calling the
autoimmune condition, the destruction from
within, reminds me as I was jotting down
these notes of a statement by Theodore Adorno
in Minima Moralia. Well Adorno says
that he was less threatened by the frank
face, the frank visible face of fascism than
he was threatened by the fascistic elements
within social democracy. And it is with this rise of this
peculiar hybrid monster which has reared its head before
of a democratic process and a despotic
tyrannical politics that I believe we should
concern ourselves today, this doubly articulated world. One of the issues that
brings me to Basu’s important contribution
today of forms of democratic
distraction, the forms of the perversions
and disfiguring of what we call free speech and
free expression in the media itself. It seems to me as if there is a
continual speeding up, an over talking, which produces a kind
of a dialectic of deletion. That the more you hear the
continual facts, the news cycle as such, that it’s very
difficult actually to grasp a thread, to grasp
an argument, to grasp a particular direction. You know, Gramsci once said,
again very relevantly I think, the whole question of
hegemonic discourse should be understood
in media terms like turning up the
volume of a radio. So the hegemony
creates for itself this dominating soundscape. And in many democratic
countries initially, although perhaps not at the end
of the process, voices emerge. Voices become fainter,
and fainter, and fainter. The effort for representation
becomes more dangerous and more difficult. And suddenly, when
we least expect it, the sounding of the
state is so loud that all other
voices are stilled. Basu’s contribution
has been valiant. In a context in India
where one gets addicted, it is indeed I am addicted, to
late night political programs. Where the voices and
the contending voices are so overwhelming that
you’ll hear nothing. Nobody listens to each other. But he does have a
kind of weird sedative like effect, certainly on me. I listen to some of these
channels for a while, because you feel that there’s
going to be some ferment of discussion, which
of course there isn’t. And then you listen to
Basu and others like him who really try and keep
the sanity of conversation. The sanity. Not just the rationality
of conversation, because Basu is as
interested in political affect as he is in
political rationality. But keeping this going
gives you a sense of the politics you are living
in every day in different ways. A kind of everyday
encounter with what is both constitutional and
what is not constitutional. It is in this sense
then that I want to welcome you to
what I’m sure will be a remarkable set of
speakers and discussions. We will try to be energetic
in our engagements without erasing each other. And I hope at the end of
the speakers’ contributions, you will enter wholeheartedly
into the discussion. Let us mark today
as a day where we analyze the distresses
of democracy without adding to them. Thank you very much
for being with us. Basu will now speak
for about 30 minutes. We will then bring up our panel. And after their contributions
and interventions, we will ask you to join us
in a larger conversation. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] Can we just close
that for a sec or? Thanks. Thank you, Homi. Thanks to the Mahindra
Humanities Center, as well, for inviting me. It’s the dream of every Indian,
or perhaps every South Asian to say, I am Harvard returned. So thanks for making
that dream come true. I can now go back and say, I’ve
been to Harvard, with of course the tiniest footnote for a week. But in case anyone
gets in touch, do keep the details fuzzy. Because as we know, perception
matters more than reality these days. Now it’s tempting when
you are sharing a platform with such renowned
academics to try and sound more knowledgeable
than you actually are. But I’ll stick to
what I know best, and to which Homi referred. Which is to describe
to you how we are trying to use the tools
of everyday journalism to report on the new
threats to Indian democracy. And the consequences of that
reportage to us as a media. Now one of the
problems we face when we talk about a crisis of
democracy in South Asia is that democracy is perpetually
in crisis in South Asia. So that makes it hard to
capture the particular nature of the present crisis
without running into what in social media
is called What Aboutry. You criticize the age of
Modi, and you’re immediately pointed to the excesses
of Indira Gandhi. In India we’ve already gone
back to the era of Nehru. Nehru used to stifle dissent. This is a global phenomenon. I’m sure it’s very much
the same case here. The moment you talk about
how things have worsened under Trump, you’re
immediately referred to how, well, there was a
huge spike in drone attacks under Obama and so on. Now this dilemma came
home more sharply in India in the fall of 2015 when after
the particularly brutal mob killing of a Muslim man in Uttar
Pradesh, a province in North India, on allegations that
he was slaughtering a cow. And after the shooting to
death of a dissenting scholar, M. M. Kalburgi in Karnataka, a
large number of Indian writers, academics, scholars,
and playwrights returned their
government awards. This included the writer,
Nayantara Sahgal, the poet, Ashok Vajpeyi, and so on. They claim they were
protesting a growing climate of intolerance. Or as one of them put
it, an assault on freedom of life and expression. They were immediately
mocked for this by the establishment
and its supporters for making vague protestations. Vigilantism, they
said, is not new. And dissent has
had a long history of being stifled in
the Indian Republic. Which are on the face
of it valid assertions. Well, thanks to reporting
by us and others, we now have a fairly powerful
evidence, a mix of data and anecdotal
reportage, that allows us to argue that some
things have demonstrably worsened under this government. And also why these
new threats are harder to characterize
than in the past. In my view, one
of the reasons is that the reference points
when we speak about democracy in distress, about shocks
to Indian democracy, tend to be singular
catastrophic events. So when we think
about an assault against democratic
checks and balances, we immediately think of
The Emergency of 1975. Right, so I think the
point I was trying to make is that the older patterns
of conceiving of shocks to Indian democracy in these
singular apocalyptic terms has changed. As I mentioned when we
talked about threats to the institutions
of democracy, we think of the emergency. When we think about
threats to India’s secular fabric, the idea of India
as a liberal democracy, we think of the Ayodhya
Movement, the Babri Masjid Demolition, the Gujarat
Riots of 2002 more recently. Today what we have is a
gradual everyday poisoning of the collective well
of a million daily regime backed mutinies, if you will. Those in positions of authority
are enabling the mainstreaming at an unprecedented level of
the movements and conspiracy theories of the Hindu right. So instead of a single dramatic
statement of sectarianism by a big leader like L. K.
Advani during the Ram Temple Movement, hate speech
has been outsourced to countless
subordinates who keep up a litany of near
daily provocations. What are some of these
fringe obsessions that are being amplified? As we know, the high pitched
noise around cow protection, for instance. Possibly as a result of that,
instead of a single epic Hindu Muslim riot, like
Gujarat, we have a series of smaller conflagrations
where the targets end up being Muslims. But these are what the
writer Mukul Kesvan described as boutique executions. What else? We’re seeing the
rapid metastasis of the idea of Love Jihad. Until recently a largely ignored
virulent right wing conspiracy about Muslim men wooing
and converting Hindu women on false pretenses. Similarly, instead of the
promestra of emergency. Promestra being a mythological
term, an equivalent to a sort of nuclear button. Use the method of
1,000 cuts to wear down the institutions of democracy. Be it the judiciary, the
investigative agencies, parliament, the courts,
and of course the one for which I work, the media. Now all this is no
longer liberal paranoia unmoored from facts. We have, as I mentioned, been
doing considerable amount of reportage around this. And I think of this
as counting hate. Or to be a little more dramatic,
counting political evil. In April this year, we set out
to tabulate hateful comments made by high ranking Indian
political figures, ministers, governors, chief ministers of
Indian provincial assemblies, members of parliament, members
of legislative assemblies, party bosses and so on. By hate speech we meant comments
that are directly bigoted or use dog whistles,
target minorities, and call for violence. These were sourced
from the public domain by scrolling through
thousands of entries. This phenomenon, and let’s
now put up the first slide, we call it VIP
Hate Speech, which is not new in Indian politics. But has risen dramatically
under the Modi government. 520% increase in the
past 4 and 1/2 years compared to the previous
years under the Congress. From May 2014 to
the present, there have been 131 instances of
VIP Hate Speech compared to 21 instances under the Congress. If you could just
change the slide. Now 90% of the
hateful comments made during this
particular government under the government’s watch are
by the BJP and its politicians. In only 6 cases, 5%
of all instances, is there evidence
of a politician being reprimanded or cautioned
or issuing a public apology. 95% percent of the time, the
VIP hater faced no consequence. Far from it, we found
VIP haters get promoted. And that a significant number
of them are multiple offenders. Not surprisingly, a
significant number of those hateful comments
are about threats to the Indian cow. Let me play you a little
clip, the entire program that we aired was
an hour long, I’ll just play you a
short clip from it of some of the key
excerpts that will give you a sense of the sort of
comments that are being made. All right. And further proof that
hate has no consequences, in 21 cases the VIP hater
has been a repeat offender. Here are the most
notorious repeat offenders starting with a BJP [INAUDIBLE]. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Now, a significant number
of instances of hate speech also invoked the rhetoric
of cow protection, something that has gained currency
under this government. Elected leaders, including MPs,
MLAs, and even Chief Ministers, have used the
language of vigilantes while calling for violence
against those who kill cows. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Another popular
theme of VIP haters was repeated attempts to
delegitimize the Muslim faith, urging Muslims to accept
their Hindu ancestry, and inciting fears
of a Muslim takeover by playing on fears of
their excessive fertility. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Subramanian Swamy also tweeting
on this again and again about how Muslims should
accept that they’re Hindu. Too many Tweets for us to
list all of them, but here is just a sampling. And also Sorendea Singh,
BJP MLA about Muslims having to assimilate
into the country. Those who are free
[INAUDIBLE] are free to leave. Another BJP MP,
don’t try to tell us. We won’t tolerate
insults to the community. Let’s decide a date and
take call on the Muslims. And what have you. OK, so you can imagine
that was just a sampling. This is a volcano
of hate speech, provocative speech by leading
politicians and establishment figures. These are not fringe elements. As I said, we only selected
those who hold high office. And if I was trying
to characterize what has changed,
again, coming back to the dilemma of these
award returning intellectuals who are trying to give
voice to their anxiety. That intolerance
was on the rise. This is what actually
has spiked dramatically. This kind of high level
bigotry and this kind of high level
legitimizing of hate. Now we conducted
a similar exercise in counting vigilante attacks
in the name of the cow. If I can just play
you the next clip, these are just a
sampling of the videos that are made of these attacks. And these are videos that are
often made on cell phones. If we can just play
that for a second? So for those who may not be
familiar with this phenomenon, these are mostly Muslims who are
often beaten to death, mostly by Hindu mobs on the
pretext that they’re slaughtering cows
or transporting cows for slaughter. These are incidents that are
happening all over India. The beatings often take place
in a very leisurely way. There seems to be
no great pressure of any kind of intervention
from the police. According to the research– If we can just go
back to a slides. So right. Now, when we counted we
found that these sorts of attacks, vigilante attacks,
have also dramatically risen. They’ve gone up almost
