Saturday, December 10, 2011

On Kapil Sibal - Censorship Row

Covered by The Independent (UK), New Zealand Herald (NZ) and Deccan Chronicle (India)

India cries censorship after minister tells Google to screen out 'offensive' content 

Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, UK

The Indian authorities have sparked outcry by demanding internet companies such as Google and Facebook pre-screen material on their websites and remove anything Indians might consider offensive.

The country's telecommunications minister, Kapil Sibal, confirmed yesterday that the government was preparing a plan for controlling such material, after the large internet firms he had approached had failed to come up with a proposal for self-regulation.

"This is a matter of great concern to us. We have to take care of the sensibility of our people," he told a press conference. "We are seeking their cooperation, and if somebody is not willing to co-operate on incendiary material like this, it is the duty of government to think of steps that we need to take.

"We don't want to interfere in freedom of the press, but this kind of material should not be allowed."
Officials claimed Mr Sibal was in particular trying to prevent the spread of material that was offensive to various religious or ethnic communities. Yesterday, before the press conference in Delhi, he shared details of a website that showed pigs running through the city of Mecca – images that would be deeply offensive to Muslims.

But he also referred to material that purportedly showed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, leader of the ruling Congress Party, in compromising positions. Other reports suggested that he had expressed particular concern during his meetings with internet firms in recent months over offensive material relating to Mrs Gandhi
"I believe that no reasonable person aware of these sensibilities of large sections of communities in this country, and aware of community standards as they are applicable in India, would wish to see this content in the public domain," Mr Sibal said.

The announcement sparked instant controversy, especially on the internet, with people accusing the government of threatening to limit free speech.

Many questioned whether the move would be technically possible. India has around 100 million internet users, and is placed fourth behind China, the United States and Japan in global rankings. The number of users is growing all the time.

"The statement... is a blow to Indian democracy. I feel such a policy will only lead to a curtailing of basic freedom of expression," said Aditya Raj Kaul, an online activist and journalist.

"As a journalist, I fear the days of [a State of Emergency] are not far away if such measures are forced in our system."

Facebook said it would remove material that was "hateful, threatening, incites violence or contains nudity". Its statement added: "We recognise the government's interest in minimising the amount of abusive content that is available online and will continue to engage with the Indian authorities as they debate this important issue."
This is not the first time that the authorities in Delhi have clashed with information technology companies.

Last year, the government threatened to ban the use of BlackBerry devices amid concerns over access to encrypted information.

Research In Motion – maker of the BlackBerry – provided some information to the authorities, but declined to permit the monitoring of its email. The government subsequently backed down.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Devil’s Advocate – Middle-Class turning to Protest Theatre?

A raging debate on safety seems to have taken Mumbai by its tide as the conscience of the Mumbaikar has shaken after the recent murder of two youth in the suburbs. Has the city which is known for its ‘night life’ lost its much talked about safety tag.  Aditya Raj Kaul elaborates on the mindset that the city needs to fight against in this crucial hour.

Once known as a ‘safe haven’, Mumbai has suffered a major jolt after the recent cold-blooded killings of Reuben Fernandes and Keenan Santos while they were defending their female friends from drunk hooligans outside a restaurant in the suburbs of the city.  The killings didn’t merely send tremors across the country but forced the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan to appear on national television ensuring people that the state would demand ‘death penalty’ for the accused since the crime committed could not be tolerated by any means. He however failed to guarantee better policing and complete digitalisation of the Police Control Room (PCR) for efficiency in tackling life threatening eventuality. 

Even as it took more than two weeks for the murder story to get front page lead status in the newspapers and catch the attention of the otherwise busy TRP driven news channels, a fear psychosis seems to have engulfed upon the city which never sleeps. The dastardly act is talk of the town in local trains, colleges, private establishments and even government offices. The youth are burning with rage and especially women feel a sudden sense of insecurity to walk free in the city. And, the murmurs continue to falter the spirits of the Mumbaikars.

