Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Freedom of the Press in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh

Two cases, and in one, the victim has managed to get comprehensive protection with the help of the Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday restrained the Narendra Modi government from arresting political analyst Ashis Nandy pursuant to registration of a case against him for writing an article, “Blame the middle class,” in a national newspaper.

A vacation Bench consisting of Justices Altamas Kabir and G.S. Singhvi also cancelled the summons issued by the inspector of the Satellite Police Station, Ahmedabad, seeking his appearance for interrogation on July 8. “Any further summons issued against Mr. Nandy in future relating to the case will stand quashed.”

In the other case, the government has used a law with a noble purpose (of preventing atrocities on Dalits and Adivasis) to gag journalists whose 'crime' appears to be one of airing their (negative) opinion of a political leader who happens to be a Dalit. The journalists are out on bail, but the case against them has not been withdrawn. In a must read post, Vivek Reddy summarizes the case, and shows how these arrests are illegal -- from not not just one, but four legal angles. Here's the first:

First, the State Government cannot invoke the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act merely because a member of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe is insulted or humiliated. It can only be invoked when a member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe has been insulted or humiliated only on account of he being a member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe. If he is insulted or humiliated for any other reason, then this Act is inapplicable. This is the settled legal position and any other contrary view would imply that members of Scheduled Castes are immune from all criticism and insult, even if it is justifiable. To illustrate, if the effigy of Chief Minister Mayawati (who is a member of Scheduled Caste) is burnt in protest against some action taken by her or speech given by her, the provisions of this Act cannot be invoked because she is not being insulted on account of her being a member of Scheduled Caste. In the present case, the effigy of Krishna Madiga was being burnt not on account of he being a member of Scheduled Caste, but rather in protest against attack on the newspaper offices by the organization headed by Krishna Madiga. The State Government’s action goes against the purpose of the Act.