If there was ever a time for the judiciary to redeem itself and to end the ambiguity about free speech, the time is now, when press freedoms stand at a critical crossroads, argues Gautam Bhatia in The Outlook.
It has not been a good week for free speech in India. First, there was Penguin India’s decision to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus from circulation, under legal pressure from fringe right-wing groups—much criticized in the media. Fresh on its heels followed Reporters Without Borders’ annual report, which placed India at a damning 140th place out of 180 countries in terms of press freedoms. Yet even as free speech liberals attempt to regroup, and take stock of a deteriorating situation, there is yet another lawsuit winding its way through the Calcutta High Court, which could have devastating consequences for the independent press in India.
In December, Sahara India initiated a libel lawsuit against Mint Journalist Tamal Bandyopadhyay for his yet to be released book, Sahara: The Untold Story. On December 10, the Calcutta High Court judge stayed the release of the book. Initial indications do not look good for Bandyopadhyay and his publishing house, which has also been made a party to the suit. After reproducing one impugned paragraph, the Judge observed, “Prima facie, the impugned materials do show the plaintiffs in poor light.”