Category Archives: Interview

Ban on BBC film wrong: Lee Bollinger

LEE_BOLLINGER_2362679fThe Indian government’s decision to ban the BBC documentary on the December 16, 2012 gang rape in Delhi, India’s Daughter, was “a mistake that must be corrected,” says one of the world’s foremost free speech experts.

“I think that is a mistake. Under international norms, Article 19 of the Universal Human Rights declaration [is very clear] that such speech, or films, should be protected. So I think it is a mistake… I hope it would be corrected,” said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger, who is an author and First Amendment lawyer in the United States.
In an exclusive interview to The Hindu during a visit to Delhi, Mr. Bollinger said “conventional analysis” of free speech laws do not permit a government to prohibit speech on the basis that it makes its “society look bad.”
“It is not sufficient for a government to say this is dangerous because it might make people uncomfortable or hurt their feelings… People should be able to discuss public issues…and come to a judgement about what society’s response should be,” he added.

Mr. Bollinger has been caught in several controversies over free speech in the U.S. himself, where once he invited former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to address Columbia University.

The invitation was opposed by various student bodies, in a similar way that groups forced Wharton Business School to cancel an invitation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi (then the Chief Minister of Gujarat) in 2013 over allegations related to the Gujarat riots in 2002.
Calling the decision to rescind such invitations under public pressure a “travesty,” Mr. Bollinger said: “It is inconsistent with principles of free speech and academic excellence to cancel a speaker because someone objects to what he or she is going to say.”

