Hafta letters: Secularism, Freedom of Expression, and Republic TV
NL Dhulai

Hafta letters: Secularism, Freedom of Expression, and Republic TV

NL subscribers get back with bouquets and brickbats!

By NL Team

Published on :

Hi NL Team,

This is with regard to the discussion on violence, and with the debate between Mehraj and subscribers on fundamentalist violence. French psychoanalyst Lacan talks about this concept of the "Big Other" in whose name we act. This "Big Other" can be God, a leader like Stalin, or a cause that takes the place of God, such as Communism, or Nationalism.

The psychology of fundamentalist violence, according to this concept can be read in the inversion of the famous phrase conservatives use to denigrate atheism, "If there is No God, everything is permitted". Lacan argues that, for the fundamentalist, the opposite is true, that if "God exists, everything is permitted" because the fundamentalist, unlike the average religious person or the liberal directly believes the text and acts without thought mediating between the thing he believes and his actions.

This way, not only are you free to attack that which you consider ungodly, you are also allowed the perverse pleasure in this violent act. This can explain the rampant death and rape threats issued to women by men who later claim they "normally respect women" because, for them, women who transgress the patriarchal order are outcastes, hence their repressed urges can be realized guilt-free as their targets don't fall within the bounds in within which their morality is defined. it's like playing a violent video game—a place for the Id to run free.

Nietzsche also comments on this aspect in The Genealogy of Morals—he says that the concept of justice didn't originate in fairness, but in punishment, and the perverse pleasure deriving from it—pointing to medieval-era laws when you were allowed to whip those who defaulted on their payments to you, and with the pound-of-flesh bargain in The Merchant of Venice. However, as states grew more powerful and prosperous, people could be occupied by other pleasures, the state grew more assured in itself, and thus the forms of punishment became less barbarous.

I'm linking to two pieces exploring this —

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/if-there-is-a-god-then-anything-is-permitted/10100616

https://www.lacan.com/essays/?p=186

Hafta continues to be my favourite podcast. Thanks for fighting the good fight.

Regards,

Sagar

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Hi Team Hafta ,

Over the last few episodes, there were a lot of discussions on cancel culture, freedom of expression, concept of justice, honouring of contract, etc. Thought these concepts are kind of sorted out on a broad agreement

1) Freedom of expression comes under liberty

2) Liberty along with equality and fraternity are the basic conditions for modern democratic state to function

3) These three conditions conflict with each other at times and it’s in such situations that application of justice comes into play

4) Justice is fairness in a modern liberal state (Rawls). This is because concepts like consent, contract means nothing in an unfair society.

5) It’s unfair and hence unjust if my exercising of liberty comes in way of another individual’s liberty, equality or fraternity

6) Liberty means every individual is free to associate or not to associate with any other individual or group as he or she chooses

7) But the right to not to associate with another becomes an infringement of that individual or group’s basic liberty , equality and fraternity when power dynamics in the society are unequally skewed ( eg : caste system / untouchability)

8) The fine line between freedom of expression / freedom of association and social boycott is decided by how unjust or unfair that move is to one of the parties involved

Examples: JK Rowling publicly states her position that transwomen are not real women. And makes that statement in such a way that it can be misrepresented as transgenders might have a mental problem. Now there’s a move to deplatform her. Let’s see the power dynamics of both these moves . Does JK Rowling , one of richest, most powerful & popular authors of our times, have any risk of her liberty to earn a living , move freely , think and act freely being challenged by this attempt to cancel her? Doesn’t transgender community who already have real issues to earn a living and lead a normal life with that identity have an even more difficult situation to have a life of freedom, equality and fraternity after this statement?

9) Statutes of liberty are most rigorous on those with most power . That’s why the most powerful player in the field, the state, is most restricted from disallowing FOE . A protest against a state by citizens that might impair the liberty ( freedom to act ) of state is actually a right guaranteed to its citizens. But for the state to act in the same way against its citizens, it has to go through multiple checkpoints .

10) In the Bloomsbury issue, both parties seem to have fair access to power. Bloomsbury not publishing didn’t make the authors with no source to air their point of view or earn their living . The authors suing Bloomsbury is not going to make Bloomsbury go out of business. So it’s not a FOE issue but more of a contract issue that needs legal recourse .

11 )But how does that book and its contents affect the liberty to live a free and secure life of the minority community? In a fair society, of course, the accused community will have enough avenues to air the contrary view. There’s a reason why there’s a Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, though on first look it seems to defy the basic principles of justice . It isn’t because justice is fairness.

