Freedom of speech


In addition to the many prejudices, errs, and the copacetic oversimplifications of the modern man, is the idea that Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy are dystopian concepts which do not have, or never had, the requisite thrust to manifest in the modern circumstances, where it is widely acknowledged that the communication and information technology have made the present world a better place. In simple assumptions and beliefs, Nazism or fascism are rudimentary concepts, unpractical, theoretically unrealistic, and utterly irrational.

In the article, Umberto Eco on Donald Trump: 14 ways of looking at a fascist, released 10 days after the death of Umberto Eco, one of the profound thinkers of the 20th century, the author Lorraine Berry suggested that the Nazis represented the ultimate instance of the rational state and Hitler had a complete philosophy as a dictator. The article further went on to establish the fascistic instincts of Donald Trump, not missing, however, that Donald Trump was actually too dumb to be compared to Adolf Hitler.

So what point am I driving to when I establish the practicality of another Nazi regime, or when I further tell you that according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, there were only 19 countries that had a full democracy in 2016? What trend the world is actually following when extremism and alt-right politics is increasingly taking the global center stage. Everything is pointing to a picture of the world politics which is far removed from the ideals of a democratic society, inching towards a dictatorial world. We may find solace in denial, but the realities are thrown at our faces every other day. But as it is always with realities, they are scrambled pieces, waiting to be put together in a wholesome picture.

In his famous pamphlet, Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, Lawrence Britt gives a list of 14 features of a dictatorship. Here are 14 signs of a fascist regime:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe which is manifested in racial, ethnic, or religious minorities.

4. Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorised.

5. Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion, and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government. Or else the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in wartime, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology are common among government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business and government relationship between the power elite.

10. Labour Power is Suppressed – Because the organizing power of labour is the only real threat to a fascist government, labour unions are either eliminated entirely or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police is given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright be stolen by the government.

14. Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. The assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers, and manipulation of the media, these tricks are blatantly practiced. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

To quote Eco from Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt to conclude, “Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plain clothes. It would be so much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism* can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances — every day, in every part of the world.”

*Ur-Fascism was his umbrella term for Nazism and similar regimes.


Feature Image Credits: The Federalist Papers

Nikhil Kumar
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Nowadays, free speech and safety of student journalist are at stake. The internet, while being one of the most convenient and easy tools of communicating one’s opinions, has become a breeding ground for all sorts of ugly trolling and young student journalists are being coerced into self-censorship and presentation of mild and soft opinions. 

George Orwell once said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” If liberty could actually be reiterated in Orwell’s locution, then maybe today is not a very liberal time. It has always been presumed that student journalism is a product of a hobby, enthusiasm, or just a part of résumé. When young minds actually do come out to pursue this avocation, they want to speak out their minds, feel liberated and important in penning down opinions, and be vigil about their surroundings. Social media can be seen both as a boon and bane for all the students who want to express, but the ‘bane’ factor is now showing its true colour in all forms.

As a young writer myself, I feel unsafe. Why? Because of the fear of trolling, online harassment, or being tracked down to express slightly radical or anti-establishment views. Almost all the student writers now undergo the pressure of self-censorship, that is, before publishing anything online or elsewhere, we need to deliberate upon who will get offended with which statement and how will it be seen in whatever context. Ugly trolls on any opinionated piece creep out from anywhere and the writer is excessively abused/mocked at for being even slightly leaning towards any side. For female students, it’s even worse.

I duly understand the vital fact that freedom of expression works both ways and if a young journalist has expressed one’s views, then the people who read/hear them are also entitled to express counter views and opinions. What goes wrong is the mockery in the form of filthy abuse and threats (rape threats, too) being associated with the counter views expressed in a journalist’s piece. The art of intelligent and less verbally violent disagreements based on facts and logically consistent arguments is being lost out in this growing illiberal world. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter”, young independent student journalists should not lose their spirit of expressing and being opinionated while what the society can do is to create a safe space to counter those opinions in less derogatory manner.
Feature Image Credits: Tech Crunch
Oorja Tapan
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The government of Rajasthan has faced severe flak for tabling discussion on the much controversial Rajasthan Ordinance. Here is a look at why it is deemed to be a threat to freedom of speech and expression, which is guaranteed to every citizen as a fundamental right in India.

