Interview with Chairman Press Council of India, Jurist Markandey Katju

By Ehsan Ahmed Sehar: 

Chairman Press Council of India, Jurist Markandey Katju lauds the courage and bravery of Pakistani journalists underlines the need to frame a code of conduct for Indian media, criticizes social networks functioning in India, Indian Govt should pardon 81 years old Pakistani Professor Dr S.M. Khaleel Chisti, Akbar and Nehru were men of vision.


Former Judge of Indian Supreme Court retired Justice Markandey Katju is acting as Chairman Press Council of India nowadays. He is bold and straightforward person who recently has written a letter to Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance, appealing for help in granting a pardon to Dr S.M. Khaleel Chisti, an ailing Pakistani academic currently serving a life sentence in Ajmer jail and also warned to Chief Minister Indian Occupied Jammu &Kashmir Mr. Omar Abdullah about an assault on Kashmiri journalists in Srinagar
recently. He is fan of Urdu language and critic of Indian media and observes that intellectual level of most of Indian journalists is very poor. Mr. Katju appreciates the courage of Pakistani media and terms it more vibrant as compare with Indian media. While talking to Sadiq News in Hong Kong where he   attended Global Editors Network conference, Mr Katju lauded the role of Mughal emperors Akbar and Aurangzeb besides Tippu Sultan.

Sadiq News: Tell us about your family?

Markandey Katju: I belong to famous jurist Indian family with Kashmiri origin. My grandfather Dr Kailas Nath Katju was former Governor of Orissa and West Bengal .He was also inducted as the home minister and law minister in Nehru cabinets and served five years as Chief Minister Madhya Pradesh. My father Justice Shev Nath  Katju was Judge of Allah Abad High Court and  elder uncle Justice  B.M, Katju performed as Chief Justice AllahAbad High Court.

Sadiq News: What has been the role of your family in your success?

Markandey Katju: My family is the best part about me. My elders guided me in the choice of my profession. It is the result of their guidance that I became the topper in LLB exam of Allahabad University. I was very close to both of my mother and father’s side of the family. If they had not believed in me I would never be elevated to the rank of
Chief Justice Madras High court, Chief Justice Delhi High Court and Judge Supreme court of India.

Sadiq News:   How many years you worked as legal practitioner?

Markandey Katju:  I passed my LLB examination in 1967 and joined the profession in 1969 and continued it up to 1991 when I was elevated as judge Allahabad High Court.So I served 22 years as legal practitioner in India.

Sadiq News: When you retired from Supreme Court?

Markandey Katju:   I retired as a judge Supreme Court in 2011 at the age of 65 while in October 2011, I was appointed as Chairman of Press Council of India.

Sadiq News: Would you tell about composition of Press Council of India?

Markandey Katju:   It is a body of 28 members in which representatives of both houses of parliament, bar council, university grants commission, media houses owners, and journalists have been included. It is the duty of the Press Council under section 13 of the Press Council Act to uphold the freedom of press. A journalist who is performing his duty of conveying information to the public, and he enjoys the fundamental right of freedom of media uaranteed by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India.

Sadiq News: When Press Council Act were promulgated in India?

Markandey Katju: It was constituted in 1966 but during emergency it remained suspended. I have requested Prime Minister to make amendments in Press Council Act as it does not fulfill the needs and requirements of the complainants. Indian Premier has assured to consider my request.A code of conduct is being proposed in near future.

Sadiq News: Are you satisfied with the performance of Indian media?

Markandey Katju:  To some extent. I observe that intellectual level of the majority of the Indian journalists is very poor. They publish such type of sensational stories which create hatred among the followers of different religions. Newspapers and TV channels publish and telecast astrological predictions and focusing entertainment and fashion and ignoring the real issues of eighty percent people of India who are living without basic amenities and facing price hike, unemployment ,poverty etc.

Sadiq News: You say that intellectual level of most of Indian journalists is poor. Would you tell that Indian media did not react on it?

