Wednesday 31 October 2012

Can You Take It Markandey Katju?

Justice Markandey Katju, Chairman - Press Council, speaks to Madhu Trehan about "asking for more teeth" for the Press Council, being the greatest fighter of freedom for the press, media management in Bihar, why politicians should be up for public scrutiny, the need to investigate India Today and more


            I have received a letter from Ms. Teesta Setalvad, Co-editor of Communalism Combat mentioning in detail a serious communal accident which occurred on the evening of October 24, 2012. According to this letter, a huge group of people attacked the Nawab Hasan Raja Masjid in the chowk area of Faizabad for four to five hours committing arson and looting including looting of a large number of shops. The aforesaid Masjid was totally gutted and destroyed by the vandals as also the office of the bilingual Hindi-Urdu publication ‘Aap ki Taaqat’ that stands for communal amity and promotes the Ganga-Jumna Tehzeeb, and the concept ‘Hindi Urdu do Behen’. The office of the aforesaid newspaper is in the first floor of the aforesaid Masjid.  The editor of the publication, Manzar Mehdi, is President of the Urdu Press Association and the publication attracts 80 per cent advertisement support from the Hindu community. The Masjid every year welcomes the Durga goddess processionists and other processions with floral tributes. The mosque that dates back to 1790 A.D. has always practised and preached communal harmony.

            What has hurt Mr. Mehdi most is the ambivalence of the national media (except the Hindustan daily which published the true facts) and he has alleged that the media has not seen it as an attack on the freedom of the press. “Why is the media deserting its own, especially a small publication that has become a symbol of intercommunity harmony?” asked Mr. Mehdi.

            It is alleged in the letter that the lock of the Masjid was broken, and the Masjid looted and gutted down. The newspaper Aap Ki Taaqat’s office located on the top floor of the Masjid was also not spared, and it has been vandalized. Books were trampled upon and torn, the computer was destroyed.

On receipt of the aforesaid letter from Ms. Teesta Setalvad, I have today appointed a one man committee of Mr. Sheetla Singh, Member of the Press Council of India and a very senior journalist who is also editor of Jan Morcha of Faizabad to enquire into this complaint and submit his report at the earliest. I have spoken to Mr. Sheetla Singh and Ms. Teesta Setalvad on telephone.

If the allegations in the letter of Ms. Setalvad are correct it is a serious criminal offence which tends to disrupt the secular framework of our Constitution and society, and deserves condemnation and harsh punishment.         

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Press Statement

It is deeply regrettable that certain politicians are of late becoming increasingly intolerant towards the media, and are not behaving in a manner which is expected of them in a democracy.

The latest instance of such  undemocratic behaviour is the alleged statement of a senior politician that he will break the camera of a journalist when asked about some allegations against him. Before that there was a statement of a Chief Minister of a certain state that a section of the media is doing dadagiri and spreading negative canards about the state government. Earlier, in some states some political workers (evidently at the orders of their leaders ) had physically assaulted media people. and even vandalized the office of a leading newspaper in Mumbai.

Politicians must realize that in a democracy people have a right to criticize them, and the media has a right to enquire about the activities of politicians and inform the public about it. In a democracy it is the people who are supreme, and politicians are only servants of the people. Since people are the masters in a democracy they have a right to know how their servants (which includes politicians, Judges, bureaucrats, policemen, etc ) are functioning, and it is often through the media that they know about this. The media thus acts as an agent of the people for giving them information about their servants.

Intolerant behaviour by politicians has no place in a democracy. If something untrue is published about a politician he has certainly a right to get his rejoinder published, but losing one's balance or giving an ugly display of temper  is just not acceptable in a democracy

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Don't break up the country

Politicians in Maharashtra who are agitating against Biharis are playing with fire

A politician in Maharashtra has threatened to brand Biharis as infiltrators and force them out of Maharashtra if Bihar authorities take legal action against Mumbai policemen, who picked up a teenager from Bihar without informing their Bihar counterparts. The teenager is alleged to have vandalised the martyr's memorial in Mumbai during the Azad Maidan protest on August 11.