9,000% under the life of this government compared
to the previous Congress government. 35 have been killed
in the past 4.5 years. None that we could
find under UPA2. 90% of those that are
killed are Muslim. So that’s an average
of one Muslim that’s been killed every two
months under the watch of the present government. Just to point out that
this is open source data collection done by
us and by IndiaSpend, which is a fact
checking website. But this is by no
means comprehensive, as with the hate tracker. And we’ve left it
open for people to come in and make suggestions. But so far, these figures
have not been challenged. Is there another slide? Right, sorry. This is just more
on similar lines. Now moving on to the
government’s response. The response tends to
be, this is terrible. But the regime has
nothing to do with it. We the government condemn
violence and order that all offenders
be brought to book. But we just heard from
the establishment itself how they, in a sense, legitimize
this kind of violence. I’ll give you more examples. I’m going to now
play for you a clip. This was a hidden
camera investigation we did into a lynching
that happened this year in Uttar Pravesh. The accused in so many
cases walk out on bail. Because the courts
say the police failed to provide
convincing evidence. We sent a team armed
with a hidden camera to talk to some of the accused,
posing as sympathizers. Just listen to how confidently
they both admit to the crime, and also to the
tasset of open support they’re receiving
from the police. Doing field research on
[INAUDIBLE] and Hindutva outfit, we asked Rakesh
that whether he was pleased with what he had done. Rakesh not only
admitted that he did play a role in the lynching,
but also that it was very much related to cow slaughter. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] He said, even while in
jail for five weeks, he proudly declared what he had
done before jail authorities. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] He says he was released from
bail to a hero’s welcome, which has only added to the numbers
of what he calls his mini army. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] The only mistake he claims is
that his boys made cell phone videos. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] He also said that the
police was in their favor, unlike in the earlier regime. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] In the video, Qadim
badly wounded, a bystander is hurt, asking
for him to be given water. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] This is Rakesh’s
chilling response. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] So there is– I know that was a very
distressing video. But there has been some
sort of positive outcome of this, at least on paper. The police have
said that they’ve taken this thing
that we’ve done, we did it to a few other
cases as well, as evidence. There is a provision
under the Indian law in which they can admit this
as extrajudicial confession. And they’ve moved the
court to try and see if they can rearrest these men. But we’ll have to wait
and see if that happens. The Supreme Court has
also opened an inquiry into the absence of an
effective prosecution of this and some of the other
vigilante cases by the police. The third element, which I
mentioned, before I wrap up with of course, Love Jihad. Now this is not something which
is easy to compile data on. But there is a mass
of anecdotal evidence of how the BJP leadership,
local as well as national, in many cases have
created a noise. In some cases, almost
enabling a near riot situation over bogus claims of Love Jihad. I’m going to play
you next a clip from a particular egregious
example from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh in 2014. Where right wing groups led
by local BJP politicians claim that a young Hindu woman
had been seduced by a Muslim, gang raped in a madrassa,
which is a Muslim seminary. Including by a
maulana or a cleric. Impregnated, converted to Islam,
and then her baby was aborted. This was the claim. Based on the young
woman’s testimony, the police arrested a
number of local Muslims and there was a near
riot in that area. When we went down there,
we found multiple anomalies in the version that the
right wing had claimed, as well as which the girl
had been coerced to repeat. It was a case, as many
of these cases are, of simply criminalizing
and politicizing an interfaith relationship. Now, the entire video of the
entire unraveling of the story was over a much
longer documentary. But in the interest
of time, we’re just going to play
you a short clip. In the village of Aurangabad,
and out from Meerat, a VHP village meeting to warn
of a Love Jihad epidemic. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Not too many in the
audience have heard of it. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Which is why the
constant repetition of the merit episode. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] The stakes so high
that the young woman at the heart of the storm
has been pushed into making her own defense public. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] But the police see it
right from the start. There have been inconsistencies. In the FIR registered
on the 3rd of August, she says the abduction took
place on the 23rd of July and the rape occurred on the
same day in a madrassa in Hapur by Nawab and four unnamed men. But in her medical
examination on the same day, she told the doctor the rape
occurred on the 29th of June in an open field. Two days later in a
more detailed statement before the magistrate,
she goes back to saying that the rape
occurred in the Hapur madrassa. But the rapists were two men,
Nawab and a boy called Shanu. Sanaullah, she says, molested
but did not rape her. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] In the village, they claimed
the answers to the mystery lie with a young man from
a neighboring village. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] In the Meerat
government hospital where her surgery was
performed, the papers are signed by a Kaleem posing as
her husband, a signature which has led to his arrest. Actually, there was no
female attending with her. And there were two
guys with the herd. Out of them, one was
presenting as her husband. And I don’t know whether
he was her husband or not. And she came as
an emergency case, as a case of ruptured
ectopic pregnancy. And at that time, it was
not a highlighted case. She came to us as
a simple patient. And for that,
emergency laparotomy has to be done to save her life. But in her statement, she
names Shanu not Kaleem. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Sima Mischa works
with a group that has had couples who
faced risks for having broken family taboos. To her, the Meerat incident
follows a familiar pattern. What I find is very common
is adult men and women get into relationships and when
the families don’t like it, then all hell breaks loose. And they go off and file a
whole lot of criminal cases against the boy. And the police then forces them. It’s a typical
pattern that we’ve been working in the Uttar
Pradesh for the last 10 years I’ve seen this happening. And there’s so much pressure on
the girl to take the girl back. Let me say this. This is not about
discrediting the testimony of a rape survivor. We know how difficult it
is for women to speak up about sexual violence. But here’s the problem
with the Meerat case. That the [INAUDIBLE] has
already pronounced its verdict without factoring in any
of these inconsistencies. Even while the investigation
is at a nascent stage. Now this places the
individuals at the heart of it at great risk. But also has incendiary
social repercussions. And hence the need to look
closely at the Meerat episode. Right, let’s just pull
up that last image. So this was an instance
where actually there was a happy ending. This is the young woman
that we just interviewed. So she finally came out in the
open, along with her partner Kaleem, the person
whose identity she was hiding throughout. And who she had actually
named as an accomplice. So they couldn’t control– they couldn’t contain
the emotions anymore. And they broke against
the family taboo. They broke against
the kind of pressure that was being placed by
the political forces that had got involved. And they got married. And for a while, they
lived in police custody– not in police custody, but
under police protection. But finally, now, they’re
able to come out of that and they are united. But it just gives
you one more example of how just ordinary
interfaith relationships get criminalized and politicized. And that really is the
story of how this Love Jihad myth has been built up. So in conclusion, I’ll
say there are more video. But we’re running short of time. So I’ll wrap up and then we
can take more of these aspects into the discussion. That it could be argued that
the slow poisoning of the well, or the air, is as if not more
toxic than egregious shocks and the egregious crimes
on Indian democracy by past political regimes. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] Thanks. Thanks a lot. And thank you so much,
Julia, for gamely playing all those clips. Thanks very much, indeed. Thank you so much, Basu. [SIDE CONVERSATION] Basu, thank you so much. That is really quite– I mean, for those of us who’ve
been in India frequently, it both rings true, but
it also rings horrific. Let me start with Ayesha. Ayesha, your comments
and reflections. I’ve asked everybody to speak
between 8 and 10 minutes, and then we’ll open up. So please. I mean, what’s not
clear is whether we’re supposed to respond to him or– You’re supposed to
respond and you’re supposed to say whatever
you have in mind. So you can do both things. Well, thank you very much,
Homi, for inviting me to the Humanities
Center at Harvard. I mean, the subject
is obviously has– one can approach
it at many levels. But I do want to say that
democracy as you pointed out, has been in distress
in South Asia. Certainly in Pakistan. And many years
ago, I wrote a book talking about the stresses and
strains of postcolonial nation states with particular
reference to South Asia. And I made the
point that neither was democracy the
antithetical entity, opposite to authoritarianism,
but they were implicated. And it was about
dominance and resistance and it’s an ongoing struggle. And my only comment
to the presentation here is that while– none of this surprised me. I of course, recognize that
this is happening quite broadly in South Asia. And I do think that the
media is being targeted. But the media is also
part of the problem in terms of the way in which
this is being reported. I’m not really talking about
your media, your house. But certainly I think
that what I’m referring to is not simply democracy
in numbers here. I’m talking about narratives. I’m talking about
national narratives. Unquestioned ones, certainly
in India, about the Muslim, about partition, about Pakistan. All these factors
play a role, which give these elements that you
speak about so eloquently, the opportunity to carry out
whatever they are carrying out. So the complicity
of those who are the great upholders of democracy
must be called into question here, as well. Because without that complicity,
none of this is possible. So whilst you talk about
the role of the state quite eloquently and clearly,
this is only possible in India, because the state tolerates it. But I can sort of say a
many things about Pakistan from which I think
India could learn. Because Pakistan
has a head start in how to control our
democracy, muzzle it completely. So let me just say a few
things about Pakistan so that might sort of
be indicative of where you’re going. We recently had an election,
I happened to be watching it. There were many theories
about this election, what was going on. The most interesting thing was,
of course, the pre-electoral, the run up to the election
and the narratives that were dominant at that stage,
the unquestioned narratives that you were referring to,
as well, in the case of India. And it was clear that these
were quite orchestrated. These were not just
happening, they were orchestrated narratives. So there were various theories
about what was going on. Everybody was talking about
election being manipulated. And I won’t bore you with
the details from the census to the constituency
delimitation. But I will talk
about the narratives that preceded the election. Of course, there had
been a soft coup the year before that some of you
probably never noticed in July. When a prime minister was
simply removed by the judiciary. But in the case of the
run up to the election, it was not just manipulated. But there was an extraordinary
buy-in of one channel after the other. Every channel was behind
it barring one or two. They fell in line, too,
after the election. So what I’m trying
