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Sikhs And Justice: An International Humanitarian Law Approach To The Study Of Operation Bluestar

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6th of June 1984 is considered as the darkest day in the history of the Sikhs all around the world. This was the day when the Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple, the holy shrine of the Sikhs to drive out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed men who had taken refuge in the Temple complex since 1982. Bhindranwale had started a movement to attain justice for Sikhs who were being discriminated on various grounds. The Indian Government saw this as a secessionist movement, which is why Bhindranwale and his group were considered as a threat to the nation. This paper endeavours to study the Operation Blue Star from the international humanitarian law perspective by establishing it as a non-international armed conflict. It is divided into five parts. The first part deals with the history and the background to the operation and also highlights the reason why the Indian Army attacked Golden Temple; the second part then throws light upon the definition and the types of the armed conflict in the international humanitarian law and also ingredients of a non-international armed conflict; the third part tests the incident of operation against the ingredients of a non-international armed conflict; the fourth part discusses the nature of State’s response which is considered in excess in terms of human rights and humanitarian law obligations. These four parts are then followed by a conclusion.

Background

Sikhism is a religion founded by Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the year 1469 in Punjab, a state being shared by both India and Pakistan. Sikhs, the followers of Sikhism played a major role in the Indian Freedom Movement[1] but did not receive much appreciation even though they were promised jobs and a better livelihood in the post-Independence era. The newly framed Indian Constitution’s Article 25 identifies Sikhs as Hindus, which aggrieved the Sikhs even more leading to a lot of resentment against the Indian state. In the 1950s, the linguistic groups across India sought statehood that led to the formation of a State Re-organisation Commission in 1953. The government of India was apprehensive of carving out a Punjabi speaking state as that would also lead to dividing the state on religious lines between Hindus and Sikhs. The hindi newspapers from Jalandhar urged the hindus to exhort hindi as their mother tongue which is why the demand for a separate Punjabi Suba (State) was defeated. The Akali Dal, a political party formed during the Gurudwara Reform Movement in the 1920s, continued their agitation for the creation of a separate Punjabi Suba and it was finally agreed to in 1966. Thus areas in the South of Punjab that spoke the Haryanvi dialect of the hindi language formed a new state of Haryana, the Pahari speaking areas were merged with Himachal Pradesh and the remaining Punjabi speaking area retained the name Punjab with Chandigarh as a Union Territory and as Punjab and Haryana’s common capital.

This linguistic reorganization of the states created a lot of problems. Many of the Punjabi speaking areas were given to the State of Haryana, Chandigarh was made a Union Territory and the joint capital of the States of Punjab and Haryana and the Centre took control over the waters of the rivers of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej and made arbitrary allocation. The Centre even took control over various power and irrigation projects. After the reorganization of the state, Akali Dal gained the majority in the Punjab Assembly elections in 1967 but Punjab saw an unstable government for five long years owing to defection. Later on in 1972 after the Bangladesh’s Liberation War Congress emerged victorious at both the Centre as well as in Punjab. Nevertheless in 1973 the working group of the Akali Dal came with a resolution, which was adopted at Anandpur Sahib and came to be known as Anandpur Sahib Resolution.  It advocated for the federal structure in which the Central Government should actualize the federal concept of India by granting autonomy to the provincial government in all the areas except defence, currency and foreign relations. It was in 1982 that Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, leader of Damdami Taksal-a Sikh religious organization joined hands with the Akali Dal in order to implement the Anandpur Resolution. Bhindranwale as he was fondly called grew popular amongst the Sikh population of Punjab but notorious with the government. He was even arrested for the murder of Lala Jagat Narain, editor of a popular Hindi daily newspaper who had campaigned against Punjabi being adopted as a medium of instruction in Hindu schools and even urged the hindus to accept Hindi as their mother tongue and reject Punjabi in order to defeat the Anandpur Sahib resolution. However, Bhindranwale was released without being charge sheeted due to lack of evidence. Meanwhile the law and order situation deteriorated in Punjab and there were a number of confrontations between the police, Babbar Khalsa and Dal Khalsa’s army. Later on sometime in 1982, Bhindranwale was invited by Harchand Singh Longowal to take refuge in Guru Nanak Niwas, Golden Temple’s guest house. Bhindranwale then even took charge of the Akal Takht, one of the five Takhts of the Sikh religion also known as the seat of temporal justice, thus becoming the Takht’s Jathedar. He then fortified the Temple with heavy machine guns and sophisticated self-loading rifles were brought in.[2] Though Bhindranwale strongly advocated for the Anandpur Sahib Resolution which mostly focused on the Centre-State relations, greater status to Punjabi and the distribution of the waters of the rivers yet it was mostly seen as a secessionist movement by the Central Government. Indira  Gandhi then ordered the expulsion of Bhindranwale and his army from the Golden Temple Complex. The Indian National Army took charge of the situation and attacked the Golden Temple with tanks and artillery on the 6th of June 1984. Thousands of pilgrims belonging to the Sikh faith had gathered in and around Golden Temple, to mark the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs and also the founder of the Temple since the 3rd of June and though entry to the Temple was permitted but they were not allowed to exit it. The survivors of the attack are of the view that the Army deliberately chose this day to carry out the operation in order to wipe out as many Sikhs as possible. The unarmed civilians were attacked incessantly. Even the Sikh Reference Library, which is located inside the complex, was attacked and ancient scripts and artefacts were looted by the army and loaded in trucks to be taken to Delhi. The operation was considered extremely disproportionate and not at all necessary, as the number of Bhindrawale’s armed forces was extremely small as compared to the collateral damage. The civilians who survived often call it as a conspiracy to kill Sikhs and finish the faith in one go. Though the official number of casualties is reported as a few hundreds but the actual number soar really high. The operation was seen as an attack to crush the Sikh militants out of the Temple, yet the author in this paper tries to equate it with non-international armed conflict in order to trigger the mechanism of international humanitarian law principles, thus making the Indian State responsible under the international law.