The politician is reported to have said that if the Bihar government tries to become a hurdle in a police investigation "then my party would dub every Bihari in Maharashtra as an infiltrator and force them to leave the state."

In the past as well, certain politicians in Maharashtra have voiced similar opinions. Some of them have propounded a 'son of the soil' (bhumiputra) theory, earlier threatening to evict South Indians, and now threatening to evict Biharis and UPites from Maharashtra.

Since this is a very serious issue, i may first refer to Article 19 (1) (e) of the Constitution of India which states: "All citizen shall have the right... to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India".

Thus, it is a fundamental right of all citizens to migrate and settle in any part of India, and it would be unconstitutional to prevent persons from migrating and settling at places where they find their livelihood vide 1997 (3) Guj L R 1998 (2012) SC. The only exceptions are Kashmir and the Northeast due to special historical reasons.

India is one country with one nationality - Indian. Those who regard Maharashtra as a separate nation are traitors to the nation, and should be given harsh punishment. In view of Article 19 (1) (e) of the Constitution, it is a fundamental right of non-Maharashtrians to settle in Maharashtra, just as it is a fundamental right of Maharashtrians to migrate and settle in UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Punjab, etc. Of course, if any particular non-Maharashtrian has done something illegal in Maharashtra, he can be penalised. But how can all Biharis be branded 'infiltrators' for some wrong done by other Biharis?

The 'son of the soil' theory is a theory of Balkanization of the country, and must be condemned. Those who have propounded it are not really concerned about the welfare of the people of Maharashtra; they are concerned about their vote bank.

India is broadly a country of immigrants, like the US. About 92-93% people living in India today are not the original inhabitants of India. The original inhabitants are only the pre-Dravidian tribals known as adivasis e g Bhils, Gonds, Santhals, Todas, etc; they form just 7-8% of the Indian population today.

If the 'son of the soil' theory is implemented, 93% of Maharashtrians would also have to leave Maharashtra, because they are also not sons of the soil. The only sons of the soil are the Bhils and other tribals living in Maharashtra. This shows that the theory may be fine for capturing votes, but it would lead to chaos and disaster if any serious attempt is made to implement it.

Also, the unity of India is required if our country is to prosper economically. Article 301 of the Constitution states that trade and commerce shall be free throughout the territory of India. This provision guarantees the economic unity of India, and political unity depends on economic unity. Thus, a factory in Tamil Nadu is entitled to sell its goods in UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Punjab, Bengal, etc.

Modern industry requires a large market. And unless modern industry emerges in India, we cannot be a prosperous nation, because agriculture alone cannot generate the wealth required for our people's education, health, employment and so on. Only united India provides such a large market. Any attempt to break up our country will therefore doom our people to poverty.

It could also be said that the 'son of the soil' theory offends section 2 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. And being disrespectful of or bringing into contempt the Constitution of India is a criminal offence punishable by up to three years imprisonment or fine or both. Not just does the theory disrespect and bring into contempt Article 19 (1) (e) of the Constitution - hence becoming a crime - it is also an offence under section 153A of the IPC as it amounts to inciting enmity between groups of people.

Assuming that some Bihari authorities did something wrong, does it justify branding all Biharis as infiltrators in Maharashtra? Two wrongs do not make a right. The remedy, if some illegality is committed by a Bihar authority, is to file a writ petition in the Patna High Court or the Supreme Court and not to threaten Biharis living in Maharashtra. Most Biharis living in Maharashtra are poor people who have come to Maharashtra for earning their livelihood.

Also, if Biharis are chased out of Maharashtra, Maharashtrians living outside Maharashtra may meet the same fate. Where will all this end? We saw what happened when rumours were spread which created panic among people from the Northeast living in Bangalore and elsewhere. The time has come for the nefarious designs of such selfish politicians who only care for their vote bank, even if the country breaks up, to be exposed.

