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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Voicing fears over BJP return

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

NEW DELHI: Dwijendra Narayan Jha, a mild-mannered historian, calmly recounts the death threats he received the last time India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was in government.

"The voice on the other end said: 'We will kill you if you publish this book'," the 74-year-old said of one of the anonymous calls designed to halt the publication of Holy Cow: Beef in Indian Dietary Traditions.

A former professor at the University of Delhi with a dozen books to his credit, Jha had stoked the fury of religious activists in 2001 by arguing there was historical evidence to show Hindus ate beef in ancient times. After activists attacked his home, he needed a police escort for the next three years.

He also found himself fighting off attempts to arrest him led by a former BJP lawmaker for suggesting that Hindus once ate the meat of an animal they regard as sacred.

And despite India's reputation as a liberal and secular democracy, Jha's book was temporarily banned after a religious group filed a lawsuit in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

So with polls showing the BJP likely to return to government in May after 10 years in opposition, fears are growing in some circles that it will herald a new era of cultural intolerance – especially if its hardline leader Narendra Modi becomes prime minister.

"If BJP comes to power, particularly Modi, it is possible scholars would be harassed and laws could be used against them," Jha said at his east Delhi apartment.

The world's largest democracy, India has a vibrant press and a proudly independent-minded intelligentsia which fiercely protects free speech. One publisher said there were already signs of self-censorship among authors writing about Modi.

"The earlier critiques of Modi have been all watered down," said Urvashi Butalia of the Delhi-based feminist publishing house Zubaan Books. "If a BJP government comes to power, restrictions on freedom of expression will be there."        

India has a strict censorship policy and tough laws against inciting communal violence which date back to before independence but are still readily applied by governments of all hue. Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court lawyer, said that such laws were inappropriate for a modern-day democracy and often abused.

"The colonial government had an interest in suppression of free speech," Nundy said. "But in independent India there is no recognition of the fact as to why these laws were formed?"

There was widespread dismay among authors in February when the Indian wing of Penguin decided to pulp a book about Hinduism by US scholar Wendy Doniger rather than fight a case brought by a fringe religious group. Nilanjana Roy, a Delhi-based author and literary critic, said BJP and Congress governments had failed to defend free speech over the years.

During India's emergency rule from 1975-77, when Congress leader Indira Gandhi was prime minister, the constitution was suspended, politicians were jailed and the press was muzzled.

"In the last 10 years we have had weak Internet laws and more writers have found themselves under attack," Roy said of the current centre-left Congress government. "But the rightwing makes silencing writers more visible," she added.

After challenging India's right to rule over disputed Kashmir in 2010, the Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy faced threat of arrest for sedition while her home was besieged by BJP supporters.       

"They broke through the gate and ... threatened to teach me a lesson," she said in an email at the time.

The last BJP government became notorious in academic circles for modifying history textbooks based on writings by rightwing historians.

But J.S. Rajput, one of the architects of the changes, said revisions were prompted by new academic findings. He denied any political agenda.

"The changes ... were made based on what had changed in 35 years when the books were published," Rajput, a former director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training, said.

Foreign authors also found themselves embroiled in censorship rows when the BJP was last in power nationally from 1998-2004, accused by self-styled custodians of the Hindu identity of distorting historical facts.

Paul Courtright's Ganesha: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings, and his fellow American James Laine's biography of the Hindu emperor Shivaji were both recalled by their Indian publishers.

Jha's book did eventually hit the shelves, albeit only in foreign bookshops at first after a deal with London-based publisher Verso. An Indian publisher finally took it on in 2009 after Jha won a five-year legal battle. — AFP

Letter demands that Beijing mounts own inquiry in MH370 case

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

BEIJING: Relatives of the Chinese passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 have demanded China mount its own inquiry into the disappearance, a letter shows.

The document, sent to Beijing's special envoy in Kuala Lumpur, denounced Malaysia's handling of the search and asked the Chinese government to set up its own "investigation office".

News of the letter comes as a committee set up by relatives of the 153 Chinese passengers has begun discussions with lawyers about a potential lawsuit against Malaysia Airlines, a move that the family members have hotly debated among themselves.

"We question Malaysia's motivations in misleading and delaying so as to miss the best moment to find MH370," the relatives wrote in the letter to special envoy Zhang Yesui on Thursday, blasting Kuala Lumpur's behaviour as "irresponsible" and "inhumane".

"We earnestly request that China establish an investigation office into MH370," the letter states, also urging "an effective communication system between the relatives and the government".

Beijing has urged Kuala Lumpur to include Chinese experts in its own investigation, but has not so far spoken of setting up its own inquiry.

Asked about the request, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters yesterday: "We have repeatedly pointed out that under the current circumstances what is pressing now is the search."

There were 153 Chinese citizens on board the flight and the letter came days after frustrated family members staged a protest in front of the Malaysian embassy in Beijing.

Relatives have also clashed with senior Malaysian officials in briefings in Beijing, with some openly insulting them and accusing Malaysia of hiding the truth.

The family members' requests to the Malaysian Government listed in the letter include an official apology, along with return airfares to Malaysia and the provision of food and accommodation until the resolution of the search. — AFP

Doc found guilty of molesting patient twice

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A veteran doctor and motoring writer was convicted of two counts of molesting a female patient after a seven-day trial.

Winston Lee Siew Boon (pic), 70, was found guilty yesterday of touching the breast of a then 34-year-old sales representative at his Thong Hoe Clinic at Bukit Batok Street 11 on Oct 30, 2011 and June 8 in the same year.

The father of two is a long-time contributor of motoring articles to The Straits Times' Life section and Torque magazine.

The patient had testified that she consulted Lee in June that year for nausea, flatulence and chest pain.

She was lying on the bed with her T-shirt lifted up when Lee began tapping her stomach.

She then complained of chest pain and asked the doctor if she could still exercise. Lee said yes, and squeezed her breast. She did not make any complaint as she thought it was part of the examination at the time.

But when he touched her breast again when she was discussing about weight management with him on Oct 30 – her fourth visit – she was shocked and confused. Lee repeated the act while she was still standing.

She lodged a police report the next day.

In his oral grounds of decision, Dstrict Judge Lim Tse Haw found the victim's evidence "unusually convincing". He also found that she had no motive to bring false allegations against Lee.

On the other hand, the judge found Lee to be untruthful.

The judge disbelieved Lee who claimed that he was confused and shocked when confronted with the allegation and said he could not remember the dates.

The judge said it was simply not believable that the doctor of 40 years' experience could not remember, this being the first time he was accused of molesting a patient. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network


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