For free speech

India created a law which is used against free speech, the basic human rights.

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act

Note: The Information Technology Act, 2000 was amended in 2008. The amended Act which received the assent of the President on February 5, 2009, contains section 66A.

66A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.

Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages,

shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

Explanation.— For the purpose of this section, terms “electronic mail” and “electronic mail message” means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, images, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.

I am challenging the anti free speech IT act.

Taslima Nasrin vs State of UP [W.P.(Crl) No. 222 of 2013]
| FEBRUARY 8, 2014

This writ petition was filed by Bangladeshi author and activist Taslima Nasrin, under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution for quashing an FIR filed against her under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Said FIR was filed against the petitioner in the city of Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, in the wake of her tweets regarding a ‘fatwa’, (a virtual bounty of Rs. 5,00,000/- on her head) that was issued against her. It is premised solely on a press report on said tweets published in the Hindi daily ‘Amar Ujaala’ in November 2013, which purportedly offended the religious sentiments of an Islamic cleric, around whom the tweets were centered. The petitioner argues that the FIR was registered without a preliminary inquiry towards ascertaining whether any cognizable offence had been made out against her. Moreover, the petitioner submits that even if all the averments in the complaint and the FIR are accepted, no offence can be said to be made out against the petitioner. In the complaint, neither are the actual tweets by the petitioner extracted, nor is a copy of the said press report annexed with the FIR. For these reasons, it is submitted that the FIR is a motivated and malicious one, aimed at wreaking vengeance against the petitioner. It is essentially an abuse of legal process. In addition, Section 66A can easily be clubbed with other provisions of the Indian Penal code, including Section 295A, by deliberately giving any statement made on the internet a religious color or flavor and misreading the same.

It is argued that Section 66A violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. The language and phraseology of the Section is so wide and vague and incapable of being judged on objective standards, that it is susceptible to wanton abuse. All terms constituting an offence under Section 66A have not been defined either under the IT Act, the General Clauses Act or under any other legislation. The Section would be indiscriminately clubbed with other provisions of the Indian Penal Code, as has been done in the petitioner’s case.

Further, the freedom of expression is a recognized human right under various international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Section 66A of the IT Act is wholly inconsistent with these conventions, and constitutes a severe, regressive and wholly undesirable restraint on this hallowed right. While the petitioner, not being an Indian Citizen, does not herself invoke Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, she requests the Court to take judicial notice in the interest of the citizens of India, that Section 66A of the IT Act is totally inconsistent with Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and virtually takes away this right insofar as the medium of the internet is concerned. It is submitted that the invocation of penal provisions on tenuous grounds has a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech, that is to say it severally disincentivizes citizens from exercising their constitutionally protected right to free speech for fear of frivolous prosecution and police harassment. The Supreme Court has held in a number of cases that the constitutional protection of free speech is calculated to insulate the freedom from such a ‘chilling effect’. It would amount to little consolation to say that the right to free speech of a citizen will be eventually vindicated at the end of an extended legal proceeding. The very fact that the machinery of the criminal law is set in motion against citizens on frivolous grounds amounts to harassment that is inadequately mitigated by the eventual discharge or acquittal.

Thus in light of the above circumstances, the petitioner prays that:

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, be declared unconstitutional and void

A writ in the nature of certiorari and/or any other appropriate be issued writ to quash and set aside the FIR registered against her

No news yet from the Supreme Court. 66a is still there. Free speech is still under threat.

People should have the right to say ‘Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.’

Irish Pastor James McConnell said bad about Islam. He said, ‘Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell,’ and then he had to apologize. Shouldn’t he have the right to say bad about Islam? He has the right to say bad about millions of things, then why not about Islam? He is ignorant if he thinks Christianity is any good. But he has the right to be ignorant. Doesn’t he? You and I can loudly say, ‘Jesus was a liar and a charlatan. Virgin Mary was not a virgin. Christianity is a bullshit religion, there are bullshit in the Bible about gay people, about women, about slavery, about dinner, about shellfish, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation.’ Do we have to apologize for saying derogatory things about Christianity?

For the sake of humanity, do not let Islam to be exempted from critical scrutiny and do not please prevent people from expressing their opinions on Islam.

Authorities are desperate to protect lies and myths

Bangladesh did it to me long ago. Twenty years have passed. The country hasn’t learnt anything. It hasn’t stopped harassing thinking minds. Now the country’s new fucking laws gave the fucking authorities the fucking right to fucking arrest two teenagers for writing about fucking religion on their facebook and blogs. I am sick and tired of the fucking news of fucking harassment of atheists almost every fucking day.