India is the host to the longest written constitution in the world which includes mandates for the very crucial fundamental rights, enunciated in Part 3 of the constitution. The said rights are granted to every citizen of India and accumulate to become the very basic unit and the essence of our democracy. One specific article, among the prolific, is Article 19 (a) which grants the citizens of the country the right to the freedom of speech and expression in India. It is often said that the media is considered to be the third pillar of democracy.

Recently, the Rajasthan government has been working on The Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance or the Rajasthan ordinance which was promulgated early September of this year. The amendment makes it mandatory to obtain the permission/sanctions of the state government before undertaking any investigation against a serving or retired judge, or a magistrate or a public servant: “In respect of any act done by them while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of their official duties”. The ordinance also forbids the publication of any material that discloses the identity of the alleged culprit till the government gives sanction for prosecution. Furthermore, this draconian ordinance the government of Rajasthan hopes to turn into an Act would also imprison activists, journalists and any person who chooses to speak out about a ‘corrupt’ public service in a public domain without obtaining the correct permissions.

This ordinance not only violates Article 19 of our constitution but also shows a clear contradiction to Article 14 (Right to Equality) guaranteed by the constitution. The sanction that the ordinance speaks of could take up to six months, during which the media would also be restricted to report about any cases related to the accused public servants. This ordinance does nothing but provides a blanket of security to those accused of corruption or criminal activity and basically grants them a special pedestal since they no longer would be treated as equally as a normal citizen before the law. The six month period could very well be used to tamper or dilute evidence.

This ordinance has been vastly criticised by the High Court, International Media and has been referred to as an “assault on democracy” by prominent political personalities. Many have branded this amendment act to be draconian and backward. The need of the hour is to ensure accountability among public servants and those holding public office. The implementation of this act will not only curtail that but provide an evil privilege to office holders.


Feature Image Credits: The Hindu

Bhavya Banerjee

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With 3 May 2017 being declared as World Press Freedom Day by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the American Center, New Delhi celebrated the month of May to raise awareness about freedom of speech. On the last day of the month, an event was conducted jointly by DU Beat and the American Center – Debate on Free Speech and Social Media – How much is too much? The event brought together debaters from the University of Delhi and the National Law University to speak in support of and against absolute freedom of speech on social media. The debate took place at the American Center, with an interactive audience and listeners who even stood at the back, surpassing seating capacity.

The debate was moderated and judged by Karnika Kohli, Social Media Editor of The Wire, Craig L. Dicker, Cultural Affairs Officer at the Embassy of the United States of America, and Richard E. Pinkham, Director of Programs, North India Office at the Embassy of the United States of America.

The speakers covered a wide range of ideas and topics to support their stance, from allusions to Reliance JIO to details of legal cases. They were asked challenging questions by Ms. Kohli in response to their statements. Additionally, the engaged audience members also gave their inputs and asked the debaters to flesh out their arguments. The passionate speeches left the audience, as well as the judges, in a dilemma with regard to which side to support. As Mr. Dicker stated, he felt “like a ping pong ball” which bounced from side to side with each speech.

At the end of all the speeches, the judges deliberated to announce Abhinav Hansa Raman and Bhishm Khanna of the National Law University as the winners, who argued for and against the motion respectively. The conclusion of the event was followed by a high tea. The entire debate was live-streamed on Facebook and garnered thousands of views.

“It was immensely gratifying to welcome such intelligent students to the American Center so they might contest the appropriate limits of free expression in the realm of social media. I will not be surprised if sometime before long our participants are ?debating the same issue as part of a policy-making exercise. For now, our audience was very fortunate to be able to hear such bright minds argue both sides of this most topical issue. Our thanks to partner DU Beat for organising this excellent session.”
– Richard E. Pinkham

As DU Beat is a platform that has fiercely supported freedom of expression for a decade, it was a privilege to be able to conduct this debate, especially in the current political environment. With mainstream Indian thought becoming increasingly homogenised and peripheral voices being silenced, the debate offered a broader look into the idea of freedom of speech and expression as a whole. A similar scenario is visible in the US, where occurrences of hate speech have become more numerous since the Trump administration came into power. Therefore, this debate could not have been held at a more apt time about such a pertinent subject. We are certain that the event offered food for thought to everyone present and forced them to re-evaluate their presence on social media.


