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Is fake news an opportunity for Smriti Irani ?

Santosh Nair

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An order was issued on Monday (02/04/18) night which said that a journalist’s accreditation would be suspended once a complaint of fake news was registered against him/her which would be later determined by the Press Council of India (PCI) and News Broadcaster Association (NBA). If found that the news was indeed fake that he or she would lose their accreditation for a limited period or permanently depending on the gravity of the news and thus be denied access to government institutions as well.

The I&B ministry’s decision for stringent punishment for spreading fake news was not taken kindly by the media. Journalist and the opposition parties took a serious note of the order issued by the I&B ministry and described the guidelines as an attack on the freedom of press.

While Mr Rajdeep Sardesai insinuated that the government was itself into the business of false propaganda spreading which can be also termed as fake news, Mr Ravish Kumar opined that the journalists were not taken into confidence before the circular was issued and that the attack will not stop.

In a joint statement the Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Association and Federation of Press Club of India expressed their ‘’deep concern”. They felt that despite ample scope for introspection and reform of journalistic practices a government fiat restraining the fourth pillar of their democratic rights is not a solution.

The Press Council of India in its press release on the above stated that although there is nothing wrong or obnoxious if the government intends to take remedial measures to check fake news, an independent statutory authority should be constituted to decide on the veracity/authenticity of the news. No prudent person should or can justify the dissemination of fake news.

The Editors Guild echoed a similar sentiment which said that it is more often than not that the government at the centre and the parties in power in the states are charged with propagating fake news themselves. By notifying that the I & B ministry will initiate such proceedings the government was arrogating for itself the role of policing the media. It would only open the doors for frivolous complaints to harass journalists and organizations to fall in line.

The crack-down of fake news by the government around the world is underway. The governments in UK, France, Germany, Philippines, Malaysia are seeking ways and means to make a headway in resolving this issue. The fake news menace surfaces more towards election time and is at its bullying best at such times. The administration has their own agenda to protect and the onus would be to safeguard allegations that harm their interest. Fake news is a Trojan Horse that is deceptive and could mislead readers of its true intent.

With the potential ability to imprison, bankrupt or put journalist out of business for publishing poorly defined misinformation, there is enormous scope for abuse, of which the worst-case scenario would be outright government censorship impinging on human rights and make people’s lives worse.

Yet even without outright control of stories, there is also the risk of the chilling effect, where the press self-censorship to comply with the rules means that legitimate stories in public interest are left unpublished for the fear of potential consequences.

As Yin Yin Lu, a researcher at the Oxford internet institute describes “not reporting something is as dangerous as reporting something false”. She further says that this kind of legislation would restrain journalist from publishing the truth. Lu believes that the best choice is allowing normal people to deal with fake news themselves rather than letting the government take care of it for them.

The top-down approach disempowers users and empowers the high and mighty. The solution needs to be bottom up which is tied to the design of the social media platforms where a majority of the news today is consumed. It should be the responsibility of the platforms to implement a design solution that would indicate visually the quality of the news sources that were shared. This will allow the users themselves to determine whether-or-not they are trustworthy.

In the Indian context, all curbs on the freedom of expression is most uncalled for.

India being one of the world’s largest democracies needs to exercise considerable restraint when it comes to encroaching on fundamental rights viz the freedom of speech and expression!!

In India, fake news is shaped and modelled to meet the political interest of various political outfits. The news makes an impact not only on the public at large but also finds inroads into the history books of schools. The Trojan horse manifests itself in its most malicious form in the mindsets of several hundreds of readers and holds sway to incline/convert opinions.

Revered leaders of the past are portrayed in a poor light!! Pandit Nehru as a womanizer and Mahatma Gandhi a sexual pervert!! History books are distorted while its custodians change hands!! Political vendetta has taken an ugly form and will decay further in due course!!

Indians excel both in dispensing and receiving fictitious news as long as the same is aligned with their thought process. The inference is fore destined and hence news gains acceptance only if it meets the criteria.

News needs to be considered as a separate entity and opinions are to be derived from them. News in India undergoes various interpretations and is construed to suit different ideologies. When Modi did a U-turn immediately on sensing the undercurrents, it was reported that he was not informed of the I & B ministry’s notification.

However, it hardly calls for great manipulative skills to discover the truth behind the con game!!