Free Speech

I tried to say:
‘Freedom of expression is again under attack in India. Penguin India should not have withdrawn Wendy’s book ‘The Hindus’. The publishers should uphold an author’s freedom of expression. Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, the organization that claims that the book has many factual errors,could write a book correcting those errors. The book under attack is currently one of the bestselling books on Amazon. It shows that censorship cannot keep freedom of expression suppressed. In fact, it breeds curiosity and so censorship is really
its own worst enemy.

Penguin India is one of the biggest publishing houses in India. It had all the capacity to fight the court cases it faced. But instead, it compromised with those who do not believe in free speech. Penguin India said, “Indian penal code section 295a, makes it difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression”. It is true, but my question is why don’t you fight for the abolition of the age-old British law, which is used by governments to ban books, harass and imprison authors? Free speech is universal. There is no such thing as national free speech, or international free speech. Like there are no such things as Islamic human rights or Western human rights. Like free speech, human rights are universal.

Writers should have the right to write whatever they like. Everyone should have the right to offend people. Without the right to offend, freedom of expression does not exist. Nobody should have the right to spend his or her entire life without being offended. Don’t we all know that if “Free Speech” means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not like to hear! Without hurting the sentiments of misogynists, obscurantists, ignorant irrationalists — you will not be able to bring change in society. Throughout history always some people’s sentiments were hurt – had to be hurt – especially when society was about to change. In this country when sati was abolished, or girls’ education started, many misogynist sentiments were hurt. But should we care about their so called sentiments or should we help society to evolve, to make the world a better place?

It is dangerous if the government tries to deny people’s freedom of expression in order to protect the sentiments of those who don’t believe in democracy. Many of my books are banned in Bangladesh. My book was banned in West Bengal too. The government of West Bengal not only banned my book, it forced me to leave the state too. The new government banned the release of my book Nirbasan in 2012 and a few months ago forced a TV channel called Akash Ath to stop telecast of a mega serial written by me. The serial was about women’s struggle and how three sisters living in Kolkata fight against patriarchal oppression to live their lives with dignity and honour. She (Mamata Banerjee) banned me in order to appease some misogynist mullahs.

The truth is I am used for the vote bank politics in India. If fundamentalists demand for the banning of books, should governments ban books? Should fundamentalists decide what we should read, write, watch, wear, eat, drink, think? Governments seem to give them the
authority to decide. Fundamentalists do not believe in plurality of thoughts. They do not believe in individual freedom. They believe intheocracy, not in democracy.

Most Indian secularists do not support me. They support writers who are attacked by Hindus, but not the writers who are attacked by Muslims. Salman Rushdie is supported by secularists though, probably because he is not so vocal against Islamic oppression on women the way I am. I am not a man. I am not macho. I am a woman. A single woman at that. And a feminist. We live in a misogynistic, patriarchal societyand people in this society hate feminists.

Freedom of expression is like rape in India. Politicians and intellectuals do not defend everyone’s freedom of expression like they do not condemn every rape. If I could get the same support Wendy got, the TV producer could start broadcasting my mega serial despite government’s threats.’

Anti-women book fair committe cancelled the release of a book on women’s rights

It really happened. The book fair committee of the Kolkata Book Fair cancelled the release of a book on women’s rights. The committee did it either to please the government or because they got the order from the government to do so. Is the government anti-women? We heard that the government blamed the raped girls several times for being raped.

An opposition politician protested against the cancellation of the book release. The left leader defended the writer Jasodhara Bagchi. Ms Bagchi was the chairperson of the West Bengal women commission during the Left Front’s rule. The release ceremony of my book titled ‘Nirbasan’ was cancelled by the government in 2012 in order to make some Muslim fanatics happy. Almost everybody was silent then. I said, if you do not protest against the banning, you will be the next target of the banning. It seems I was right.

I now realize that however much you earn recognition and awards, if muslim fanatics are against you ,no political party in the subcontinent would defend your free speech. And I know it very well that if you believe in freedom of expression of some people, but not of all people— you do NOT believe in freedom of expression at all.

Forbidden

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My new book is called ‘Nishiddho’ in Bengali. Nishiddho has been published in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Nishiddho means forbidden. I hope forbidden will not be forbidden this year. Religious fanatics love to demand for my execution by hanging because they hate what I write. Governments love to stand beside the fanatics and ban my books. Forbidden is now available at the Kolkata and Dhaka book fairs. But I am not allowed to visit any of the book fairs. I am banned. I am not allowed to enter Bangladesh and West Bengal.