The collective conscience of civil society now turns itself into yet another candlelight vigil and an online etition demanding zero tolerance towards crime against women. Who are we protesting against? There are no ‘elite’ powers behind the crime, not even money-muscle men of politicians. The killers, apparently uneducated and from the lowest strata of society who have confessed to the crime and are behind bars facing trial before court. Are we moving towards a protest theatre? 

While organizing the very first online protests and candlelight vigils in the country demanding justice for Jessica Lall, Priyadarshini Mattoo, Nitish Katara, Aman Kachroo and several others since early 2006 what activists had in mind was a deterrent which would impact the criminal mindset from acting in the most barbaric way they had in these cases. The remarkable judgments in the Mattoo and Lall case could have sent a precedent even for the investigative agencies and criminal justice system in the country. While the gory criminal mindset continues to rattle us, it most importantly raises an alarm bell for the governing system to dwell into introspection, furnish modern policing and give the citizens basic rights of security and emergency needs.

The Home Minister of the state has recommended the case to a ‘fast track court’, which is one of the biggest positive developments in the case. The aged parents of murdered Priyadarshini Mattoo had to wait for seven long years for the Delhi High Court to take notice of the dust gathering file and put the case on speedy trial. It didn’t happen overnight. ‘Justice For Priyadarshini Mattoo’, was launched to pressure the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), while people took to the streets across the country demanding fair trial. Now, having come a long way watching such criminal trials, wonder why the middle-class takes on to the streets every time a crime strikes the semi-conscious conscience of us all. Is it to gather the attention of sometimes ignorant national media? Is it the anger against the justice delivery mechanism? Is it the wave against the establishment in the country? Or, are we losing patience to see instant justice on the street in the Rang De Basanti way?

The candle light vigils in the country have sadly now become clichés of upmarket protests for photo opportunities and sound bytes. The online petitions do help spread awareness but not much is achieved till the news channels swoon to action. Till Reuben Fernandes died battling his life in the hospital, the news channels continued to wonder still whether to take up the story. More than eleven days had passed since Keenan Santos had been dead. This underlines the apathy of the common man in the country. Or, for that matter the power of the press! 

What hope do we have for justice in a state where a civil rights activist Arun Ferreira is falsely implicated for having Maoist links and kept as an under trial in jail for years, or 26/11 Mumbai attacks convicted terrorist Kasab who continues to enjoy luxuries of the Arthur Road Jail with ‘death penalty’ pending on till the tedious judicial process ends in this country?

The middle-class has significantly broken the cocoon and ventured out to vent anger against injustice by modern means of protest. While the anger needs to be nourished well to see light of the day, it now seems to have been famished by the undersupply of arguments and misguided missiles being launched. If the democratic values are the essence of these protests, aim should be to spread awareness against the horrific crimes being committed, aim should be to cultivate the notion of right and wrong in the society, aim should be to restore moral education and restrict anger. ‘Death Penalty’ isn’t ultimate justice. 

The anger emanating shouldn’t flicker. All shouldn’t end with a candle light vigil. It has to be a fight against a growing mindset of hate. We ought to reflect the idea of a just society by learning tough lessons. Not all should end as the TV Cameras and reporters disappear.

Featured as Youth Achiever in the India Today Magazine (Simply Delhi)

(Click on the image to enlarge)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

From 'Sexy Insurgency' to 'Writing Revolution'

Originally published for The Indian, Australia. Reprinted for Afternoon Despatch & Courier, Mumbai, India

“Who is on the Maoist side? Who is on the side of the State? 
And it is the ordinary tribals who are getting stuck in this war between the Maoists and the State. Reporting from conflict areas is always hard.” - Rahul Pandita 


In the last two decades, Rahul Pandita has travelled a long way. From his home terrorist-infested state of Kashmir to the urban jungle of New Delhi and further into the Maoist red corridor, he has travelled more on foot rather than surrendering to the editorial comforts of media. A journalist with print and television experience, Rahul is also a recipient of the Red Cross Award for Conflict Reporting 2011 and Northeast Media Fellowship 2001.