Disclaimer:

Santosh Nair is a columnist writing for HW News Network.  The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of HW News Network or any employee thereof. HW News Network makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.

 

 

Mahendra Singh

Are the trackers of lions of Gir a neglected lot?

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Though barely recognised or acknowledged for their contributions, the indispensable foot soldiers of wildlife conservation are the lowermost employees of the forest department and the labourers under contract with the department. For petty wages, they are required to engage at close quarters with dangerous wildlife almost on a daily basis. Sometimes the outcome can take an unfortunate turn. Either for them or for the animals in their care.

On last Thursday, the 29th of November, two young male lions in Devalia Safari Park in Sasan Gir in Gujarat attacked and killed a contract labourer, injured another labourer as also a forester. The injured labourer is reported to be in a critical condition.

These two young lions named Gautam and Gaurav were born in the Shakkarbag Zoo in Junagadh and had been kept in the Devalia safari park. They will now be consigned to a permanently caged existence for the rest of their lives as a consequence of their misdeeds.

Devalia Safari Park, otherwise known as the Gir Interpretation Centre, a 412-hectare fenced facility, is an excellent initiative. It provides an alternative too and therefore helps to reduce the tourist pressure on the adjacent and hugely popular Gir National Park. Forming a part of the natural landscape of Gir, it has neelgai antelope, chital deer, black buck and jackals roaming free in the large common open forest that is fenced along its perimeter.

A dozen lions in the facility are let out in the morning and hustled back into their cages in the evening. Also, around eleven ‘problem’ leopards that had drifted into human habitations or had attacked human beings had been trapped and relocated to the Park. They now occupy a large pit-like structure in the facility dotted with the typical dry scrub natural vegetation of the area.

The Park is accessed by the tourists moving through the undulating natural landscape in buses operated by the forest department and, more recently, in open gypsies. Contract labourers employed by the forest department track the movement of the lions through the day and ensure that the tourists get to see most of the typical wildlife of the Gir landscape in an hour-long safari ride.

The two labourers that met their unfortunate fate that day had been tasked to lead these two male lions back to their cages at noon itself, as there were few tourists visiting. The provocation for the lions to attack one of the escorts, 32-year-old Keshawala, is not clear at the moment. His colleague Shoukat ran to his rescue but was himself brutally mauled and barely managed to escape.

On him alerting his colleagues, a team of some 50 officials tried to track down the offending lions and the body of the deceased labourer that had been dragged deep into the forest. While attempting to retrieve the body, one of the lions re-emerged and attacked a forester who managed to escape with minor injuries. The two lions could be captured only by 7 pm that evening.

The management of Gir lions is based on each pride of lions being assigned to one tracker who gets to their area on a motorcycle and then walks through the forest to the current location of the animals. They regularly monitor the health and the activities of the lions. Unarmed, their safety is dependent on the general expectation that the lions have become familiar to their uniformed presence and will not ‘normally’ attack them.

However, the ‘normal’ behaviour is liable to change. For instance, if the lions have made a fresh kill or there is a mother with newly born cubs they may become overprotective and abnormally aggressive. Just as would a particular animal that may have had a bad experience recently or is stressed for whatever reason. Then the normal no longer holds good. The danger when things do go wrong in that situation is that the trackers are dealing with an apex predator that has evolved to be a superbly efficient killing machine.

Insufficiently paid and inadequately equipped, these brave hearts nevertheless have taken on their onerous task voluntarily. These unsung heroes, well below the spotlight of social recognition, continue to battle on under challenging conditions to protect our common natural heritage on our behalf.

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Abhinav Pandya

New Frontiers of Terrorism- Social Media, Cyptocurrencies, and Intelligence Reforms

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Counter Terrorism

India’s CT apparatus has not displayed sufficient awareness of the new frontiers of terrorism like social media and the use of cryptocurrencies in terror financing. Social media has emerged as the most lethal weapon in the overall strategy of terrorist organizations. It has been immensely useful in diverse areas such as recruitment, propaganda, the relay of instructions and generating funds. It is a well-accepted fact in the global counterterrorism community that the cyber jihad operations of ISIS played an instrumental role behind the popularity and the reach of ISIS in far-0ff countries. Further, cyber jihad provides a satisfying alternative and a pathway to Jannat (haven) to those who do not want to involve in the armed jihad.

