The Devansh Mehta Interview
“When you tear out a man’s tongue you are not proving him a liar, you are only telling the world that you fear what he might say”
Censorship exists to protect large masses of people from damaging content, but it also compromises the Right of Free Speech. Devansh Mehta, a student of St. Stephen’s college, recently took the nation by storm for his strong stance on censorship. Read on to know more about the trials and experiences he encountered before he was awarded the justice he staunchly fought for.
- Could you give us a review of the incident?
We came up with the concept and idea to start Stephen’s Weekly in late January.
There were three reasons behind starting Stephen’s Weekly. Firstly, if any student of this college wants to become a reporter or writer in the future, this was an avenue for them to develop these talents. Secondly, as a record of the events that happen in college; once an event is over it is usually forgotten. Thirdly, there has been a growing deficit in the trust between the students and the administration –this was meant to act as a bridge between the students and the administration.
We published an interview with the principal in the first issue. We sent a transcript of the interview to him before publishing it, but he didn’t reply to it. As we wanted to meet the deadline, we went ahead with the publication. There was nothing incorrect in the article we published; the principal has also stated that he stands by everything he said in the interview. The only problem he had was that we had published the article without getting a clearance from him.
We had vested too much of ourselves into this. We had built up everything from scratch, given our own money for the website and domain-name. So, we apologized. However, we were told it would be reviewed in July and was banned as of now.I realized that Stephen’s Weekly was going on a track none of us wanted. The students wouldn’t trust us.
We decided to see if we could get support from outside college, and so we went to the media. The media ran articles from the 23rd of March till the 25th. On the 24th of March, a one-man disciplinary committee was appointed, consisting of a senior professor of the college. Before inquiring into the matter, the disciplinary committee told the media that what Devansh Mehta has done is a breach of discipline. In legal terms, this is called known application of mind, as you already know where you’re going to apply your mind, even though an enquiry committee has to start out with an open mind. Without waiting for this committee report, the principal wrote his own version of facts on the website. However, I was supported by alumni and a lawyer (also an alumnus) who agreed to take on my case, for no charge. A petition was prepared on the day my prize was withdrawn. I knew that an apology for “failing to clarify relevant details before approaching the media” simply meant saying sorry for taking the issue outside of the four walls of the college. This would have been well-received as a recommendation, not as a basis for suspension. I knew that if I apologized for something like this, i would feel like a fraud through my entire journalism career. I was then told that I was suspended, and was asked to leave college immediately. The next day, we filed the petition. I had filed it on a Thursday, and my hearing was on Friday, a day before the convocation ceremony. The judge granted me a stay on the suspension, a stay on the prize and a stay on the report.
- What led you to take it up and see it through to its end? What drove you to do so?
Without the kind of strong support system that I had- my lawyer who took up the case for no fees, the teachers ,including my philosophy professors and Ms. Nandita Narain, and the media who covered it aggressively, this wouldn’t have been possible. All of this counted for a great deal.
- Censorship is required at times to prevent indecency, vulgarity and to prevent inciting of communal riots. In your opinion, how do you decide the required limit of censorship?
John Rawls in his book, Theory of Justice, talks about the difference principle. The difference principle permits inequalities in the distribution of goods only if those inequalities benefit the worst-off members of society. I apply the same principle to censorship. If what I write or what I say is going to affect the most disadvantaged and marginalised person, I would not write it.
- How has this case changed the scene of journalism in your college?
Before the case verdict was released, everybody was talking with their backs to the camera, in hushed voices, unwilling to be quoted. The moment I called them up with the news of the victory, they began talking freely to the media, they began opening up. Nobody in the past, who had stood up to the principal, had had a favourable result. Anybody who had crossed the principal was victimised. This was the first case where a student had succeeded.
In the settlement agreement, we’re going to be asking for an independent Weekly outside the ambit of the college. That’s an essential point of the settlement.
- Recently, a group in IIT Madras was derecognised for criticising Narendra Modi. What are your views on this incident?
I’ve been very upset after this happened, because a lot of people befriended me on Facebook, and sent me all sorts of messages regarding censorship in their schools and college. One guy in twelfth standard had complained about a school teacher who took tuition and gave higher marks to those students attending her tuitions than to those who didn’t. He posted this on Facebook and complained to the Principal. No action was taken against the teacher but the student was victimized. There was no support system for this student. So, I was trying to rack my brains on what can be done to help students like this, and to help the students in IIT. I think that an entire movement is needed right now. A strong network needs to be created between journalists, lawyers, students, and the administration too. So, anytime the administration victimizes a student, we’re going to hit right back at them in terms of negative press, in terms of everything. Basically, we need to make the administration think twice before victimizing anybody for speaking out.
Devansh mehta has secured his admission in the prestigious Columbia School of Journalism. He wishes to pursue Investigative Journalism at the University. He is also intent on continuing to find solutions for gaps between students, teachers and the administration.