For the first time since the days of the Naxalbari movement, a young journalist narrates not a touristy impatient tale, but an on-ground picture of the modern Maoist movement. With direct access to the top Maoist leadership, he provides an authoritative account in his latest book Hello, Bastar – The Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement, recently released in Mumbai. It tells how a handful of young men and women entered Bastar in Central India in 1980 and created a powerful movement that New Delhi now terms as India’s biggest internal security threat. Aditya Raj Kaul in conversation with Rahul Pandita.

How did your reporting from the Maoist conflict zone begin?
Well, I’ve been in journalism for about fifteen years now and very early in my career, I had begun to travel and report from the theatres of war in the heart of India. I’m referring to 1997-98 when every journalist worth his salt would go to Kashmir because Kashmir was the ‘sexy insurgency’. But in the forests of Central India, I could get a sense that in the coming years, the Maoist issue would turn into something big. So I kept on reporting, documenting the lives of ordinary people. Of course, we know now that from 2004-05 onwards, the Maoist insurgency turned into what New Delhi now calls ‘India’s biggest internal security threat’. So, in a way, in the mid-90s itself, I had expected it would have far reaching impact in the coming years.

Were the Maoists apprehensive initially about interacting with someone from far-off urban ‘New Delhi’?

Not really! What happens in these areas is  — and it is true of all conflict zones  — that such areas are like snake pits, one doesn’t really know who is who. Who is on the Maoist side? Who is on the side of the State? And it is the ordinary tribals who are getting stuck in this war between the Maoists and the State. Reporting from conflict areas is always hard. But gradually I established contact with Maoist guerillas, and over the years, we have formed a working relationship. Now, I am not a Maoist sympathiser. And the Maoists know it. But in my reports I try to be as close to the truth as possible and they know it and respect it. The high point of the trust Maoists have in me came in 2009 when I got this rare opportunity to meet their supreme commander Mupalla Laxman Rao popularly known as Ganapathi. I think I am the only journalist he has met in person. He has done a couple of interviews with the BBC through e-mail. But that is it. And then, all of a sudden, I get this interview.

Is the latest book a diary of your journey into the jungles of Bastar?

In 2009, Kobad Ghandy, who is one of the senior Maoist ideologues, was arrested from Delhi. He writes a lot of articles and essays. Before his arrest, there was no difference between a terrorist killed on the Line of Control and a Maoist Guerilla killed in the jungles of Bastar, as far as ordinary people were concerned. But after his arrest, I think that perception changed largely. People came to realise that here was this person who was educated at the Doon School and he was the classmate of the likes of Sanjay Gandhi and Kamal Nath. He (Kobad) came from a very well-to-do Parsi family. And yet, he chose to be a part of this movement. Along with his wife Anuradha, who was also a brilliant student, he chose to live a life of hardship in the jungles of Bastar with tarpaulin sheet as their bedding.  We can question their ideology etc. but I don’t think we can raise a question about their commitment. After his arrest, I thought that this book must come out, based on frontline reporting. Primary sources have been used in 99.9 per cent instances. Most of the books on Maoists read like party literature. But I have kept it very racy. There is a lot of storytelling.

You’ve been a war correspondent for over a decade, covering the Gulf and even at home in Kargil. How hard has it been to report from a troubled zone?

Reporting from a troubled zone is always hard. Like I said, Conflict zones are like snake pits. When I was reporting from Baghdad in 2003, we were at this hotel called Hotel Palestine. As a conflict reporter, one knows that there is very thin line between guts and stupidity. You’ve to keep your eyes and ears open. You remain alive and bring back that story to your readers. Otherwise, when you are dead, you are a bad journalist.

Have you faced any difficulty from the state for covering such a sensitive developing story?

It always helps when you are from the national mainstream media. It is not that easy for the state to touch a journalist who reports from New Delhi, a correspondent from one of the most trusted weeklies. In that way I haven’t been touched directly but as one of the handful of journalists who reports extensively from conflict areas, over a couple of years I would say from the time Binayak Sen was arrested, there has always been this paranoia and we always have this fear that someday the state might hit back at us and brand us a Maoist sympathizers, which is very easy. The Government has done this in the past, they will send a police party to your house or your office and they will pick up some Maoist literature to say that this is objectionable material. The spectrum of sedition is so vague that anybody can come in that domain.