Full text of the interview with Mr. Bollinger:
How does India rank in the world when it comes to free speech?
I think it ranks very high… it is a democracy and it has enshrined in its constitution the Right to Free Speech. I welcome the recent Supreme Court decision (on Section 66A of the IT Act) that upholds the right to free speech against attempts to regulate it online. Under international norms, in both the US and India, I think that was really a wonderful decision. Every society, even the most progressive ones, faces challenges to free speech and there are questions on the limits, sensitivities to religion, blasphemy, incitement to terrorism, etc. But on the whole, I think of Indian society as very committed to the freedom of speech
You mentioned the judgment on Section 66A. In this particular case, schoolgirls had been arrested by the government for simply ‘liking’ a Facebook comment or posting a comment there. Do you really think our society is as free, given that it is the courts and not the government that is enforcing free speech?
That is a good question. In the U.S., of course, it’s been only one century since cases on freedom of speech were taken up by the Supreme Court. Even though the first amendment is enshrined in our constitution since the 18th century, the jurisprudence we rely on is only 50-100 years old and it has gone back and forth. So, sometimes when society has been intolerant, the court has failed to uphold free speech and sometimes it has taken a strong stand. You always have a contest between legislatures and parliaments responding to people’s wish to be intolerant or to stop a certain kind of speech, and I think one of the great roles of an independent judiciary is to be the last standard for great principles of freedom of speech and press. So it doesn’t trouble me that India should be facing this kind of legislative and government efforts to restrict free speech and courts standing up for it. That’s always going to be the case, and we just have to ensure that institutions are strong to deal with that.
Are you saying courts mirror the tolerance levels in society?
In the US, the first few cases on free speech were in 1919, where the Supreme Court actually upheld the conviction of the speakers. Later, they delivered more liberal judgements. But in the 1950s and the McCarthy era, they caved in to public sentiment against free speech. It wasn’t till the 1960s that the courts really began to take a strong stand on these issues, so I think the tension is inevitable.
The international spotlight has been on the ban on the BBC documentary India’s Daughter. What are your thoughts on the case, given the ban was upheld in the courts?
I think that is a mistake. Under international norms, Article 19 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration [they are all very clear] that such speech, or films should be protected speech. So I think it is a mistake… I hope it will be corrected. One thing we realise is that it is extremely dangerous to ban speech, even speech that is hurtful to people, because those laws can be used so variously. You have to be extremely protective of speech. Incitement, defamation, obscenity can be prohibited, but speech on public issues is different. This is the heart of why we are committed to a democracy.
The government has made several points in its defence: that allowing the film would give sexist views, bordering on hate speech, a platform; that the film put India in a bad light, etc… how would you counter that?
Under conventional analysis, it is not permissible for a government to say this speech makes our society look bad. It is not sufficient for a government to say this is dangerous because it might make people uncomfortable or hurt their feelings. That is the rationale that is extremely threatening to the idea that people should be able to discuss public issues, sort out what’s good and what’s bad, and come to a judgement about what society’s response should be.
So what is the way forward? In a country like India where unbridled free speech is not an option, given the religious divides, the differences, given the fact that hate speech does trigger responses…
This is a very hard problem. In 1952, the Supreme Court allowed the state of Illinois to ban speech that was racist. But in later years, speech by Neo-Nazis, the Klu Klux Klan, very, very offensive speech, has been protected. Even though people from different groups feel highly threatened by it, we want the people to deal with these ideas themselves through speech. We don’t want the government to try and control what we can and cannot say. In a society that is fragile, where there is a major risk of eruption of violence, if it is well established that this is its history, I think there should be greater latitude for policies prohibiting such speech. In the global world, it is hard to see the need… Is it really a threat of religious violence as a result of certain speech or is it a pretext to allow things that the government should not be allowed to get into? That’s one of the great issues of our times.
What about the idea that you are giving a platform to speech that could incite violence?
When you have Neo Nazis or religious blasphemy for example… we know these are bad ideas. The marketplace of ideas doesn’t need to know them, so why do we allow them? Secondly, people are affected by it, minorities, women feel threatened by it. Since we don’t allow libel and fighting words, why not restrict this too? But the fact is you can respond through speech and say these are bad ideas. Every time we allow the government to do something with a seemingly good motive, it can easily be applied to other situations where it isn’t good. Suddenly, the government will intervene for perfectly reasonable speech as well. People are naturally intolerant, I believe. We insist that everyone should think like us. But democracies are like a wilderness, you need to deal with all kinds of ideas and find a balance to your views.
Columbia University was accused last year of shutting down protests against campus rapes, a name and shame campaign that had people writing names of suspected rapists on the walls. Is there a contradiction there?
No. We’ve done a lot to make sure women on our campus are protected, but equally we do not reveal the identities of people who have been assaulted and nor will we talk about individual cases. We have not penalised people for naming alleged rapists.
When you decided to invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Columbia University, many people objected but you went ahead. In India there is an interest in such cases, since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at Wharton was cancelled some years ago under similar circumstances. Where do you draw the line?
Free speech cannot survive as a principle if an argument can be made successfully that when you give a platform to someone to express what you call bad ideas, it means advancing the ideas, or approving of them. That is unacceptable. Every time someone wants to ban some speech, they will use that argument. Giving a platform is not bad. I defended bringing President Ahmedinejad, it had academic value, and he was the leader of a country. He didn’t go unchallenged; I challenged him at the talk. In the case of Wharton, I am distressed in the U.S. by the number of people who have been invited to speak and then had it withdrawn because of objections over the content of their ideas. I think that is a travesty; that should not happen at great academic institutions. It is inconsistent with the principles of free speech and academic excellence to cancel a speaker because someone objects to what he or she is going to say.
When it comes to protection of media freedoms, there is an argument today that speed is getting in the way of media accuracy, and that needs to be checked. Would you agree? I ask because you revamped the Columbia School of Journalism curriculum drastically to include theory and ethics.
There is no doubt that the sense of the public wanting to know “right now” makes it hard to get reflective, thoughtful journalism. The economic model of journalism is also a problem and I am distressed that just when we need more global reporting, we are getting less of it. So I do think there is a problem with the future of journalism, and that’s why universities need to work on training them better to be more reflective, understand issues more. For many years, there wasn’t a full embracing of journalism in academic communities. Many journalism schools are weak academically; they are vocational, and that must be changed. I have also found in the journalistic community, that there is “anti-intellectualism”. I have got a lot of criticism from journalists saying something like, “the less you know, the better a journalist you can be”. I thought that was crazy, as if knowledge somehow gets in the way of understanding things. That’s what I tried to change.9THE HINDU)