Fanatics suck. Governments suck even more.

Is anyone listening?

It is an interview.

It’s hard to miss her in Calcutta these days. She beams at passers-by from king-size hoardings at several busy junctions, anxiously marking her “return” to Bengal after six years.

But Taslima Nasreen is not returning to the city. Not in person, certainly — thanks to embargoes on her travelling and living in India. And not on television either, which had been promoting her as the writer of a mega serial that was to have been aired from December 19.

Despite the grand announcements, the show has been stalled. And Nasreen is furious. “Hating Taslima is an essential part of politics in the subcontinent. I feel pity for those who need to violate a writer’s rights to get votes,” she tweeted. “Whatever I write is hated by ignorant anti-women, anti-human rights bigots. Because they are afraid of the truth and the power of the pen,” said another tweet.

She walks into the drawing room-cum-study of her apartment located in an upmarket area of Delhi, where she has been living since 2008, full of misgivings. Just days before the serial was called off, she’d heard that the Calcutta police had met the producers of the serial.

“Some bigoted individuals asked for a ban and the state acquiesced — I don’t think this will happen even in Saudi Arabia,” she says. “But fundamentalists are anti-women and anti-freedom of expression, and for political reasons the government might side with them. But why are the people in Bengal silent,” she asks.

Dressed in grey winter pants, a black sweater and a blue embroidered stole, the maverick writer looks younger than her 51 years with her bright eyes and dishevelled short crop. She sinks into a reclining chair with a blue iPad in her hand. All around her are bookshelves, all packed with books. Stickers screaming messages such as “Atheism cures religious terrorism” are pasted on the shelves. Honorary certificates bestowed by foreign institutions, framed beautifully, adorn a whole wall in the study.

It has been almost 20 years since she was exiled from Bangladesh for “anti-Islam” writings and six years since she was ousted from West Bengal following communal disturbances in Calcutta’s Ripon Street. It was thought that she would return — in the shape of the serial called Dusahobas or unbearable co-existence, which was to be aired on Aakash Aath and promoted as a serial radically different from the regular saas-bahu stories.

This is the second time the soap has been stalled. She began writing it in 2006, when several episodes were also shot. “But then the 2007 drama happened and I was summarily thrown out of the city on November 22 that year,” she says, referring to the Ripon street violence. “That brought the production to a standstill.”

She had then urged her producers not to give up on the series merely because she had been ousted by the Bengal government, which cited her as a problem for law and order. “Why should the producers, or any creative person for that matter, be afraid of negative forces? These are just fringe elements who would oppose anyone who talks about gender equality and social change because they are misogynists.”

She cites the treatment meted out to reformists Vidyasagar and Raja Rammohan Roy by “anti-progress groups” for their pro-women measures. “The same thing is happening to me — I speak about new ideas, changing society, gender equality and humanism.”

What riles her more is the lack of protest in Calcutta. “This is a dangerous sign — if writers, intellectuals and other creative people keep quiet after this, something is wrong with society. Society is on the path of decline — this is what the silence signifies.

“But intellectuals do not keep their mouths shut when Hindu fanatics attack writers or artistes, or even when Muslim fanatics attack male writers such as Salman Rushdie. Misogynistic society shows solidarity towards victims, provided the victims are male, macho or anti-feminist,” she says.

Nasreen alleges that her ouster from Calcutta was premeditated. “Few people know that I was actually put under house arrest for about four months before the November incident,” she says, adding that she had to leave her 7 Rawdon Street residence in Calcutta with just her laptop and a one-way ticket to Rajasthan.

“From August that year, I was repeatedly asked by the Left Front government to leave the country. They even used to send the then police commissioner to coax me; he asked me to go to the jungles of Madhya Pradesh.” Nirbasan (Exile), the seventh part of her autobiography, documents her ouster from the city where she lived from 2004 to 2007.

She stresses that the Ripon Street incident was not a “Muslim uprising” against her. “The original plan was to agitate against the violence in Nandigram,” she says, referring to the 2007 police firing in which several villagers were killed. “The outburst was actually against the government for doing little for the community. The CPI(M) was losing popularity at that time — so they wanted to use me to score some political brownie points.”

She says she was “deeply hurt” by the then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s behaviour. “I tried to meet him at that time, but he didn’t meet me. But Jyotibabu (ex-chief minister) supported me right through the end. He was also against banning my books in Bengal,” she adds.