Armed Conflict

International humanitarian law (IHL) is a branch of international law that governs the conduct of armed conflict. It applies only to a situation of an armed conflict.[3] Therefore, in order to determine whether IHL applies to a situation of violence it is necessary to first asses whether the situation amounts to an ‘armed conflict’. IHL does not provide for a definition of armed conflict. However, it recognizes two types of armed conflicts: international armed conflicts (IAC) opposing two or more states and non-international armed conflict (NIAC) between governmental forces and non-governmental armed groups, or between such groups only, which was established by the Geneva Conventions of 1949.[4]Prior to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, it was thought that civil conflicts were outside the scope of international law. Since the situation of Operation Bluestar under study resembles a NIAC therefore only the ingredients of a NIAC would be discussed. NIAC can be applied through Common article 3 to the Geneva Conventions, customary IHL and Additional Protocol II (AP II) where ratified.

Common Article 3 applies to “armed conflicts not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties“. These include armed conflicts in which one or more non-governmental armed groups are involved. Depending on the situation, hostilities may occur between governmental armed forces and non-governmental armed groups or between such groups only. However, NIAC needs to be distinguished from internal disturbances including isolated and sporadic acts of violence.

AP II on the other hand, applies to armed conflicts “which take place in the territory of aHigh Contracting Party between its armed forces and dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups which, under responsible command, exercise such control over apart of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operationsand to implement this Protocol”.

This definition is narrower than the notion of NIAC under common Article 3 in two aspects.

Firstly, it introduces a requirement of territorial control, by providing that non-governmental parties must exercise such territorial control “as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations and to implement this Protocol”.

Secondly, AP II expressly applies only to armed conflicts between State armed forces and dissident armed forces or other organised armed groups. Contrary to common Article 3, the Protocol does not apply to armed conflicts occurring only between non-State armed groups.

In this context, it must be reminded that Additional Protocol II “develops and supplements” common Article 3 “without modifying its existing conditions of application“. This means that this restrictive definition is relevant for the application of Protocol II only, but does not extend to the law of NIAC in general.

The Statute of the International Criminal Court, in its article 8, para. 2 (f), confirms the existence of a definition of a non-international armed conflict not fulfilling the criteria of Protocol II.

Statute of the ICC, art. 8 para. 2 (f): “It applies to armed conflicts that take place in the territory of a State when there is protracted armed conflict between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups“.

In order to distinguish an armed conflict, in the meaning of common Article 3, from lessserious forms of violence, such as internal disturbances and tensions, riots or acts ofbanditry, the situation must reach a certain threshold of confrontation. It has been generally accepted that the lower threshold found in Article 1(2) of APII, which excludes internal disturbances and tensions from the definition of NIAC, also applies to common Article 3.

Two criteria are usually used in this regard:

First, the hostilities must reach a minimum level of intensity. This may be the case, for example, when the hostilities are of a collective character or when the government is obliged to use military force against the insurgents, instead of mere police forces.

Second, non-governmental groups involved in the conflict must be considered as “parties to the conflict”, meaning that they possess organized armed forces. This means for example that these forces have to be under a certain command structure and have the capacity to sustain military operations.