Published in The Times of India on 16th OCtober,2012.

Monday 15 October 2012

Letter to Justice Verma

October 15, 2012

The Hon’ble Justice J.S. Verma,
Chairman, NBSA,
(Former Chief Justice of India)

Dear Justice Verma,

Re:       Allegations against Mr. Salman Khurshid

             As you would be knowing, a controversy has been raised by the India Today Group about an NGO, Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust, of which Mr. Salman Khurshid is the Chairman and his wife is the Project Director. Ms. Khurshid has made counter allegations against the India Today Group which made these allegations against him.

Some senior lawyers met me today at my residence and suggested that since there are counter versions from both sides, it would be appropriate if the matter could be examined by some person of high stature.

Everyone holds you in very high respect, and therefore I would request you to hold an enquiry into the matter thoroughly and make your findings public so that whoever is innocent is exonerated and whoever is guilty is exposed.

This incident is not just an isolated one, because often complaints are made that in their hurry to give breaking news, the media, specially the broadcast media, does not do proper investigation before attacking someone’s reputation. In this connection, I may refer to Chapter 2 Shloka 34 of the Geeta where Lord Krishna said to Arjun “For a self respecting man, death is preferable to dishonour”

I would, therefore, respectfully request you to hold a thorough inquiry into the allegations against Mr. Salman Khurshid as also against the India Today Group after hearing all persons concerned, and make your report public, so that people will know the truth.

With regards,

                                                                                    Yours sincerely,

                                                                                    (Markandey Katju)     

Thursday 11 October 2012

Rid our body politic of communal poison

Indians must defeat all those elements that promote and thrive on religious hatred

Though many Hindus and Muslims in India are today infected by the virus of communalism, the fact is that before 1857 there was no communal feeling at all in most Indians. There were, no doubt, some differences between Hindus and Muslims, but there was no animosity. Hindus used to join Muslims in celebrating Eid, Muslims used to join Hindus in celebrating Holi and Diwali, and they lived together like brothers and sisters.

How is it that around 150 years later, suspicion, if not animosity, has developed between the two major religious communities on our subcontinent? Today, Muslims in India find it difficult to get a house on rent from Hindus. When a bomb blast takes place in India the police, incapable of catching the real culprits (because they have no training in scientific investigation), ‘solve’ the crime by arresting half-a-dozen Muslims. Most of them are ultimately found innocent in a court of law, but after spending many years in jail.

This has resulted in tremendous alienation among Muslims in India. In Pakistan, things are even worse for the minorities who often live in a state of terror, scared of extremists and religious bigots.


1857 is the watershed year in the history of communal relations in India. Before 1857, there was no communal problem, no communal riot. It is true there were differences between Hindus and Muslims, but then there are differences even between two sons or daughters of the same father. Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully, and invariably helped each other in times of difficulty.

No doubt, Muslims who invaded India broke a lot of temples. But their descendants, who became local Muslim rulers, almost all fostered communal harmony. This they did in their own interest, because the vast majority of their subjects were Hindus. They knew that if they broke Hindu temples, there would be turbulence and riots, which no ruler wants. Hence almost all the Muslim rulers in India promoted communal harmony — the Mughals, the Nawabs of Awadh, Murshidabad or Arcot, Tipu Sultan or the Nizam of Hyderabad.

In 1857, the First Indian War of Independence broke out, in which Hindus and Muslims jointly fought against the British. After suppressing the revolt, the British decided that the only way to control India was to divide and rule. Thus, the Secretary of State for India, Sir Charles Wood, in a letter to the Viceroy, Lord Elgin, in 1862 wrote, “We have maintained our power in India by playing off one community against the other and we must continue to do so. Do all you can, therefore, to prevent all having a common feeling.”


In a letter dated January 14, 1887, Secretary of State Viscount Cross wrote to Governor General Dufferin: “This division of religious feeling is greatly to our advantage and I look forward for some good as a result of your Committee of Inquiry on Indian Education and on teaching material.”

