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The ban that actually isn’t

On International Women’s Day, March 8, the news channel NDTV went blank with only a visual of a lamp, the words ‘India’s Daughters’ and a scroll running beneath it putting out statements issued by the Editors Guild of India and others. It reminded me of the blank editorial column in the Indian Express published on June 28, 1975. This page protested the censorship that was imposed following the promulgation of Emergency. The same week, the obituary column in the Times of India carried this entry: “D’Ocracy D.E.M, beloved husband of T. Ruth, loving father of L.I. Bertie, brother of Faith, Hope and Justice, expired on June 26.”

Emergency-era stories, of protesting censorship within the confines of the law need to be retold to a young India born since those dark days so that the message of the current protest acquires greater context and resonance. For the past one week, angry anchors, outraged politicians and the raucous discourse of public life have informed us that the documentary India’s Daughter has been >banned. However, the truth is different. The documentary has not been banned. Yes, you read that right. What has been temporarily restrained until further orders is the showing of an interview recorded with the convict Mukesh Singh. This is the sequence of events.

On March 1, 2015, The Guardian carried a story on the documentary India’s Daughter by British film-maker Leslee Udwin, highlighting an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the four accused in the December 16, 2012 Delhi gang rape case. Mukesh’s statements — “a decent girl won’t roam around at 9 pm”; “when being raped, she (a woman) shouldn’t fight back. She should be silent and allow the rape” — which were seen as a generalisation of the Indian male attitude, shocked a lot of people including women’s right activists, politicians and television debaters.

The outrage built up over the next day and the day after. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh informed Parliament that the conditions under which permission had been granted by the government had been violated by the film-maker. He said that permission had been granted for social purposes and the documentary was not to be used for commercial reasons and in the public arena. He added that a restraining order had been obtained against the interview being telecast.

The Delhi police FIR

The method of obtaining the restraint order was never made clear. It now appears that a First Information Report (FIR) was filed by the Delhi Police’s Economic Offences Wing, citing offences claimed to have been committed under Sections 505 (statements conducing to public mischief), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 505 (1)(b), 509 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. It also appears that the film-maker was not named as an accused in the FIR.

The Delhi police moved a metropolitan magistrate, with the following application:

In the Court of Shri Puneet Pahwa, Duty Mm (New Delhi District) Patiala House Court Complex, New Delhi, CASE FIR NO.29 OF 2015 DATED 03.03.2015 U/S 504/505/505(1)(B)/509 IPC 66-A IT Act PS EOW, DELHI.

Subject: Regarding issuing a direction for restraining/blocking of publishing/telecasting of one interview.

Respected Sir,

This is to submit that a case view FIR No.29/15 Dated 03.03.2015 U/S 504/505/505(1)(b)/509 IPC 66-A IT ACT PS EOW, Delhi has been registered and is being investigated by the undersigned. As per reports published in newspapers, it has been found that one British filmmaker Leslee Udwin of BBC has taken interview of one Tihar Jail inmate Mukesh Singh who is a convict in the notorious Nirbhaya gangrape case. As per media reports, in the said interview, the convict Mukesh Singh has made malicious, derogatory, offensive, insulting remarks against girls, causing harassment and disrepute. These excerpts of the interview as published are highly offensive and have already created a situation of tension and fear amongst women in the society. As per news reports, BBC and NDTV 24X7 are scheduled to telecast the said interview on March 8, 2015. In case the interview is telecast, it may lead to widespread public outcry and serious law and order problem as had happened in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya gang rape case.

Hence, in the interest of justice and the maintenance of public order, it is requested that a direction to competent authority in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting may be issued not to allow telecast of the above said interview in India. In case, the interview is telecast outside India, there is possibility that the same may be transmitted through various web portals. Therefore the designated authority under I.T. Act may be directed to block such contents in India as and when uploaded/transmitted/published and also to block the excerpts of the interview already published/transmitted electronically. Further directions may also be issued for preventing the print media from publishing the excerpts any further.

Submitted Please.

Sd/-

(Inspector, Parveen Kumar)

Cyber Crime Cell,

Economic Offences Wing.

Response and order

The Metropolitan magistrate Puneet Pahwa recorded the following handwritten order, on the morning of March 3, 2015.

Dated: 3.3.2015 (At 10.30 PM)

PS: IO/Inspector, Parveen Kumar, Cyber Crime Cell, E.O.W

An application has been moved by the IO requesting for blocking of interview of one of the convicts in Nirbhaya gang rape case, from telecasting and broadcasting on the internet and other print media. It has been stated that if the said interview is allowed to be aired, it may cause huge public outcry and may create law and order problems. Heard. Since an FIR has already been lodged against the said interview and also there is a possibility of law and order problems being caused, it is hereby directed that said interview shall not be uploaded/transmitted/Published through any web portals or print or any other media till further orders. The application and this order be put up before the concerned court on 4.3.2015 at 2.00 PM.

Sd/-

3.3.2015

The next day in the afternoon, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Sanjay Khanagwal passed the following order:

Sanjay Khanagwal

Chief Metropolitan Magistrate,

New Delhi District,

Room No.4, Annex Building,

Patiala House Court, New Delhi

Fir No.29 Of 2015

Ps: Eow

04.03.2015:

Present: Shri Sunil Dutt, Addl. PP for the State

Application along with order received from the Court of Shri Puneet Pahwa, learned MM, PHC, New Delhi.

IO of the case Inspector Jasvinder Singh is present.

IO of the case have moved an application for intimation submitting that on 03.03.2015 an application for preventing the media/internet from publishing/transmitting/telecasting/uploading the interview of the convicts in Nirbhaya gang rape case, was made before the learned Duty MM who has already been pleased to pass a restraint order till further orders.

Order dated 3.3.2015 of Shri Puneet Pahwa, Learned MM, PHC, New Delhi perused. Be kept on record.

SD/-

SANJAY KHANAGWAL

CMM/PHC/NEW DELHI

Thus, the matter rests currently with the courts. It is clear that there is no ban on the film as a whole; there is only a ban on the interview. Significantly, the constitutional validity of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act too, is reserved for judgment before the Supreme Court.

I, therefore, wish to make no comment on the merits of the case. Suffice it to say that free speech in India should rest on firmer foundations than these documents reproduced in original. Surely, India’s daughters deserve better.

(Sanjay Hegde is a Supreme Court advocate.)

Read more from The Hindu on the topic:



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Leslee Udwin: Wanted world to follow India’s lead

British director Leslee Udwin denies having paid for interviews and striking a deal with convict Mukesh Singh for her documentary India’s Daughter, which has been banned in India.

‘I am not a fly-by-night operator’ -Parvathi Menon interviews Leslee Udwin

by Vasundara Sirnatem by Parvathi Menon - Editorial
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