Skip to main content

Freedom of expression a driver for all other human rights: Why is India slipping?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* 

Joseph Stiglitz, the 2001 Nobel Prize recipient in Economic Sciences said, “Free speech and a free press not only make abuses of governmental powers less likely; they also enhance the likelihood that people’s basic social needs will be met. Secrecy reduces the information available to the citizenry, hobbling people’s ability to participate meaningfully. Essentially, meaningful participation in democratic processes requires informed participants”.
Profound and meaningful words indeed -- which ring more than true today, particularly in India! Freedom of Speech and Expression has reached abysmal depths, its nadir. Those who take a stand: write and speak against the Government and the ruling party are hauled up, false cases are foisted on them, they are attacked and even killed like Gauri Lankesh, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and others in recent years.
Human rights defenders and anyone who expresses dissent are systematically and brutally targeted in India today! Most of the media (print and electronic) are ‘godified’: they toe the line of their political masters, they are bought up (paid media), corporatized and co-opted. It is not a state secret, very visible; if they do not so, they have to pay the price- which is heavy indeed!
It is not surprising that India is slipping every year in the World Freedom Index. According to the latest report released by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the situation has gone from “problematic” to “very bad” in India, whose ranking is down by 11 at 161st. The report underlines, “In India, media takeovers by oligarchs close to Prime Minister Modi have jeopardised pluralism.” Last year the World Press Freedom Index 2022 ranked India 150 out of 180 countries in the world.
RSF’s World Press Freedom Index has become an important global tool to measure press freedom, scoring and ranking 180 countries and territories. Each year’s Index prompts reactions from officials around the world, including the expected reactions from India! Given the state of Freedom of Speech and Expression in the country today, it was already doubtful a even before the latest RSF report was released whether India has any chances of improving on its pathetic 150 ranking of 2022.
World Press Freedom Day on 3 May is an annual commemoration adopted by the United Nations in 1993.This year it is the 30th anniversary since the UN General Assembly’s decision proclaiming an international day for press freedom. The theme this year is significant: Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights. It powerfully signifies the enabling element of freedom of expression to enjoy and protect all other human rights.  Something which India desperately needs and years for!
As a backgrounder for the day the UN has provided a path-breaking concept note. The opening para sets the tone for the entire day and of the appropriateness and urgency of the theme:
“This proclamation marked the beginning of substantial progress towards enabling a free press and freedom of expression around the world – with the proliferation of independent media in many countries and the rise of digital technologies enabling the free flow of information online. Three decades have passed, with advancements in the respect for human rights and in related international frameworks. However, media freedom, safety of journalists and freedom of expression are increasingly under attack, which impacts the realization of other human rights.
“The international community faces multiple crises; conflicts and violence, persistent socio-economic inequalities driving migration, environmental crises and challenges to the health and well-being of people all around the world, while disinformation and misinformation online and offline proliferate with serious impact on the institutions underpinning democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
“Polarised political and societal discourse; erosion of trust; impositions of states of emergency and internet shutdowns; crackdown on critical voices and independent media; news desertification due to the collapse of traditional media business models; and tackling hate speech and online harms that disregard international standards, pose new threats to freedom of expression, and the fundamental role of human rights.
“It is exactly to counter these critical situations and threats, that press freedom, safety of journalists and access to information take centre stage.”

The concept note is an authentic reflection of the reality that has gripped India since 2014. The right to freedom of expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a prerequisite and a driver to the enjoyment of all other human rights. Article 19 of the Constitution of India guarantees to every citizen freedom of speech and expression.
Proliferation of independent media in many countries and rise of digital technologies enabling the free flow of information online
In the recent past the regime has systematically targeted and even throttled (sometimes in seemingly innocuous ways) all those who have dared oppose them or critiqued their policies and falsehoods. On the other hand, their ‘bhakts’, crony capitalist friends and those who accept the ideology of fascists, have no qualms of conscience spewing venomous hate speeches, denigrating and demonizing minorities and inciting people to violence.
They do so with impunity, with the law-and-order mechanism as accomplices in these crimes, knowing fully well that they are cloaked with immunity! Absolutely nothing, they are cock-sure, will happen to them!
Human rights of the poor and the vulnerable, the excluded and the exploited, the minorities and the other marginalised are not only denied, trampled upon but are blatantly violated. For example, ‘The Kashmir Files’ and now the soon-to -be-released ‘The Kerala Story’, reek with lies, denigration and perversion that would make any thinking Indian who cherishes freedom of speech and expression to hang one’s head down in shame!
Ironically, the two-part BBC documentary on ‘The Modi Question’ with incontrovertible facts and authentic visuals is banned from screening/ viewing in India, because it reveals the whole truth and urges the viewer towards a more just and humane society!
The note reiterates, that this year’s special thirtieth anniversary celebration of World Press Freedom Day is therefore a call to recentre press freedom, as well as independent, pluralistic, inclusive and diverse media, as necessary key to the enjoyment of all other human rights.
This anniversary coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Conference and its Declaration and Programme of Action on Human Rights, which established important institutions safeguarding human rights, and with the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On this occasion, the global community will debate and set the agenda for both the development of human rights and how to protect them in an everchanging world, and World Press Freedom Day will serve as an opportunity to put a strong focus on freedom of expression within the overall human rights agenda.
The question is: will India as a nation and as many citizens of the country as possible, have the audacity to dare by shaping a future of rights wherein the freedom of expression becomes a driver for all other human rights?
---
*Human right, reconciliation & peace activist/writer