George Hamilton, Secretary of State for India wrote to Curzon, the Governor General: “I think the real danger to our rule in India … is the gradual adoption and extension of Western ideas … and if we could break educated Indians into two sections [Hindus and Muslims] … we should, by such a division, strengthen our position against the subtle and continuous attack which the spread of education must make upon our system of government. We should so plan education textbooks that the differences between the two communities are further enhanced.”

Thus, after 1857, a deliberate policy was started of generating hatred between Hindus and Muslims. This was done in a number of ways.

Religious leaders bribed to speak against the other community: The English Collector would secretly call the Panditji, and give him money to speak against Muslims, and similarly he would secretly call the Maulvi and pay him money to speak against Hindus.

History books distorted to generate communal hatred: As already mentioned, it is true that the initial Muslim invaders broke a lot of Hindu temples. However, their descendants (like Akbar, who was the descendant of the invader Babur) who were local Muslims rulers, far from breaking temples, regularly gave grants to Hindu temples, organised Ram Lilas and participated in Holi and Diwali (like the Nawabs of Awadh, Murshidabad and Arcot). This second part of our history, namely, that the descendants of the Muslim invaders, almost all, promoted communal harmony, has been totally suppressed from our history books. Our children are only taught that Mahmud of Ghazni broke the Somnath Temple, but they are not taught that the Mughal emperors, Tipu Sultan, etc., used to give grants to Hindu temples and celebrate Hindu festivals (see online ‘History in the Service of Imperialism’ by B.N. Pande).

Communal riots deliberately instigated: All communal riots began after 1857; there was none before that year. Agent provocateurs deliberately instigated religious hatred in a variety of ways e.g., by playing music before a mosque at prayer time, or breaking Hindu idols.

This poison was systematically injected by the British rulers into our body politic year after year, decade after decade, until it resulted in the Partition of 1947. We still have nefarious elements that promote and thrive on religious hatred.

Whenever a bomb blast takes place, many television news channels start saying that an email or SMS has been received claiming that the Indian Mujahideen, the Jaish-e-Muhammad, or the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al- Islamia has owned responsibility. Now an email or an SMS message can be sent by any mischievous person, but by showing this on TV and the next day in print a subtle impression is created in Hindu minds that all Muslims are terrorists who throw bombs (when the truth is that 99 per cent of all communities are peace loving and good).

During the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, a section of the media (particularly the Hindi print media) became kar sevaks.


Recently, SMS messages were sent to northeast Indians living in Bangalore and other cities stating that they had killed Muslims in Assam and so they had better get out of Bangalore otherwise they would be massacred. This created panic. When the Muslims of Bangalore came to know of this mischief, they organised a feast for the northeast Indians and told them that someone had played mischief, and that Muslims are not against the people from the northeast.

It is time Indians saw through this nefarious game of certain vested interests. India is a country of great diversity, and so the only path to unity and prosperity is equal respect for all communities and sections of society. This was the path shown by our great Emperor Akbar (who, along with Ashoka, was in my opinion the greatest ruler the world has ever seen), who gave equal respect to all communities (see online my judgment Hinsa Virodhak Sangh Vs. Mirzapur Moti Kuresh Jamat).

When India became independent in 1947, religious passions were inflamed. There must have been tremendous pressure on Pandit Nehru and his colleagues to declare India a Hindu state, since Pakistan had declared itself an Islamic state. It was the greatness of our leaders that they kept a cool head and said India would not be a Hindu state but would be a secular state. That is why, relatively speaking, India is much better off in every way as compared to our neighbour.

Secularism does not mean that one cannot practise one’s religion. Secularism means that religion is a private affair unconnected with the state, which will have no religion. In my opinion, secularism is the only policy which can hold our country together and take it to the path of prosperity.

(Markandey Katju is a retired judge of the Supreme Court and Chairperson of the Press Council of India)

Published in The Hindu on 11th October,2012