Friday, 30 December 2011

Free Speech: Look Beyond Content (Part-I)


Padmaja Shaw,
Columnist, The Hoot 

The year drawing to a close should be declared the Year of Free Speech, not just in India but across the world. The world has witnessed people's movement for democratic rights on an unprecedented scale. Starting with the elections in Iran, through Tahrir Square in Egypt, to the "Occupy" movements all over the world, individuals have chosen to wrench back the initiative from the oppressive governments and predatory corporations and they have done this primarily through those genuine marketplaces of ideas: the social networking sites. A few years ago, at any conference on media, Indians could be justly self-righteous for the apparent freedom we enjoyed for free speech even as in our neighbourhood as every nation-state was still grappling with dictatorial/theocratic governments. Indian democracy may well have been an inspiration for some of the uprisings in the world. 

Then, in the last quarter of this year, two influential voices in India-- Justice Markandey Katju and Kapil Sibal--reminded us that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty", once again. They raised controversies by calling for content control of legacy media and new media. While electronic media were in the cross-wires of the debate for sometime, print media were not really given a clean chit either. The worst, of course, was that the bastion of free speech, Internet, is now openly under attack. Openly, because it has been covertly under attack for sometime now in India and elsewhere.The free speech debate has two aspects to it. One is the debate around media industries--ownership patterns including cross-media ownership, licensing, taxation, exim policy for media technologies, anti-trust issues, action against predatory market practices and so on; the other is about the manifest content on these media. 


Between these two areas of contest are the so-called stakeholders--the corporate media, the state and the citizen. When one looks at the debate on free speech, all appear to be labouring under a deep sense of moral ambiguity about the issue. Let us take the corporate media. Since the dawn of the era of liberalization in 1991, the corporate media have expanded in all sectors--newspapers, magazines, film, TV, radio, cable, net, mobile technologies--in all aspects: production, distribution and exhibition/reception/reach. The expansion was possible purely because successive governments have looked the other way when unregulated expansion was taking place, partly also because successive governments, after the lessons from the dark days of the Indian Emergency, have trodden lightly when it came to regulation of the media. The resultant opening up is something to celebrate, as the Indian media market today is one of the biggest, holding out the promise of the greatest diversity.


However, in the post-liberalization era, the entrepreneurial opportunities expanded leaving large accumulated surplus with the business houses. While the Licence Raj was pronounced dead by many a pundit, we have discovered lately that the liberalization juggernaut was rolling rapidly ahead not because of the absence of Licence Raj but because of the skimmed cream of corporate profits that was oiling its wheels. All it needed to self-perpetuate was to invest in a newspaper here, a TV station there, to manage "images" and to keep the reader/viewer enthralled through trivia. 


During the early years of expansion, when regulatory frameworks could have been put in place, especially when there was ample international experience from other democracies on cross-media ownership, licensing requirements and transparency/disclosure requirements for promoters/investors, the Government of India did not act proactively with foresight then. Such a framework could not have been devised in neutrality as specific players were not in the market then and the regulatory framework could have been applied uniformly to all. If the government comes up with regulation now, there are entrenched interests already in the market and they are bound to politicize it, saying that it is an attack on free speech to control media entities opposed to the ruling party, even when they violate other laws of the land. 

The corporate houses are happy having created a regulatory logjam. Being either subsidiaries or arms of major national/international business houses, media houses have acquired enormous clout in the political economy of the country and have learnt to use the clout to drive policy and control political fate of elected governments. Media houses are active players in pushing the liberalization agenda on behalf of their corporate bosses and advertisers. Not much unlike Fox News the Indian media houses set the agenda for national debate and can pressure the government over issues they deem important. The politicians have little choice but to fall in line if they want visibility and voice. 