Feature Image Credits: Alex Arthur for DU Beat

Vineeta Rana
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On 3rd November, 2016, the government’s announcement that NDTV would be banned for a day hit the airwaves. And along with this news came a barrage of everything from mild criticism to vitriolic comments, pointed and shot straight at the I&B ministry. It was decided by the authorities, in turn, that not even a Twitter hashtag must be spared. #BringBackNDTV came under attack for garnering Pakistani support, with one media outlet going so far as to call the ban a ‘blow to Pakistan’ by Modi. Amidst this litany of comments came another stroke of genius. Minister Venkaiah Naidu himself came out to publicly condemn all “belated criticisms” against the ban (that is, the ones not made on the exact date of 3rd November, 2016) as being “politically inspired”.

Political farces always make a moot point. But let us have the sense and courage to acknowledge that while this may be a farce, Pathankot was not. That would be a crucial starting point. If it had to come to a ban anyhow, then why the ministry would delay its decision would be another beginning. And it is a beginning which only leads further into the maze. Leaving aside the question of whether NDTV is being ‘singled out’ amongst all the other channels to be made into an example, the ban also brings up a lot of questions left unanswered.

What you and me are relying upon in this debate are clearly a set of perspectives. They are the Achilles heel of this debate, the flip side of asserting that we are living under a surveillance state. By sheer assumption, then, NDTV may or may not be an anti-nationalistic channel just as the prime minister may or may not be a Hindu fundamentalist. Each perspective is guided by a set of assumptions. But what if the debate were above all these questions?

Even before the ban came up, NDTV had had its own set of supporters and non-supporters. The great debate will serve to increase its TRP manifolds this week. Also, the news of the ban has been showcased, firstly, by other media outlets. It was they who projected it as an impediment to freedom of speech. It was later that the decision to call it a violation of free speech became ‘ours’. It is only now that something akin to a threat is being perceived by the masses. And this is exactly the problem with authority identifying our problems for us.

So really, some would say that the most valid starting point lies in the most highly ignored questions. These are being ignored not only by the opposition, but also by the media. Why did no one raise a hue and cry when the actual reporting of the Pathankot incident was aired, and did NDTV, in fact, hurt the nation any worse than other news channels reporting the incident? There are channels which could be accused of being communal and therefore anti-nationalistic. Why are they not being accused at this very moment? There, too, political parties have divided the masses. In other words, they have decided upon a definition of “nationalism” for us and made this decision without consulting us.

The larger politics of what unknown agenda propels which news channel to do a “specific” type of reporting is the larger issue here, one in which NDTV finds itself today. And the last word in this regard does not come from the us, the real masses. The questions posed by the media against the authorities are made by the media too. We think that the restrictions of an “authoritarian” regime are truly the worst, not realizing that we have allowed our questions to go unanswered while someone else makes up “questions” for us. And in all reality, what could be worse than that.

Feature Image: Your Story

Deepannita Misra

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The Supreme Court has heard many petitions in the past to ban jokes on the Sikh community. On March 17, it agreed to hear a plea by Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), along with other petitioners seeking a ban on the circulation of such jokes. The petition will be heard on April 5.

The petitioners believe that a stereotype has been forged against the Sikhs and the Sardars due to which they face discrimination. Even the PILs filed earlier, for example, by the lawyer Harvinder Chowdhury, supported by the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Managing Committee (DSGC), talked about how these jokes are a violation of the right to equality and how there are various websites which showcase these insensitive jokes, which tend to portray the Sardar community as people of low intellect. The petitioners want the Ministries of Telecom and Information and Broadcasting to either ban the said websites or formulate guidelines for the content on them.

The question that arises is, is it right for the court to ban these jokes or filter the websites for content? Is it not infringing upon the right to freedom of expression of people?

In hearings for the earlier petitions, a bench led by Chief Justice T S Thakur praised the Sikh community for their contribution in the development of our country but said that the court’s orders have to rational and within the judicial dimension for them to be implemented. They also pointed out that not all people of the community get offended by such jokes. Rather, people like Khushwant Singh have written books on such jokes which have been enjoyed by everyone. Yet, the PILs state that the community is hurt and offended, and can’t stand the lampooning anymore.

It makes one think- where does one draw a line? When does a joke start bordering on a regressive stereotype used to subjugate people of one community? Are the jokes on people of specific communities, like the Sardars, people from the North-East India, or Bihar only harmless or are they an indication of a very problematic mind-set? Is cracking a joke on another community intolerant or taking offence to it is? The issue is complex and can certainly be helped along in its disentanglement by the discussions and the verdict of the court, so that the blurred lines between harmless jokes and vicious prejudices become clearer.

Image credits: s3.india.com/

Nishita Agarwal

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