to say is that in this great democratic tradition
what you are witnessing is a great consensus building by
the media, which then generates the kind of atmosphere for these
sorts of outrageous egregious behavior. I can recount all of that. But it also lends legitimacy
to certain actions that are– by giving it the
narrative of religiosity. Now what you described to
me for the last half hour is nothing but politics. But what you have thrown
in are Hindus and Muslims and it gets some
religiosity involved here. But this is politics. This is electoral manipulation,
electoral mobilization. The same thing
happens in Pakistan. But in Pakistan’s
case, the theory about what happened
in the election was what has always
happened, what’s new? The minister. What’s new? The military has all–
the military establishment always intervenes. So this is the same. The second theory
was that, no, this is a time when there is
a push back from society. So they’re working extra
hard to manipulate. This is a sign that
why are they going so hard against social media. This is because people
are going to be– it’s effective. And people are
beginning to challenge the authoritarian strains
of the Pakistani state. The third, which I think
actually explains the first two and brings them together,
is the role of the media. Now the Pakistani
establishment by which we refer to the non-elected
institutions, the military, the bureaucracy, the judiciary. The establishment
has for a long time played a role in
elections, of course. But this time around, I think
the role was more direct. In this instance, it was the
judiciary working hand in glove with the military to
get the positive result that they wanted with
the media playing a role. And so this time what was
surprising for me in Pakistan was the attack on the media. The main media houses,
GO followed by Dawn, clearly the military now wants
to dominate the narrative. But as is always the
case with attempts at domination and control,
there’s always a slippage. Historically we have
seen, and I think I saw my friend
[INAUDIBLE] sitting here. Turkey and [INAUDIBLE] what they
tried to do, I mean, it sort of backfired on them. You can only do so
much controlling to get positive results. Because in the case
of the Evren period, the youth utilization
of right wing against left wing,
which then comes to haunt them in the form of the
variety of right wing parties that they have to control. I think this is where I feel
that the correction sets in for such attempts. I think that the real joker in
the pack in Pakistan is going to prove to be governance, which
I think cannot be controlled. You can put anybody in
place, but the real beauty of the whole system in
terms of the results will lie of who can deliver. And there’s a big question
mark whether anybody can deliver, which I think is
the real issue of distracting people with cow slaughter,
with this, that, or the other. Which you were also referring
to the distractive politics, the disassociating politics. I think this is what is
the distress of democracy. But my lot– Am I at 10 minutes? My last comment is that
in Pakistan at least it’s been foisted upon
the people of Pakistan by the non-elected institutions,
notably the military. There’ve been military
interventions. But I think the worry for India
is that Indians themselves are doing this to themselves. They are electing
such governments. So I think therein lies
the challenge for India. Whether you do, in fact, have
people with the right mind and boldness to speak
up and fight back. In Pakistan, Pakistanis
are fighting military rule as best as they can. And even governments that
the military puts up. But that story is continuing. But what is worrying
is the gap that seems to be increasing
between how much people are becoming complicit
just without realizing. Thank you. Thank you very much, Ayesha. I think this whole
issue of complicity creates a kind of fine
echo and resonance between the two accounts. Ayesha did bring in the
issue of the military. Of course, it’s a
different kind of state, but I think that’s a very
important distinction to make. But also the relationship
between the media and judiciary. I just want to mark that, your
idea of judiciary and the media was a new issue. I talked about distraction
in the earlier– in my introductory remarks. But I did not talk about
the judiciary nor did you. And rather than the
military, we seem to see the arm of the
police being used. So I think police
versus military, question of judiciary. These are questions that
Ayesha has put on the table. Thank you very much. Sugata. Thank you very much. Since Basu focused on this
awful spectacle of lynchings, let me begin by reading a
short passage from a book that was published over 100 years
ago by Rabindranath Tagore. And towards the
end of that book, in an essay titled
“Nationalism in India”, Tagore said a few things
both about the United States and India that sound like
an uncanny foretelling of the crises that both
our countries face today. So Tagore criticized the
anti-Asiatic agitations in America for depriving
the aliens of their right to earn their honest
living on these shores. Either you shut your
doors against the aliens or reduce them into slavery,
Tagore said in his rebuke. And he had something
even more perceptive and far sighted to say about the
tyranny of social restrictions in India. The social habit
of mind, he wrote, which impels us to make the life
of our fellow beings a burden to them, where they
differ from us even in such a thing as
their choice of food, is sure to persist in our
political organizatio. And result in creating
engines of coercion to crush every rational
difference, which is the sign of life. And tyranny will only add to the
inevitable lies and hypocrisy in our political life. Now I entered Parliament
on an unhappy day, the 16th of May 2014. That was the day
that Narendra Modi led BJP won a clear majority
in India’s Parliament. And one of the features
of Modi’s campaign was the tendency to use
the language of citizenship to mask a discrimination along
lines of religion, language, and ethnicity. So during the
campaign, he had said that on the 16th of
May 2014, he would drive all illegal
immigrants across the border of Bangladesh. Modi had spoken about
illegal immigrants two years before Trump did
more or less the same thing during his campaign in 2016. I gave my first
speech in Parliament on the same day
as Narendra Modi. And that was noted by the
media, including Basu’s NDTV. And towards the
end of that speech, I made reference to
perhaps what could be regarded as the first
lynching of the Modi era. This one was not directly
related to Karl vigilantism. But this is what happened. As I said, we mourn the
death of Mohsin Shaikh the young computer
engineer in Pune. He belonged to the
so-called aspirational class whose dreams for the future
had been fired by the election campaign of the ruling party. He did not live to
see the [NON-ENGLISH],, the good times which this
government promises to usher in. His only fault was that he wore
his identity in his headgear and attire as he returned home
after praying to the almighty. Hockey sticks that had
once done our nation proud in the world
of sports were used as weapons to bludgeon
the expression of diversity. Now after that, of course, there
were several other incidents of lynching. And what I would say is that the
one that was not specifically mentioned by Basu
was the killing of Muhammad Akhlaq
on the suspicion that he had stored beef
in his refrigerator. And it was in the aftermath
of that kind of killing and the return of awards
by writers and scholars and so on that there was
a debate in Parliament on quote unquote “growing
intolerance in India.” And the term intolerance
is, of course, just a euphemism for a wave
of unreason and humanity that was sweeping the country. On that occasion, I decided to
consult my young friend Rohit De and spoke mostly about
constitutional morality. The way in which
Ambedkar had spoken about it and other members
of the constituent assembly. But even in that
speech towards the end, I again had to mourn a death. And I said I had mourned
the death of Mohsin Shaikh, the computer engineer in Pune. This happened days after the
new government took power. Today I mourn the death of
Muhammad Akhlaq and others who have been victims in
recent months of the poison of religious hatred. In the name of
bygone generations that have welded the Indian
people into a nation, I invoke the noble meaning
of the word Akhlaq. What does Akhlaq mean? It means ethics. And I urge those who hold the
reins of power in our country today, especially our Prime
Minister and our Home Minister, to uphold the fundamental right
to life and liberty of all our citizens and
abide by Akhlaq, the ethics of good governance
that have informed the very best of Indian political thought
and practice through the ages. Now in addition to the
kind of hate speech that you heard played by people
holding important offices, there is something else that
also needs to be underlined. And that is the feeblest of
disavowels or disapprovals coming from those occupying the
top most echelons of government when these kinds of horrendous
lynchings have taken place. And you know, Modi has
been typically very late and then he has not
been unambiguous in the condemnation. And so this is in some
ways a part of a strategy. It is in some ways more
insidious than bigger riots or even pogroms of the sort
that we saw in Gujarat in 2002. You simply have to
make a spectacle of killing one person or two. And doing so you can then
terrify an entire community. And this is what is being
done to the Muslims and Dalits in our country today. So it is very much a
part of the strategy that has been adopted by those
who basically confuse religious majoritarianism with
democracy and deliberately so. So I think I’ll stop my
initial comments here, excepting that I did want to
say a few words about what has happened in terms of
another kind of institution that has been
under grave threat. And I can speak about it
in question and answer. And this is what has been done
to the institutions of higher education in our country. And once again, there
was a major debate in February of 2016 on
the current situation in universities in our country. This happened soon
after the suicide of Rohith Vemula of
Hyderabad Central University. And what has happened
in our country is that people from
marginalized backgrounds have been given access
to our universities, including our
central universities. But they have not really been
included as equal citizens. So there was neglect
before, but now there is direct onslaught
by the state forces. And soon after the
Hyderabad incident, and I spoke about
Rohith Vemula suicide in the course of
my speech, there was the crisis in
Jawaharlal Nehru University. And students, including the
President of the Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union,
was arrested and charged with sedition. And after the
arrested students were brought to the court premises
of Patiala House in New Delhi, the storm troopers, the
black coated storm troopers of the ruling party,
attacked teachers and students and journalists
within the premises of the judiciary. And there’s been a
systematic attack on higher educational institutions. And there is almost
a deliberate policy to demoralize our best public
institutions of higher learning through the drafting of a new
higher education commission bill. Which is, of course,
being resisted. And also there has not been a
single major central or state university that
has been included on the list of institutions
of eminence chosen by a committee appointed by
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even though a non-existent
university to be established by India’s leading
industrialist has been given that particular label. So of course, the media
has been under attack and there have been
other institutions that have been under siege. But we, sitting at a
university, must also consider what is happening in
the domain of higher education in India in this atmosphere
of democratic authoritarianism using a strategy of
religious majoritarianism to win majorities in
India’s Parliament. Thank you. Thank you very much, Sugata. The question of complicity
that both of you brought up is certainly a
thread that is moving through the various comments. In addition to the media
and governance and the law, which we had, I think the
issue of higher education now emerges as another
topic, another item for our discussion. But with it, I think
also the concern not only for higher education,
but for education more generally. The rewriting and the
tampering of school books, which we know about. And also the infestation
of these ideas of exclusion at the level of
school education. I think this is something
we should look at. But turning to you, Rohit in the