Regards

Bimal

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Hello there (In Obi-wan Kenobi accent),

In the last Hafta, there was a letter which said that secularism had a totally different meaning at the time the constitution was being framed. The thing is that the meaning is still the same i.e. separation of state from religion, it's just that the vocabulary of people is misinformed. When people say European secularism is different from Indian Secularism, it's not. It is there for the exact same purpose--keeping the chaos of religion away from the government. Neither are European countries strictly secular dictatorships like China. Those are the countries where human rights are upheld above all things. Also, many European countries are Constitutional monarchies, thus technically Christian theocracies. Queen Elizabeth is head of the church of England and 26 bishops still sit in the House of Lords. Nowadays many left, as well as right liberals, are promoting the notion of a plural government, whatever that means. While talking about nation-states, the opposite of secularism is always theocracy, not pluralism (religious pluralism to be precise). Because a nation shouldn't ever promote contradictory ideas and all religions are mostly contradictory to each other.

Despite all that, I don't think inserting the word secular in the preamble was not a good idea because it broadcasts a false historical fact, as after six lines it is followed by...IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this 26th day of November 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION. We all know that when this word was added neither there was a constituent assembly nor it was 26th Nov 1949.

Tell me if you agree with that?

One last request, please publish a report on how TRP is bogus and how every other channel in India is desh ka sarvashreshtha channel.

Regards,

Yogesh

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Dear NL Team,

I am a bit disappointed that while my letter was discussed in Hafta 291, the context and message somehow got lost. And once again the discussion ended with monkey balancing which wasn't called out.

It was eerie feeling as Mehraj once again blamed all of whats wrong in the Islamic world to the geopolitical situation, focusing on the largely autocratic rule in Middle East while conveniently leaving out six major democracies of Muslim world - five in Asia and one in Europe. All have over the years of majoritarian rule turned more fundamentalist, puritan, offering limited room for any kind of minority. Turkey for example has started resembling the rest of the Middle East, steadily diluting its secular credentials which were ironically maintained by its military dictator. The moment Egypt had a glimmer of democracy, it voted in orthodox Muslim Brotherhood. In both cases the leader was decisively more devout Muslim and less secular..While many Indians were disturbed by the manner in which "Heroes of Babri demolition" were celebrated as true Ram bhakts,there was limited outrage in the Muslim world, Al Jazeera included, on grand Hagia Sophia being reclaimed as a mosque after 85 years as a museum-- all in name of honouring wishes of the majority. While demolition of Babri mosque is condemned to this date by many Indians, there was absence of any regret in Pakistan or Bangladesh for bringing down dozens of temples in retaliation and today no one even remembers the same. Malaysia with its long history of democracy found it convenient to throw out a leader on suspicion of being homosexual. And over the last couple of decades has steadily curtailed freedom of women and other minorities. Less said about Iran the better. And even the largest democracy with Muslim majority, Indonesia has a province where Shariah rule prevails. Even in India; the only Muslim majority state has a pogrom of minority to its credit. And no it is not the only oppressed state in the country but probably like Gujarat it is one where the majority has forgotten the sins of its past.

Geopolitical reasons aside it is a sign of great concern that secular Muslim state is an oxymoron. This when in most democracies the role of religion is slowing receding. It is unfortunate that even liberals in western world fail to distinguish and promote liberals amongst the community. Note the number of hijab-wearing Muslim politicians gaining prominence in West and celebration in US liberal media of first hijab-wearing Congresswomen. The failure to distinguish between religious symbol (skullcap) and a symbol of oppression ( hijab) is one of the reasons that rightwing leaders in western countries and India are able to sustain their bigotry.

There are problems in Muslim world and its rather disingenous to blame only geopolitics for it. Similar to claiming that religion is peaceful everytime a follower isn't. Similar to a Hindu majority claiming Hindu has never been an aggressor... This may be a blindspot for Mehraj, and it is unfortunate that by not pointing it out other panelists are letting it remain so. Only an honest assessment of problems leads to a viable solution.

My line on every religion having had a monopoly over violence was taken as all violence is due to religion. Am not sure how that connection was made. And I am not sure how panelist were able to claim that wars are largely due to nationalistic reasons forgetting numerous wars which were fought with religion as the main driver (if not the only one) - the longest being crusade that lasted three centuries. Even World War II had a religious angle to justify oppression..