Markandey Katju:   They became angry with my remarks and their six members boycotted the proceedings of the Press Council. They alleged that I appreciate Pakistani media and criticize Indian media. I replied that scores of Pakistani journalists have lost their lives in the line of duty while you in India enjoying freedom and peaceful environment. Moreover I understand that Pakistani media is more vibrant as compare with Indian media. As far as the boycott of Press Council is concerned we completed our business with other 22 members present. I told the boycotting Indian media persons that I believe in the freedom of press but I will not bow down such type of
tactics.(Main ne unse kha mujhay halkayee maat samne darwaza khula hai baishak chalay jayee) I asked them for arguments and said that I am ready to change my stance if they persuade me for it.

Sadiq News: Why Indian media ever involves Pakistan in sabotage activities on Indian soil?

Markandey Katju:   I agree with you.Indian media every time paints that an email and SMS received, that Indian
Mujahideens,Jaish-e-Muhammad,Laskhar-e-Tayyaba or any other other Muslim group has taken the responsibility of  the terrorist incident. It is not good act on their part. Any anonymous person can send email to any media house. All Muslims are not terrorists or extremists. This trend should be changed. Ninety nine percent followers of every religion are peaceful hence Indian media should promote tolerance and harmony.

Sadiq News: Is it true that you have raised voice for the release of an ailing Pakistani academic Dr S.M. Khaleel Chisti currently serving life sentence in Ajmer jail in India?

Markandey Katju:  Yes, Dr Khaleel Chisti an 80 years Virology Professor of Karachi University was visiting his mother in Ajmer,Rajasthan in 1992,when he got caught up in family dispute. One person was killed in this family quarrel resultantly Professor Chisti was implicated in this case along with others. After spending 19 years
under virtual house arrest at his brother’s farm outside Ajmer as the case dragged on,Dr Chisti was convicted  in January 2011 by the Ajmer district Court and awarded a life sentence. Dr Chisti’s daughter Dr Soha and only grandson Syed Ali Ghalib Chisti came to my house at Delhi and met me.Earlier as a judge Supreme Court of India,I had made an appeal to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in April 2011 requesting him to grant a pardon under article 72 of the Constitution to Dr Chisti. The Prime Minister referred the matter to the Home Minister,
Mr  P. Chidambaram.I wrote to Mr. Chidambaram, but no avail.So I then wrote to the Rajasthan Governor ,Shirvaj Patil but he failed to respond to my letter. After the meeting of heirs of Dr Khaleel Chisti with me, I now made an appeal to Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance in the name of humanity to
intervene in the matter and immediately get Dr. Chisti released .I said in my letter to Sonia Jee that it would be a disgrace for our country if  Professor Chisti dies in jail. The prestige of India will go up if his released forthwith.

Sadiq News: President Zardari had remitted the remainder of the Indian spy’ prison Gopal Das sentence following an appeal from Indian Supreme Court early this year.

Markandey Katju: Yes you are right. Das had filed a plea in my court through his  brother .I had ruled that while I had no jurisdiction in Pakistan so I made an appeal for his release to the Pakistan government through Pakistani High Commissioner. I am thankful to Pakistan government as Das’s release is gesture towards improving relations between two South Asia rivals. In my judgment I had quoted Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, ” Qafas uddas hai yaaro sabaa se kuch to kaho,Kaheen to beher-e-kuhda aaj ziikr-e-yaar chale.”(The prison is gloomy Friends! Tell the eastern wind, To at least allow some talk of my beloved for divinity’s sake) I am admirer of Urdu poetry as it reflects heart’s voice in excellent way .In my rulings as Supreme Court judge I quoted Urdu poetry and even started my judgment with it. Urdu Sanskrit culture is the best one in the world. My father had sent my wedding message  to
my in-laws in Urdu.I am an author of  book entitled  ” Justice with Urdu”  which will be launched  by  Vice President of India Mr. Hamid Ansari very soon.

