“UPSC Jihad”: Didn’t Think We’d Live to See the Day Suresh Chavhanke Became a “Free Speech” Martyr

Social Commentary

“UPSC Jihad”: Didn’t Think We’d Live to See the Day Suresh Chavhanke Became a “Free Speech” Martyr

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Even though Indian television news channels have made a serious attempt to lower the standards of journalism in their coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, the broadcast that truly takes the sensationalism cake has nothing to do with that media circus. Rather, it is the “UPSC Jihad exposé” being aired by Hindi news channel Sudarshan News. The chief editor of Sudarshan News, Suresh Chavhanke, already known for spreading fake news on earlier occasions, reached new levels of notoriety last month when he announced his plans to investigate his own claims that Muslims were attempting to snatch power via conspiracy to fill up government posts and public offices. The 10-part series only aired its first four broadcasts before the Supreme Court stepped in and ordered a stay on broadcasting the remaining parts.

Even though the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting had earlier granted Sudarshan News clearance to air its “UPSC Jihad” episodes, the Supreme Court took note of the content and restrained the channel from broadcasting the remaining episodes. In its statement, the bench said, “It appears to the court that the object, intent and purpose of the programme is to vilify the Muslim community with an insidious attempt to portray them as part of a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services,” and claimed such content was doing a “disservice to the nation”.

Far from being properly chastised, Chavhanke has taken the court’s order as a sign that he has become a free speech martyr. On Twitter, he changed his display picture to one where he is gagged across the mouth by a black cloth. He has also been retweeting and amplifying messages that support his claims and praise him for speaking up.
The list includes notoriously Islamophobic handles like Shefali Vaidya, of course.

Other “nation lovers” have also weighed in.

Conveniently enough, his timeline contains none of the numerous fact-checks that found several holes in his investigation from the first episode alone.

Chavhanke might claim that his fundamental right to freedom of speech is being violated by the court order, but what he doesn’t know is that even India’s courts do not recognise freedom of speech as an absolute right. And if speech threatens the social fabric of the nation, the courts have a duty to intervene. However, none of his supporters seem to find anything wrong with this gap in Chavhanke’s knowledge. He is only the chief editor of a news channel, after all.