Due to word limits it isn't possible for me to highlight instances where religion/caste were highlighted by a Hafta panelist when it wasn't related. Maybe some other time.

Cheers,

Himanshu

PS: Abhinandan, avoiding the surname, lest you butcher it again!!

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Hello,

I am so, so, so excited to see your NL Sena project: Disastrous Consequences. I love Newslaundry but since I've subscribed, I've been thinking that you could do more to cover environmental and climate change issues (especially the EIA draft and MoEFCCs response to comments).

Anyway, I have donated to the project but I also just wanted to say I could help with other support if required. I'm a geographer-urban planner who is working on climate resilience in Indian cities. I truly believe that the way disasters impact our environment is contingent on changing land use patterns and if I could help with any domain knowledge or any mapping analysis please let me know. I know the turnaround time for journalism is much shorter than the field I work in, but if it's possible I would love to help!!

Let me know,

Ashali

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Hi Everyone,

Please just call me AB if you read this on your podcast.

Hafta 291 was weird, the discussion about Corona risks and also whether various entrance exams should be held!

A well-read person like Anand gave out statements like the silent majority wants exams to be conducted & serious students don't want their flow of study to break hence, want exams to be carried (Well silent majority simply migrated from one part of the country to other during partition, did they want to do it? Or did the silent majority of Kashmiri pandits want to leave the valley?). He even went on to say government could arrange for transport, well considering the Indian state does if he really has faith, they can do it, good for him! Also, what about students who get temperature on exam day due to tension & infections other than Corona? Will the centers maintain 6 feet distance?

Moreover, saying delay of a semester would be a big issue, well, here’s news for Anand: It's already delayed. So anyway overlapping of semesters would be a thing, hence info has to be there whenever colleges begun. I respect Mr. Vardhan for his knowledge and enjoy his recommendations the most but sometimes he goes too far to make a point which does not even make sense. Also, it was sad to hear him boasting about his carelessness for Corona and travelling. I have seen people die around me from this damned virus and he must be aware that he is not just risking his life but also the life of others around him.

Abhinandan, taking it further from what Anand said, you added that you are done with this shit, and that you are going out to play your soccer, etc. Well, great to know that you privileged people can get all the care you need. But at least do not send out a wrong message!

Agree, that life has to get back to normal but certainly not at the point when we’re recording maximum number of infections across the world and also the growing death numbers.

Hello to Manisha, Mehraj & Raman Sir.

Also, love your other podcast Reporters without Orders.

Everyone stay safe!

Love your work.

AB

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Dear Hafta team,

I would like to point out some facts regarding the discussion on maternity benefits in India and other western countries and the period leave. In most western countries where parental leave is mandated, (reduced) pay is typically paid by the state and not by the employer. While the employer may directly pay to reduce paperwork, they are reimbursed by the state to a large extent. Some employers may want to pay more for competitive reasons but the government does not mandate it. In India, the majority of the cost is borne by the employer and, maybe, that shows up as low female participation in the labor force.

Regarding the issue of period leave, it is complete BS by Zomato. They are a company that does not even employ the vast majority of people working for it and pays no regular salary to them. The issue of benefits does not even arise for these delivery employees. Companies like Zomato rely on the laziness of the media and upper middle class to avoid hard conversations about labor reform. By raising such non-issues, they get positive media coverage and shallow dining table conversations. I expect the NL team and Hafta to not fall for such peacock dances.

Mohit

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Hi NL team,

The French model of secularism discourages people from showcasing their religious inclination which can be through a burqa, a turban or any other similar symbol. Charlie Hebdo magazine aligns to this belief. The same model when applied onto a deeply religious Turkey in the early 20th century caused unrest within the populace. This resulted in a chain of events where today, Turkey has almost entirely denounced secularism, famed Hagia Sofia is restored as a mosque, the country is now largely theocratic and Erdogan has a near dictatorship over the country. I am borderline atheist myself but I understand people's emotional attachment to their religion. Hypothetically, if there is a country where lots of different faiths are coexisting peacefully, should a Charlie Hebdo be allowed to function (by not allowing it to function I do not mean kill the cartoonists) ? Will it not cause disastrous consequences on long term communal harmony like we see today in Turkey.

