Govt, Economist in censorship row over Kashmir map

Last Updated: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 - 15:00

New Delhi: The Economist magazine has accused India of hostile censorship after officials prevented the distribution of the latest edition because of a map showing the disputed borders of Kashmir.

Customs officers ordered that 28,000 copies of the news weekly should have stickers manually placed over a diagram showing how control of Kashmir is split between India, Pakistan and China.

Both India and Pakistan claim the whole of the tiny Himalayan region and have gone to war twice over its control since 1947.

New Delhi imposes tight restrictions on all printed maps, insisting they show all of Kashmir as being part of India.

"India is meant to be a democracy that approves of freedom of speech," John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of The Economist, said. "But they take a much more hostile attitude on this matter than either Pakistan or China."

He added: "This is an act of censorship, and many wise and sensible voices in India see it has no point."

The map is used as an illustration for the front-page story of the latest edition of the magazine on "The world`s most dangerous border" between India and Pakistan.

The Economist still hoped to distribute the edition once the stickers had been added. The map is available on The Economist`s website.

Kashmir is divided between the two nuclear-armed neighbours along a de facto border known as the Line of Control. It closely matches the frontline of fighting at the end of the first India-Pakistan war over Kashmir in 1947.

"We are just told `it is the law of India`," Micklethwait said. "The map is impartial, accurate and fair. We show everyone`s claims, and it is also realistic as it shows where the unofficial border actually falls."

The magazine has clashed in the past with Indian authorities.

In December an entire issue of The Economist was pulped on the censors` orders over a map of the region, and its publishers predicted the May 21 edition was likely to hit trouble.

Offending maps in The Economist and other foreign publications are routinely targeted by the censors` office, which stamps each page stating that the borders as shown do not reflect India`s claims.

"As a point of principle we are against changing our articles," said Micklethwait, speaking by telephone from London on Monday. "So we mentioned the problem in a piece pointing out how touchy India is on this."

The magazine also printed a warning saying the map was likely to be censored. "Unlike their government, we think our Indian readers can face political reality," it said.

Sham Lal, a senior official in India`s ministry of information and broadcasting, declined to comment on Micklethwait`s remarks. "We have no knowledge and no comments to make on this matter," he said.

Wilson John, a Pakistan expert at the Observer Research Foundation think-tank in New Delhi, said that the map was seen as a national security issue by the Indian government.

"This is about sovereignty," he said. "I`m not surprised as this behaviour is an accepted norm in India.

"Mapping in this region has been an issue for many decades and, because the territorial dispute is far from resolved, maps will remain a problem."

He added India was generally proud of having a free press but that Kashmir "always creates sensitivities that have to be kept in mind".

Muslim-majority Kashmir has been a flashpoint since it became part of Hindu-majority India at partition in 1947 when British colonial rule of the subcontinent ended.

India and Pakistan nearly went to war over the region again as recently as 2002.

Relations between the countries have improved since then, but were hit by the Mumbai attacks in 2008 when Pakistan-based militants killed 166 people.

Micklethwait said India was now an increasingly modern economic powerhouse with a growing number of Economist readers.

"Other publications have had the same problems, but perhaps we have been more in their face," he said.

"China will not distribute whole issues for other reasons, but there is no country I know in the world that takes the extreme attitude that India does."

Bureau Report



First Published: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 - 15:00

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