context of these conversations. Of course, very keen to
see what you have to say. But one issue that
was just brought up, which I think is
something that I would love to hear you speaking
about, is the use of the language of
citizenship certainly out of constitutional
discourse to actually justify the complicitors’ notions
of discrimination. And beyond discrimination
also degradation. And they’re not the same thing. They can come together. Very often discrimination
is thought of within a kind of legal imaginary. But with the right politics
and with the right agitation and if we move to
the law, the law can get rid of discrimination. And weak people can be given
the rights of citizenship. But now the language
of denigration, the embodied language
of denigration, impurity, criminality, rape
both in the United States as well as in India. The language of denigration,
the dedignified language of denigration is now taking
on a power beyond any appeal to the citizen and
the non-citizen. And this is why I think
the migrant or the refugee becomes such a problematic
flashpoint in this discourse. As the president of the
ruling party recently said, we have a billion termites
in our country who are sort of hollowing it through. So I will address the
question of constitutionalism. I just wanted to respond briefly
to Sreenivason’s presentation. There’s a moment when
they’re interviewing the accused of
the one who’s sort of admitting to the killing. He talks– there was a
mistake that we recorded this on our phone camera. The young boys, they
didn’t know any better. They were enthusiastic. They were minors, it
was their first time, they won’t do it again. And the sort of constant image
that was circulating here was very difficult to watch. But if you are on social
media, open the television, these images almost
stylized images of lynchings are circulating very widely. And that’s sort
of actually pause to question what our complicity
is in sort of playing it and watching it. It is important to remember
that these incidents happened and it’s important to
remember the names of people who were killed. But these images are being
watched by some of us with shock and horror. But they’re being produced
as an act of victory, an act of celebration. And they’re being circulated
as an act of celebration. And if you look at
the YouTube comments, perhaps that’s a sort
of terrible place to go to at any point of time. The YouTube comments and many
of these news stories, which are pointing this out as
this is a terrible thing. The YouTube comments
show people who are watching it are consuming
it as a celebratory spectacle. So we’re actually
transforming what was– it’s sort of if you take
the lynching postcard of the US South and we sort of put it
in [INAUDIBLE] national media to say it’s a bad thing. But everyone sort of
watches it and reacts to it with a certain kind
of visceral pleasure. So I’m going to
talk a little bit about the kind of tortured
history of constitutionalism in South Asia and
particularly today. Some people would argue that
South Asia is not a good site to study constitutionalism. Indeed, while India,
Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka all enact constitutions
with certain degree of popular representation
in 915 in India and 71 in Pakistan,
Bangladesh, 77 in Sri Lanka. These are not liberal
documents by any measure. They are documents that have
heavily circumscribed rights and in certain cases
reinforce a kind of ethnic majoritarian
view of politics. However as I want to argue
very briefly, over the years they have come to
act as a constraint in a variety of
ways, all of which has been unraveled very sharply. Not just in India, but in
the neighboring South Asian countries over the
last five years. So if you think of constitutions
as the text for the governments of the one party state
in India and Sri Lanka and the military regimes
in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Constitution was just
sort of a road map of power. Something that was convenient. Something that was malleable. So if the Constitution
worked against you, you would just change
the Constitution itself or amend the particular
provision that is problematic. It wasn’t conceived of as
a restraint to authority. But it became one. First to the work of
lawyers and judges, who created a series
of conventions from the 1950s onwards, which
restrained government power. So just to give you
a couple of examples. In the Indian case, we see a
broadening of judicial power over judicial appointments. So we edged out the executive’s
role in appointing judges and tried to at least
create to some extent a non-political party
affiliated judiciary. We also saw the rise of
regulatory authorities, independent bodies under the
Constitution being the Election Commission, or the Office
of the Comptroller Auditor General, which exercised powers
in checking the government. We saw the emergence
of challenges to the powers of
constitutional amendment, as well as increasing
challenges to military coups. So even when military coups
was eventually justified, there were safeguards put in
place and circumscribed powers through which they
would operate. We saw attempts at crude
force to remove the Chief Justice in Sri Lanka, to remove
the Chief Justice in Pakistan were met with a popular uprising
of professionals, particularly lawyers, who took to
the streets and argued the language of the law to
restore judicial authority. That has mixed results. And we can get to
that in the Q&A. The second kind of movement
of constitutionalism is constitutionalism as
imagined by the people. People who are often excluded by
the Constitution who don’t have sort of guaranteed
rights in the document, but strive to make it so. We see this most
dramatically in India with the use of– with the
number of social movements in 1990s arguing for
the right to education, the right to information,
the right to food. Which, through a series of
first judicial activism and then legislative interventions
get translated into reality. And in some ways, the first
decade of the 21st century sees for the first time a
creation of a skeletal welfare state in India as a result
of social movement engagement with constitutionalism. There is an entire
language of anti-corruption that leads to a rise of
a new political party and the demand for an
independent ombudsman. But also a rise for, and this
again has interesting legacies, a kind of media allied
rise of popular justice. Perhaps the earliest
example of this was the Jessica Alal case,
in which [INAUDIBLE] channel played an important role. Which convinced the
judiciary to sort of step in to what was obviously
a corrupt criminal justice process and enact a kind
of corrective trial. But it required citizens
to turn to the media and turn the media into a kind
of a supralegal courtroom that would sort of decide
on these questions. As I mentioned earlier,
constitutionalism has not had an easy run in South Asia. And it comes through
most dramatically in the emergencies that
are taking place in India and in its
neighboring countries. However, in the emergency,
there was a requirement of the government
to act through law. So the Parliament
or the President would declare emergency and
the forms of the emergency would be observed. There would be a
law that would then strip people of their rights. But it would have to be done
through a legal process. And this sounds almost as
if I’m sort of turning what is a sham exercise into virtue. But when you sort of– it’s only moments like these
that you realize the importance of hypocrisy in some ways. Because you need to have
standards to hold people up to. If people don’t subscribe to
the channels in the first place, it becomes very difficult
to sort of make claims. What’s happening today
in India in particular is a kind of, as Sreenivasan
mentioned, death by 1,000 cuts. There are no effective attempts
to sort of change legislation. But what happens is a
kind of circumvention of long established procedures. And I’m just going to run
through the rest of my time a kind of listing of the
nature of these changes. First, if you imagine
constitutionalism to be a question of balance,
the Indian Constitution struck a balance between
different institutions. The Judiciary
Election Commission, the Army and Independent
Bureaucracy and media. All of which is getting
circumvented today either because of
entirely ignoring many of the institutions. People have not been appointed
to several positions. For example, this Parliament
does not have an official leader of the opposition, which
means several decisions that need to be taken which require
oppositions attendance cannot be taken or can be done by
circumventing opposition parties. They have not
appointed people to be in charge, until recently,
to be the information commissioner, who would
bring the Prime Minister’s office under the
Right Information Act. Key appointments in
investigative bodies have been delayed. Positions have just
been left vacant. It’s almost as if you’re letting
institutions die by just decay, by not filling them up. Secondly and very
troublingly, members of these independent
authorities be it the bureaucracy, the
army, or the judiciary have been given poster time and
positions that are very closely allied to the government. Be it ministers in the
cabinet or post of governors. Secondly, the other big
balancing act in constitution does through what’s
kind of provision of affirmative action,
and the kind of vagaries, that go past the
system, is to create a representative parliament
that represents a wide diversity of constituencies. The success of
India’s democracy, according to
Christopher [INAUDIBLE] and other political
scientists has really been the empowerment of
groups that were formerly seen as backward who achieved
the political dominance in legislatures in the 1970s. However, this Parliament has
the highest representation of upper castes, one of the
highest since independence. It has the lowest representation
of Muslims since independence. And if you actually take out
the members of Parliament of West Bengal,
there would be very few Muslim MPs in
Parliament to begin with. We have fewer Muslim– I suspect we have fewer
Muslim MPs than Britain does, despite the differences
in population. The third kind of balance
the Constitution strikes is between the center
and the regions. This was of course
through the early decades of independence,
one that was heavily skewed towards the center. Until the 1980s, we often
saw the central government intervening very strongly
in provincial autonomy. However, over the
last 20 years, there was a sense that especially with
the growth of regional parties, states were protected,
states’ rights were protected. And indeed, the BJP
in the early 2000s spoke in the language of
cooperative federalism. However, we see a greater
centralization of power. And most troublingly,
in sort of territories that were ruled by
opposition governments, we see interventionist
governors, most strikingly in
the union territories of Delhi and Pondicherry. We see differences in
funding between opposition and government ruled states. And in some cases,
caste segregation of entire populations
of people who have not voted for the ruling party. Which sort of troubles the
links that tie India together. Third is of course
citizenship, which is the very basis
of our participation in constitutional democracy. There are two
developments that are urgent and important to note. The first is the long
simmering problem of the national citizenship
register in Assam. Around the 1970s,
there was a compromise given the kind of
movement of people across the border in South Asia
to have a register of citizens which would sort of count
and fix citizenship of people who reside in [INAUDIBLE]. Political compromise
had left this process open for many years. But recently, it was spurred
on by PIL to be completed. And a couple of months
ago, they came out with a register, a list of
citizens, which left out large chunks of the population. While the government
has agreed that there will be procedures to
challenge and correct the list, the idea is very clear. There will now be an official
list that would count citizens. And there are demands
to replicate this list in other states. The people who tend
to get excluded here are Bengali speaking
populations who live in Northeast
India who are always suspected of being Bangladeshi
or being foreigners. And it strikes at the very
core of Indian citizenship principles, which is
basically not determined by blood or by religion. But basically
determined by your birth in a particular territory. The second troubling
situation here is the passing of the
Citizenship Amendment Bill. Indian citizenship, and this is
greatly debated in the 1940s, was fixed to your
parents being born in the territory that became
India before a certain date. It wasn’t tied to your religion