However, CT apparatus woke up to this reality a bit late. It was a British News channel four that informed us about the ISIS recruiter Mehdi Biswas in Bangalore. In J&K social media is playing a most pernicious role in abetting stone pelters and inspiring youth to join militancy. DG Kashmir Mr. Vaid informs that when an encounter begins, more than 300 WhatsApp groups become active sending instructions, locations and other relevant details to the organizers of stone-pelting mobs. In an informal interaction the students of Kashmir University, this author was informed that the videos released by Burhani Wani and Zakir Musa have an immensely powerful appeal among the youth, an appeal that could surpass the propaganda work the 100ds of organized Jamaat-i-Islami cadres. Unfortunately, the levels of the preparedness of India’s CT apparatus are not satisfactory. In most of the states, at the district levels, this author has come across almost dysfunctional cyber security cells. They are mostly understaffed and ill-equipped, manned by a team of two-to-three constables. Their skill-sets are poor. The question is not just about the availability of resources and technology. It is more about the fact that even senior officers do not show enough concern for the cyber threats.

In the world of terror-financing, cryptocurrencies and dark-web have emerged as the matters of grave concern. With the tightening controls on the formal financial system and increasing scrutiny of hawala channels, the future terrorists are likely to use cryptocurrencies for funding terror operations. Crypto- transactions are fast, cheap, extremely-difficult-to-track and anonymous. Further, most of these activities will happen on the dark web. On Darkweb, just like any other online sales portal, one can order things. However, on dark web, one can order all kinds of contraband things like drugs, weapons, IEDs and RDX. India is at high risk because we have a huge segment of gray markets. The quality of vigil kept by regulatory agencies is outmoded, and the reach is limited, not to mention the rampant corruption that prevails. Tracking high-tech crypto-transactions and terrorist activities on the dark web will be a daunting challenge for Indian CT apparatus.

The arena of terror-funding-networks needs attention, as a part of India’s CT approach. However, off late, the focus has been increasing on the areas such as terror financing and radicalization. However, it is too little and too late. The terror funding mechanisms, even the simple ones are highly diffused, sophisticated in operations and have a strong penetration. Moreover, the agencies involved in dealing with the complexities of the terror-financing world, lack sufficient expertise in the field of terror financing.

Indian CT Apparatus is highly fragmented and poorly coordinated. In the federal set-up of India, most of the policing functions lie with the state governments. The state police are understaffed, ill-equipped and poorly trained. Further, they are heavily controlled by political masters and corruption galore. The state intelligence bodies, i.e., CIDs are almost in the state of disrepair. They are considered punishment postings and the officers posted are either incompetent or without political approach or highly corrupt. As a result, the quality of intelligence gathered is very poor, and the whole exercise is just perfunctory. This author came across many senior police officers who would hardly know a difference between Deobandis, barlewis and Ahle-Hadith. If the senior CT personnel lack such basic knowledge of the subject, then one can imagine the malaise that mars the performance of India’s CT apparatus. In one of the  interaction with a senior official from Mumbai Police, this author was told that due to political pressures, they often have to turn a blind eye to increasing radicalization in the state. Intelligence briefs keep piling on for years, but there is hardly any political interest in these matters.

In the intelligence domain, multiple agencies are working on counter-terrorism. IB functions under Home Ministry, RAW and CBI report to the PM, and there are state intelligence bodies which are mentioned in brief in the previous paragraph. Terror financing and money-laundering issues are dealt with by the finance ministry. There appears a turf war-like situation between different agencies and the state and central agencies often compete for resources and bureaucratic autonomy.  All this makes the task of coordination (usually done through joint committees, task forces, and multi-agency centers) and harmonization of intelligence inputs gathered by different agencies very difficult. Before 26/11 there were inputs of a sea-borne threat by central agencies, but they were largely ignored by the coast guards and the Maharashtra State police. They argued that it was not actionable intelligence. Inter-agency coordination has led to intelligence failures in the past also. 9/11 commission report pointed out the lack of inter-agency coordination as one of the causes of the intelligence failures in the September 11 attacks.