As per the ICTY Appeals Chamber in Tadic case, an armed conflict involving non-state groups arises only if the violence is protracted and the non-state groups are organized. From the above discussion it can be made out that the following form the ingredients of a NIAC:

Armed conflict between a State and a non-State actor or between these non-State actors

A modicum of organization of any party to the conflict: According to the ICTY Appeals Chamber in Tadic, an armed conflict involving non-State actors must involve ‘organised armed groups’, that have a clear chain of command. Each group involved in an armed conflict need not be clearly differentiated and defined, as there may be a number of loosely related armed groups involved. The ICTY Trial Chamber has further explained the following as ingredients of organization:

The existence of command structure and disciplinary rules;

Control of a determinative territory;

Access to weapons, equipment and military training;

The ability to define military strategy and use military tactics.

Protracted violence: In the Tadic case, the appeals chamber held that for a NIAC to exist there must be ‘protracted armed violence’ which has been authoritatively repeated in article 8(2) of the Rome Statute of the ICC. Yoram dinstein infers that occasional unrest does not amount to NIAC and that there needs to be a series of ‘isolated and sporadic’ internal disturbances for a NIAC to come into existence. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Juan Carlos Abella v. Argentina concluded that an armed conflict has occurred in Argentina, even though the skirmish lasted for 30 hours in total. But Dinstein does not agree with this decision. However, the IACHR holds that in borderline cases there may be a presumption in favour of the existence of an armed conflict.

Intensity of fighting: This requirement should not be looked at as an alternative to protracted violence. The ICTR Trial Chamber in the Akayesu case had stated that the intensity of hostilities ought to be ascertained ‘on the basis of an objective criteria’. In the aftermath of Tadic, multiple judgments of the ICTY have come up with various indicia in order to assess the intensity of the fighting required in a NIAC. These include: the numbers of casualties, the diffusion of violence over territory; deployment of military units against the insurgents; the types of weapons used; the siege of towns; and the closure of towns.

Application of International Humanitarian Law to The Operation Blue Star

The situation of Punjab was dismissed as a mere law and order situation, which is why the State never became liable under the IHL regime. However, this study aims to analyze the situation in Punjab against the ingredients of the NIAC as many Sikh organizations have had asked for a UN probe in this matter as they regard it as a violation of IHL.

Armed Conflict:The situation in the 1984 attack on Golden Temple involved a confrontation between the Indian Army and the armed men, led by Bhindranwale who had taken refuge inside the Golden Temple Complex. There are documented evidences that show that the attack was conducted in a systematic manner with sophisticated weapons being used by both the sides including anti-rocket launchers, AK-47s etc.

Modicum of Organization:  The non-state actors in this conflict i.e. Bhindranwale and his followers were under the command of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. There were also other forces some named and some unnamed one of them being, Babbar Khalsa that had joined hands with the Bhindranwale and were indirectly under his control. Bhindranwala’s force had actually fortified the Golden Temple area with sophisticated weapons. General Kuldip Singh Brar who led the Operation Blue Star had pointed out at the foreign assistance received because of the foreign weapons that were seized from the Bhindranwale’s army during the operation.[5]The Khalsa army, as it was mostly referred to, had received their training under the aegis of Major General Shabeg Singh, an Indian army officer noted for his service in training of Mukti Bahini volunteers during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Major General Shabeg Singh taught the army military tactics, that he had acquired during his service with the Indian Army.From this data it can be made out that the Khalsa army satisfied the ingredients of the modicum of organization given out in the Tadic case that have acquired the status of customary international law.

Protracted Violence: The operation was not a single event of violence but rather one of the major events in order to bring the situation in Punjab under control and to drill fear in the minds of the other Sikh outfits that were said to be leading the secessionist movement.

Intensity of Fighting:The operation was one of the very intense operations in the history of the Indian Army. As mentioned above, the official number of casualties is very low, lying somewhere in a few hundreds but eyewitnesses and the survivors’ account tell a different tale altogether. As per the survivors, the pilgrims were being let in the Golden Temple from the 2nd of June 1984 but they were not allowed to leave, which is why the casualties were quite high. Bhindranwale and his army is said to be a few above hundred but the civilians who lost their lives are said to be somewhere above seven thousand. The operation saw a parallel attacks on other gurudwaras in Punjab with the deployment of about 1,00,000 army personnel throughout Punjab. The weapons used on the other hand were highly sophisticated ones. The army even broke the stairs leading to the entrance of the temple to bring in tanks. While Bhindranwale was said to be in possession of foreign weapons including machine guns, anti rocket launchers etc.[6] Most parts of Punjab especially Amritsar were brought under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

