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Hopes raised by the fifth pillar of democracy

Hopes raised by the fifth pillar of democracy
Over the last few days, news media have brought some significant developments that mark the struggle in defence of the spirt of the country and the role of popular-cultural resistance. The events in common carry hopeful signs that a stout defence has been evolved at the level of ideas which can shape the future of India as a secular democratic nation. In the case of the contempt of court case against Prashant Bhushan, the public debates about Facebook and in what happened around the planned and now withdrew from the publication of a book by publishers Bloomsbury, the voice of the champions of pluralistic democracy has been clear and resounding.

The revelations by Wall Street Journal about the role played by social media platform Facebook India and its public policy director, in vitiating the social atmosphere of the country, led to heated discussions about Facebook's policies in India of going easy on fake propaganda indulged in by the sangh parivar, which amounted to siding with hate crimes and lending unfair support to the communal forces in elections. During the Delhi riots in February this year, Facebook failed to remove the incendiary pronouncements by BJP leader Kapil Mishra. The rioters had in fact drawn inspiration from Mishra words for the racial atrocities in Delhi, that stold 53 lives. And Facebook India's public policy director, Ankhi Das insisted that such posts including those of Mishra should not be taken down. When this patently communal slant of Facebook subsequently came to light, the firm was forced to be on the defensive. Facebook CEO Zuckerberg had even earlier said obliquely that Mishra's call was an example of hate speech that should not be allowed. Now, Facebook's India chief Ajit Mohan has come out with an explanation that they are not partisan towards any one. He also accepts that Facebook has to do more to stop hate campaign. However, it is pointed out by many that such assurances had been given earlier too, but recall that Facebook has a record of endorsing crimes against people in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and making correction only after the incidents of massacre subsided.

UN's human rights monitors, who pointed out the role of Facebook in the mass killings in Myanmar, had asked Facebook to store the social media account particulars of those responsible for the massacres. However, recently when Gambia demanded presentation of these documents before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Facebook refused. In Sri Lanka, the social media giant removed provocative posts that triggered massacres, after all violence was over and made an apology. In India the platform is long on words but short on action about neutrality. The willingness to make amends is now being made, only because outrage from the civil society is irresistibly staunch. And the strong protests by Facebook's own employees is also something the firm could not have ignored.

It is a similar impact of secular forces in the public sphere that forced book publishers 'Bloomsbury India' to withdraw a book, 'Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story' scheduled to be published next month. The book's content is said to be aimed at whitewashing the unilateral racial attacks in Delhi as part of the sangh parivar drive to portray the victims as the offenders. The matter came to public attention with the announcement of an online release function of the book, purported to have been prepared after investigations. The chief guests listed for the function included Kapil Mishra, who had a made public call for riots, co-author Monica Arora, and Nupur Sharma, head of the portal OpIndia, known for communal content. Bloomsbury was probably prompted to open its eyes to the folly of its decision, when a large section of the people expressed concerns and launched a public debate about a publisher like Bloomsbury bringing out such a book without due scrutiny.

No one had demanded a ban on the book, nor would it be a solution. At the same time, it was the public outrage that made the publishers realise that their decision would damage their own credibility when playing into the hands of those with complicity in the campaign to twist facts, justify the assailants and turn victims into accused. What they did subsequently was not only disown the announced release event, but also drop its publication. However, Bloomsbury still owes an answer to the question why it set out in the first place to publish a narrative of lies that would add little value to the intellectual space or benefit the society. Another event of note that dealt a blow to fake propaganda is Friday's judgement of Bombay High Court in the case related to the Tablighi Jamaat. The court not only quashed the FIR against the foreign delegates who attended a Tablighi conference in Delhi, but went a step ahead by blaming the planned hate campaign surrounding this and similar incidents involving the Muslim community.

Following the contempt case involving Prashant Bhushan, the initiative by eminent jurists and democratic advocates to dissect the shortcomings in the Supreme Court's proceedings, adds to the list of instances proving that the conscience of India is not entirely frozen. On the whole, the presence of a vigilant civil society, of scholars committed to democratic pluralism and of activists, raises hopes about the country's future. It also gives a message that even if the four pillars of democracy get corroded, there is a fifth pillar that will survive.

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TAGS:Facebook Prashant Bhushan Bloomsbury Delhi riots book 
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