It may be the last time I vote: India’s first voter

RECKONG PEO/SHIMLA: The first voter of independent India, 97-year-old Shyam Saran Negi, kept his date with the ballot once again when he exercised his franchise at Kalpa polling station, located 10,500 feet above sea level in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh.
The fragile old man who is EC’s poster boy voiced the apprehension that it may be the last time he votes, given his poor health. Kalpa is part of Mandi Lok Sabha seat. Negi, who will be 98 years old on July 1, was given a red carpet welcome when he reached the polling booth. District electoral officer-cum-Kinnaur deputy commissioner D D Sharma and Kalpa SDM Prashant Deshta handed him a bouquet as a Kinnauri band played in the background.
Undettered by difficulty in walking, Negi along with his wife Heeramni and other family members, reached Kalpa polling station early to cast his ballot. His frail health did not dampen his enthusiasm for the electoral process.oldest voter
Realising the importance of seeing the country’s first voter vote, people from the entire village as well as media persons from different parts of country were there to witness the occasion. A festive atmosphere pervaded the polling booth, pepped up perhaps by the EC’s poster boy. The staff was attired in traditional Kinnauri dress while a traditional band belted out folk tunes outside. The Election Commission had made special arrangements at Kalpa polling station where Negi had scripted history on October 25, 1951, by becoming the first voter of Independent India.
When Negi exercised his franchise at around 7.20 am, he had created a record of voting in all elections — assembly, parliament or panchayats. “To form a strong and stable government people should vote in large number,” said Negi who is also the brand ambassador of Election Commission. ”He prefers to walk to a polling booth than to travel in a vehicle. His child-like enthusiasm about being part of the electoral process has not waned despite his poor health and he thrives in discussing politics, ” said Negi’s daughter-in-law Surma Devi, the pradhan of Kalpa panchayat.
In the first general election in the country, tough geographical conditions of snowbound Kinnaur had forced the Union government to hold early elections on 25 October, 1951. Elections were held in other parts of the country in January-February,1952.The election material was transported to Chini village polling station located in a primary school on mules. At that time Mandi parliamentary constituency was known as Mandi-Mahasu parliamentary constituency. Negi, a government school teacher, was the first to cast his vote at Chini village (now known as Kalpa) making him the first voter of Independent India.