Conclusion

From the analysis made above it can be said that the situation in Punjab was surely not just a law and order situation. It resembles heavily with the ingredients of a non-international armed conflict, thus a deeper study needs to be conducted in order to determine the status of the operation blue star. Sikhs for Justice, a private organization based out of United Kingdom had submitted a memorandum to the United Nations Assistant Secretary for Human Rights calling for the setting up of a tribunal to investigate alleged crimes against the members of the Sikh community during the 1984 Operation Blue Star. It reads that it clearly violated the basic humanitarian law provisions for the protection of the civilian population and for the protection of cultural objects and places of worship as set out in the Geneva conventions.[7] The Sikhs have been awaiting justice for the missing members of their families before and even after the operation, destruction of their holy place of worship, the Sikh Reference Library, the killing of the thousands of the civilians who had gathered inside the Golden Temple just to pay obeisance at the Temple and also for the thousands killed during the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi and other parts of India after the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had ordered the attack at the Golden Temple. Once the Operation is considered a NIAC it would be easy to drag the Indian State to the United Nations and submit her to the jurisdiction of a Tribunal, if it is ever set up.


[1] KS Duggal, “Sikhs in the Freedom Struggle”, Mainstream Weekly, 19 August, 2008 <https://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article891.html>accessed on 21st May, 2020.

[2] Ranbir Sandhu, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale- Life, Mission and Martyrdom, (Sikh Educational and Religious Foundation, 1997).

[3] Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadic (Appeal Judgment), 15 July 1999, ICTY.

[4]Tadic’s case held that:

…an armed conflict exists wherever there is a resort to armed forces between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups within a State. International humanitarian law applies from the initiation of such armed conflicts and extends beyond the cessation of hostilities until a general conclusion of peace is reached; or, in the case of internal conflicts, a peaceful settlement is achieved. Until that moment, international humanitarian law continues to apply in the whole territory of the warring states or, in the case of internal conflicts, the whole territory under the control of a party, whether or not actual combat takes place there.

[5]General Brar had said this in an interview to the press during the operation.

[6] This was revealed by General Kuldip Singh Brar in an interview during the operation.

[7]“Operation Blue Star: Sikh rights group seeks UN probe”, The Indian Express, June 7, 2017 <http://indianexpress.com/article/world/operation-blue-star-sikh-rights-group-seeks-un-probe-4693609/> accessed on May 21st, 2020.

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The rise & rise of populist demagogues in democratic nations

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The term dictators & demagogues are used interchangeably in various contexts but there’s a difference, the former rules over a totalitarian state where government is able to exercise a complete influence over every aspect of citizen’s life whereas the latter is a “wannabe dictator” but due to the system of checks & balance in place they’re are not fully capable to create police states.

In 21st century these flamboyant  demagogues  have adjusted their personality & politics in such a way  that they successfully hide their intent & action in the shadows of democratic system so unlike Hitler’s Fascist regime or North Korea’s Communist dictatorship, it’s difficult to held them accountable because they’ll try to justify their hasty & unreasonable decision  in the name of Constitution & larger public good.

There are some common qualities shared by populist demagogues in  democratic countries that need to be checked in all seasons to protect the country & its people from potential benevolent dictators.

1.Compromised Constitutional Bodies

The rabble-rousers of the modern era have smartly learnt from their predecessors that to stay in power for eternity, it’s important to curb & limit the functions of Independent Institutions like Courts, Central Bank, Auditory Bodies, Investigation Agencies etc. For instance the President of Turkey Recep Erdogan has almost destroyed judicial independence in the country & with the recent news about the call of his political ally to shut down Turkey’s Constitutional Courts is not just alarming but also a cause of concern in a country where a record number of journalists are serving jail sentences under false charges & this decision if taken will not just compromise the press freedom which is already at its nadir in Turkey but it’ll also weaken the capacity of judicial system to guarantee the protection of people’s rights.

2.Unnecessary Focus on the revival of Glorious Past

Demagogues keep reminding us about the ancient prosperity & always pushing the narrative to portray their   country as the leading force , it can be done via 2 ways, either promote the soft power like culture, tradition, civilization & spirituality or use even nasty tricks to pull out the blinded nationalism that includes portraying one’s country as the leading colonizer, telling people about invaders & portray them as protector of native civilization or use race theory to create a class divide in society like Hitler did by invoking the Aryan identity that made some people into believing that they are superior to others.

By inciting this false hope of regaining the past glory & branding slogans like “Make America Great Again”, “For us, Hungary First”, “Abki bar, Modi Sarkar” they deceit & manipulate people into voting for their parties without doing any substantive work on the ground.

3.No respect for Dissent & Human Rights

Dissent or criticism of the leader & its establishment is part of a healthy Democratic society where people are fundamentally free to express their views regarding the government’s policies. While delivering a lecture on the topic,” The Hues That Make India: From Plurality to Pluralism,” the Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud noted that ” Descent is the safety valve of a democracy”  but sadly the Modern day Niro of India who ironically belongs to the same State where this lecture was being delivered has left no stone unturned to deliberately cut this valve into pieces.