Sadiq News: Journalists are being targeted and assaulted in Srinagar, have you taken the notice of this situation as Chairman Press Council of India?

Markandey Katju: Yes, of course, I had written a letter to Chief Minister Jammu & Kashmir Omar Abdullah about the police assault on some Kashmiri journalists in Srinagar as the result   four injured journalists were removed to hospital. I have asked him for his comments. Moreover I wrote to Union Cabinet Secretary and Union Home
Secretary, and all the Chief Ministers and Chief Secretaries/Home Secretaries of all States in India, and all the Chief Secretaries of Union Territories that I will not accept violence on journalists by the Police or Para military forces.It is the duty of Press Council under under section 13 of the Press Council Act to uphold the freedom
of the press. A journalist while covering an incident is only doing his job. He is like a lawyer who defends his client. Just as a lawyer cannot be equated with his client, so also a journalist cannot be equated with the crowd. A lawyer may defend a murderer, but that does not make him a murderer. Similarly, a journalist is only doing his duty of conveying information to the public, and he enjoys the fundamental right of freedom of the media guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. I have warned the concerned authorities that the paramilitary forces and police in all States/Union Territories must therefore be instructed notto commit any violence on media persons, otherwise they will face criminal proceedings which the Press Council will launch against them.

Sadiq News: Is it correct Chief Minister Jammu & Kashmir Omar Abdullah has suggesed to frame a suitable code of conduct?


Markandey Katju: Yes Mr.Omar Abdullah replied me that he believes that the responsibility rests on the states, the media but above all on the Press Council of India. He said that unlike a lot of other countries, including countries like the UK which protect the freedom of the press, there is a code of conduct for the media while covering such
situations. We have no such code binding on journalists in this country. Perhaps the time has come for the PCI to frame such a code in consultation with states & the media fraternity. As a starting point he suggested that journalists who wish to plunge in to crowds to get the perfect photograph should wear brightly coloured jackets/bibs so that they can be identified easily by the law enforcing agencies. Unless you take the initiative to make it easier to identify journalists/camera persons in such situations I’m afraid we will always run the risk of such mistakes appening again. Chief Minister has informed me to working with Press Council so a suitable code of conduct is framed. He assured me on the behalf of the forces operating in J&K that they will follow such a code in letter & spirit.
Sadiq News: How do you think about the functioning of social networks in India?

Markandey Katju: There has recently been some controversy regarding the contents of some social network sites.  In this connection I wish to state that I have carefully examined and perused the contents, pictorial and other, regarding the objectionable material. The pictures and other contents show religious figures of certain communities in a highly offensive and even pornographic manner. Such material is bound to create religious hatred and lead to most undesirable consequences.

It must be realized that India is a country of great diversity. We have a large number of religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups, etc. The only way our country can be held together is by giving equal respect to all communities. The media and all persons should take care that the religious and other sentiments of any community should not be hurt. The pictures I have seen not only hurt the religious sentiments of members of certain religious communities, but are   also outrageous, inflammatory and egregious, and are bound to disturb peace and result in serious law and order problems. I have said several times earlier that while I strongly support freedom of the media, no freedom is absolute, and all freedoms are subject to reasonable restrictions in the public interest.  Thus,
Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution which provides for freedom of the media, is subject to Article 19 (2) which states that restrictions can be placed on this freedom in the interest of public order, decency and morality. Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code makes it a criminal offence to promote, or attempt to promote disharmony, feelings of enmity or hatred or ill-will between different religious communities or groups, or do an act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious groups or communities, and which is likely to disturb the public tranquility. I have carefully perused the material in question and am of the opinion that there can be no manner of doubt that they attract Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code. Hence I am of the view that such offensive material should be removed or filtered out from the social network sites on the internet immediately.

Sadiq News: Who is your ideal? Are you satisfied with ruling party’s policies?