Free Speech: Look Beyond Content (Part-II)

Padmaja Shaw,
Columnist, The Hoot 


There is also a relentless process of mergers and acquisitions in the media industry which is resulting in large corporations straddling print, television, radio and new media and consolidating further. In the latest news about such mergers the multi-national corporations are making inroads into the regional space rapidly. So far, even though the nature of ownership, working conditions of the employees and the content left much to be desired, ownership in the regional space was dispersed. Beginning with the acquisition of Asianet in Malayalam, this process is picking up pace. 

Without going into the much-debated issue of media monopolies and their implications for democracies, it is interesting to see that there have been no regulatory growls from either the government or other media entities such as the Press Council of India on these kind of issues. What role does the Competition Commission of India have in such mergers and acquisitions? This is just one instance of a substantive issue that needs more debate. Instead, the Government of India passes rules on showing smokers in movies; Justice Katju asks "Why Dev Anand?"; Kapil Sibal talks to Facebook and Google about cleaning up content; giving the corporate media a Free Speech issue on a platter to trash both the government and regulatory institutions. Having given licences to the media houses, should the government/regulatory bodies be telling the filmmakers and editors of newspapers how to do their job? Do either the government of the day or its regulatory arms inspire faith in the people that they will use their content control power only for the good of the people?

Under any political regime, censorship is a dangerous weapon to hand over to the state. Misuse is inevitable and it will most certainly be against political voices that question their wisdom. The justification for censorship always comes under the cloak of protecting people from obscenity and crime, but ends up as a weapon to be used against political opponents. Kapil Sibal's eagerness to sanitize the cyberspace to suit his finicky taste is being fought back with vigour by all hues of political and apolitical cyber citizens. The irony is that Mr. Sibal's enthusiasm, in one sweep, has legitimized the right of the worst neo-Nazi style propagandists on the net who have launched a sleazy propaganda blitz against the Gandhi family. 

The propaganda is obviously in the run up to the 2014 elections, by when they expect to set up the net-using middle-class electorate to reject the star campaigners of the Congress party. One is amazed to see journalists circulating with this glee on Facebook. One does not know how many such appreciative Facebook friends actually vote. However, by stirring up the issue, Mr. Sibal also ensured greater interest and circulation for the very material he wanted to erase. Also, people completely opposed to the virulent ideologies of some of the groups on the net have shown no hesitation to defend the right of these groups to do what they do. The battle for ideas must be won on another level, not by the police state or the nanny state. Only if the content is abetting crime or criminal behaviour should the state intervene, that too under the existing criminal laws.


All things considered, shouldn't the government and the regulatory bodies concentrate more on the structural issues in the industry rather than its symptoms in the content? The failure to regulate the structure of the industry can in itself be considered collusion by the state to facilitate predatory practices. It has a long-term impact on the functioning of the Indian democracy. Let Shahrukh Khan now smoke in peace, let Dev Anand be page one lead; but let's concentrate on what is happening to the industry first.
 

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Jana Gana Mana




"Jana Gana Mana" is the National Anthem of India. The National Anthem is set primarily in Bengali, it is comprehensible to almost every Indian because of its strong Sanskrit flavour. While it is well known that the first stanza is a tribute to the astonishing geographical diversity of India, the second is a tribute to its multiple communities and the remaining are a salutation to India's undying spirit. Jana Gana Mana was first sung at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress on December 27 1911. Yes, you read that right, our National Anthem is 100 years today!! Jana Gana Mana was officially adopted by the Constituent Assembly as the Indian National Anthem on January 24 1950.


To commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Sri. Rabindranath Tagore in 2010, the leading English newspaper The Times of India had launched a campaign called "Jaya Hey". The truth it is that not many know of the remaining four stanzas that make up the National Anthem. These four verses were set to music and produced by the music label Saregama. The music for the video has been composed by Soumyojit Das and Sourendro Malik. The music video was launched two nights before 15th August 2010 by the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.


