Greenpeace dispute: Is India shooting the messenger?

Kudankulam nuclear plant in India's Tamil Nadu Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Greenpeace has criticised a new nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu

We were watching an exclusive preview of India's Daughter, the controversial rape documentary, in a Delhi hotel when my colleague Pratiksha Ghildial spotted a tweet. It said an application had just been made in the Delhi courts to ban the film.

I rushed out to where the film's director, Leslee Udwin, was having a cigarette and showed her the message.

"Surely they won't really ban it, will they?" she asked.

"It would be crazy," I said. "You'd get tonnes of publicity."

I was new to India. I had been in my new job as South Asia correspondent for just over a week.

A seasoned reporter from one of the Indian national papers overheard our conversation. He drew deeply on his cigarette and blew out a cloud of smoke.

"They'll ban it", he said with grim certainty.

He was, of course, right.

By virtually any measure, the ban on India's Daughter backfired, generating huge publicity for the film around the world. Yet it seems the Indian government has not learnt its lesson.

Now it is attempting to shackle the environmental pressure group Greenpeace, stopping it from receiving money from abroad.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Greenpeace activists try to draw attention to the environmental costs of development

The Indian government has announced it has frozen Greenpeace's bank accounts, claiming the organisation has broken tax laws and works against India's economic interests.

The claim is that it has been "stalling development projects" by protesting against large infrastructure projects.

No surprises there - that is pretty much the organisation's raison d'etre.

The ruling BJP government's issue is that international NGOs like Greenpeace foist an agenda drawn up in rich nations on developing countries like India.

There may be some truth in that, but does that justify freezing its bank accounts?

The pressure group claims 70% of its funding comes from Indian citizens. What's more, the Indian courts found in Greenpeace's favour when the organisation challenged an earlier government block on its accounts.

Samit Aich, Greenpeace India's executive director, argues there is a direct parallel with the ban on India's Daughter.

With the documentary, he says, the government did not want to acknowledge the deep misogyny the film exposed.

Similarly, he thinks the government does not want Greenpeace to expose the terrible damage some development in India is having on the environment.

He says banning the pressure group's foreign funding - like banning the rape film - is bad for Indian democracy and for the country's image abroad.

"In a democracy people have to be allowed to express their views, even if you don't agree with them," he says.

In short, he believes India's government is, once again, shooting the messenger.

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