Further, our intelligence cadre needs to be upgraded regarding the theoretical understanding of terrorism and counter-terrorism and the latest technological developments in the world of terrorism. The state intelligence agencies are almost dysfunctional, and they need an urgent focus. Besides, the agencies also require a morale boost. Political leadership must ensure that they will not compromise with the core issues of national security and the feedback given by intelligence agencies will be taken seriously to determine a policy and the follow-up action. The officers can visit the UK, US, and Israel for short-term, long-term and mid-career courses in fields like terror-financing, the study of political Islam and the role of media and social media. Counterterrorism experts can be invited for lectures in India’s universities, think tanks and also the training academies of CT forces.

However, after 26/11 India has taken some remarkable initiatives which deserve due credit. National Investigative Agency set-up after Mumbai attacks have played a lynchpin role in busing terror-financing modules in Kashmir. It has emerged as a nodal agency in counterterrorism. National Counter Terrorism Center is a great innovation, but it needs to be vitalized. Expertise from academia, religious studies, the private sector, psychology, sociology, social media experts and artificial intelligence must be roped in to make it a genuinely multi-disciplinary CT agency that generates useful analytical reports. IB ran a successful operation viz. “chakravyuh” and it helped prevent many youngsters from joining ISIS. It is indeed quite surprising that despite having the world’s second largest Muslim population not more than 100 people went to join ISIS from India.

Further marking a significant departure from the past, India has changed its policy with Pakistan also.  In India, a robust CT strategy can never be complete without factoring in the Pakistan question. Engaging Pakistan is quintessential. Then the question arises-which way one should do it? Previously when India exercised restraint and tried to mend fences fearing a nuclear retaliation from Pakistan, Pakistan did not relent and continued supporting proxies in Kashmir and sending Fidayeen squads in Kashmir and other parts of India. However, after the surgical strikes, one finds that Pakistan is under immense pressure to rein in the anti-terrorist groups based in Pakistan. So far, no major attack has taken place in India. Modi government’s policy of diplomatically isolating Pakistan and strengthening international pressure on Pakistan through FATF sanctions also seems to be paying dividends. In one his articles for Asia Times, this author explained that nuclear threat by Pakistan is a hoax and nukes were never an option for Pakistan. Therefore, India must adopt a tough and aggressive approach with Pakistan to strike at the roots of terrorism.

Finally, in CT operations the armed forces are fighting a battle which is hybrid in nature. For example, in a typical CASO (cordon and search operation) in Kashmir valley, army cordons a house sheltering a terrorist, on a precise intelligence input, unlike the 90s when they cordoned the entire village. When such cordons take place, WhatsApp groups become active informing about the encounter and inciting the people. The calls are given from the village mosques asking people to assemble for stone-pelting. Within minutes a mob of 7000 to 10,000 gathers. The stone pelters are controlled by CRPF, and J&K Police positioned in the outer circle. Sometimes the crowds become incredibly aggressive and violent. The forces have to use pellets. If they want, they can use AK47 but that will be disproportionate use of force and will raise many ethical questions. Cross-border actors engineer such stone-pelting processions on purpose to make a terrorist encounter appear like an instance of human rights violation by Indian security forces. Many times, the situation demands to call off the entire operation which turns out to be very demoralizing for the armed forces. Moreover, it also gives the terrorists an opportunity to escape.

These days the army has to deal with a new phenomenon of shadow militancy which is a kind of psychological warfare. In this, a terrorist named x is introduced as different individuals in different villages. So when security forces neutralize a foreign terrorist, then someone from the other village will claim that he saw the terrorist x in his village and army lacks the will and strength to kill the terrorist x. As a result, the terrorist x becomes a hero. It is profoundly demoralizing for the military.

Hence, this author would recommend that state police and paramilitary forces should be the mainstay of the CT apparatus when it comes to combat operations. The army is meant to fight a conventional war and kill a foreign enemy. They should not be made to bear the burden of the incompetence of our police forces. The J&K police is the best example to demonstrate that state police can acquire the highest levels of operational efficiency in combat operations with highly trained terrorists of Lashkar and Jaish.  The state police departments and the paramilitary forces need restructuring and overhaul in areas such as command-and-control structure, discipline and the acquisitions of high-quality assault weapons and training. Further, paramilitary forces can be commanded by senior generals from the army as the nature of the operations of CRPF, BSF and SSB are akin to the military than the routing policing. Generalist IPS officers commanding units on deputations are not well accepted in the para-military forces, and the cadre-officers of para-military forces feel demoralized when they are commanded by IPS officers, most of whom hardly have any expertise in counter-terror and insurgency operations.