You yourself belong to Kashmir, another troubled state. How difficult or different is covering Kashmir from the Maoist zone?

Kashmir and Maoist zone are completely different problems. As far as I’m concerned, of course, there is a human angle to both tragedies but Kashmir to me is more of a political problem. As for Maoist insurgency, it took the Government of India many years to reluctantly accept that it is not a law and order problem but a socio-economic problem. And I don’t think they still understand it. I think the dimensions of the problem are very different. Over the years the Maoist problem stares back at us at our faces, and the situation there is much grimmer than what we have in Kashmir as of now.

Do you tend to get emotional while covering poverty or hunger? How do you reconcile with it?

As journalists we are told while training that our job is to report and detach yourself from what we’ve seen and report. But there are times when you just cannot do that. Sometimes while reporting from these areas, you tend to become a pressure cooker of emotions. It is very difficult to detach from what you’ve seen. Also,
when you have a reference of context to a better life. So, when I go to Orissa and look at a child who is malnourished, who is on the verge of death and when you visit a particular village and see an old person, aged far beyond his time, and you speak  to him and he says, ‘Sahab, my son died last week’. On asking how, he’ll say he died of a ‘disease’, ‘bookh ka bhimaari’. For such people,  it is a disease. Then you come back to a metropolis like Delhi where you have access to far better life, meet friends in a bar over drinks and end up spending Rs.1,500 for meals for two, which is the amount tribals earn in more than three months.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Autumn of Love

Every year while celebrating the arrival of spring the chords of emotion create ripples through my veins. Today the sea besides me has turned silent. I lay hidden on the boulders besides it with questions galore. The evening is hidden somewhere behind the sea. Darkness isn't far away. It is a matter of few moments. Life has brought me here at a new pedestal in haste. Just as the evening sets in every passing minute, autumn seems to have set in life. The process of detachment has begun. All this while I thought I was in consistent never ending attachment. Now, I remain in waiting for the tide of time to return.

I stare at the melancholy around the sea. Strange shadows seem to be running on these boulders where I sit. In search of a soul. The lost soul of the body. Perhaps, I see my own reflection. My eyes cannot match the pace of the running shadows. I float effortlessly like a bird lost in the vast skyline of desire!

It is an unannounced journey far away from home. In an unknown land of dreams two hours away from the land of reality where I remained in exile all these last twenty two years. In exile, every shelter is home. I remain in exile, at home!

The separation has left me sleepless. I am like a wandering shadow in love. Shadows have a short life span. They die much before an opportunity to clench hands of the beloved till eternity. Shadow is dead before turning at the fork on the road. The fork for which I waited has disappeared in a sweet fragrance. A girl named love is lost. Lost she is. Before those hands could meet to rest forever in union!

Those eyes understand love. The echoes of my silent heart reflecting in them. Her face like a fairy. Smile as a tender flower. I wonder how many rebirths will it take to find my lost beloved?

The lifeless shell on the sea shore shook me from this solitude! Only to become a catalyst in itself!

I want to turn the wheels of time. And, scream before the world, to get me the one who is lost. The one who let me drown in the depth of the sparkling eyes of faith. The kohl eyes!

Like that poet who is a phoenix writing his last song longing for love before being consumed by the flames of his own fire! I see my own reflection in the phoenix.

In such times when I weep for the lost beloved through the gloomy night, Shiv Kumar Batalvi, the phoenix above, gives me solace.  

In the 'Pinch of Separation' (translation into English of the song 'Maae Nii Maae') he says:

My songs are like eyes
That sting with the grains of separation.
In the middle of the night ,
They wake and weep for dead friends.
Mother, I cannot sleep!

Soaked in perfume,
But the pain does not recede.
I foment them
With warm sighs,
Yet they turn on me ferociously.

And need guidance myself.
Who can advise him?
Mother, would you tell him,
To clench his lips when he weeps,
Or the world will hear him cry.

Tell him, mother, to swallow the bread
Of separation.
He is fated to mourn.
Tell him to lick the salty dew
On the roses of sorrow,
And stay strong.