Markandey Katju: I am not a politician. However I like only two personalities, first Mughal emperor Akbar and the second Jawaharlal Nehru. They were men of vision. Mughal emperor Akbar ruled Subcontinent from 1542 to 1605 and adopted an equal policy towards the followers of all religions when in Europe Catholics and protestants were killing each other in those days .Similarly Nehru did not declare India as Hindu state despite announcement of Muslim league which declared Pakistan as Muslim state. In a nutshell, Nehru visualized India as secular a civilized, modern, progressive and a democratic state (with sovereignty resting in the people) whose energies would be
harnessed, towards the uplift of the people, especially the masses and the poor; and evils such as corruption, bribery, black-marketing, nepotism and robbery would be stamped out.

Sadiq News: Indian historians blame Muslim rulers of   Subcontinent  excluding Mughal emeror Akbar and severely criticize others, why?

Markandey Katju: It is fact that some authors published highly malicious stories. One disclosed that Tippu Sultan summoned three thousand Brahmans and ordered them to embrace Islam, resultantly they committed suicide. Author of this book was, Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. Har Prashad Shastri, Head of the Department of Sanskrit, Calcutta University. Another historian Dr B.N, Pande immediately wrote to Dr. Shastri for the source of his information. After many reminders came the reply that he had taken that from the Mysore Gazetteer…. Prof
Srikantia informed Dr Pande that the episode of the suicide of 3,000 Brahmins is nowhere in the Mysore Gazetteer and he, as student of history of Mysore, was quite certain that no such incident had taken place. He further informed him that the Prime Minister of Tippu Sultan was a Brahmin named Punaiya and his commander-in-chief was also a Brahmin, named Krishna Rao. He supplied Dr Pande with the list of 156 temples to which Tippu Sultan used to pay annual grants. He sent him 30 photostat copies of Tippu Sultan’s letters addressed to the Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Srinageri Math with whom Tippu Sultan had very cordial relations….Dr B.N, Pande a former Governor of the Indian state of Orrisa  in his speech delivered in the upper house of Parliament Rajya Sabha on July 29,1977 disclosed it and told that Dr Shastri’s book was approved as a course book of history for high
schools in Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Orissa, U.P., M.P. and Rajasthan. He approached Sri Ashutosh Mukherjee, the then Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, and sent him all the correspondence that he had exchanged with Dr Shastri, with Mysore University Vice-Chancellor, Sri Brijendra Nath Seal, and Prof. Srikantia, with the request to take proper action against the offending passages in the text-book. Prompt came the reply from Sri Ashutosh Mukherjee, that the history book by Dr Shastri has been put out of course.However, he was amazed to find
the same suicide story was still existing in the history text-books which had been prescribed in 1972 for Junior High Schools in U.P.Dr B.N.Pande opined that the task is not easy, because unfortunately the histories of India which have been taught in our schools and colleges for generations past were originally compiled by European writers. And Indians have not yet succeeded in shaking off the biases inculcated by their European teachers. These so called histories have presented Muslims as destroyers of Hindu culture and traditions; despoilers of Hindu temples and palaces; and brutal idol-breakers who have offered to their Hindu victims the terrible alternative of conversion or the sword. It is hardly surprising that educated men in India drugged with such poisonous stuff from the most impressionable period of their lives grow up to suspect and distrust each other. The Hindu has been brought up to believe that the Muslim period of Indian history which extends over eight hundred years and more is a nightmare. I will quote here Nawab of Awadh Syed Wajid Ali Shah though he was Shia but he allowed Hindu community to celebrate Dewali on the eve of Ashura which proves that  majority of Muslim rulers had no biases with Hindus..

Sadiq News: Would you give any message for people of Pakistan?

Markandey Katju:  Both Pakistan and India are poor and under developed countries.Both  are facing  price hike, unemployment ,corruption and poverty .To cope it they should shun their differences an join their hands for the prosperous future of their coming generations.

Dated:  November, 29, 2011.

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