The meaning of the National Anthem in this inspiring music video is narrated by Harshavardhan Neotia while it features 39 of India's best loved singers from across the country from Hindustani classical musicians like Girija Devi, Pandit Jasraj and Pandit Shivkumar Sharma to Carnatic singers like Dr. S. Nithyasree Mahadevan and Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna, from playback singers like Kavita Krishnamurthy to Sonu Nigam, from ghazal singer Jagjit Singh to folk singers like Lopamudra Mitra and Lakhandas Baul singing lines from the anthem. 


Saturday, 24 December 2011

Exchanging Times: Cotton Green

There still exists a Bombay that is distinct from today's Mumbai. No cars honk there and the sidewalks are as wide as today's suburban roads. Alongside the entire eastern stretch of our great city lies a deserted Bombay that has no nightclubs, no multiplexes, no shopping malls, no tall high-rises. Not yet, at least. A walk down its carefully planned avenues will make you eventually wonder at the level of city planning employed by the British rulers over a century ago.

The Cotton Exchange is a a relatively unknown heritage structure in Mumbai. The Cotton Exchange was constructed in 1844 and is located just a stone's throw away from Cotton Green station on the Harbour Line, which incidentally gets its name from the iconic building. The Cotton Exchange remains well-concealed in Cotton Green. The original name of Cotton Green derives its name from the Cotton Exchange and because of a series of warehouses which used to store grains. Hence, the name "Cotton Green" is derived from the two words: Cotton and Grains. 

The first Cotton Exchange in the world was created in Mumbai. Mumbai was once the cotton capital of the world since it used to export cotton to Europe thereby meeting the gap in supply created by the Civil War in America when the Union Navy blockaded Confederate ports in the South cutting off their ability to export plantation grown cotton to Europe. 

The Cotton Exchange in Cotton Green is an excellent example of Art Noveau architecture and is a sight to behold even today. It is washed in a pastel green shade and is three storeys tall with large windows and high ceilings, it towers over the neighbourhood. It also sports a V-shaped design--one arm stretches over 100 metres in length while the other is 50 metres long. 

The building is nearly intact as it is not such a well-known building but nevertheless remains as an integral part of Mumbai's heritage. There are a few broken windows which are generally caused by local boys who play cricket near the open spaces near the Cotton Exchange. There is an immense sense of silence and peace in and around the Exchange since the roads at the back come under the jurisdiction of the Mumbai Port Trust. Looking for an angle to get an image of the Exchange, I bumped into 16 year old Manoj who told me that he regularly comes there to study at night under the light of the neon street lamps since it offers a very serene atmosphere. No matter the time of the day, you will always tend to find kids on the footpath with books in hand.

Friday, 23 December 2011

More Media Regulation? (Part-III)

Anup Kumar,
Columnist, The Hoot

While there are no special privileges granted to journalists that are different from those enjoyed by ordinary citizens. The right of free speech and freedom of the press come from the same Article 19 (1A) of the Constitution. From a strict constitutionalist perspective every citizen, including those who hold power, is a potential journalist--an ideal that has come to its fruition with blogs and the social media. But it would be also naive to suggest that the news media do not have power, like the government, rather they have immense power to shape public opinion, which is a powerful thing. However, as the power of the news media does not come from exclusive privileges and discretionary provisions, regulating the media would also mean regulating the liberties guaranteed to the citizens by the constitution. 

Importantly, the company laws already regulate the corporations that own the news organizations and journalists come under the purview of criminal laws and civil laws that impose "reasonable restrictions" on the freedom of speech and the press. Moreover, from the perspective of corporate laws and other laws Indian media is already perhaps one of the most regulated among the among the advanced democracies. According to the Freedom of the Press 2011 study, India ranks 79th and is categorized as "partly free". Any further regulation of the media would effectively undermine individual liberties that are so essential to a democracy.

