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Pakistan - India: Shriking Freedom of Expression - Press Release by Delhi Chapter of PIPFPD - 21 July 2014

22 July 2014

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PAKISTAN INDIA PEOPLES’ FORUM FOR PEACE & DEMOCRACY
(DELHI STATE CHAPTER)
C—38 (Basement), Lajpat Nagar – I, New Delhi
Contacts: 09811081240, 09868165471, 011-26687725 Website: www.pipfpd.org

Press Release July 21, 2014

Realities of Freedom & Expression-Imprints from Pakistan and India
Is what is happening in Pakistan & India because of the spread of fear?
Or is it because of connivance?

This is the most crucial question that we need to pose to the people of Pakistan & India when we talk in the context of freedom of speech and expression.

The Delhi Chapter of Pakistan India Peoples’ Forum for Peace & Democracy (PIPFPD) held the State Convention on July 19, 2014 at the Jawaharlal Nehru National Youth Centre, New Delhi. Various future activities of the Forum were planned out along with a review of the Delhi Chapter’s work since the last convention. This was followed by a Public Meeting.

The theme for the Convention’s Public Meeting was ‘Realities of Freedom & Expression-Imprints from Pakistan and India’. The speakers who addressed the public meeting included Comrade B.M Kutty (Veteran Peace Activist and Founder Member PIPFPD), Meena Menon (Deputy Editor, The Hindu), Jawed Naqvi (Senior Journalist, The Dawn), Sumit Chakravarty (Editor, Mainstream), Shivam Vij (Journalist writing extensively on Indo-Pak issues), Jatin Desai (General Secretary, PIPFPD) and Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty (Senior academician and South Asia expert) chaired the public meeting.

A common thread of discussions at the Convention was that there definitely is a need for consistency and continuity in the track II and track III dialogue processes. It was observed that in the aftermath of Ved Pratap Vaidik’s meeting with Hafiz Saeed there is a systematic effort to undermine and negate the importance of track II and track III diplomacy. This is unacceptable since these help in primarily creating a conducive atmosphere for official dialogue. There is a need to understand that there is a difference between people talking and governments talking and that is important when we say that countries are talking. It is essential that people on both sides speak to each other and that has been made possible by public platforms, the journalists clubs, and Trade Unions and others. It is important to recognize these initiatives and not just the flag holding politics that the governments and its diplomatic communities hold.

Highlighting the shrinking space of democracy in both the countries, the recent case of Indian journalists was mentioned. Meena Menon of the Hindu and Snehesh Philip of PTI were told to return from Pakistan, an act for which no reason was given, was seen as disappointing and shocking since the journalists community has for decades been one of the strongest threads that has continued to enhance peace processes between the two countries. It is to be noted that there are no Pakistani journalists in India since last few years. The Forum has demanded that both the governments should immediately take steps to facilitate the journalists coming to each others countries. Also, it is necessary to give them multiple entry and multiple city visa.

Intolerance in both countries has been on the rise and there is a need for the governments to not just talk of peace but engage with the critical issues that the people in both countries are facing. Journalists, lawyers, human rights activists, common people using social media, writers, poets are all voices of the people and attempts at restricting such voices is a reflection of the kind of society we are building. Moreover, attacks on common people, purely because of their belonging to a certain community or attacks on school children wanting an education are undoubtedly the reflections of a repressive society.

Two Months ago in Multan, renowned human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman was brutally murdered. Around the same time, Senior Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir was shot at in Karachi. These are stating just a few of the many incidents where repression and silencing of democratic voices seems to have become the norm. Some of the worst effects of this are also seen on children not being allowed to get an education, especially cases of girl children being attacked.

In India, in the past some time, at least three cases have been filed for criticising the PM on social media. In June this year, a 28 year old Mohsin Mohammad Sadiq Shaikh, was brutally murdered by members of an extremist communal group, Hindu Rashtra Sena (HRS) in Pune. He was killed on the basis of nothing but his attire and the groups anger over morphed pictures of Shivaji and late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray that had appeared on Facebook. The very night Shaikh was killed, another Muslim, Amin Harun Shaikh, was attacked by the same mob.

Along with all this an attack on freedom of expression is also at the forefront, where a campaign against books like those of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus; An Alternative History have taken place; Megha Kumar’s Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969 has been withdrawn by the publishers Orient Blackswan. This kind of capitulation before threats and attacks, driven by vested interests has contributed to muzzling of freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression and the space for dissent within a democratic framework are critical and are under threat today. The situation in both the countries is different but with new governments being formed in both, it is important that democratic voices are allowed to echo and strategic political interventions be made.

For further details contact: | Jamal Kidwai - 09810676740 | Bhargavi- 09582452343 | delhipipfpd at gmail.com |