or tied to your ethnicity or tied to blood. However, this amendment
bill allows for citizenship to be granted to Hindus,
Sikhs, and Buddhists from Pakistan and Bangladesh who
apply for citizenship to India. At one level, this
sounds very benign. You’re helping
persecuted minorities get permanent status. However, the persecuted
minority category does not extend to other groups
who could face persecution. Be it Shias, Ahmadis,
women, LGBT populations. But focuses on non-Muslim
groups, non-Abrahamic faith groups in South Asia. And tries to turn
Indian citizenship into a sort of birthright
citizenship of all Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists. And poses a profound
challenge to the nature of citizenship in South Asia. So just to flag a
couple of other things, the most remarkable
thing that happened at the beginning
of this year was a kind of unprecedented
television conference given by four of the five senior most
judges of the Supreme Court who came out in the public
and virtually alleged, and I have to be
careful of what I say, because there are powerful
contempt laws in India, suggested that there was
political interference in the decision making in
the court about which judges would get to hear what cases. Assignments of cases were
taken away from certain judges and given to other judges. The Indian court
does not sit on bank. They sit in groups of judges. The Chief Justice has
discretionary powers to a lot of cases
of different judges. There were also a
considerable suspicion of accusations of corruption
against certain figures in the judiciary
who were believed to be complicit in this. There was also a
pointing out of the fact that despite a long
established precedent that the Supreme Court has the
final say in appointing judges. The government was slow in
acting on the Supreme Court’s recommendations. And it is perhaps
not a coincidence that many of the judges who
were not being appointed belong to communities
that were not the majority community in South Asia. There seems to have been
some backtracking on this the last few months. And some of these appointments
have been made late. But the way in which
the judiciary works, it also means that
late appointments would mean that they
are unlikely to rise to certain decision making
powers within the judiciary. I could sort of go
on on this, but I do want to just briefly try
to be optimistic and suggest what are possibly a few
hopeful areas of opposition. The first is that I think
for a lot of people, I hope it becomes
clear why forms matter, why conventions matter. We can always say that these
are authoritarian states working through shadowy
forms of legality. But these forms matter
in that you can at least hold states accountable. And I think there is increasing,
at least in statements of political parties,
the use of the language of the Constitution to
rally around and challenge the government. Particularly in the absence of
a charismatic sort of opposition figure, the
Constitution can emerge as a kind of charismatic
set of opposition. The second is an interesting
sort of local histories the Constitution is taking. For example, in the
forested regions of [INAUDIBLE] there is a
movement by tribal communities which are basically
using the Constitution, a physical structure
of the Constitution to assert tribal
sovereignty over the areas. They reproduce sections
of the Constitution that allow for tribal control
of those particular areas. Are strikingly breaking with
long history of compliants. BJP’s Dalit MPs have come
out publicly in opposition to perceptions that the
BJP government might dilute or do away with reservations. The Supreme Court judgment
diluting the prevention of atrocities on [INAUDIBLE]
a kind of civil rights legislation and the
fact that the government didn’t do enough to sort of
fall back on it was called out. It is clear that affirmative
action provisions and the kind of requirements forecast
justice in the Constitution are taken seriously by
members of the community who will fight to defend it. And finally, I think
it’s important for us to acknowledge that this kind of
breakdown of constitutionalism might be new for
most people in India. But existent pockets across
the country over all times. So if you were growing up in
Kashmir, Northeast or Southern districts in
Chhattisgarh, the idea that there is that
Constitution acts as a check is almost seen as a myth. And it almost seems
that our inability to respond to what
happened in these regions is coming to haunt us today. Because we are all
experiencing what this spirit of
tolerated emergency is. Rohit, I must– I will stop at this point. Call you to order. In the best
parliamentary tradition. Very interesting, the notion
of ethno-majoritarian– Ethno-majoritarianism
is something that you have raised in these
reflections on questions of constitution and citizenship. And of course one of the
issues that it relates to is under the ethnos,
what is the place of the language of religion
or the language of faith. How is it being manipulated,
but also effectively powerful. It’s not all manipulation. People identify with it. Through the ethnos,
they identify through religious ideas. I think the idea of the
media as a supralegal body, as a supralegal agency, is
actually quite interesting. Where there is democracy
in distress and breakdown, then it is your kind of
investigative reporting that plays a role
of governance almost or a protogovernance issue. I would also think that
the question of education that was brought up
raises the issue of how the Constitution gets
mediated or translated in a more ubiquitous form, given
that you are interested in form like I am, too. Not simply in the content, but
in the form of these things and the institutional form. How would these constitutional,
progressive constitutional ideas that hold the country
to account, how do they get mediated and translated
into, as I said, the ubiquitous or the everyday understanding of
one’s status or one’s position or one’s mutuality. These are important questions. I now want to
actually turn to Basu, if you’d like to respond
to any of these issues now. After which I want
to turn to the panel and ask them whether any of
them are to quote you Rohit, even briefly optimistic. I think the brevity of
optimism is obviously a very important issue here. How long can you hold your
breath and be optimistic? Or maybe you take a
deep breath and you are optimistic for longer. I want to deal with
that after which we can open up to the audience. I think what I do, Homi,
is with your permission, because it’s very
sort of broad points were made by the panelists. Which if I get into each of them
will take a considerable amount of time. What I did during
my presentation was to give you one
arc of the two arcs which I described have worsened. One is that I said
the idea of India as a secular liberal society. And the attempt was to
try and characterize what exactly is it
that has worsened and why it’s hard to capture it. So now as I tried to point
out in my presentation, we have some idea. What are the things that
have worsened, right? We’ve seen there’s a worsening
of the sort of language, the discourse of high
political figures. That is distinctly worsened. There’s a clear
worsening of the attacks on minorities using this prism
of cow protection and so on. When it comes to the worsening
of democratic institutions, some of which
Rohit listed, again this business of doing it
through the method of 1,000 cuts makes it that much
more harder to capture and that much harder to resist. So I think this whole
business of normalizing these sorts of
assaults, and that’s something I suspect is happening
in other parts of the world including here in America, is
something that deeply concerns me as a journalist
and is something that I’ve tried to report on. I didn’t spend too
much time on that because there was
a shortage of time. And I didn’t particularly
talk about the media because what has been
happening with the media again is very interesting. And it’s also happening
using the same modus operandi of trying to bleed
us through 1,000 cuts. So we have a very large
and diverse media. We have 400 registered
news channels. OK, just digest that
number for a minute. And about 100,000
licensed newspapers. And I’m not even
counting now digital. What has been remarkable is
how this diverse, crappy, fragmented,
rambunctious media has been brought to heel largely
without firing a single shot. It’s not as if journalists
are not being killed in India. They are. It’s not as if we don’t
have retrograde laws that govern the media. We do have those laws. It’s not as if we’ve not
slipped in the media freedom index in the past
year from 136 to 138 compiled by the Reporters
Without Borders. But that’s not the real crisis. The real crisis is how
newsroom after newsroom is witnessing a sort
of internal coup. It’s the enemy within. Proprietors, owners,
publishers, because of real or imagined threats
are choking any kind of uncomfortable journalism. And that actually is
much harder to fight, because it’s like a tree
falling in the night. You’ve not been
able to understand exactly what’s happened. And I’ll give you a
small example, Homi, with your permission of
what happened with one of India’s leading newspapers. This is a very
middle of the road, you know, playing it safe daily. Brings in an editor from
the Wall Street Journal. What’s the name of the paper? Well, Homi, this is all
being telecast live. And I’ll be indemnified. OK, it’s not a secret to
at least those in the know. So if you insist, it’s
the Hindustan Times. They bring in an editor. Under his watch,
a hate tracker is launched, which
counts hate crimes and you know, sort of similar
to what we were doing. This creates a bit of a stir. Within a few months,
the editor is sacked. And on the last
day that he comes to office or just a
day or two after that, the tracker vanishes
from its website. OK? No explanation is given
either for the sacking or the taking down
of the hate tracker. It turns out, and this was sort
of widely discussed in Delhi, that the newspaper holds
an annual summit where they call the high and mighty. And that year, they wanted
to invite the Prime Minister as the chief guest. And the quid pro quo was that
if you want the Prime Minister, you have to sack the editor
and take down the hate record. So sure enough a few months
later, they hold a summit and low and behold
the Prime Minister is there as the
chief guest, right? But as I said, this is all
a matter of conjecture. We don’t know for a fact
exactly how it played out. But I can list example
after example to you as to how journalists
and journalism of the provocative kind, of the
kind that speaks truth to power is being kneecapped
on a regular basis. Editor after editor,
anchor after anchor is taken out of circulation and
the organization falls in line. That’s the whole idea, that
you have to somehow bring everybody in line. And I think Pakistan, again,
and other parts of South Asia are seeing this. This has to do with structural
issues of the ownership of the media, how
the media is funded, of the kind of financial
pressures and constraints that legacy media faces
for a number of reasons. Again, too many to list here. But it’s important to
acknowledge this and remember this. Because all too often
we think of threats to the media as external. We think of online harassment. We think of censorship laws. We think of
government crackdowns. We think of, say,
for example what Erdogan is doing in Turkey. Or what’s happening to
journalists in Russia. But this is also
part of the problem. And I think it’s time that
we start acknowledging it. It’s time we start
confronting some of these weak kneed proprietors
and publishers and editors. And start involving them in
these sorts of discussions if we really want to see a
shift in the kind of distortion that is happening to the
media narrative in India. Thank you so much. It’s interesting that
unconsciously you use the word saying journalism
of a provocative kind. You’re not provocative. It’s only that you’re
perceived to be provocative. You’re doing exactly what
you’re supposed to do. Absolutely. Now it seemed to
be a provocation. No, absolutely. In fact, I said this
quoting somebody. I’m not sure who, someone
more famous than I. That just speaking the truth in
India has become revolutionary. You know? So you’re absolutely right. This is just being targeted
for doing one’s job. Optimism about the end of
hatred and this sort of tendency in India and Pakistan. Optimism through this whole
process, what do you see? What makes you optimistic? I think things in India
will get much worse before they get better. Well, that is optimism by
another kind of definition. As for Pakistan, I’m very– I mean, I lack optimism. Because I think there we’ve
just witnessed a regression. And I think a consolidation