Who are the snake handlers
From whom I can get another skin?
Give me a cover for myself.
How can I wait like a jogi
At the doorstep of these people
Greedy for gold?

Listen, o my pain,
Love is that butterfly
Which is pinned forever to a stake.
Love is that bee,
From whom desire,
Stays miles away.

Love is that palace
Where nothing lives
Except for the birds.
Love is that hearth
Where the colored bed of fulfillment,
Is never laid.

Mother, tell him not to
Call out the name of his dead friends
So loudly in the middle of the night.
When I am gone, I fear
That this malicious world,
Will say that my songs were evil.

Mother, o mother
My songs are like eyes
That sting with the grains of separation.
In the middle of the night ,
They wake and weep for dead friends.
Mother, I cannot sleep!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hello Bastar - The Untold Story Of India's Maoist Movement by Rahul Pandita

With direct access to the top Maoist leadership, Rahul Pandita provides an authoritative account of how a handful of men and women, who believed in the idea of revolution, entered Bastar in Central India in 1980 and created a powerful movement that New Delhi now terms as India's biggest internal security threat. It traces the circumstances due to which the Maoist movement entrenched itself in about 10 states of India, carrying out deadly attacks against the Indian establishment in the name of the poor and the marginalised. It offers rare insight into the lives of Maoist guerillas and also of the Adivasi tribals living in the Red zone. Based on exten- sive on-ground reportage and exhaustive interviews with Maoist leaders including their supreme command- er Ganapathi, Kobad Ghandy and others who are jailed or have been killed in police encounters, this book is a combination of firsthand storytelling and intrepid analysis. 

Rahul Pandita, seen here in the jungles of Bastar, along a flooded river, with a friend. 
About the Author

Rahul Pandita is a senior Special Correspondent with the Open Magazine. He is the co-author of the critically acclaimed book on insurgency: The Absent State. He has extensively reported from conflict zones ranging from Bastar to Baghdad.
Edition - Published in June 2011
Price - Rs. 250 (Shipping, Courier extra)
The Book can be ordered from Utpal Publications -
E-mail -

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

From the diary of an exile

This piece was also published at NEWSGRAM

The fear of turning old has been recurring all through these last few months. Not that the grey hair would bother my ego, not even the flab of dry whitish-brown skin protruding out from the calcium-less bones. I for once haven’t tried being conscious of my looks or even the ever growing beard lately. Most of my life has been without any particular fear. In more liberal fashioned tone, it has been ‘fearless’.

As I’m driving away in the dark to seek solitude, the fear develops stronger. It brings some quick sweat on my face and the deep forehead, added along is some rattling effect on my nerves. With my right foot pressed hard against the accelerator on this empty city road far away from the city of my thoughts. The racing heart is faster than the car at this point. I wish to stop and run away to my ‘home’. Though I know I can’t.

There seems no ‘bring to an end’ to this journey. The farther I travel, more I seek to return. The time dissolves into memory. In this thorny path ahead of me, I see an identity-less non-stop journey into darkness. The journey itself begins in darkness of hope. An ironic life of a wandering soul!

Most nights are spent in the ‘white and black’ of the unseen past. Past being a predicament as much as the future.

I stare at the photograph of a rare sparrow sitting on the gate of a mausoleum with her back turned towards me; on the front is a ‘hazy green’. One of the many photographs pasted above my work desk. The haziness of this forced journey is unpredictable. In this concrete jungle, I do not long for another machine. All I yell for is my lost abode.

Is it the fear of turning old? Or, perhaps of being a ‘homeless’ at the fag-end of life; an ordeal haunting an exile. ‘Freedom is a prison for the exiles’, says an author friend.  I remain confined in that prison lark.

Just as the withered dislocated leaf of ‘Chinar’ which narrates the agony in its fire brown tint before being crumbled, the fear in me shall pass. The silent journey alone to my homeland shall never end. I shall remain young forever to recount the ‘untold story’ of a forgotten tribe. The tribe that existed in their homeland, not so far long ago!

