India’s shrinking space for dissent



Mature democracies provide its citizen space for freedom of speech and dissent with reasonable restrictions. India’s aspiration to march towards that goal would be difficult, with slowly shrinking of space for opposing view.

It’s victims are just not intellectual-celebrities like Ashish Nandy, who was forced to withdraw his comments at Jaipur Lit Festival, but even social activists, who find their voice not being heard, either in the government or in the media.

The huge people clamour after gang rape of a girl in Delhi and subsequent Justice JS Verma’s report did not augur well with the government. The UPA government brought an Ordinance on making some superficial changes in penal law for rape cases without moving an inch ahead on reforming the system that can assure more safety on roads and in homes — core of the Justice Verma report.

The reason is apparent.

The bureaucracy does not want to lose its power inherited from the British system by pursuing people-friendly reforms. Any change in rules to make decision making process more participatory and transparent will result in babus losing their discretionary powers. In the present circumstances, they will never allow people’s voice of dissent to be heard.

The sad aspect of Indian democracy is their stranglehold over our highly uneducated political class. Many politicians refuse to question bureaucrat’s intellectual ability just because they are better versed with government rules and have ability to throw an obscure rule to shut them up.

To me, bureaucrats are the real villains behind slow poisoning of an important aspect of freedom of speech — right to dissent with the government. Sadly, no one dares to pull the plug on them.

These words are mine but the essence comes from two former bureaucrats turned social activists — Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander. Both, rightly, feel that space for dissidence was sharply falling in India.

Another important aspect of this is the shrinking space in India is media, whose part I am.

Most media organizations today are either pro-government or anti-government. There is nothing called striking a balance between two aspects for sake of people. No media organisation today is providing a balanced view to its audience. May be, because courageous editors are now extinct and the media organizations are being run by editor sitting in corporate offices.

Media has an important role to play in dissenting voice to be heard. Because, right minded journalists have ability to present dissent in right perspective — not available with scary social media.

The reason: no channel for moderation of extreme and dangerous views is available with the social media. The one’s who can shout and use filthiest languages are heard most in social media — its biggest danger. Media organizations does moderation provided corporate balance sheet is not the driving force behind such organizations.

I don’t think that social media is an answer to our right to heard but changing the bureaucratic and media mindset is the key for protecting the democratic right enshrined in our Constitution.

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