Friday, May 27, 2011

World Largest Democracy Censors A British Magazine

India ’s critics have long accused the world’s largest democracy, in size, of practicing intolerance under a carefully cultivated liberal image. Troubling incidents of censorship and undemocratic practices , such as rapes and murders of Christian nuns and 21 st century’s first incident of ethnic cleansing in 2002 , against more than 2 ,000 Indian Muslims, were often ignored by the American and British mainstream media, which preferred to give India a pass largely because the country was seen as an Am-Brit bulwark against China, Pakistan and Russia. But this month it seems India’s political and military establishments have picked up a wrong fight: censoring the prestigious Economist magazine because of a piece that sought to discuss border disputes between Pakistan, India and China. Both Pakistan and China allowed the said edition of the magazine to sell in their markets. But not India. The Indian government was not happy at an Economist map showing existing de facto borders in Kashmir , where a Pakistan- backed autonomous Azad Kashmir government controls one-third of the disputed territory and Indian military the remaining two-thirds. While the article was balanced, Indian officials said it failed to show the entire state of disputed Kashmir as Indian territory. The magazine editors said they only showed the reality on the ground, where India controls less than two- thirds of the region. They said Pakistan too claims the entire region but it didn’t stop the magazine’s distribution in the Pakistani market. The Indian government forced Economist to place a white sticker on the map to hide it. The Indian government is sensitive about Kashmir because its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru pledged at the United Nations to allow Kashmiris to choose their future in an UN-administered plebiscite. India reneged later on its pledge citing complex legal reasons and unilaterally annexed the territory. The Economist editors conceded that India is less tolerant about Kashmir than Pakistan or China, the other two parties to the dispute. Other western news outlets seized the opportunity to highlight India’s censorship practices that belie its declared democratic credentials. The BBC, for example, announced that “The authorities in India routinely target the international media, including the BBC, on the issue of Kashmir’s borders if the media do not reflect India’s claims. ” Kashmiris say India is so intolerant of open media that it has banned foreign news channels in Kashmir which is occupied by nearly 700 , 000 Indian military, police and paramilitary personnel. Pakistanis too have their own experiences with Indian censorship. While Pakistani newspapers and TV allow Indian writers and commentators to criticize Pakistan and contradict Pakistani position on Kashmir, Indian newspapers and TV channels don’t give Pakistani commentators a similar access. Indian news websites routinely ban registered Pakistani comment makers. During the people-to- people exchange of delegations between 2004 and 2006 Composite Dialogue, Pakistanis complained that Indian delegations refused to deviate from official Indian government positions. In contrast, members of Pakistani delegations visiting India freely interacted with the Indian media and often criticized some Pakistani policies. And in at least one occasion, Indian interior minister made an inappropriate remark when a Pakistani newspaper leaked the story of the induction of a battalion of entertainment girls as part of Indian military presence in Kashmir. India continues to enjoy the backing of the governments of the United States and Britain for strategic reasons, but independent-minded journalists in those countries are slowly opening up to the contradictions in India. For example, in 2010 , for the first time mainstream US media covered the massive Kashmiri uprising against Indian occupation after ignoring the conflict for a long time.