So, what is the solution to the growing media malaise? What we have currently in Indian journalism is that the rules of the market, the TRPs and circulation figures, are influencing journalistic practices and news content disproportionately. However, this is not unique to India, similar problems are faced by market driven news media all over the world. The solution lies in exercising the freedom of the press with care. Journalists must exercise their power to shape and foster public opinion with humility and responsibility. In an otherwise vibrant field of Indian journalism, professional standards that guide the necessary gatekeeping functions and inform editorial oversight of daily routine operations of news organizations are either absent or deficient. Although the Press Council and the News Broadcaster's Association have codes, but they do not seem to have been internalized. What we need is the professionalization that comes with the codification of norms and values of a professional journalistic practice and reinforcement of them by the press clubs, editors and the educational institutions, especially by the schools of journalism. 

For example, we in India perhaps need to go through what happened in America and Europe following the communication chaos of the antebellum years at the turn 20th century. Then, the professional norms and values of journalism evolved out of a similar debate that is now taking place in India. The professionalization of news workers to a large extent weeded out the worst forms of yellow journalism and the sellers of snake oil from the news pages. This period also gave rise to organizations such as Sigma Delta Chi fraternity, also known as the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Newspaper Editors who came up with ethical standards for the practice of responsible journalism, which included the fairness doctrine and the norm of objectivity that included acceptance of official explanations at face value unless there was strong evidence to the contrary. 

Thus, I think the solution lies in a better professional education, both in the skills required for what Lippmann described as transmission of fact-based information and the knowledge for what John Dewey described as public journalism that can give citizens resources to engage in a democracy. The improvements in journalistic quality through the elevation in the level of media discourse on contemporary issues can be achieved through a better professional education in knowledge, skills, norms and values of journalism. Self-regulation or government regulation cannot by themselves solve the problem of corrupt journalistic practices and the declining quality of media discourses, both in the organized news media and the growing field of social media. Professionalism founded on clear sets ethical principles must be inculcated in young reporters during their training periods in journalism programmes. Moreover, today we live in a media saturated society in which for all practical purposes democracy itself is mediated, hence we also require educational curriculums in the country to include the core course in ethical media use and criticism..

Finally, this means not only more investment and improvements in journalism and media education in India, but also calls for reforms that emphasize in liberal education that encourages critical thinking skills. Improvements in journalism education must be also supplemented with funding and support for empirical research in news media's performance and media criticism, which is currently very limited in a country like India.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

More Media Regulation? (Part-II)

Anup Kumar,
Columnist, The Hoot  

Contemporary journalism is significantly different from the past when very few could read and most of the journalism was produced for and by the highly educated class. Although no specific empirical data on news consumption is available for India, yet the size of the Indian public sphere does suggest that an overwhelming part of the population is watching and reading the news on a daily basis. The news media's main role is to give fact-based information, which does not necessarily require great intellectual abilities. I think majority of journalists do not have the desire to be intellectuals, which is perhaps why they have chosen this profession. Most of the consumers of the news have basic education and in some cases, they are not even literate. In order to stand true to the democratic credentials, journalists working for thousands of newspapers and hundreds of news television channels have to produce and present news taking into consideration the lowest common denominator of comprehension skills so that the news can help all citizens engage in the democratic process and make reasoned choices. 


Although, Justice Katju is right at one level, often reporting lacks perspective and insight that places the news in its larger historical, social, political and economic contexts. The news media in India present news in a decontextualized and largely episodic manner. Journalism research from across the world shows that this is not unique to India, everywhere in the world daily routine journalism is mostly episodic. A more nuanced and sophisticated interpretation and thematic contextualization appears in the elite newspapers, magazines and sometimes panel discussions on TV. The few media pundits, who have the training and education, play the role of intellectual journalists while undertaking political and social analysis and cultural criticism in their columns and television talk shows.