Critics & Human Rights Activists are put behind bars for raising their voice against the atrocities & crime inflicted on tribals, minorities & other vulnerable sections of society. They are mercilessly beaten, tortured, thrashed & maimed in solitary confinements making no exceptions for maintaining basic human decency that is expected from the “World’s Largest Democracy”.

4. Polarisation for winning elections

The gruesome killing of George Floyd by White male police officer sparked a global outrage & protests against the racial inequality & hate crime that is at its highest level in more than a decade. People demanded accountability & change to stop the Institutionalised & Systemic racism against the people of color in the United States. Ex-president Trump instead of calling out & condemning white supremism  (terrorism) has defended & even embraced this far right radical ideology of hate.

As per the report by V-Dem, there’s an upsurge in political polarisation in India since 2014 when BJP seize the power at Centre & this is evident by frequent incidents of mob-lynching, riots & attacks on minorities especially muslims & Dalits in India. This report further states that Freedom of Religion has seen a considerable decline under the current regime. The reason behind these precipitous decline is the rise of Hindutva Politics which was long gone, forgotten & buried in the coffin but the BJP has called out the jinn of hatred to sway elections after elections at the cost of people who want to live a peaceful life in a non-hostile environment.

5.Violate established rules of Political Conduct

Politics was always a dirty business but populist leaders in most democracies have stooped to a new low & ruined it further. They never shy away from using homophobic & sexiest slurs or passing derogatory remarks against their counterparts in other parties.

Take for instance Brazilian President Bolsonaro, a nutcase who revokes popular prejudices in his ugly campaign rhetoric by passing many offensive & utterly distasteful comments against women, gays, environmentalists & minorities.

The rise of retro-macho politics has left no space for political sobriety & if unchecked, the tumor of hypermasculinity will not be just limited to hate speeches & jibes but translate into formidable action against humanity.

That’s how Romanian dictator Ceaușescu turned his political rhetoric into dystopian reality, under his dictatorship, birth control was banned, abortion was outlawed & fetus was declared the “property of society”, so women were tested for pregnancy & monitored to make sure that they give birth, and punished if they failed.

6. Refusal to accept migrants from Impoverished & war-torn countries

This is the hypocrisy of Western States who for decades have waged war, supported regime change, imposed Economic sanctions & trade barriers, sold weapons to militants in Middle-eastern & African countries finally when refugees & immigrants are arriving at the European borders from these destabilized countries where anarchy has bolstered civil war & complete chaos after covering an extremely dangerous route & taking enormous risks such as relying on people-smugglers or using flimsy boats to cross rough seas, they were detained & locked up under inhumane conditions in shipping containers in Hungary at whims & fancies of  Hungarian government headed by ultra-right wing Viktor Orbán but after the European Union Court ruling last year, Hungary has finally shut-down these illegal migrant transit zones situated on its border with Serbia, at the same time tightening rules which will effectively bar future migration prospects in EU member states.

7. Climate Change Deniers

Climate Change is the biggest threat to human existence in the 21st Century. Earth’s Climate is now changing faster than at any point in modern civilization, primarily as the result of human activities. It needs to be understood that Climate Change is not just a science issue but a policy issue as well. In most of the countries where demagogues are in-charge the policy seems to be more destructive, anti-science & discredit the scientific studies that show that effects of Climate Change are horrific & destructive for the Planet.

The environmental policies of Bolsonaro in Brazil have put the Amazon Rainforest on the verge of extinction. Regarded as the “lungs of the Earth”, the Amazon acts as a giant carbon sink & is also responsible for driving rain patterns across South America & Africa. Leaked documents revealed that Bolsonaro has cynical plans for Amazon Rainforest that includes hydroelectric plants, construction of bridges on Amazon river & a proposed highway through the dense forest to integrate Amazon basin with the rest of the National territory.

Under pressure from the Biden Government, Bolsonaro is now promising to make Brazil Carbon neutral by 2050 but his Environmental minister has asserted that his country is ready to cut 40 percent of deforestation in Amazon Forest only if the International Community will provide $1Billion as assistance. Though It is highly unlikely that the Brazilian government will take any steps against the influential farming lobby that played an important role in the victory of Bolsonaro in 2018 & to whom he has promised to dismantle existing environmental protections to make way for agricultural land expansion and intensified production.