Comments

TRENDING

Vaccine nationalism? Covaxin isn't safe either, perhaps it's worse: Experts

By Rajiv Shah  I was a little awestruck: The news had already spread that Astrazeneca – whose Indian variant Covishield was delivered to nearly 80% of Indian vaccine recipients during the Covid-19 era – has been withdrawn by the manufacturers following the admission by its UK pharma giant that its Covid-19 vector-based vaccine in “rare” instances cause TTS, or “thrombocytopenia thrombosis syndrome”, which lead to the blood to clump and form clots. The vaccine reportedly led to at least 81 deaths in the UK.

'Scientifically flawed': 22 examples of the failure of vaccine passports

By Vratesh Srivastava*   Vaccine passports were introduced in late 2021 in a number of places across the world, with the primary objective of curtailing community spread and inducing "vaccine hesitant" people to get vaccinated, ostensibly to ensure herd immunity. The case for vaccine passports was scientifically flawed and ethically questionable.

'Misleading' ads: Are our celebrities and public figures acting responsibly?

By Deepika* It is imperative for celebrities and public figures to act responsibly while endorsing a consumer product, the Supreme Court said as it recently clamped down on misleading advertisements.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

Palm oil industry deceptively using geenwashing to market products

By Athena*  Corporate hypocrisy is a masterclass in manipulation that mostly remains undetected by consumers and citizens. Companies often boast about their environmental and social responsibilities. Yet their actions betray these promises, creating a chasm between their public image and the grim on-the-ground reality. This duplicity and severely erodes public trust and undermines the strong foundations of our society.

'Fake encounter': 12 Adivasis killed being dubbed Maoists, says FACAM

Counterview Desk   The civil rights network* Forum Against Corporatization and Militarization (FACAM), even as condemn what it has called "fake encounter" of 12 Adivasi villagers in Gangaloor, has taken strong exception to they being presented by the authorities as Maoists.

Mired in controversy, India's polio jab programme 'led to suffering, misery'

By Vratesh Srivastava*  Following the 1988 World Health Assembly declaration to eradicate polio by the year 2000, to which India was a signatory, India ran intensive pulse polio immunization campaigns since 1995. After 19 years, in 2014, polio was declared officially eradicated in India. India was formally acknowledged by WHO as being free of polio.

No compensation to family, reluctance to file FIR: Manual scavengers' death

By Arun Khote, Sanjeev Kumar*  Recently, there have been four instances of horrifying deaths of sewer/septic tank workers in Uttar Pradesh. On 2 May, 2024, Shobran Yadav, 56, and his son Sushil Yadav, 28, died from suffocation while cleaning a sewer line in Lucknow’s Wazirganj area. In another incident on 3 May 2024, two workers Nooni Mandal, 36 and Kokan Mandal aka Tapan Mandal, 40 were killed while cleaning the septic tank in a house in Noida, Sector 26. The two workers were residents of Malda district of West Bengal and lived in the slum area of Noida Sector 9. 

India 'not keen' on legally binding global treaty to reduce plastic production

By Rajiv Shah  Even as offering lip-service to the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEA) for the need to curb plastic production, the Government of India appears reluctant in reducing the production of plastic. A senior participant at the UNEP’s fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4), which took place in Ottawa in April last week, told a plastics pollution seminar that India, along with China and Russia, did not want any legally binding agreement for curbing plastic pollution.