of authoritarianism in a new guise. Which we have to wait and
see how it will pan out. But as I said, the key issue
here is delivery governance. And I have grave doubts. But my bigger doubt, and I
think this is something that is across the board
in South Asia, and why I don’t have
optimism, is that I really believe that in what I
call the decolonization of the mind in 70 years. And I think that we are
retrograde rather than progressive in the way
that we have utilized the need for the decolonization
of many of our value systems. The way in which we classify,
the way in which we perceive and see all of them are really
from the colonial period. When can we sit down
together and discuss what is in our best interest? But I should– let
me ask you this. How much do you think that these
categories, and I completely agree with you, they
inherited categories and we want to make them, you
know, in a utilitarian way, work better. We want them to function
better, but they fail. How much of this is also
due to global pressures of various kinds in which
nations in South Asia have been treated with this
kind of seduce and abandon foreign policies of
powerful nations. How much is this– you think there has been a
freedom to reconceptualize these pedigrees. There has never been any
justice in the world, nor is there going to be. We are going to just have
to continue fighting. And that’s what I mean about
democracy and authoritarianism. These are not sort of one
as opposed to the other. They are really two ends
of the same spectrum. And it depends on the particular
balance between dominance and resistance where you are. So I think that’s important. But I suppose what I would
like to say about India is that in this
democratic process, there’s a real danger of
losing the capacity to resist. In Pakistan, the problem
is that because of years of authoritarianism, nobody
really believes the government. In India, I think there’s
too much of a buy in that needs to be corrected. My optimism is very, very
cautious, I’m afraid. Quite right. And as I said in my
opening comment, what we– the real issue was what are the
factors within democracy that are justified and
then can make you complicit to the growth
of a certain kind of authoritarianism. Sugata, what makes
you optimistic even for a fleeting moment? Before I answer your are
you optimistic question, may I just raise a question
to bring Basu and Rohit into dialogue? I think it was very
important that Basu did that [INAUDIBLE] operation. Because the main perpetrator had
got out of jail, claiming that he wasn’t there on the scene. Yes. What’s more, that
incident was initially being described as a lynching
all right, but an incident of road rage rather than
linked to cow vigilantism. Yes. All that, those lies were
exposed in your sting. And then the Supreme
Court recently said that there ought to be a
new central law, a federal law, on lynching. And of course the
government did exactly what our colonial masters
had taught us to do. They have formed a
committee to look into the framing of a new law. And I’d like to ask Rohit
whether a law would help. If you look at United
States history, all the attempts to have an
anti-lynching law since about 1918 were defeated in
the Senate by a group of conservative
southern democrats. And only this year
on the 30th of June, Kamala Harris and Cory
Booker and one other senator introduced a bill, which
will be really symbolic. As is evident that
there were lynchings of many kinds in America, but
more than 75% of the victims were African Americans. Just as close to 90% of the
victims in India are Muslims. So you know, would
a lynching law help or should something
be done urgently? Or will we in India
be in a position several decades later to
do what the US Senate did in 2005, apologize
for lynchings that have taken place in the past? So what can, you know, the
legal system, the judiciary do. Or what can Parliament
do to address what is an urgent problem today? In terms of optimism,
I can be analytic. But I can also
speak as someone who tried to provide a principled
voice in opposition ever since 2014 and
even before Modi got elected as Prime Minister. I think optimism is in some ways
a pragmatic necessity for us. Pessimism, it will be so
terribly self-defeating. And so even on the day that
I first spoke in Parliament, I was trying to somehow
lift the pall of gloom that had descended on us. And saying things like, how
unrepresentative the 16th Lok Sabha is. If you looked at UP,
there were 80 MPs in a state with a 20%
Muslim population. And there was not one Muslim
MP elected from that state. Only very recently
in a bi-election, a Muslim woman has been elected. And then also, I think
it’s very important to take on the votaries of
religious majoritarianism. Narendra Modi began to
claim from August 2017 that the next five
years, 2017 to 2022, will be as transformative
as the years 1942 to 1947. This is what he
claimed in a speech that he made in
Parliament on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of
the Quit India movement. And he wanted to dominate. He wanted to see if there
will be transformation. Because the top constitutional
posts, all three of them, are now held by those who
subscribe to the same ideology, i.e. the ideology of Hindutva. So the inference
was clear, we are going to see a Hindu Astra
on the 75th anniversary of independence. And in that kind
of a scenario, it was very important
to come to pose a different vision of India,
from the vision of a new India that was being
projected by Modi. That in place of the
untrammeled dominance of one religious community
and one language, there can in fact be an
alternative vision of an India which is based on the cultural
intimacy of India’s very many diverse communities. So in that sense, I think
that if the fight back is to take place as Ayesha
wants, then we have no option but to be optimistic, even
if we find numerous failings among opposition
parties and politicians. Who have as yet been
unable to articulate a credible national alternative
that people can trust. Thank you, Sugata. I just want to say something. You know, of course the spate of
the killing of young black men is not a lynching. But it is– there
is a kind of family resemblance between them. That the killing
of young black men by the police for various
reasons as [INAUDIBLE] put it beautifully. One person was killed
because he had a hoodie on. Another person, another
black person kid was killed because he was
listening to the wrong music. A third one was scared when
the police car came and he ran. You know, these are not
lynchings in the old tradition. But they are lynchings
in our tradition. There are lynchings
in our lives now. And so I think the symbolic
Kamala Harris and Cory Booker proposition is indeed speaks
very closely to the world we are in. Rohit, I want you
to range across. And then we will open up. But I do want to ask you. Whether the progressive nature
of our constitution, people describe it because of
[INAUDIBLE] presence that it is a minoritarian
constitution, it’s a progressive. Do you think that
there is some optimism to be found there by
returning to the Constitution, rather like Justice Scalia? This is a joke, by the way. Anyway. So maybe I’ll answer your
last question first and then get to optimism and the law. No, and I would not recommend
originalism for any society. Certainly not the United States. I mean, the
Constitution is an act of political compromise
accommodating numerous interests. What makes it progressive
is not its authors, though they were all
men and women who managed to work together
to forge this consensus. But really what
makes it progressive is the fact that
progressive groups and progressive
individuals have been able to harness it and push it
towards a certain direction. And I would not suggest that
the Constitution be set in stone and nothing be ever changed. [INTERPOSING VOICES] I know, but I felt like
I needed to clarify it. Some jokes fall flat. There was a great
deal of inheritance in terms of the clauses of
the 1955 Government of India Act in the Constitution. It’s not the document that is– [INTERPOSING VOICES] But many people,
including several judges, are advocating
originalism in India. And I thought it’s good to
sort of put that on the ground. Thank you. The second is about optimism. And you know, ironically
it’s because I’ve read Professor Jalad’s work
that I am more optimistic. I think what your work shows
is that it’s at some level structurally not possible to
govern societies in South Asia through Maximalist
authoritarian measures. At some point, they crack apart. And the real question
is who has to suffer to wait till that point where
it cracks and it gives up. So the second thing
in the Indian context that gives me
optimism is the one remarkable feature
of any democracy has been expansion of franchise. Unlike the US, where there
is vast exclusion of people from franchise, often from
marginalized and poor sections in India. At least till now,
these have been groups that have got
franchise and have participated in it heavily. And that has been, at some
level, the kind of thing that upsets the apple cart. I remember 2004 and the election
results were unexpected. And people talk about
the 1977 results. And I’m hoping
that to that extent those kinds of electoral
connections can happen. Lastly, I mean one, I’m very
appreciative of the sting operation that [INAUDIBLE]
and I wanted to just– when I was referring
to videos, I was talking about the
videos of the actual crime itself that are circulating. I think an anti-lynching law
would have symbolic benefits, but it’s not going
to stop anything. Partly because the regular, old
fashioned colonial [INAUDIBLE] record has enough
and more provisions to deal with lynching. The fact that they
don’t deal with it is either lack of political
independence and will or the fact that we have a
widely unrepresentative police force, which does not reflect
the demographics of society that it governs. So unless those two
things are changed– Which is also true of
the colonial army, which was also very unrepresentative. Which is interesting to see
how these things repeat. Well, it’s important for
a Humanities Center event to show how interpretations
can be creative and that my friend
Ayesha Jalal’s pessimism, with which I have
a great sympathy, was now turned into
optimism by you. Rohit, I think this is lovely. I think this is exactly the way
in which discussions should go and negotiations should happen. I just want to end
before I open it up to the audience
with the idea, and I don’t know why Adorno keeps
coming to my mind today. Adorno said the only way to
live with political situations and resistance is to live in
a state of disappointed hope. And I think that’s
exactly where we are now, a state of disappointed,
the best you can get. I completely agree. Absolutely. And I want a hand
of applause for these wonderful presentations. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Right. Questions from the audience? And please introduce yourselves. The man in red. Please introduce yourself. Hi. So I am a recent graduate
from Carnegie Mellon. I just came to Boston for work. So I might be sort of a
black sheep in the room. You are a black
sheep in the room? Yes, I think so. So this particular
session I think is exactly like a manifestation
of a social media ecochamber wherein I would
most closely agree with Mrs. Ayesha,
wherein she says there’s a lot of narrative building. And although I’m not definitely
the individual instances of lynchings and all of that
are definitely real issues. I think they can be a counter. To a lot of the broader
she was mentioned there, and I think it’s
important to have people from the other side,
too, because there are legitimate voices
on the other side. And that’s why– It’s not like one side is
the only self-righteous side. So I think such discussion
sessions should have or include people from the other
side so that we actually come to some conclusions
and we proceed towards a progressive society. So you’re from the other side. So please give us
some point of view. I’m not. No, give us some sense of what
a counter narrative would be. Well, just on– I mean, your criticism is taken. I wanted to explore this notion
of democracy in distress. But let us hear from you what
the counter narrative would be. But also let me respond to this. Well, let me first hear
the counter narrative. Let’s hear the counter
narrative, which I think is a legitimate issue. Firstly, I think
a lot of why we’ve seen a lot of the instances
in the past five years is a lot of it has to do
with the rise of social media by itself. We didn’t have the
sort of environment on the internet like
seven, eight years back. A lot of it is because
of that and it’s amplified because of that. So well, I’m not a
scholar on this issue. But I’m just saying