The rise of populist leaders in  democratic countries is not sudden, before seizing power they boastfully promise to set their country free from corruption, crime & socio-economic inequality but after winning election they shift their goal post to achieve sinister objectives. Electoral political system in a democracy needs an urgent overhaul to include an educated perspective rather than simply representing the

will of majority which is no less than tyranny & this could only happen if people(voters) are aware about fascism among themselves & what  does it take for a normal country to become a Nazi State that had turned itself on the path of ravage & destruction. The importance of self realisation & tumultuous past is aptly described in a quote by Ernest Hemingway in his classic book, For whom the Bell tolls “But are there not many fascists in your country?’ There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes“.

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OTT broadcast and its censorship: Whether a violation of freedom of speech and expression

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The whole world, owing to coronavirus pandemic, is enveloped in the darkness. It has wreaked havoc on almost all the aspect of human lives. The educational institutions, theaters and cinemas all have been shuttered. Public gatherings, to maintain the social distancing, have been firmly discouraged. Further, the pandemic has significantly modified the media and entertainment consumption patterns. Social lives ventured into digital environment as a result of people being cramped to their homes. People have switched to several sources of entertainment from the comfort of their own homes and over-the-top (“OTT”) platforms have proven to be a major source of entertainment.

OTT platforms have grown exponentially and taken over the industry. OTT platforms expedites streaming of video content over the web. Several OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney Hotstar, Disney+, Apple TV+, Hulu, etc., have primarily ousted the traditional television service. The notification issued by the Central Government of India aimed at getting online media platforms and content on OTT platforms within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has been making the rounds in recent times. The cabinet Secretariat, on November 9, 2020, released a notification amending the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961. It has incorporated two new entries to the second schedule of the Rules namely Films and Audio-visual programmes provided by online service provider as well as News and Current Affairs. This action is attributed to the fact that there is large amount of an unrestricted content available on the web as well as lack of an adequate regulatory regime in place to protect its users.

Universal self-Regulation code

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) had come up with a Universal self-Regulation code (code) to administer the content available on OTT platforms. The code was primarily adopted by the fifteen OTT platforms namely zee 5, Viacom 18, Disney Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, MX Player, Jio Cinema, Eros Now, Alt Balaji, Arre, HoiChoi, Hungama, Shemaroo, Discovery Plus and Flickstree. SonyLIV and Lionsgate too have recently signed the code. It was manifestly stated in the code that The Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) is the main governing framework when it comes to online content. The values enshrined in Article 19 of India’s Constitution, namely the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, direct the internet and material on the internet. A policy for the digital content sector has to be drafted in line with Article 19 of the Indian Constitution i.e. the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, and any constraints on the aforesaid right should be fall within the purview of constitutional restrictions set forth in Article 19(2) of the India’s Constitution.

Further, the code had delineated a mechanism pertaining to (i) Age Classification (the code had particularized the certain categories for standardized age classification namely All ages, 7+, 13+, 16+ and 18+) (ii) Appropriate content specification ( a content descriptor appropriate to each piece of content that demonstrates and tells the viewer about the essence of the content while also advising on viewer discretion) and (iii) Access control Tools( to regulate access to content, signatories to the Code may implement technological tools and measures for access control i.e. PIN/Password.) The code had also established the perspicuous grievance redressal and escalation process to lodge complaint regarding non-adherence to specified guidelines. The MIB, however, has repudiated the proposed code since it did not explicitly categorize the prohibited content. Further, there is no independent third-party oversight and a transparent code of ethics. The MIB instructed IAMAI to seek guidance from the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) self-regulatory frameworks.

A public interest litigation was consolidated in October, 2018, before the hon’ble Delhi High court by Justice For Rights Foundation to draught certain guidelines for modulating the content available on OTT platforms. The MIB while filing the counter affidavit stated that digital platforms are not required to procure a license from them to exhibit their content and the same is not controlled by them. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has also mentioned that they do not oversee internet content and there exists no mechanism for monitoring or licensing an agency or establishment that posts content on the internet. Nevertheless, it was claimed that the provisions concerning IT are applicable, and concerned legislative authority having jurisdiction under the aforesaid Act is authorized to take action using the power granted to them under section 69 of the Act which involves directives for interception, surveillance, or data encryption. Further, under Section 67 of the Act there are penalties pertaining to posting or disseminating obscene information in any digital form. Accordingly, the court while dismissing the petition opined that it cannot grant a mandamus for the creation of regulations when the IT Act already contains stringent restrictions and currently the foregoing petition is pending in the hon’ble supreme court.

