The community newspaper published from Delhi has been facing an existential threat from the Modi government following its publication of a report on discrimination against Muslims in the Ayush ministry recruitments based on an RTI reply, says Milli Gazette Editor Dr Zafarul Islam Khan
DR ZAFARUL ISLAM KHAN
[dropcap]D[/dropcap]uring the 17 years of our existence, The Milli Gazette has faced many threats and challenges. I myself have received numerous death threats.
MG’s continued losses, dwindling subscriptions due to our own website and a disinterest by the community too have been our problems which forced us twice to think of closing down MG though on second and third thoughts we refrained from taking such a drastic step knowing very well that, however feeble, our community needs this voice in English more than at any time in the past and this voice mattered not only in India but across the world.
Now, since March 12 this year, we are facing an existential threat from the Modi government following our publication of a report on discrimination against Muslims in the Ayush ministry recruitments based on an RTI reply which the said ministry denied. It could have sent a rejoinder or, at worst, could have complained to the concerned regulatory authority, the Press Council of India in case we refused to publish its rejoinder.
We were all along ready to publish a rejoinder, statement or clarification should the ministry send it to us. Instead, it chose to file a police complaint. As a result, the journalist (Pushp Sharma), who wrote that story, was mercilessly interrogated for days and later arrested and jailed for around two weeks. Now he is out on bail while the case takes its normal slow course in courts.
Soon, on April 21, the Press Council of India took suo motu cognizance and opened a case against The Milli Gazette. This action was unprecedented as an authority supposedly created to protect the freedom of Press, was in fact throttling that same cherished freedom. We have replied to PCI’s letter and the case continues. Our next hearing at the PCI is on July 12.
A third bolt came from the Delhi Police (directly controlled by the Union Home Ministry) when DCP Licensing wrote to us on May 30 as to why our newspaper declaration should not be cancelled. Cancellation of the declaration means the newspaper will become illegal. We replied without fail to this show-cause notice and are still waiting for further clarifications from the DCP Licensing despite the passage of over three weeks on our hand-delivered reply.
All these drastic steps were taken to deal with an ordinary report which could have been tackled through a press statement like the one Central Bureau of Investigation issued on 15 June this year describing a Times of India report about CBI’s soft-pedaling over the Vyapam scandal.
The CBI issued a press statement the same day saying the report is “speculative & presumptuous and hence, is strongly denied.” Strong words indeed, but we are not aware if CBI, PCI or DCP Licensing have sprung into action against the Times of India. Do we have two standards: one for small publications and another for big giants?
This three-pronged attack on MG simply shows the desperation of the Modi government to silence this little nagging bird. We are fighting and will continue to fight against this injustice through all legal venues open to us. But should the Modi Govt succeed in silencing this feeble voice, we will call it a day and will leave it to history to remember this as yet another colossal injustice to the freedom of Press the like of which was inflicted by the colonial rulers on Maulana Azad’s Al-Balagh and Muhammad Ali Jowhar’s Hamdard and Comrade.