This author tried to contemplate upon some of the crucial aspects of robust counterterrorism policy. However, it is an extensive subject and needs exploration in detail which is not possible in the space offered by an article. To conclude, this author would like to recommend that CT requires a holistic approach.  We need to strike at the roots of terrorism, and that requires out-of-the-box thinking. A sound CT policy should also think about generating gainful employment opportunities and recreational opportunities for the youth. In the long-run, an alternate narrative needs to be projected. The narrative has to focus on religious harmony, economic development, political representation, nationalism and restoring the dignity of the aggrieved populace.

 

 

 

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Karan Thapar

Once again, we seem to have forgotten Kashmir

Karan Thapar

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kashmir

The people of Kashmir believe they have a legitimate history of decades of grievance – and I, for one, agree with them.

 

Once again, we seem to have forgotten Kashmir. I won’t use the word ignored because that implies a deliberate decision to disregard developments in the state. The truth is we appear to be simply unconcerned about what’s happening. It’s as if it doesn’t matter.

Yet in almost all respects the situation is deteriorating. First, internally. The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society estimates that 472 people have died in encounters and clashes in the initial ten months of this year. This, I presume, includes their figure for casualties from terrorist incidents. That compares to 379 deaths for the whole of 2017. This is a 24 percent increase and suggests that a civilian and a security force personnel lost their lives every second day. In October alone there were 59 deaths, the worst month since July 2016 when Burhan Wani was killed and 62 people died in clashes.

When you look at the break-up of the deaths, no doubt militant causalities are increasing but so too are those of civilians and security personnel. Between 2016 and 2017 the former went up by 28 percent and the latter by 32 percent. Those are very substantial increases.

kashmir

Image Source: Web

The situation on the border is no different. Government figures revealed in Parliament show that ceasefire violations almost doubled from 2016 to 2017 and so far in 2018 the figure is already 62 percent higher than last year’s total. According to the Defence Minister, from 881 in 2017, the figure by August of this year had shot up to 1432.

You get the same story when you look at the statistics of infiltration. Kiren Rijiju has reported that between 2016 and 2017 instances of infiltration attempts increased by 10 percent. This year, according to the Chinar Corps Commander, 3 to 4 infiltration attempts are foiled daily whilst nearly 100 terrorists have entered the state.

The only area where the situation has improved is in terms of incidents of stone pelting. After a peak in 2016, they have fallen steadily. However, for the first time in a decade, an army soldier was killed by stone pelters last month. That was an ominous development.

kashmir

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In contrast to the improvement in stone pelting, the number of state policemen losing their lives to militant firing has doubled. At least 40 have died this year compared to 20 in 2017. Some of them were victims of sniper attacks, a new and worrying innovation in the Valley’s jihadi tactics which has taken the authorities by surprise. Meanwhile, the army believes that 140 local Kashmiris have joined militancy in the first ten months of this year, the highest militant recruitment in a decade.

So, clearly, the tough posture adopted by the Modi government has not worked. With each month the violence and killings are escalating whilst the number taking up militancy is increasing. The more the security forces go on the offensive the more worrisome the problem seems to become.

Beyond these sorry statistics is the impact of it all on the Kashmiri people who, after all, we look upon as fellow citizens and claim to respect and love. Has the government asked itself what this is doing to their morale and to the way they view their status as Indian citizens? Certainly, the turnout figures in the Valley for the recent urban local body elections show that commitment to democratic voting is at an all-time low. The figure not only suggests that a preponderant majority heeded the boycott call but perhaps also feel there’s no point in voting.

kashmir

Image Source: Web

This raises the question do we realize we’re pushing the Kashmiri people further and further away? They believe they have a legitimate history of decades of grievance – and I, for one, agree with them – but rather than resolve and ameliorate the hurt of the past we’re adding fresh injury to previous insults. In other words, we’re making things worse.

The truly depressing bit is with elections just five months away I cannot see the government accepting its error and changing track. The present tough stance is likely to continue unmitigatedly and the situation will correspondingly deteriorate. The dark night that’s fallen on Kashmir is not going to loosen its grip anytime soon.

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