Both, Censorship and the Freedom of Speech require a delicate balance and immense intuitiveness. Many have argued on both sides, This piece aims to highlight what ideas stand out in this debate? 

Censorship refers to moderating the information and ideas that are disseminated in the society. After entering the web of the censorship debate, there is no escape. This fascinating, unsolvable mystery has questions that lead to more questions, gently treading the path between morality and legality. Everyone’s subjective notions of what is moral, acceptable, decent, and inoffensive are at interplay.

Now a question that would make Mr Pahlaj Nihalanijump onto his toes: Is censorship a good thing?

An infamous opinion piece, in the New York Times, ‘Free Speech Is Killing Us’, addressed the issue of noxious speech. Rebutting the idea of the Internet as a beacon of progress, it reminded the readers of the social media driven campaigns of Trumpand Duterte, the murder of Heather Heyer, the massacres in Pittsburg and Christchurch. “But what about speech that’s designed to drive a woman out of her workplace or to bully a teenage into suicide or to drive a democracy towards totalitarianism?” writer, Andrew Marantz, probed his readers.

Moving away from this, on another end of this spectrum there are moral policing and unnecessary restrictions being imposed. Banning of films representing the LGBTQ community, deletion of Twitters posts talking about casteism, unnecessary edits on several films by the former Chief of Sankar Board and being tagged as ‘anti-national’ for expressing dissent.

What such pieces necessitate are a need to draw lines around some content on the internet. But how easy is this task? Youtube’s ban on violent content resulted in reportage of the Syrian war being take down, Twitter’s rules about sexual content led to information on sexual health also being removed. Regulations can, therefore, close doors on several avenues to spread awareness.

A move criticised for its timing right before the General Elections, stricter social media regulations were put in place. The authorities claimed this was done to curb misinformation. This would require content deemed as “unlawful” by government will have to be erased from Facebook, Google, TikTokand other platforms. WhatsAppwill be required to decrypt encrypted data, to trace it to its original sender. Netflix, Hotstarand seven other platforms have begun self-regulation in attempts to avoid censorship. This played in favour of, our favourite mota bhai, Mr Mukesh Ambani, for obvious reasons.

Stringent censorship can be found in countries like China, Saudi Arabia and Russia. With more than 150 days of internet shutdown in Kashmir, how long before we enter the list?

Journalism, as an independent and impartial body, is not meant to serve the establishment. Its duty is to question, educate and be the voice of people. It was not birthed to be controlled. A democracy seizes to exist when its journalists, activists and reporters begin to live in fear. The ABP row and stepping down of two leading journalists demonstrated the heights of control over the press. The gruesome violence at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo was also a dark day in the history of the press.

Free speech is an inextricable part and the cornerstone of a democracy. Dissent cannot be suppressed under the garb of censorship, because with changing times, the youth refuses to settle and rather demands what’s better. The New York Times piece warns against absolutism and how it cannot be used as an opt out from harassment. It is a right to be exercised with full responsibility. Use of force cannot be a medium to extinguish protests and silence voices of people.

Going back to the dilemma we started with, one’s morality emerges from their upbringing, culture, values, and education. The same rules cannot hold true for all, which makes censorship an endless debate. While morality is where we use our discretion, the higher authorities have the onus of the legalities of it.

Feature Image Credits: Debate.Org

Shivani Dadhwal

[email protected]

A few students of Ramjas College decided to hold a meeting in protest of the recent raid and arrest of five human rights activists and intellectuals by the Maharashtra police on 30th August in the basketball court of the college at 12 p.m. However, the protest was cancelled at the last moment by the college administration due to the alleged “fear of violence” in the campus.  DU Beat spoke to teachers, students, and other people involved in the incident. Read on to know the full details. 

Support for the event was generated by a few students from Ramjas College through social media, especially Facebook posts. Dhatri, a second-year student of Political Science at Ramjas, who spearheaded the event, said, “We have seen how human rights intellectuals, activists, and various other people who were highly qualified were arrested on the false grounds that they had Maoist links, which is completely bizarre.  So we were outraged as students and we decided to have a discussion on it? It would only be productive as more people would be informed about what’s happening all over the country and how voices of dissent are being suppressed by the government.” She also alleged that the posters the students had put up about the event were taken down. “Suddenly in half an hour, we see that they have been taken off. In front of the staff room, the posters were taken off in a span of five minutes,” Dhatri added.