In the words of Gulzar,

ज़िन्दगी यूं ना हुई बसर तनहा, काफिला साथ और सफ़र तनहा!
हमने दरवाजे तक तो देखा था, फिर ना जाने गए किधर तनहा!

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Kohl Eyes

Not all eyes speak. ‘To the point’, they always remain neglected, ignored. 

Those eyes, however, engage me in a soft conversation. The kohl of her eyes, as if protecting the melancholy. Perhaps, the hidden melancholy of her lost love. Or, my own!

I could see myself in her fixed eyes. Not just in her shades. Within them in those sparkling eyes I stood with a moment less gaze.

Where do I take refuge now to escape from this time of parting? I wonder! The pain has replaced the savour. I hope this pain remains unbroken, forever. Until those eyes return! The kohl eyes!

As we are drawn closer to the time of parting, I’m withdrawn apart in Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s song 'Ik Kudi' :

Ik kudi
Jidda naam mohabbat
Saad muradi
Soni fabbat
Gumm hai, gumm hai
Gumm hai

(A girl
Named love
She is lost
Lost she is)

And, I hope I don’t change, as till this day. The ‘point of view’ would matter as it does today! 

The day isn’t far, when the lost will be found. The coffee will taste the same, as the shreds of garlic bread will remain mute spectators to us both. You and me.

Amid a quiet journey on my way home, I hum a song from ‘I AM’ - “Aankhein Kuch Keh Rahi, Yeh Aankhein, Yeh Kuch Keh Rahi, Keh De Tu Keh De Tujhe, Chup Chap Kaise Rahein”.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The changing face of Revolution through New Media

 by Aditya Raj Kaul
Published in 'Media Watch' of The Sunday Indian Magazine and Free Press Journal, Mumbai
In the year 1930, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Civil Disobedience Movement in India against the forced British rule, which ultimately set the base for the final leg of freedom struggle. The Gandhian era wasn’t communication friendly. In those times, messengers had to travel on foot or on a horse across the length and breadth of the country to convey important information. A collective movement in a large country such as India was a mighty task to achieve with primitive means of communication and restricted mode of travel.

Almost eighty years after Gandhi launched Satyagraha through the historic Dandi March, yet another part of the world took inspiration to step ahead towards democracy. Egypt, popularly known as Misre in India fought long time president Hosni Mubarak to gain ultimate freedom, though it didn’t take years of struggle this time. In merely 18 days, Egypt was a nation celebrating fresh democracy. This in spite of the new age weaponry and defence arsenal baggage carried by the thrown away president Mubarak.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the face of the revolution in Egypt in his own words praised Gandhi for helping him bring political transformation to his home nation. "I told protesters about Gandhi and the way he took on the British colonial rulers. Gandhi's non-violent struggle helped us in our journey to freedom," ElBaradei, the noble laureate, was quoted saying in media.

ElBaradei’s technique of non-violence and Gandhian non-cooperation, however, may not have alone led to Egypt taste freedom so early had Wael Ghonim, a young crusader and an expert on internet technology not been in picture. Ghonim, who initiated massive campaign on facebook and twitter has become a symbol for the Egyptian movement.

On Facebook, more than 85,000 people pledged to attend a nationwide anti-government protest planned for January 25th, in Egypt this year.

“This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. This revolution started [...] in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I've always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet,” said Ghonim in an internationally televised interview.

All thanks to such instant modes of communication which we call the ‘new media’, the more traditional forms of media have taken a backseat. The TRPs of the various news channels have fallen gradually. On the other hand in the past decade, the newspaper readership has decreased more than 5% which according to experts is a massive shift being seen globally. The ‘internet’ connectivity has been only increasing all this time.
The ‘new media’ has as well contributed an altogether new format of news production being called the ‘Citizen Journalism’. An individual today is merely just a click away from pool of information sharing. Twitter is being seen as the CNN of the west. 

New Media expert Jeff Pulver calls this the era of “now” media, fuelled by new and social media and the people who power Twitter and other popular networks. The pursuit of “now” is conditioning us to expect information as it happens, whether it’s accurate or developing.

