On Freedom in “Right” hands

You hoist our tricolour at the Red Fort. Twenty-one gunshots are fired in its honour. You step onto the dais to address the nation one last time in your tenure as Prime Minister. You speak proudly of your government, you announce your schemes and make your promises. The nation listens.

Today is only the 25933rd day we woke as a free nation. But this day is important to us, sacred even. Because in another time, at the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world slept, India woke to life and freedom. Neither of us were fortunate to witness that moment in history, we can only celebrate that freedom.

Yet, some of us can’t bring ourselves to celebrate. Some of us are weary of being threatened, assaulted, arrested, murdered for doing our job.

“We want to progress more”, you conclude your 90 minute long speech. It is often said that a country’s progress can be measured by the power held by its Fourth Estate. Earlier this year, India’s ranking in the Press Freedom Index fell two places to 138. Of course, this followed right after the Operation 136 by Cobrapost. But equal credit must be given to the intolerance of right-wing Hindu nationalists.

India remains one of the most dangerous places for journalists. With three influential journalists Gauri Lankesh, Santanu Bhowmik and Sudip Datta Bhaumik killed, 2017 was said to be the worst year for Indian journalists after ‘The Emergency’. However, this year, sincere attempts are being made to break this record. Many have termed this period as an “undeclared emergency”.

In April 2018, three journalists were murdered, all within a span of 24 hours. Dainik Bhaskar’s reporters Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh were run over by a car in Bihar and TV journalist Sandeep Sharma was crushed by a truck in Madhya Pradesh, for reporting on political corruption stories. After surviving three previous assassination attempts, Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bhukari was shot dead in the Press Enclave area of Srinagar in June.

In February, Rachna Khaira, a crime reporter faced a police complaint by officials after exposing a major privacy breach in a nationwide database of more than 1 billion Indians in the name of Aadhar ID.

Last year the Caravan magazine published an elaborate report on the case of Judge Loya who died under mysterious circumstances after being offered a bribe to give a favourable verdict to save BJP leader Amit Shah, accused of being instrumental in the extra-judicial murder of a Muslim man by the Gujarat police, back in 2010. The big media channels in the country largely ignored the story and even countered it with alternative theories.

Earlier this month, the resignation of APB News Channel’s three senior journalists stirred a lot of dialogue on social media. ‘Masterstroke’ was a 9-5 weekday show aired on APB to discuss and debate over various social issues. The host Punya Prasoon Bajpai made the dire mistake of being critical of the BJP government. Soon, the channel would face mysterious glitches only when the show was aired. After Bajpai was pressured to not mention the Prime Minister’s name or display his pictures on the show, he quit. Funnily enough, moments after he resigned, Patanjali advertisements were back on channel.

A comedy play named after the BJP’s election slogan “Ache Din Aane Wale Hain” was banned in Chandigarh under pressure from BJP supporters. In Kerala, 13 students were arrested for mocking our easily offended Prime Minister in their college magazines.

The fact that even college media is not spared in this apparently largest democracy, makes me a little anxious. But somehow, I feel braver today. For there are a couple more hours left of this day after all. Happy Independence Day, Prime Minister.

~Written by Rashmitha Muniandi for MTTN

~Photographs from Google Images

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