Positions of the law in regards to film screenings

A film must be certified by the Central Board of Film Certification before it can be displayed or distributed in cinemas or on satellite, and the content is constrained by existing laws. The CBFC was established by the Cinematograph Act of 1952. When it was established, it was designated as the Board of Film Censors. It was amended in 1959 to give it the authority to certify a picture for mass consumption. The Cinematograph Act of 1952, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995, and the Cable Television Networks Rules of 1994 are among the laws that govern the industry. However, there is no such particular legislation for regulating material on OTT platforms. The government by virtue of Article 19(2) of Indian constitution can impose restrictions on freedom of speech and expressions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of state, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, decency or morality and so on. Consequently, broadcasted content has often been a restricted matter. In K.A. Abbas v. Union of India and Another[1], the constitutionality of censorship was initially challenged. The hon’ble supreme court has upheld the constitutionality of censorship under Article 19(2) of the India’s constitution and stated that films must be viewed differently from any kind of art and expressions because a motion picture can elicit more intense emotional response than any other product of Art. However, such censorship should not be exercised to imposed an undue restriction on freedom of speech and expression.

The constitutionality of censorship was also disputed in S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram [2]wherein the hon’ble supreme court has held that the board’s criterion for appraising the films must be that of an ordinary man with common sense and wisdom rather than that of a hypersensitive mind. The Moral values ought not to be compromised in the realm of any social change. The concept of “Dharam” should not be disrupted by the immoral norms or standards. However, it does not suggest that censors must embrace a conservative perspective. They should be resilient to social change and go with the topical environment. The film is the most legitimate and significant medium for addressing topics of public concern. The producer has the right to broadcast his own message, which others may or may not concur with. The state, regardless of how hostile to its policies, cannot suppress open debate and expression. The democracy is basically a government by the people based on open debate. The democratic form of administration necessitates citizens’ active and informed engagement in the societal issue.

Furthermore in, Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. And Anr. V. The Central Board of Certification[3], it was said that we are governed in a democratic manner. We can’t expect everyone’s head and intellect to be the same in a democracy. Freedom to think and act in a different way is at the heart of democracy. The beauty of democracy is the diversity of viewpoints, ideas, and manifestations. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to exhibit themselves in the same way. In the film business, new blood is being infused. This new blood is revved up and eager to get their feet wet in the industry. The film business and the general public have embraced such new blood. Their effort has been recognized and praised by the government. These works are predicated on a certain way of thinking that is unique to them. They have their own opinions and ideas on how the film business should operate, as well as how the medium altogether must be managed. Profanity, obscenity, and depravity do not shock human emotions. Such situations and discussions must be seen in their entirety. The narrative must be perused in its totality and thought upon. It is not appropriate to choose a few phrases, lines, conversations, or situations and venture into the board’s resolution. Certainly, the state, and notably the Central Board of Film Certification, cannot attempt to sculpt and dominate public opinion under the guise of purported public interest or audience preference. That would be terrible, as it would hit at the heart of democracy and civil liberty, which are held in such high regard by everybody. The goals of film certification, consequently, cannot be achieved by disregarding the Constitutionally guaranteed right or by fully undermining and disappointing it. A movie has to be watched on its own and judged accordingly. The plot, subject, background, and location in which it is created, the message it aims to express, and the entertainment, among other things, would all have to be assessed using section 5B’s standards.

Should OTT platforms be governed by a code of self-regulation?

Self-regulation is presently the only option available to such platforms in order to maintain the ability to broadcast material without undue censorship. Because unreasonable restriction would impede the creative flexibility of OTT platforms. It will assist platforms in conducting themselves in an ethical and fair manner while also safeguarding the interests of their users. It would protect content producers’ artistic freedom by promoting creativity and upholding an individual’s right to free speech and expression. The general public desires to view the content in its original and untainted state. They strive to understand artwork in its most primitive sense. The fundamental role of government agency is to maintain the fair field, not to inhibit innovation and ingenuity by placing limitations in a tech industry.

Self-regulators’ competence allows them to adjust their regulations more quickly than government agencies in reaction to technological advancement. More significantly, independent of any technological change, the self-regulator is better equipped to decide when a rule should be modified to improve compliance. Self-regulation has the ability to make compliance more appealing. It develops regulations based on an expert’s level of understanding, customized to the specific sector. These rules are viewed by regulated entities as more “reasonable” from the inception owing to their involvement[4].