Nasreen believes that the present state government is also following in the footsteps of the Leftists. “It never criticised the way the Left Front government wronged me.”

The author believes that her “persecution” in West Bengal began in 2003 when her book Dwikhandito (Split into Two) was banned by the state government. The book, it was alleged, was “anti-Islamic”, which was the brush that she was tarred with in Bangladesh.

Nasreen — who fled Bangladesh in 1994 after threats to her life — is, however, happy to have found a platform for her views in her motherland. She has been writing for a daily called Bangladesh Pratidin.

“I write a bimonthly column for the paper. I write generally on women’s issues, politics, etc. But I have been requested by editors not to write anything on religion,” she says. “For 20 years or so, they were afraid to touch me. But now I can reach out to my fans in Bangladesh.”

However, Nasreen is worried about Pan- Islamists, believers in Muslim brotherhood, who, she says, have been “growing at an alarming rate” in Bangladesh. “They are far more radical than what they were in 1971,” she says. At the same time, she is concerned about the path being taken by the “secularists” of Bangladesh.

“They are rejoicing at Abdul Kader Mullah’s death,” she says, referring to a Bangladeshi Islamist leader who was hanged earlier this month for war crimes in 1971. “But my point is that death penalty to such people won’t solve anything unless a forceful attempt is made to secularise society.”

Her “secularist fans” in Bangladesh, she adds, are “shocked” by her opposition to the death penalty. “They say these are the same kind of people who drove you out of your homeland. So how could I write against the death penalty,” she says. “But I forgive these fundamentalists — I want them to change and be better human beings. I want jails to be classrooms where such people could learn humanism.”

She, however, is in favour of banning the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party because she feels it works “exactly like a terrorist organisation” in Bangladesh. “They kill people — take blogger Rajib Haider’s death,” she says. Haider was a Bangladeshi anti-fundamentalist who was allegedly killed by a group associated with the Jamaat.

She is critical of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s “so-called anti-Islamist” stance. “If Hasina was truly anti-fundamentalist, she should have first brought Taslima Nasreen back to Bangladesh,” she says.

These days, Nasreen has found new a forum for her views — the Internet. “I rely on Twitter to update myself on developments around the world. You see, I don’t really have many platforms to express myself these days,” she rues.

She also blogs on topics that range from violence and politics to science. She has been spearheading an atheist movement in Calcutta. “It’s called Dharmamukto Manabbadi Mancha and it’s unique because all its atheist members — 400 or so — are Muslims working for gender equality and other issues,” she says, adding that her blogs sometimes attract 1-2 lakh readers a day.

Her tweets too have landed her in legal wrangles. Two cases — one in Uttar Pradesh and the other in Bihar — have been lodged against her. “The complaint from UP was against a tweet saying those who issue fatwas and rewards on beheading were anti-Constitution, anti-women and anti-freedom of expression,” says Nasreen, who has had three fatwas issued against her in Bangladesh and five in India so far.

“What have I said wrong? These people who issue fatwas are roaming scot-free while I am the one who is confined to one place,” she says, adding India’s home ministry has helped her with the cases.

She hasn’t stopped tweeting, though. “I will write more tweets. Let me see how people can stop me.”

Does she ever feel like giving it all up in India and settling down in the West? “I travel to Europe and America frequently. But I want to stay in India for the sake of this country,” she says. “I want to tell the world I can stay in India because this country is a true pillar of secularism and a standard bearer of freedom of expression in the subcontinent.”

Is anyone listening?

Free speech

Pineapple story.

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Jesus and MO t-shirts story.

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Atheist,humanist and secularist students are under attack, not in the temples or mosques but in the universities, the institutions of learning of the highest level. They are humiliated, threatened and banned. Instead of protecting freedom of expression the authorities have been protecting a bunch of irrational myths. Nothing is more dangerous than the ideas that our secular institutions have to behave like religious institutions and instead of enlightening students it is alright to keep them in the dark.

Why don’t we file cases against the people who violate people’s freedom of expression? We should not let them go unopposed.

Europe should give asylum to Edward Snowden.

Why India, Europe should give asylum to Snowden.

Edward Snowden asked 21 nations for political asylum. He got nothing but rejection, proving once again that free speech is just a decorative item for most governments. India’s embassy in Moscow received Snowden’s request for asylum. His request was rejected within hours. Since then, there has been much discussion about India’s generosity over giving shelter to persecuted people—and so then, why not Snowden? India has in the past granted political asylum to Dalai Lama and many other rebels. Some even mention my name in the list.