Subramaniam Swamy released a document on the SSR case which apparently presents proof supporting the murder theory. Graphic details about his dead body were presented as strong proof of foul play in his death. There is a need to fact check Swamy's claims. I personally think he is a sophisticated male version of Rakhi Sawant. His involvement was a major contributor to this entire tamasha we are experiencing on a daily basis. I know you are exhausted by the incessant coverage on this case but consider this, now that the CBI has taken over the SSR case, media and right wing loons (same thing) are demanding that the Palghar case should also be handed over to CBI. And it is really naive to think CBI is a powerful entity with no Government interference.

Planning to frame the Sabki Dhulai soapset,

Yogesh

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Thanks for your reply!

I also listened to this week’s Hafta. I have to admit that I became a subscriber only after listening to one episode last week (that too partially) so I didn’t know that Abhi reads the emails from subscribers at the end of podcast. I also didn’t know about the rule on the word limit for the correspondence. This email will definitely not qualify for its wordiness 🙂 - but it’s all good!

- On the discussion around free speech vs hate speech:

Opinions that are not rooted in facts, data, empirical evidence are as good as fiction and should be treated as such, with grain of salt and a whole lot of suspicion.

That being said, one faceted publications, propaganda and the media circus are all covered under the free speech even though in the absence of sound democratic institutions, these supposed instruments of free speech could act as the catch 22 for the citizens.

Open calls for violence are ignored when disguised with word play and filed under free speech. For example, the Goli maro slogans, send Electic Currant to Shahin Baugh are filed under freedom of expression while journalists like Wangkhem in Manipur and hundreds is other people could be detained without a charge for criticizing the government.

I am keenly aware of these contradictions.

Sadly, I can still not advocate suspending the freedom of speech. We just can not start banning/burning books. We can not go backwards as a society even though a part of our population is hell bent on doing that. We can not compromise on the basic principals of democracy even when short sighted majoritarians hack the system to sweep into power.

We are at a starting point of a long struggle. It is going to get much worse for the stalwarts of the civil liberties before it gets better.

I do not blame them for what they are doing to the country’s fabric. They are just trying to rebuild the country the way they have always visualized it.

An unending obsession to hold on to the power ( and to fulfill the ideological priorities)come clearly through the decisions that have been taken by the present government. Unfortunately, the complete lack of preparation in the attempted changes has caused massive sufferings (Demonetization, GST, Wealth transfer through privatizations, Assam NRC etc)

These haphazard decisions will cause an irreparable damage to the nation’s identity and alter how we treat people that are tagged as the “others” in our daily lives.

But we still have to rely on the goodness of the people to “eventually” reject the hate because without that there is no other cure for what is ailing India in August 2020.

People who have been directly affected by the heavy handed approach of this government (CAA/NRC, 370, Selective application of the sedition laws etc) will disagree with my opinion and I completely sympathize with their view point. I have no way to relate to their misery and antagonism that they are facing from the state.

But for a moment, I want to zoom out from India. No country seemed to have figured out the right balance between the freedom of expression and hateful speech (including much of Western Europe) and many still suffer from inadequate checks and balances when it comes to allowing expression while curtailing the hate mongering.

We as Indians (or of Indian Origins :)) need to expedite the formulation of a social contract that defines a methodology which helps us asses whether an expression is an expansion of our horizons ( increasing our understanding of the world, adding value to our lives) OR a form/weapon of oppression. We seem to be failing in this simple task.

It is apparent that we have a long way to go and my hope is that organizations like yours are the vehicles that will take us to the promised land, someday.

If one reads enough history and look at the journey of humans, one realizes that demanding immediate change is futile as asking a donkey to act like a horse.

Yes, there have been revolutions and coups that appear to have made large scale changes but in most cases folks have had to untangle the webs of complex issues, and peel back the layers of prejudice while administering the controlled doses of civilization among masses for decades.

As for keeping myself sane in this ordeal, I listen to Ravish Kumar’s lectures and some of his coverage and more recently NL. Being in the US I can sort of switch off and ignore a lot of depressing stuff that goes on in the subcontinent( I know, it’s so typical).

I also consume a lot of informative media here as well, one that helps me distract myself the most is RadioLab - I am sure you are familiar with them. I highly recommend the “The Other Lateef” sub series if you haven’t heard it yet.

And as for the Hafta and other NL programming, I think the nuanced discussions that you bring to bear are priceless for the audiences across India(ns). I am sure there is a pent up demand for logical, practical and fact driven content and your viewership will only increase with time. As long as people like Ravish, Abhisar, Aakash Banarjee and NL team are around and aren’t disheartened by the shift to the extremism, I am hopeful for the positive outcomes.