I want to retain the middle class in me: Kangana Ranaut

kangana-hair-readMUMBAI : Kangana Ranaut came with almost zero chances of making it in Bollywood. Hailing from Himachal Pradesh, this actor did not belong to the uppity, class-conscious industry that largely relies on nepotism. Her accent was jeered at and she was not taken seriously. Today, this very girl has managed to force those very people to take notice of her. And that, in spite of her still proudly holding on to her humble upbringing.
Ques: You are getting a great response for Queen?
Kangana: I am still smiling ear-to-ear due to the kind of messages I am receiving. I thought only hard-core commercial films get this kind of immediate response. There was a bit of a worry about this being a female-oriented film, and how men will react to it. But I guess some issues are universal. For instance, almost everyone can relate to lack of self-confidence and being treated badly by the person you love. I am so happy because this film has been made so organically. Sometimes, you see a script and can’t really decide how it will shape up because some nuances come to light only when the film is being shot. Also, Vikas Bahl (the film’s director) didn’t set out to make the film with the idea of making a kickass film. We all put in a great effort, but the motive was not to shout from the rooftops about how path-breaking the film is.
Ques: How did you approach this role, of someone who blends into the background, which is not what you are in real life?
Kangana: I like the method approach to acting. When this film came to me, it took me six months to get into the character. I start living and breathing it. This psychological approach sometimes scares me because when you are psyching yourself to be what you are not, it could lead to a lot of complications. It is cathartic in a way, but, in the long run, I could end up being one messed up person. I set my own limit of how far I can go. There are things that I wouldn’t do. Nobody taught me subtle acting.
Ques: But nobody taught you anything. You learnt it all yourself, to survive, to choose the right films, and so on.
Kangana: That’s true. I think travelling extensively and reading a lot of books has helped me tremendously. I have always had this raw, primitive approach to my films and life. Once I know what is expected of me, I switch on and then switch off. But rarely do you get to work with someone or a team which is in absolute sync with you. It is so fulfilling as an artiste when that happens. For six months, I put in all that I had into this. I didn’t even meet my family in that period.
Ques: You were cruelly ignored and jeered at when you were struggling to make it. What makes you uncomfortable, praise or criticism?
Kangana: Definitely praise. I have been in this fighting mode with everyone till now and was so used to being ignored that now compliments are a little difficult to digest. I am not used to this spotlight being on me for good reason. I feel extremely awkward and don’t know how to react. I guess it will take me some time to live with it and make peace with it.
Ques: What else are you uncomfortable with?
Kangana: Some directors can still make you feel like you are nothing. When there are clashes of ideologies and we belong to different schools of thought, I feel lost. When someone shows lack of confidence and just wants you to copy certain expressions, I feel lost. Like this whole genre of slapstick comedy is beyond me. Then there are some dance steps that we are made to do, which I don’t relate to. I am a trained classical dancer, but this whole business of certain steps to be done with appropriate sexy expression can make me uncomfortable. I keep thinking to myself, “God, how do I get out of this situation”. But then you just clench your teeth and go with the flow to avoid sticky situations.
Ques: What irked you the most about others’ attitude towards you here?
Kangana: I have had many moments of despair; I still do. This whole attitude of people that if a girl comes from the middle-class and is trying to make it here, she must be a gold digger. These ideas about bloodline and the belief that only certain people truly belong in the film industry is irksome. My question to them is – if a woman is ready to work hard, what’s wrong about her wanting to make money? Why are women judged, if they want to buy certain brands or diamonds? I don’t think a girl who earns money and is ambitious should be judged.
Ques: Looks like you will never give up on your values?
Kangana: (Laughing) Never. I am so happy that I could afford to buy a house for myself and one for my parents. My sister lives with me. Back home, in the village, my parents now lead a comfortable life. That’s enough to make me happy. I still feel alienated from ‘filmi people’ and the ‘high society’, like they do with me. I don’t relate to the kind of gossip they enjoy, or take any pleasure in talking about horses or cars. I want to retain the middle class in me.
Ques: You are quite the icon for a lot of girls coming from smaller towns. What would your advice to them be?
Kangana: Let people judge you in whatever way they want to. Just be financially independent. Go out there and earn your money. There is no bigger pleasure than being responsible for yourself. If you have money, you can live the way you want to, support the causes you want to and keep your family happy. I remember when my sister (Rangoli) had an unfortunate accident and had scars on her face. The surgery was done and now she is okay. I am so happy that I could help her financially to overcome that incident. When you have money, you can get the best of things for yourself and your loved ones. Just not having to depend on anyone for money can give you the biggest confidence boost. So study and earn for yourself. The rest will all fall into place.

Ishrat Jahan case: UPA would’ve been glad had we charged Amit Shah, says Ranjit Sinha

ranjitNEW DELHI : Central Bureau of Investigation director Ranjit Sinha has stoked a controversy with his comment that the UPA government would “have been very happy” if former Gujarat home minister Amit Shah had been named in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case.
In an interview to a newspaper on Friday, Sinha, however, said that the CBI investigated the case fairly. “There were political expectations… The UPA government would have been very happy if we had charged Amit Shah…But we went strictly by evidence and found there was no prosecutable evidence against Shah,” Sinha told the newspaper.
Asked why Shah could not be nailed, Sinha said: “There were some doubts, but that was not enough to amount to evidence. Clearing Shah is testimony to the fact that it is a fair and thorough investigation.”
The CBI chief later told a news channel that he was misquoted by the newspaper and said there was no pressure on the investigating agency, and the chargesheet was filed after due diligence.
Sinha’s comments have evoked sharp reactions from the Congress and Janata Dal (United).
While the Congress dubbed Sinha’s comments as unfortunate, the JD(U) said the “parrot has gone mad”. The Supreme Court had last year termed the CBI as a “caged parrot with many masters”.
On Thursday, the CBI had charged former Special Director of Intelligence Bureau Rajinder Kumar with murder and criminal conspiracy in the 2004 encounter case, while accusing three other serving officers of criminal conspiracy and other offences but left out Amit Shah, a close aide of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was under the scanner in the case.
Nearly a decade after Ishrat was murdered along with her friend Javed Sheikh, alias Pranesh Pillai, in Gujarat and two others, believed to be Pakistani nationals, the CBI filed a supplementary chargesheet naming Kumar, who was Joint Director of IB posted in Gujarat at that time.