from an outsider, from a layman’s
perspective, from what I’ve heard on the internet,
there are obviously two sides to the coin. And in this room, I heard
only one side, which is fine. But it’s not exactly, it doesn’t
lead to like specific solutions or conclusions. No. You’re right. It doesn’t lead to
specific conclusions. And I think you’re also– Let us first be
properly lynched, and then we will
rise and respond. But I also think you’re
right that we did not include somebody here
from the RSS or the BJP. You’re absolutely
right, we didn’t do it. But the question of the
other narrative, and there’s a large audience here. Nobody has directed people
not to appear in the audience and ask any questions
as you’ve done. You’ve done very usefully. The social media issue, and
I’m going to hand over to you, is not the only issue here. The issue is when the government
itself does not in any way punish or castigate its
senior office holders when they spew the kind of– I agree with that point. That is the
important issue here. And that’s one of the things we
wanted to bring to the table. Because if you go to India,
as you said and you’ve said too, largely in the
media, there is no voice. It is not possible to talk. Yeah, I know. Some of the points
are definitely valid. Thank you. Anyway– [INTERPOSING VOICES] I just want to quickly
respond to this idea of sides, that there’s only people
from one side here. So just to make it
clear that I don’t think I represent any side. The only side that ideally
journalists should be on is on the side of facts. But unfortunately
what has happened is that facts
themselves have become contested and are being seen
now through the prism of left or right. While there is something as
clearly an established truth. So I don’t think that
reporting any of this puts you in one
or the other side. We reported on the “egregious
crimes”, quote unquote, of previous
governments, as well. But if there is something
which has characteristically worsened under the
present regime, it is the duty to bring it out. So the idea of actually
doing it in this form was so that it insulates it
from this kind of criticism that oh, you’ve shown one side. There’s another side. What other side is there? If hate speech has gone up
500%, it’s gone up 500%. You can’t dispute that. So I think let’s not
reduce everything to these easy social
media binaries. Let’s try to look at things,
you know, truths or facts, as they are on
their own standing. So I mean, I really urge that. Thank you. Let’s hear about two
or three questions and then bring it to the panel. Right, so there’s somebody here. Yes? There at the back. One, two, three, four. Let’s do this little
sector and then we’ll move to that
end of the room. Hopefully. Hi, my name is Vishnuvi. I’m a student at the Harvard
Graduate School of Design. And I just started. So I’m taking a lot
of courses in politics in the Department of Public
Administration Politics and Religion. And just recently
completed a paper, we’re just talking about the
American economy and the effect of politics on religion. And that made me think
about all those theories within the Indian context. And you know, I was sort
of reflecting on that. And I sort of agree
with Ayesha here a lot. Because knowing that we come
from a secular constitution where we don’t have a state
religion and on the other side, as a country that is
extremely democratic. How do you really understand
the scenario or the phenomenon where a state itself
elects a religious head to sort of govern
the whole thing. I mean, [INAUDIBLE],,
as a monk who is now a religious
leader in politics affecting the whole thing. And then talking about optimism
and that’s the second point, I was just thinking about it. What happened to
the Catholic church was people started having
their own interpretations and sort of derived new
religions out of that. So you had the
Catholic Christianity, then you have the Protestants,
you have the Reformists. And it kept on reviving itself
through newer interpretations or creation of new religions. Whereas I see what’s
happening inside and I’m politically undeclared. I’m not even religious. But just there’s two ways I
think where things can change. One is it’s either a
new religion, which is like you’re talking
about revival in religion. Or the second is a
revolt. And that’s where I think where
Pakistan comes from is a state of revolt. But I mean, I don’t know
where we are headed. Thank you. Thank you very much. That was a comment
rather than a question. But let’s move
here to these here. And then to the
lady in the white. In the back. Good evening. My name is Sudashana, and
I’m a graduate student in the Department of History. My question comes from a
space of disappointed hope and draws upon some of the
ideas that you put forward about resistance, about media,
about there being narratives in different sides. Because we’ve been talking
about social media as well, there has been recently a lot
of WhatsApp groups and fake news circulating on the
WhatsApp medium. Which have been
successful in converting a lot of people who are more
or less skeptical still. What do we do about
that kind of fake news? OK, what do we do about
fake news in social media? Thank you very much. Question, yeah. Please, everybody take
note of these questions. Thank you. Diana Eck. And I teach a little bit about
some of these things here. But this has been a
really informative panel. And I think the issue of being
afraid to speak the truth or speaking the truth
being revolutionary is something I’ve heard
from friends in India. It’s not a sort of society
these days in which people feel comfortable just speaking out. And you know, that’s a
very disturbing thing. And I know that there are
voices on the other side. I know they’re
not– people think this cow killing thing is absurd
and let’s just call it that. And the ways in which
people have been lynched and even including
figures like Swami Agnive, she was beaten up rather badly. But I think there are people
who are sort of speaking out and not having a good
time of it there. So it’s that sense of the
cowing of the populace of people who, whether in
universities or in public, just are afraid to speak. Thank you. And of course, we
must raise this issue, that people are harrassed. There is a huge
harassment of people. They are harassed
legally, they’re harassed in terms of
their own security. So I think that we really need
to have these issues where we are relatively safe. Yes, a question
here please and then we can return to the panel. Hi. I’m a research fellow at MIT. I have a really simple question. So in 2014, the BJP won over 70%
of the seats in the Parliament with a little over 30%
of the popular vote. And there was some
talk of how the Indian Parliament is no
longer representative of the electorate. Is first past the post
unsuitable for our country or is untenable in 2014? Excellent, let’s
turn now to Ayesha. Yeah, we will come to you. No, no. Hang on. Hang on. Hang on. This is democracy in operation. Not democracy in distress. So you choose as you please. That’s right. I’d like to respond to
the fake news question. What to do with fake news
I think is to ignore it. I think far too much
importance is placed in circulating fake news. I think the whole
ethos of social media needs to be sought by young
people and not so young people. I think this tendency
to just forward things and just shoot things
off has to stop. i mean, you need to
control yourself. This is a civil
society out of control. That’s what I think. Then I think I don’t know
anything else to respond to. But you know, just to
support, in this very room, in this very room
we once had a very fine presidential
historian who had written a blog which had gone viral. And my colleague,
Steve, said to me, you know maybe we
should have her. So we had her on a very
distinguished panel. And well, the story she told
us so much, [INAUDIBLE].. She said I was writing a
rather dull academic article and then some thought came
to me and I wrote a blog. I posted it and I
went out to dinner. And I came back to find
that 2,000 people or 300 people or 600 people
had responded to it. She said in retrospect, I
don’t think it was very good. But once the
virality carries on, then opinion gets to be formed. We’ve got to be very careful
about public opinion. Well, you form public opinion. But don’t send things
that are dubious. I do think a lot
of people do that. People will do that. Homi, sorry, can I just
on the fake news point. While I agree that
self-regulation is important, but at the same time it’s not as
if you can just let claims also go uncontested. For instance, what you
just saw was an example of busting of fake news as in
the case of the Meerat Love Jihad case, right? So something like that, a
completely manufactured fiction about gang rape and
maulanas and so on has the potential to create
social unrest, which it did. And the busting of it
does help in some cases to cool things down. So I don’t think it’s
about ignoring fake news. It’s about what fake news
is that you choose to bust. If you want to sit and go after
every single WhatsApp forward, there is no end to it. But certainly the most
egregious examples, especially when the state lies
or the state is putting out false claims or propaganda or of
this kind of incendiary stuff, I think there it’s important
to actually come out and do it. And to your point as to what
should be done, as you probably know in the Indian context
and the world over, increasingly news
organizations are investing huge amounts of
resources to busting fake news. So that’s already
organically happening. There are mainstream
media doing it, there are all sorts of
websites and portals doing it. And you know, I think
that’s a good thing. Except because that
fake news seems to be more attractive
than factual news. People love fake news. I mean, it’s not for nothing. It’s more entertaining. It’s more entertaining. It’s not for nothing that
Satan is the real hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost. By the time God
comes there, nobody’s interested in
reading any further. Sugata. I’d like to respond to
the religion question, if I may briefly. And here I’m really
borrowing from Ayesha to say that we really
need to make sure that we don’t make religion our enemy. And what we need to target
is religious bigotry, religious prejudice. And you know, most people
in our subcontinent, whether it’s India,
Pakistan, or Bangladesh, have religious faith. They are God
fearing in some way. But I also think that
an overwhelming majority among them are not harboring
prejudice against members of another community. So that, I think, is
extremely important. And that’s why I’ve argued for
a rethinking of secularism. That you know, those of us
who were bred in the Nehruvian secular tradition had to
reflect a bit, particularly after the [INAUDIBLE] movement,
the Babri Masjid demolition, and even more so of late. So I think if we are
able to desegregate this category of religion,
then we would understand that a lot of what
is going on is really about politics with religious
bigotry thrown into this mix. And also, I just wanted to
say that here is a panel where we have a journalist who
is trying to report truth and is trying to
bring down the hype. And there are three
historians who were asked to comment on what
he had to say and also provide broader context. That is what we have been doing. But we all have
multiple identities. So a few days ago, I spoke in
a faculty seminar organized by my colleague Jamal
Kafadar under the rubric the historian as
public intellectual. And my role in India
since 2014 has really been that of a historian, as
a public intellectual, who had chosen the Indian Parliament
as a venue to express my views. And there, I have
to say, one had to face a solid phalanx of 330
members of the ruling party. That included Yogi Adityanath
until he became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. But even under
those circumstances, it’s important to be able
to articulate one’s views. So I’m not– I don’t feel too badly
about the composition of this particular panel. And what I had to do,
of course, and I’ve got some respect from even
those whom I excoriate day in and day out. And in a particular
debate that I was mentioning on the occasion
of the 75th anniversary of the Quit India movement,
I had to call upon them. They were all there,
led by Narendra Modi. And I basically said that I know
that you have your own gurugies whom you revere. But since we are commemorating a
movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, may I invite you to come over
to our side for the next five years and follow the path
lit up by the halo of Mahatma Gandhi, who’s 150th birth
anniversary has just started by the way. So I think numbers
don’t matter that much. And I think you just simply
need a civil atmosphere within which you can express