News media can’t keep pace with the new world of media consumption and the insatiable appetite for information—especially when it has yet to understand the true promise and opportunity that Social Media represents. This isn’t about adapting an existing model to new, popular broadcast channels. It’s about expanding and forcing a fundamental renaissance within the news machine itself—transforming and creating how these media giants can monetize new streams and platforms.

Clearly, as someone just tweeted, “News doesn’t break, it tweets.”

One of the biggest setbacks that the Governments all across the globe today suffer is through the Wikileaks expose by young Julian Assange. The website of the portal defines its objectives clearly as, “WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices.” 

According to the Time Magazine, “Wikileaks could become as important a journalistic tool as a freedom of information act”. It certainly without an inch of doubt brings a paradigm shift in the way news is gathered and thrown open to public without delay in packaging content.

While Wikileaks ethically practices journalism of utmost courage and confidentiality, the response of the Governments all across globe which have been exposed in public is shocking. Assange, faces serious cases of rape in Sweden, while he has been announced an enemy of the state by his home state Australia and even the United States. The United Kingdom on the other hand is planning to extradite him to Sweden to face trial even though the Judge in the Sweden Court trashed the file of cases slapped against him. In the days ahead, it would be important to monitor the further Wikileaks expose and if at all any upcoming global power would be willing to shelter its most wanted founder Julian Aassange. 

India, for that matter is still a generation behind other global powers in terms of an online revolution. In the years gone past, virtual campaigns for justice in various cases of murder, rape and even accountability have met successful culmination. These campaigns among which include justice campaigns for slain model Jessica Lall and law student Priyadarshini Mattoo were initiated online in the year 2006 and forced the courts and investigative agencies to act without delay. The same year in April, students from all across India campaigned against the directive of the Government of India to implement further caste based reservations to Other Backward Castes (OBC) in institutions of higher learning and central universities. Interestingly, student community mobilised support online through a petition asking signatures. The then president of India noticing lakhs of signatures invited the representatives of the student community for talks on the reservation policy and promised to request government to re-think the policy.

In the year 2005 after much campaign by activists across India, the Government was forced to enact the Right to Information Act which called for greater transparency in the functioning of the Government. It was a movement of euphoria. All citizens of India could now easily demand and question the Government on any policy or delay in work. This could happen online and the department concerned had to reply within a stipulated time or face penalty. There even have been campaigns over the internet to motivate people to understand the importance of a single vote in the elections. This has proved beneficial to the largest democracy.

All didn’t go positive. The year 2010 saw pro-secession separatist groups in Kashmir using online medium for instigating violent protests against minority communities and India as a whole. The Police had a tough time facing the paid stone pelters and the state was locked down for several months.

However, India still needs a focused online platform to raise awareness against the growing menace of corruption which has crippled the functioning of the state in a non-partisan manner. A platform which unites all the citizens and makes the representatives in the Parliament suffer the cost of indulging in such malpractices. It would still take time as the recent ‘Radia tapes’ tell us the story of our own media bosses who are purchased for a hefty sum to help the interests of a particular lobby. In the days ahead, perhaps, the online medium of communication generates a non-purchasable, non-breakable platform for a newer stronger nation to emerge.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Taking on Separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani at the India Today Conclave 2011

Aditya Raj Kaul, India Editor of The Indian, Australia and Founder of Roots In Kashmir who was participating in the India Today Conclave 2011, talked about his own experience and accused Geelani of being true only to his "masters" in Pakistan and not even to his own moderate leaders, such as Abdul Gani Lone who was allegedly killed by the Hurriyat hardliners.

Monday, February 28, 2011

“Freedom is a prison for the exiles,” Siddhartha Gigoo

Blerim Kasneci once wrote “I am old sorrow and past predicament/Now, without identity in a street nameless to me, I am a stranger/I am longings, I am fears.” Kasneci’s poetry in exile reflects in Sridhar, a character in The Garden of Solitude written by debut novelist Siddhartha Gigoo.

Gigoo, who hails from India’s northern most part of Kashmir, met exodus in 1990 along with half a million Kashmiri Pandits, an ethnic minority in the region. The novel which released early this year has conquered among the top three in fiction charts across India.