Thanks,

Az

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Hi Abhinandan,

I am Ajay. I have been following your (NL's) work since a few months and I finally subscribed. I will continue to do so. Now, coming to the point, I was taken aback when many a panel member (apparently he is a very senior journalist) tagged "Delhi riots" book as propaganda. Ultimately, a book is a book and it is on people to read and research whether it is propaganda or not. And I was shocked that no one countered it. Now, to be more straight forward, the views appeared to be founded on bias rather than facts. I request you to choose a panel that is politically centric as a whole. All other programs are great and you guys are doing a phenomenal job. Thanks for your service. If you need help with any feedback's or surveys, please feel free to contact me.

May the Force be with you(😉)

Ajay Kumar

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Greetings,

This is Manan Gupta, a loyal NL Subscriber. I work as a Senior Business Analyst for a Legal Consulting firm. I have met Madhu ma'am, Abhinandan, and Manisha during the 2017 and 2018 Media Rumble. I even took their autographs. ;) (Childish I know)

I wanted to write to your team for a long time, so here are a few points mentioned in a crisp and straightforward way so that I won't cross 400 words limit.

Appreciation:

You guys are doing an amazing job in providing news and media critiquewhen all the TV News channels have gone crazy in India, and newspapers are full of advertisements these days. Although I do not agree with your opinions on many issues, but you guys take the criticism positively, that's the main USP of NL.

Criticism:

In my opinion, you guys never show or mention any positive step of the government, which is a little incorrect. We might not agree with the current regime, but they are elected by the public and how much worst they can be, they should have taken at least a few good progressive steps. I also feel you are harsh on the extremism of a particular religion and soft on one other religion. Extremism from any part of the society should be condemned equally.

Recommendation:

Like every major podcast, you should mention the date and time of Hafta recording during the opening lines of the podcast.

From 2000 to 2020, the average monthly Newspaper subscription cost nearly 250 rs a month in India, the same as an NL subscription. You guys should take this as a good marketing strategy.

A Hindi daily podcast should be made available so that NL's reach can be made widespread in the Northern parts of the country.

Subscription Chain: You guys should ask subscribers to get 3 more subscribers for a month at least. Such a chain can be used to promote and educate more parts of the population regarding the existence of NL. Ar present, very few people are aware of your platform. You should also reward subscribers for getting more subscribers. it can even be as small as a Tiranga soap-set. ;)

I would suggest you and all the subscribers to read a book by Sudha Murthy, named Three Thousand Stitches. Amazing work it is.

Keep doing the good Journalism guys and stay safe. Thank you.

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Hi Abhinandan,

While listening to the emails that you readout Hafta 292, I got a sense that many of your listeners / subscribers believe that issues related to Islam and Muslims don't get debated , discussed or criticised enough. I think these people should view YouTube videos by Abdullah Sameer or Abdullah Gondal. There are links to a few YouTube videos in this email which could help change that impression. One may not agree with the views in these videos but I want to make a point that Islam and Muslims do get criticised often on social media but we rarely notice.

https://youtu.be/cmqaX4mIz-0

https://youtu.be/5TwqF9u5rUg

https://youtu.be/dfm6l35GRbI

Regards,

Sagar

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Hello NL team,

Writing this mail after reading Tejinder Singh Sodhi's leaked letter, his interview with Newslaundry, and Manisha's article on what happens at Republic TV. This is an emotional and tough time for me as being a young journalist I have lost my job. And I see many other journalists struggling too.

Last year I had an opportunity to join Republic TV as I had always aspired to work for a TV News channel. I had cleared the first two rounds. For the last round, I was to be interviewed by Arnab "Loud Mouth" Goswami. On the day of the interview, I stepped back knowing what I was getting into and that my principles did not permit me to follow the brand of "journalism" that Mr. Goswami preaches. He is vile, arrogant, and the nation's biggest enemy at the moment.

A close friend of mine has worked at Republic TV and I can vouch for that the organization doesn't treat its employees well. They are asked to slog for 15 days at a stretch with a day's shift stretching up to 14 hours. Leaves are denied. Everyone at Republic address Arnab as "Boss". Management creates problems at the time of resignation. Junior employees are always stretched out and drained.

As someone with no work maybe I could have taken up the opportunity at Republic TV but I draw consolation from the fact that my decision was in the best interest of society.

Not sure how this mail will be received but I had to pen this down. It has been an emotional time.

Sincerely,

An unemployed journalist

Newslaundry
www.newslaundry.com