Justice Katju is also right about the quality of the media discourse in India, especially on television. Research on television content from world over has shown that infotainment oriented news shows, sometimes described as soft news, hog most of the airtime. Not surprisingly, electronic media in India devotes most of its resources to cover cricket, regurgitate content from the movies and exploit superstitions among parts of the population. Whereas, in comparison to infotainment and soft news relatively meager resources are devoted to original reporting on more relevant issues such as skewed developmental priorities of government, unrest in the hinterland led by Maoists, inflation, terrorism and other forms of social injustices.


The upside in all this is that the news media in India plays a relatively decent role in offering a platform for some of the most vigorous debates and news analysis on contemporary issues. Thus, it would be unfair to say that the Indian news media has not made any significant contribution in the area of social transformation. Indian journalism has performed admirably, especially when we compare the Indian news media to news media in other post-colonial countries. The news media has played a vital role in moving the country, slowly but progressively, away from a feudal society at the time of Independence to a much more egalitarian and democratic society we are today. In this regard, we must not fail to acknowledge the role played by the Indian language press. The limited scholarship on the subject has shown that Indian language press has functioned as a bulwark of democracy, especially outside the big cities and in rural areas. Moreover, the Indian news media that comes in multiple languages has done what scholars otherwise thought was impossible. On the one hand, it has sustained ethno-linguistic diversity in the Indian public sphere and on the other hand, it has projected the imagination of India as one nation and one nation with quite fascinating dexterity.  

 However, it is also in the Indian language news media, both in print and in TV, that we find most of the problems associated with illiberal discourse, professional standards and questionable practices associated with the phenomenon of "paid news". It needs to be pointed out here that in the more sophisticated English language media paid news appears in the form of "subsidy news" pushed by public relation agencies. Not surprisingly, many who favour stricter regulations have suggested that journalists cannot take a holier-than-thou approach to corruption, as they are part and parcel of the systematic corruption in politics and society. Even though it is a valid argument, I think it is not fair to compare journalists to the political class, bureaucracy and judiciary. Unlike them, the news media does not have monopoly power to exercise of lawful and sometimes also the discretionary powers that they derive from the blindfolded statutes. 



Tuesday, 20 December 2011

More Media Regulation? (Part I)

Anup Kumar
Columnist, The Hoot


Is the freedom of the press under threat in India? Not really. Some would argue that it cannot be a mere coincidence that the calls for stricter regulation of the media are coming at a time when the news media have been highlighting corruption in the government such as the 2G Scam and the graft in the organizing of the Commonwealth Games. The media advocacy, often questioned by some, for the movement led by Anna Hazare against corruption has also attracted criticism from the ruling party. Morever, it seems that the criticism of the government on social media is also making some in the government uncomfortable.


A few days ago, Kapil Sibal, the minister for Communication and Information Technology, called for stricter regulation of the chatter on social media sites to check hate speech and protect national security. Earlier, Justice Markandey Katju, the chairperson of the Press Council of India, in his widely reported interview with Karan Thapar and later in his rebuttals to his critics spoke on the decline in ethics and quality of journalism in the country, especially in the electronic media. He suggested perhaps media regulation from outside is needed as self-regulation has failed. 


I agree self-regulation has failed but more regulation by the government might only stifle public debate and harm Indian democracy in the long run. J.S. Verma, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, recently stated that the media and the judiciary are two institutions in which people have faith and suggested that self-regulation must be encouraged. Despite all its failings, the Indian news media has functioned as a support mechanism to the Indian judiciary and other constitutional institutions in protecting and fostering India's democratic experiment for more than six decades, which is a rarity among post-colonial nations. 

No one can be seriously against "reasonable restrictions" on speech and freedom of the press with the goal to improve the quality of journalism and raise the level of the media discourse, which are so central to the functioning of any modern mass mediated democracy. Although at the same time, no one wants the watchdog to become a lapdog. It is also imperative that the organized news media and millions of "citizen-journalists", on blogs and social media sites, engage in some self-reflection. The debate over regulation should be seen as an opportunity to initiate a public discussion on media reforms that not only addresses journalistic practices from the perspective of ethics and also look at the quality of the media discourse. Additionally, the purpose of any reform should be able to put in place a due process to discourage a few bad apples, rather than regulating media through executive fiats or a government monitor.