Conclusion

The MIB by virtue of the amendment has now can regulate and draught policies regarding digital media and online streaming on OTT platforms. However, such governmental intervention can considerably jeopardize the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. The suppression of freedom of speech and expression is what censorships is all about. The freedom of speech and expression suggests that right to manifest one’s thought via words of mouth, writing, picture and any other means. The freedom of speech is one of the most well-known and fiercely protected civil rights against government encroachment. In modern democratic societies, it is generally considered as an essential notion. Every citizen of a democratic nation has the freedom to express his or her opinions on various issues. Thousands of viewpoints are disseminated around the country via various channels. A film director has the freedom to manifest himself and gives effect to his thoughts, even though others may not concur with him. An exhibition of films as well as documentaries cannot be prohibited for purely speculative reasons since prohibiting motion pictures is tantamount to suppressing the right to freedom of expression and speech. Restrictions upon Individual’s freedom of speech and expression must only be permitted if they are required to avert severe harm from being perpetrated. It is critical to have a healthy and extensive amount of free expression in order to assert a thriving and well- functioning democracy. Democracy, otherwise, is obsolete and akin to a totalitarian dictatorship[5]. It should be up to the public to determine what they want to see and what they don’t want to watch. Thus, the cornerstone to safeguarding artistic freedom is a sustainable self-governance paradigm.


[1] K.A. Abbas v. Union of India and Another (1970) 2 S.C.C. 780

[2] S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989) 2 S.C.C. 574

[3] Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. And Anr. V. The Central Board of Certification 2016 S.C.C. online Bom 3862: (2016) 4 AIR Bom R 593: AIR 2017 (NOC 62) 29

[4] Id. at 13

[5] Subhradipta Sarkar, RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH IN A CENSORED DEMOCRACY, UNIVERSITY OF DENVER SPORTS

 AND ENTERTAINMENT LAW JOURNAL 62, 84 ,89 (2009)

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International Law

What Determines Taliban Government’s Legitimacy?

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With the fall of Kabul, and the evasion of President Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban has taken over the reins of Afghanistan. States like Pakistan and China have already expressed their willingness to “work with the Taliban”  thereby legitimizing the Taliban government, whereas India has refused to recognize this “reign of terror”. The jurisprudential question of legitimacy arises here because the transfer of power in Afghanistan was through a coup d’etat which constitutes an extra-constitutional means of formation of government. Governments desire legitimacy because it gives them the right to rule and an acceptance on the international and domestic levels.

The most accepted theory in this regard is Hans Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law. Kelsen, a positivist, claimed that law was contaminated by sociological impurities and morality, and focussed his theory on law alone. He based the legitimacy of the new order of government on its efficacy, and a rule was said to be efficacious when individuals regulated by it “behave, by and large, in conformity” with it. When the new order was efficacious, the coup was said to be successful, and the new government was held to be a legitimate one. Kelsen’s theory was widely accepted to uphold governments after coups such as in The State v. Dosso (Pakistan; 1958), Madzimbamuto v. Lardner-Burke (Southern Rhodesia; 1968), and Uganda v. Commissioner of Prisons (Uganda; 1966), among others. Since Kelsen tries to purify laws from the socio-political aspects, he contends that that it is irrelevant why people comply with the law and it could even be out of pure fear. Thus, a rogue government such as the Taliban which is efficacious as it receives compliance out of coercion and not out of consent, would be a legitimate one from a Kelsenian perspective.

The primary criticism that arises to Kelsen’s separability thesis is that he fails to distinguish between validity of law and its legitimacy. Critics have argued that while validity of law concerns with its authoritativeness, legitimacy depends on the virtue of justness and is contingent upon socio-political and moral factors. The issue lies with attaching legitimacy to the performance of the government. Instead, legitimacy should involve the questions of whether the government has the ability to demand the obligations out of voluntary conviction, provide for public goods such as the rule of law, protection of fundamental rights, etc., and function in a manner such that the society is generally benefitted. A study on legitimacy in seventy-two countries concludes that more the citizens are treated as rightful holders of political power, more legitimacy the government derives. This means that the virtue of legitimacy must flow from the citizens and the society and not from a coercive power that the top-down approach provides.

In the light of this, when the Taliban government is examined, it is realised that with its extremist ideology and terror activities in the past, it can hardly fulfil this criteria.While the ‘good Taliban’ has claimed that it will protect the freedom of press and not discriminate against women while allowing for their participation in the society within framework of Islamic law, these assurances will pacify only those who are unfamiliar with its history. Under the rule of Taliban in the years between 1996 and 2001, human rights were suspended, and political killings, rape, torture, amputation, and public executions were common place. A Taliban 2.0 which has emerged victorious against one of the major superpowers of the world, and has external support is unlikely to reform. Ideologically, they still remain the same movement committed to a puritan interpretation of Islam and this is evidenced by the fact that the barbaric Sharia law is in place once again. These baseless claims should be perceived as a political strategy to appease states into granting them de jure legitimacy because despite the jurisprudence of legitimacy developed, there is nothing in the international law that bars states like China, Russia, Pakistan or others from recognizing the rogue state of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Therefore, the future of the Taliban and Afghanistan rests in the interplay of international actors.

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