DU Beat talked to the security guards, who were ushering the students away from the basketball court. The guard on duty said that the Principal had issued a notice against the gathering of more than four people, in fear of the “threat of violence” because of a rally that started by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) around the same time in front of Ramjas College. On being pressed for more information, the security guard refused to allow even one person on the basketball court and ushered the students away.

According to the students holding the protest meeting, such a rally had not existed till that morning. Although they had not taken prior permission for such a meeting, they said that they had assumed that the students of the college would naturally be allowed to congregate in the basketball court for a meeting. In an official notice by the college administration later, it disallowed “any procession or unlawful assembly or gathering or disturbing the classes in group or demonstration without the prior approval of the Principal inside the College Campus.”

According to Professor Rahul Kumar Rao of the Political Science department, he had been told by the Principal that any such meeting has been disallowed and prohibited. “They said that elections would happen on the 12th of September and there is a fear of possible violence. I told the Principal that we had planned an interactive session instead of a protest and as far as interacting with the students is concerned no teacher can be disallowed from interacting with his students. But as far as protest is concerned, yes, prior permission has to be taken.”

The students then assembled in Room 315 of the college and held a meeting, deciding that they would then submit a petition to the Principal seeking permission to hold an interactive session again. Dhatri also alleged that a person from the Special Branch of the Delhi Police had called her and asked her to keep her updated in case of any meeting they organise. “If I want to have a meeting with my friends in the college or with my professors, why am I supposed to inform the Delhi Police? Why would the police be informed by the Principal of a college about an interactive session with the students? Why would the ABVP start a rally at the same time at the same place?” Dhatri also alleged that the Principal had also put a stop to even small gatherings in the classroom until the elections, without prior approval.

Was ABVP involved?

The ABVP had meanwhile arranged a rally at the Faculty of Arts at 11 p.m., campaigning for which, according to its volunteers, had started a month before. Various pre-election candidates started their own individual rallies around points like Ramjas College, Kirori Mal College, School of Open Learning, etc. They all congregated at the Arts Faculty. According to an official poster, the rally was supposed to focus on various issues related to concerns of students such as the construction of new hostels and colleges, installation of sanitary pad vending machines in all University of Delhi colleges and so on.  

While inside the campus, the security guards of Ramjas College closed down its gates, not allowing anyone to enter or leave the campus, claiming that they have orders from above. Sudhir Dedha, an alumnus of Ramjas College, was the ABVP potential candidate who started his rally at the Ramjas College gate and marched towards the Arts Faculty.

Mahamedha Nagar, the General Secretary of Delhi University Student’s Union (DUSU) claimed that the ABVP rally had nothing to do with the cancellation of the meeting. According to her, the ABVP had never meant to enter Ramjas. When asked about the alleged “threat of violence”, Bharat Khatana, State Secretary of ABVP, said, “These are false rumours. There was no such protest or rally to be held in Ramjas by us. Our rally was in Arts Faculty. We had no plan to go inside Ramjas College.”

Allegations of “Urban Naxalism”

The issue of “Urban Naxalism” has gripped the recent discourse in media. Shri Niwas, National Joint Organising Secretary of the ABVP, threw up allegations in the rally at the Arts Faculty that the professors of Delhi University were slowly propagating Urban Naxalism. He specifically mentioned colleges like Ramjas, Kirori Mal, and Hindu College as being hubs of such ideology.

“We see that there is an issue on campus about Urban Naxalism. So, we need to make students aware of these because these are Urban Naxalites,” Mr. Khatana said when asked about Shri Niwas’s comments.

“There are certain professors who are spreading Urban Naxalism in campus. For now, we cannot say who these people are. In time, they will show their colours. Not just these three colleges, there must be other colleges too,” he added referring to the arrest and conviction of Professor G.N. Saibaba and the 2017 Ramjas incident wherein slogans for the independence of Bastar (in Chattisgarh) were allegedly raised.

When asked about the allegations of violence perpetrated by the ABVP members in the 2017 conference in Ramjas College, Mr. Khatana said, “It was the college union which gave an application to not allow people like Umar Khalid to come and speak in their campus. The violence had started from their side and not from the ABVP.”    

Meanwhile, the students of Ramjas plan to continue with their meeting on 1st September, Saturday after their petition to hold a meeting was denied by the Principal to avoid “disruptions by college election groups”, as Dhatri claimed.

Sara Sohail

[email protected]

With inputs from Haris Khan ([email protected]) and  Sharvi Maheshwari ([email protected]