The irony is that everyone seems to be on the same side, i.e. improving the quality of Indian journalism and strengthening the empowering capacity of social media sites and the Internet. Though there are differences over how to address the problem of yellow journalism, I think the solution lies in professional journalistic practice and media literacy. Before looking at some of the solutions, let us recall some of the issues that were raised by Justice Katju as the detractors were quick to denounce rather than engage in a reasoned debate. There were three separate but related issues that were raised. I am paraphrasing here: 1) The decline in the quality of media discourse since journalists today lack intellectual outlook and have largely failed to play the role, unlike that of the past, in social transformation and cultivation of modern sensibilities. 2) The electronic news media devote a disproportionate amount airtime to cricket and Bollywood compared to more important public policy and social issues. 3) There has been a decline in ethical standards and proliferation in corrupt practices like "paid news" and lobbying for corporation (i.e. Niira Radia tapes). 


Most observers of the news media have broadly agreed with the core elements in Justice Katju's criticism of the news media. However, the observation that Indian journalism is failing because, unlike in the past, today majority of journalists are not well-read or as he put it, they are not "intellectuals" is a misdiagnosis of the problem. I also think that the historical comparison by Justice Katju with "the age of enlightenment" in the 19th century Europe, when journalism was not necessarily democratic, is anachronistic. A better comparison would have been with the period when journalism in older democracies in the West emerged as a profession that was tasked with upholding public interest. The lamentation about the loss of intellectual journalists reminds one of the debates in the late 1920s America between Walter Lippmann and John Dewey. Lippmann had argued for a transmission model for journalism and Dewey called for public journalism that educated and raised critical sensibilities in public, although today media scholars understand that it is not an either/or case. Broadly speaking, the role of transmission is the function of news reporting and critical public engagement is a function of editorial and news analysis in the media.  

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Virtual Noise

Sevanti Ninan
Columnist, The Hindu 

There is no denying that 2011 has been a noisy year. It brought us Justice Markandey Katju, who alarmed, appalled and amused us in turn. To begin with, he was appointed as the Chairperson of the Press Council of India in the last quarter of the year and has been making himself heard ever since. His latest views, put out last week, relate to Internet offences. Before and after him, TV anchors have harangued and heckled and now it is Kapil Sibal's turn to utter first and ponder later. What do we get in response to his call for proactive screening of the Internet? More noise, unsurprisingly. A rising crescendo of free-spirited protests, though some of the offences can hardly be defended. 

The noise has been at one level and succeeded at hogging attention while the action has been at another level. Two murders of journalists, 14 attacks on them over the year in different parts of the country, one Home Ministry circular asking for withdrawal of advertising to newspaper, a Standing Committee draft that proposes to bring the media under the ambit of the Lokpal Bill, lots of legal notices to media outlets and some doubtless justified. And a few hundred take-down notices issued by the government to Net intermediaries. Also, a stiff fine is ordered on one of them, Yahoo, for failing to disclose identities of users.


More telling than Kapil Sibal's bombast, one would imagine, is the fact that the Rajya Sabha was told in a written reply that the Home Ministry had asked the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to "monitor" Facebook and Twitter. Has it complied? If yes, how precisely? Last week, there was more action: an amendment to the Cable Act, 1995 got passed in the Lok Sabha. It requires cable operators to transmit all channels in encrypted form and generally attempts to rein in the sector in various ways.


The old Act authorized the seizure of the cable operator's equipment if he/she violated provisions of the Act and limited the period of seizure to 10 days. The amendment says the seizure can be extended by an order of the district judge and there is no limitation on the period of seizure. The pattern since 1995 has been that the authorized government functionaries seldom used the powers of the Act. If that changes, the increased powers could be worrying. 