Aditya Raj Kaul, India Editor, The Indian, Australia interviewed the author on the day he completes 21 years in exile.

1. What made you to write a novel on the exile of Kashmiri Pandits?

When I was a kid, I dreamt of becoming a writer. That was because I was a reader of novels and hated text books. I was fascinated with how writers create a universe. A universe more alive and more magical than the one in which we live. And sometimes more real too! I always wanted to write a story of a boy who gets to journey through the vicissitudes of life in search of something ineffable. This was my fancy perhaps. An odyssey of sorts in which the protagonist is trapped in a world riddled with love, hate, madness, and paradoxes. Those were the peaceful times in Kashmir. And I was in my teens. But in the years 1989 and 1990, things changed; almost overnight! As if a war had broken out in Kashmir. In the days to follow, I saw thousands of Kashmiri Pandits leave their homes, in the dead of the nights, and seek refuge in camps and small tenements elsewhere. And then the divide between the Muslims and the Pandits! It was sad. People changed overnight. There was bitterness all around; there was chaos too. Over the years both communities lost a lot. The life of Pandits in exile haunted me.

When I started writing the novel, I had to excavate some remnants of my memory from an abyss. I struggled with the craft. It was difficult at times when I found myself dissatisfied with my writing. I still am. One must learn to live with one's failures. And yet have the courage to go on, despite the misery, the despair and the loneliness. I wrote during nights. I forced myself to get transported into the past, so that I could write about it. Moreover, I saw that my dream had returned to haunt me. I saw myself at the same places that I had dreamt of during my childhood. Those places were a refugee camp, a dwelling by a riverside, a decrepit house with windows open, a vast saffron field and a no-place. Freedom became a prison for the exiles.

2. Who has been your inspiration?

I am not sure who my inspiration is. But I owe a lot to those nameless people who lost their precious possessions due to the conflict in Kashmir. In some cases those possessions were time, beauty, love, peace and silence. Their stories, however small, have moved me and inspired me. My family supported me, always.

3. Does the main character Sridar in your novel reflect memoirs from your own life?

The protagonist could be my 'other' or the 'other me'. I yearn to be like him. How I wish I was a character in any of the great novels I have read.

4. What is your own recollection from the period of exodus around 1990?

When I go back to those days, I can still hear some echoes of shrieks and silences. Mute faces of old exiles! Old men and women pining for one last look at their homes which they had left behind. And later, the loss of memory! The chaos, the long wait! The young men and women, dazed and directionless, yet with fire in them, struggling in alien surroundings! Then more years and a long silence! My memory is hazy a bit now.

5. What do you think is the solution to Kashmir problem?
I wish I had a clue. Can one get back what has been lost forever? Common people have paid for the mistakes of the politicians. But this is how the world is. This is how history descends upon innocence and tramples it.

6. Do the Kashmiri Pandits in the camps of Jammu know about your book?

I don't know. My book is dedicated to an exile. How I wish I could visit the camps once more and present copies of my novel to them.

7. How has been the overall response after the book hit the stores on 7th January?

I am more interested in what readers say and comment. Yet I am scared that my book is being read. Have I exposed my imperfections, I fear?

8. What are you more comfortable with - prose or poetry? Why?

I love poetry. I love to read poetry from across the world. But I was bad at writing poetry. Prose has its challenges. I wanted to give it a try. And I am learning how to write by reading some great modern novelists.

9. Was it difficult to pen a novel on such sensitive subject because of grave ideological clashes in the region?

Kashmir is a sensitive subject. My story is not. The story is just like any other story; of love, of loss and of longing. I am aware of the ideological aspects, especially when people discuss Kashmir. I keep away from ideology. I revel in ironies and paradoxes of life and people.

10. Who all do you read more often among the Indian and International authors?

Some of my favourites are Nikos Kazantzakis, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anatole France, Fernando Pessoa, GW Sebald, Garcia Marquez, Faulkner, John Fowls, Salman Rushdie, among others.

11. Any more future projects lined up?

I am trying to write short stories.