I am not sure whether I should be considered a political refugee in India. I was thrown out of my country, Bangladesh, in 1994 and found myself landing in Europe. It was difficult for me to live in a place which has a totally different climate, culture and language from where I grew up. Since I knew I couldn’t return to my country, I wanted to come to India. But India kept her doors firmly shut. Towards the end of 1999, I was given permission to visit as a tourist.

I came to India not as a persecuted writer or as an asylum seeker, but as a European citizen. I eagerly chose India’s state of West Bengal as my new home. But when I was physically attacked by Muslim fundamentalists, instead of taking act­ion against them, the government kept me under house arrest. Not only that, I was repeatedly asked to leave the state and, preferably, the country. When a group of Muslim fundamentalists orga­nised a protest against my stay in India, I was thrown out of Bengal, the state that had been my home for years. Finally, the central government took charge and put me in a safehouse. But there was pressure from the Centre too for me to leave the country. I had to leave, but I did not give up. I am now given permission to live in India again. My enemies are just a handful of anti-democracy, anti-equality, anti-women, ignorant fanatics but yet India often hesitates to challenge them.

I’m not surprised India refused Snowden asylum. How can a country give asylum to a person chased by the almighty US when it panics over giving a residence permit to a secular writer? But with India, one underst­ands; it can’t afford to take risks or make any big political mistake now. Indeed, a Eur­opean country should have given Snowden asylum. They have a long tradition of defending writers and journalists. Compared to India, they have a much older, truer democracies, and violation of rights and free speech is a rarity there. It’s time for Europe to show they are not mere colonies of the US. However glorious a past India may have had, it can not afford to face possible US sanctions. If democracy were practised everywhere, and if it were not reduced to mere elections, independent voices from independent countries would have been respected. As it stands, the human species is yet to make the world an evenly civilised place. Until it happens, we ordinary people have to pay the brunt, and have to sacrifice our dignity, honor, rights and freedom.

I really feel sorry for Snowden. If I were a country, I’d have given him asylum.

‘Free Speech is a feminist issue’!

Meredith Tax is a brave feminist writer who has been fighting against gender-based censorship for decades. She believes, ‘free speech is a feminist issue’. I agree with her.
She says:

“The subordination of women is basic to all social systems based on dominance; for this reason, conservatives hate and fear the voices of women. That is why so many religions have made rules against women preaching or even speaking in the house of worship. That is why governments keep telling women to keep quiet: ‘You’re in the Constitution,’ they will say, ‘you have the vote, so you have no right to complain.’ But having a voice is as important, perhaps more important, than having a vote. When censors attack women writers, they do so in order to intimidate all women and keep them from using their right to free expression. Gender-based censorship is therefore a problem not only for women writers, but for everyone concerned with the emancipation of women.

“Women writers are a threat to systems built on gender hierarchy because they open doors for other women. By expressing the painful contradictions between men and women in their society, by exposing the discrepancy between what society requires of women and what they need to be fulfilled, woman writers challenge the status quo…[and] make a breach in the wall of silence. They say things no one has ever said before and say them in print, where anyone can read and repeat them.”

Meredith Tax says again:

”Women writers symbolize, in their work and life, the free speech of women. That is why they become targets and that is why the global women’s movement and all democrats must defend them even when what they say or the way they live is controversial. Women have a right to be controversial: you don’t have to agree with someone to defend her right to speak. They have a right to be celibate or childless, to get divorced, to be lesbians, or to have many lovers. You don’t have to live the way they do to defend their rights. A democracy is defined by its ability to tolerate differences. The problem here is not the strength of conservatives but the lack of commitment of liberals when it comes to defending the free speech of women. When their own rights are threatened, it’s a different story.”

It is so true! I have experienced almost everything Meredith talks about. My books got banned, I was physically attacked, Fatwas were issued against me, hundreds of thousands of fanatics marched to execute me by hanging, I was thrown out of the countries. Other atheist writers were there, but I became the target. I became the target because I am not only an atheist, I am a feminist. Liberals shut their mouths when feminists are attacked. The same liberals protest loudly when male writers or artists are harassed even though the harassment they suffer is much less than the harassment I suffer. Women are still considered inferior beings who should stay at home, do chores, rear children and must not be outspoken. The misogynistic patriarchal media and men call me, ‘controversial writer’, but they call male writers having much less literary quality than mine, ‘superb writers.’ And when I express my ideas that are different than conventional ideas, they would call me, ‘attention whore’, and they would definitely call male writers who later express their ideas that are exactly like my ideas,’very bold and very courageous writers’!