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Saffronisation has seriously endangered freedom of speech: Nandita Haksar

By Shibangi Sinha Roy
Updated on :
Source: LiveMint

Nandita Haksar has been fiercely voicing her opinions, setting precedence in human rights and humanitarian law. Her journey in the evolution of human rights activism in the country started from her student days at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), back in the 1970s.

Today Haksar is worried about a new kind of menace — fake news as propounded by digital media. She is also concerened about the impact of saffronisation on education and literature, Haksar believes that freedom of speech and expression is under threat in today’s political clime.

Author of several books such as Nagaland File: A Question of Human Rights (1984); Who Are the Nagas (2011); ABC of Naga Culture and Civilization: A Resource Book (2011); The Judgement That Never Came: Army Rule in Northeast India (co-authored with Sebastian Hongray) (2011); Across the Chicken Neck: Travels in Northeast India (2013) and The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism: From the Cold War to the Present Day (2015), Haksar spoke to Newsd in an exclusive chat.

An active participant in women’s movements for the last three decades, Haksar has played a noteworthy part in the historic evolution of human rights activism in the country. As a writer, teacher and lawyer, she has contributed immensely to the development of a rights-based perspective on complex Indian political issues.

Of her notable works, she has represented the victims of army atrocity by exposing the human rights violence in north-east India, bringing the Naga movement to the fore, and brutality on Kashmir. She has campaigned both nationally and internationally against Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, supporting the right to self-determination.

In 2003, Haksar, a human rights lawyer, rescued another Parliament attack convict SAR Geelani from the gallows while she also led a “Save Afzal Guru” campaign.

A prolific writer, Haksar has written innumerable articles In both nationals and international dailies and journals and is the author of several books,

Here is an exclusive conversation with the lady who has been an inspiration to generations of socially and politically conscious women in India:


  • In the recent trends of journalism, how necessary do you think is it to be objective?

One of the most disturbing trends in journalism is misinformation and its impact on the financial and political world. Political leaders like Donald Trump are trying to normalise post-truth and fake news as legitimate political concepts.

Fake news is not new. In the past, many journalists concerned with incorrect reporting tried to expose the bias, prejudice and falsity of mainstream journalism. For example, Lies of our Times was a monthly magazine brought out between 1990-1994, which acted as a watchdog of the New York Times.

However, the impact of digital technology has impacted the news coverage of all news and opinions. False/fake news gets wide coverage by sheer repetition through tweets and re-tweets; or false videos and Facebook.

That is why channels like Al Jazeera, RT and in India, Rajya Sabha TV, are very important; and many of these channels have excellent reviews of mainstream media coverage of major events.

  •  Most of your books are exclusively highlighting the issues of people who are being marginalised. What sort of responses have you received from your readers? 

The response from the people about whom I have written has been good and often heartwarming. I was really happy with the reception in Kashmir for my ‘Many faces of Kashmiri Nationalism: From the Cold War to the Present Day’ (2015) and ‘Across the Chicken Neck: Travels across the North East’ (2013). But I wish there had been more discussion on the issues raised in the two books in the mainstream media. My latest book, ‘The Exodus is Not Over: Migrations from the Ruptured Homelands of Northeast India’ (2016) has had good response from the migrants themselves; for many, this was the first book they had ever read.

However, I feel disturbed that the mainstream media react to the stories with sympathy and pity rather than use the books to create a better understanding of the problems I have documented. For instance, I recorded the story of Aamir, a Muslim man from Delhi who was framed in a series of false cases and was acquitted. Most people, especially from the majority community, have been moved by the story but not outraged by the fact that so many young Muslim men are being tortured, jailed in false cases.

  • How do you think ‘saffronization’ of education in India is affecting literature?

I cannot say how the saffronization of education in India is affecting fiction but I do know non-fiction writers have been deeply affected. Saffronization has affected the public discourse in the media. It has also seriously endangered freedom of speech and expression. So many writers of non-fiction have been killed or trolled or attacked for writing views which are not in consonance with the Hindutva lot.

It is virtually impossible to have a public debate to challenge the Saffron brigade’s notion of nationalism. It is impossible to discuss the historical role played by historical figures like Shivaji, Aurangzeb or even to have a meaningful and academic discussion on Hinduism.

  • How transparent is Indian literature in terms of expressing female sexuality?

The possibilities of such discussion are being closed by the Saffron brigade which makes a virtue of abstinence, the image of an “Indian” woman as a stereo-typical ‘sati-savitri’ and with the kind of censorships in films, the Romeo brigades and moral policing it will be virtually impossible for women to speak out.

  • Following the recent trends, Indians are blindly adopting western feminism disregarding the other social-evils such as caste and class, which work hand-in-hand with patriarchy in India. How far is this true?

This question has too many assumptions. Who is blindly adopting western feminism? And what is western feminism? Within feminism, there are many ideological positions: liberal feminists, radical feminists, Marxist feminists, socialist feminists and those feminists who are concerned with ecology.

Speaking for my generation of feminists most of us came from a left background and we always saw the links between class and patriarchy. Even if we came from elite backgrounds the cases we took up were invariably of economically poor and politically powerless women: Mathura, Rameeza Bee, Santhal tribal women etc. However, the Left, including the feminists with some honourable exceptions did not take up the issue of caste oppression and its links to patriarchy.


(Nandita Haksar is a speaker at the Dehradun Community Literature Festival (DCLF) to be held from April 19-April 22 in Dehradun. Newsd is digital media partner for DCLF 2017) 


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