Between the noise and the actions we have a public sphere increasingly open to both state interventions as well as cyber excesses. The same year that saw social media trigger the Arab Spring also saw digital media being employed to spread the locations of the London riots. Who is to rein whom? When does freedom become licence? There will be more noise in the coming year as we thrash these issues out. Since self-regulation is the debate of the season, can it apply more effectively to cyberspace? There are no media houses in the social media realm, only intermediaries. 


Then there is the whole business of political thin skins turning on the media. As many as 255 of the 360 plus take down notices that Google got from the Indian government in the first half of last year related to the complaints by the government and the political class about criticism. It would be nice to get their details and be able to examine how justified the take-down requests were. Last week, a Maharashtra minister was complaining about press coverage that turned what he said was a minor defeat in the municipal council elections into a major one by virtue of the noise made about it! 


So far, Justice Katju has taken it upon himself to periodically opine rather than act, so that we don't really know in what ways he is toning up the Press Council to respond effectively to complaints. Even passing strictures against media outlets or statements exonerating them, with regard to specific complaints, which is within its powers, is better than no action. 

What action has the Press Council taken on the issue of the Herald in Goa being implicated in a paid news sting operation? Any investigation ordered? It would be nice if future press releases from Justice Katju could be about his institution's decisions rather than his views. In the meantime, the marketing manager of the paper implicated in the Goa sting has sent a defamation notice to Mayabhushan Nagvenkar who did the entrapment. 


One year of noisy debate and dangerous living just went by and we can always be hopeful about the next one. It is necessary to identify who is to rein in whom? When does freedom become licence? There will be more noise in the new year as we thrash these issues out.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

1857 Indian Freedom Struggle Memorial

The role of Bombay in the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny can best be described as modest. The Mutiny originated in parts of Northern India which at a later stage in history came to be known as the first struggle for Indian independence. Bombay has always been associated with trade and commerce in its veins and it reacted in a very characteristic manner when the news of the Rising broke out: the stock market bucked. 

The Indian Freedom Struggle Memorial is dedicated to the martyrs of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny in the form of an obscure plinth located on a fence right outside the underground subway opposite the Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. It is dedicated to two martyrs Mangal Cadiya and Sayyad Hussein.

As the superintendent of the police in Bombay Charles Forjett ordered two sepoys should be tied to mouth of cannon and be blown to bits. He was fluent in the local languages and an expert in disguise and often walked the streets to eavesdrop on conversations to get a sense of trouble brewing. The grassroots intelligence rarely failed him and during the months of the Mutiny, he was more vigilant than ever. It came to his ears that there was growing dissent in the infantry and meetings were being held in the home of a certain Ganga Prasad. Dressed up in a black native dress, Forjett is said to have reached a house in Sonapur (near Metro Cinema) and heard through a broken wall of a group plotting an attack on the Englishmen on the night of Diwali.

On October 15 1857 at the Esplanade Cross (now Azad Maidan), the two conspirators, the strapping Drill Havaldar Sayyed Hussein of the Marine Battalion and Sepoy Mangal Cadiya of the 10th Native Indian Regiment were trussed with their backs to the cannon. The execution of these two officers took place in front of packed crowds, both of Indian and European origin which was Forjett's way of broadcasting the message that any dissent would be dealt with in a similar fashion. The findings of the Court read out with the order delivered as: "There was a sharp report, a sudden flash of fire and when the clouds of smoke blew away, there lay scattered the bloody remnants of the two men." 

History came round a full circle a whole century later, when in Independent India, the Esplanade Cross was renamed as the Azad Maidan to memorialize the numerous freedom speeches that Mahatma Gandhi and others made during the freedom struggle and to signify the importance of the ground in the Sepoy Mutiny. The plinth dedicating a memorial came up in 2007 to commemorate the 150 years of the Sepoy Mutiny which began in 1857 and to honour the sacrifice of these two martyrs.