your views and without fear. And that’s why what Diana,
Professor Diana Eck is saying is so important, that there is
an atmosphere of intimidation. And that has to change. Did you also ask the opposition
to join that very eminent prophet in Calcutta, Karl Marx? [LAUGHTER] Yes. I’m sorry, the gentleman,
I didn’t catch your name. I want to respond to
you and then in relation to that, Professor Eck. It’s really going back to
this question of sides. So one is I would partly
blame television channels for this narrative. Because there is this
argument that you have to create a diverse panel. So you produce
people who represent all possible points of view,
even though in some cases the points of view or
even the person’s ability to represent that point
of view is highly dubious. And it is interesting
that this would not happen in the case of
discussions in science, for example. If you had someone discussing
effects of climate change, would the television channel
bring in a climate change denier? Or if you have a conversation
around the kind of Mars mission, would you have
someone who says, actually, Mars is inhabited by little
green men who might– So I think there is something
about social science that argues that social
science is not scientific. You don’t speak from expertise,
you speak from opinion. And I would sort of
request and gesture that we need to treat some
of this more seriously. So for example,
there are two ways one can say the government after
2014 is not representative. One is that it doesn’t
represent my point of view. And that’s not the
argument I was making. The other is that
statistically if you look at how the
ethnic composition of previous
parliaments have been, compared with this parliament,
while it gets 31% of the vote, does not represent all those
groups in similar proportions. And this goes back
to the comment that Professor Eck raised
about the inability of people to speak up. I’m always surprised
by how much, and I think the Pakistan example
is always optimistic to read, that even in worse situations
many people are brave. They speak up. They act in areas without
the glare of the media. And they face attacks
in India, for example, recently a whole slate of
civil liberties lawyers have been arrested. And again, it’s seen
as a question of sides. These are lawyers from the
left and they were arrested. But we forget, and I
think it’s embarrassing that it’s changed, that
some of the greatest civil liberties lawyers
in their time today serve in the government. In the 1970s, Arun Jaitley was
involved in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. Sushma Swaraj represented
people who were detained during the emergency. Ravi Shankar Prasad was going
on fact finding missions with the [INAUDIBLE]
in the ’80s. And civil liberties
in India was started by the president of the
Hindu Mahasabha in the 1950s. And one of the first clients
he represented in the Supreme Court was someone who
was a communist who was accused of spreading
sedition and acting against the state. So there was a time in India
where the right and the left could come together
on civil liberties. But the right seems to
abandon the civil liberties and the Constitution
as resources and left it to the
other side to take over. And I think in some way,
the endeavor to move towards should be to embrace that
at least common conception of civility and legal forms. That is an excellent
point to end, except that I have
given the nod. I want just one,
just a little longer and we will be able
to have a drink. Let me just– Yeah, but I’m only going
to choose one, two, and that gentleman
in the white shirt. But I want questions. I do not want comments. Question. A little sentence with a
question mark at the end. No long comments. OK, start. Thank you. My name is Shamir and I’m doing
a Master’s in Global Health Delivery Program
at medical school. I’m from Kerala. And we have issues in India. We have issues in subcontinent
and [INAUDIBLE] Bangladesh as well. Can Kerala be a model
for in there, India, in terms of dealing
these issues? Yes or no? Yes. We’ll go through that, yes. And the second
and then the third with the gentleman with
the specs in the white. Hi, my name is Asar Pariyo,
and I’m from Pakistan. I’m a medical area student
at Harvard Kennedy School. I must commend you for
your terrific reporting. Because in Pakistan, we
don’t find an equivalent on the airwaves in any
of the media outlets. [INAUDIBLE] And everybody
knows who they are. But nobody has
the courage to go. So my question is about
the human side of it. What kind of personal
sacrifices do you have to make to
speak truth to power? Thank you. Thank you. And the final question
better be a really good one. A lot of pressure on you. Professor, my name
is Shah Vassal. I’m from Kashmir. And I’m a graduate student
at the Kennedy School. So my question is in
response to your comment on disappointed hope. So if you look at India and
you look at the last 50 years, we have seen a series
of militant insurgencies or resistance
movements which worked around the denial of political
or socioeconomic rights. So we saw an
insurgency in Kashmir. We saw in Punjab. We saw something of
that sort in Tamil Nadu. We have a very thriving
[INAUDIBLE] insurgency. So my specific
question is that what does it mean for India to
have around 200 million people disenfranchised in
the next 20 years? Thank you, thank you,
thank you all very much. Let’s just have a
quick whip around here. The first question is
can Kerala be the model for the rest of India. This is a sort of a
regional foundation list and fundamentalist perspective. Which we should all
applaud for its courage. But let’s get to it. Yes or no? Yes. OK. Maybe. What price? A hefty price in the sense
that I think more than myself, because I’m not a
human rights activist. I’m an academic. And I write mainly in
English, which nobody reads in Pakistan or very few do. And so the military
establishment, with all due respect
to them, I suppose don’t really care what I say. I am nobody. But the people who have
sacrificed are amongst, one that I would like to
mention is Asma Jahangir, whom we lost earlier this year. Who has expended together
with a wonderful team all their energies in
fighting for the minorities, the vulnerable minorities. And the price is very high. Your life is completely
wrapped up here. You can’t really
lead a normal life once you become an advocate
for suppressed minorities. As she puts it, Asma, that
it’s not human rights, it’s not a profession. It’s a conviction. And you pay a
heavy price for it. I just want to also respond
to that question, which the friend from Pakistan
raised about the price. So just to give you an idea
of our own organization. So in the past 4 and 1/2 years,
we now have cases against us from every investigating
agency in India. There’s the CBI, which is the
federal investigating agency. Income tax cases. Cases by the enforcement
directorate, which investigates financial fraud. These are completely
manufactured cases and we’re fighting
them in court. But what it does is that it
dents your operational ability. Right? So when investors,
when advertisers see that you’re facing
corruption cases, you’re facing this kind of
heat from the government, they start to pull back. In addition to
that, the government has actually taken
to calling up some of our sponsors and advertisers
and actually threatening them. You know, in not so subtle
ways, that if you go ahead and you want to
fund this channel, then there will be consequences. So this leads you
into a downward spiral of operational ability. As your funds come
down, you have to start laying people off. Your news resources are
not able to go and do the kind of journalism that
you’ve seen comes down. Your ratings fall. Your revenue falls. And then you’re on
that downward cycle. So actually you do pay a price
for this kind of journalism. But that’s then up
to each organization to think whether they want to
continue with it or they want to fall in line. But this is not just
the case of NDTV alone. If you speak to the few islands
of journalism and journalists who are doing this
kind of work, they will all have similar
stories to tell in one degree or the other. Let’s take up the question of
Kashmir, if you don’t mind. Because I think that is
an important question. We have to call to this
very interesting discussion to a close. Let’s go with you. How would you respond to
that Kashmir question? So I think Sreenivasan would
actually be a better person to give the answer,
given that he’s been in the unenviable position
of facing voices in Kashmir on one side and facing voices
within the rest of the Indian Republic on the other side. And knows how to
negotiate this better. I’d just like to– there’s a
brief moment in [INAUDIBLE] book where he says,
the first time he realizes there
is a different India is when he’s on a train going
from Srinagar to Aligarh. And a couple of army men
get on and sit on the seat. And the other Indians are
like, do you have a ticket. And the soldiers were like,
no but we’re soldiers. We’re going home. And they’re like, if you don’t
have a ticket, get out of here. And he says, I realize there is
an India outside Kashmir where this happens. And I think I am increasingly
concerned that I think that India outside
Kashmir is beginning to look a lot more like
what happens inside Kashmir. And I think in some
ways, we are paying for not responding to
these territories that exist within the Indian Republic
because of exceptions early on. And we can’t solve what
happens in the rest of India without addressing sort
of deep illegalities that happen in many
parts of India. And this is also an
interesting echo with you. Because Kashmir is one part of
the country where the military really rule the roost. So I think that’s
an interesting issue of having a bit of
the Pakistan problem right in the center,
right at the borders. Sugata, the last word for you. On the Kerala question,
there is no yes or no answer. It’s yes when it comes to
access to health and education. No when it comes to political
violence of the sort that is taking place
in [INAUDIBLE].. There is a
journalist, Ule Kempi, who has written a very
good book on that topic. I would like to address
the question on Kashmir, but also the 200 million
sort of disenfranchised. And they are of two kinds. In the tribal
heartland of course you have those who
are mired in poverty. They are excluded and
there is a government in alliance with
big business who want to allow them to take
away the minerals and forest resources and so forth. So you see one kind
of insurgency there. And the hunger index, by
the way, is very high. Particularly in
those parts of India. And then there are the other
regions, Kashmir of course, but also much of the
Northeast where historically over the decades
since independence, there has been a
denial of democracy and a negation of
federal autonomy. And I agree with
Rohit that I think there are many citizens
of India in other parts outside of these regions who are
now paying the price for having been silent for so long. When these atrocities have
taken place in certain quote unquote “peripheral
regions of India.” So I think that we
really must in the future think of one
standard of democracy for the whole
country, particularly those which are claimed as
integral parts of the Indian Union. And also, we need to recognize
that Indian unity has only worked when it has been
of a genuine federal type. We must learn how to give a
sense of belonging to people living in regions where
they have been denied rights for very long. And that will mean rethinking
our concept of sovereignty, altering some of the
structures of our state. So if we don’t
address these issues, then I think we face
a very bleak future. But if they can be addressed
and if the current phase of religious
majoritarianism results in a new kind of politics, a
new kind of democratic politics, and a new federalism in India. Then perhaps we
can be optimistic, as I think our
chairman would like. With a touch of disappointment. To keep us sharp. Perhaps the disappointments
will recede and hope will rise. Well, thank you so much. I want to thank Basu. Basu for being here and
giving us this occasion for having this discussion. Thank you. And all my panelists for
a wonderful participation. I think we were not of one mind. But I think we did what
universities could best do, which is have moments
of convergence. We come from
different places, we may go to other
places or other ideas. But these convergent moments,
these consulations are I think extremely important. And we will try as best we can
to keep this discussion going. Because the country,
our countries here, are precious to us. They’re inspirational to us. And yet, they are in extremis. And I think we need to speak
from wherever we happen to be. Thank you. Thank you very much
for being here. [APPLAUSE]

Leave a Reply