In the Age of Incendiary Interpretations, FOE (Freedom of Expression) has hijacked the licence to thrill. ‘Damn the law. Individual views take precedence over legal and an even constitutional boundary’ is the motto of the moment. Last week, Delhi High Court directed a few media organisations to deposit Rs 10 lakh each with the court; the money would be transferred to the Jammu and Kashmir victims compensation fund.
In flagrant contravention of Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, several media houses had named the Kathua rape victim, shared her picture in their publications and TV channels and further sensationalised the macabre tragedy by showing her mutilated corpse discarded in the jungle like the fatal fruit of an unspeakable tragedy.
A toxic mix of arrogance and ignorance coupled with a weak legal establishment has encouraged the feeling among the FOE fighters that they can defy legal restrictions with elan and without retribution. It was showmanship of the worst sort on display, revealing the insensitivity of a new generation of opportunistic media mavens whose main journalistic purpose is to seek attention rather than address an issue according to established conventions of decency and humanity.
The cruelty and brutality of the beasts of Kathua were assimilated into a macabre media mythology where the name and the face of an eight-year-old rape and murder victim were part of a larger sales pitch to attract a luridly obsessive audience. Finally, it was left to the judiciary to defend the child’s dignity and privacy against the competitive media exploitation of her doomed life.
Never before have the media and opinion makers been obsessed so much by the urge to publicise the name and face of a victim to add vicious viscosity to the nature of the crime. Statistically speaking, about 110 girls and women fall prey every day to the lust of criminals across the country. They belong to different castes, communities and regions. But none of them are named. Even after the gruesome rape and murder of a young physiotherapist on a chilly 2012 December night in New Delhi that excoriated the national conscience, the press desisted from disclosing her identity; choosing to name her Nirbhaya as a definition for the fearlessness of women.
The truth about Kathua is that the self-proclaimed protectors of FOE do not treat Kashmir like any other part of India, but as a state that enjoys special status under Article 351. It was later revealed that around the time the little nomadic girl was killed, similar incidents had occurred in some other BJP-ruled states. Inexplicably, none of the hyperactive FOE megaphones took to the social, electronic and print forums demanding justice for them.
Is it because tragedies in Assam, Gujarat, Haryana or Tamil Nadu would not bring them as many global laurels as one that happened in Kashmir? Even as the Kathua victim became a cause celebre for the international media and the United Nations demanded accountability from Indian agencies, a Class V student in Assam’s Nagaon district was set on fire after being gang-raped by three boys. Though the local press did indirectly reveal her identity and the names of the perpetrators, the national media refrained from behaving like Kathua-obsessed FOE exhibitionists. Neither did they name the Dalit teenager who had charged a BJP legislator with raping her.
These are dark times we live in when freedom of expression has been usurped by the anarchy of exhibitionism. How and why does a section of the media, politics, academics and even the legal profession get away with such a brazen violation of such a sensitive law? None of the instruments of state such as the police, the executive and even the judiciary had taken serious cognizance of the violation until now.
The chief minister, the director general of police and the ageing governor of the state chose to mimic the Mahatma’s monkeys. The legal fraternity of Jammu, led by some politically affiliated worthies and inflamed by regional emotional considerations, mocked the very justice they were sworn to plead for, by taking out huge processions and preventing the police from chargesheeting the accused – all the while waving the tricolour.
In India, selective respect for law is the new normal. Today judicial verdicts and conventions are followed only if they are in line with political affiliations, ideological convictions and religious commitments. Even the national flag is being subjected to communal and political convictions. Though the law specifically prohibits insulting the tricolour, there are too many instances these days of libtards and neo-nationalists taking confrontationist stances on the basis of the names of violators.
The law also has specific rules on portraying gods in cinema, theatre and literature; that any action, written, or verbal, which causes communal disharmony will be considered a crime. Yet , when any state action is initiated against a person of a particular religion for defaming or distorting Hindu deities and icons, the liberal brigade cries foul and laments that creativity is in peril. But when anyone even indirectly takes an artistic liberty with non-Hindu religious figures, it is considered a threat to the inclusive culture of India.
The rising tendency to intimidate the judiciary in the name of FOE is posing an expanding threat to the rule of law. A motivated cabal of opinion makers is engaged in viewing judicial verdicts through the hallucinatory prism of their distorted opinion of FOE, which often ends up in questioning the integrity of the judges. There is no doubt that a section of the Indian judiciary has become notorious for its questionable conduct; however, by and large, the judiciary has protected its fairness, independence and objectivity.
It faces an uphill task in reining in the new breed of democratic nihilists who are determined to make a mockery of the Constitution. The majestic volume of the Constitution is being assaulted by a multitude of sinister silverfishes, thereby slowly shredding an article of faith for all law-abiding Indians as its pages are being torn up by the fake friends of FOE. Today, freedom is under threat from the very renegades who are fighting for liberty in its name.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla