US Congress hears member’s concern on threats to journalists, freedom of speech in India

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In a stunning development that will cause alarm to India’s BJP government, a Republican Congressman has expressed deep concern over the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh and threats to Kancha Ilaiah by an NDA MP.

US Congress

In a speech in the US House of Representatives on 12 October, Congressman Harold Trent Franks highlighted some of the recent incidents to underscore how “precious” and often taken for granted freedom of expression was.

“Just weeks ago, another of India’s most prominent political journalists Professor Kancha Ilaiah – known for critiquing India’s caste-social order, was threatened by a Hindu member of India’s Parliament. This Member of Parliament who is an ally of the current BJP government issued a statement that Kancha should be ‘publically hanged’,” Franks said. He was referring to comments by Telugu Desam Party lawmaker TG Venkatesh.

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He added, “Kancha subsequently received numerous death threats. These threats had significant effect. A mob tried to attack a Professor with stones as he and co-worker were driving to a meeting. Kancha is now under self-imposed house arrest because he simply is not safe otherwise.

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“Mr Speaker, I stand on the floor of the United States House of Representatives to state unequivocally, that the United States and the entire global community is and should be deeply concerned about the threat to the life of Professor Kancha Ilaiah. Our trusted ally and friend India is better than this, Mr Speaker. Professor Kancha Ilaiah’s right and freedom to speak should not be infringed. And his protection, and that of those like him, should be of the utmost priority to the Indian government.”

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Franks also referred to the gruesome murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh describing her as an “anti-establishment figure with a reputation for her fearless criticism of undemocratic elements within the parties in power.” He said that circumstances of Lankesh’s murder were “strikingly similar” to the killings of rationalists Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar in the past.

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