Galle Literary Festival International

Visible rise in intolerance in India: N. Ram

N. Ram, Chairman, Kasturi and Sons Limited, at the Galle Literary Festival on January 13.   | Photo Credit: Abdul Halik

The state of free speech is fraught in India, with a massive misuse of laws producing a “chilling effect” on the media, N. Ram, Chairman and Publisher of The Hindu group of publications, said in Galle on Friday.

Speaking on ‘free speech deficits’ at the Galle Literary Festival, he said that the country had shifted from being in an enviable position earlier in regard to freedom of expression to a situation where journalists and intellectuals felt demoralised and isolated. Mr. Ram said that the illiberal and unreasonable interpretation of constitutional provisions and laws, the presence of some laws in the statute books — notably, criminal defamation — and the visible increase in intolerance in society and polity, accompanied by the rise of majoritarian communalism and ultra-nationalism, were reasons for the fraught state of free speech.

Speaking on Sri Lanka, he said that though the country had a “chequered history” of free speech, a sense of relaxation and euphoria were apparent after the regime change in January 2015.

Drawing on a recent meeting with the Leader of the Opposition R. Sampanthan, Mr. Ram said the senior Tamil leader pointed to a “significant change” in the situation, where the media are freer now than in the past.

Commenting on Tamil Nadu — a State that is “notorious for its misuse of criminal defamation” — Mr. Ram said that often, the “process was the punishment”, which deterred the media from probing cases of abuse of public office for private gain. “It is a paradox that it is one of the most progressive and well-administered States in the country, which has a scientific system of political corruption.”

The law of criminal defamation, he observed, is the “single biggest obstacle to free speech in India”, in addition to what he termed as “malignant” aspects of the Indian Penal Code, such as sedition.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 11:47:00 PM |

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