THE journalists are the eyes and ears of any society. They inform the public about various happenings, highlight the undercurrents in the society and warn about government policies affecting them. A true journalist is unbiased and tries to dig out the facts hidden behind the news. They hold to account the public servants, personalities and institutions whose functions affect the life of the community. In case of war/ unrest a few brave journalists even accompany the leading troops in a quest to keep the public informed about various happenings.
The insurgency ridden/ war-torn areas are naturally the most dangerous areas for the journalist to operate. In addition to the obvious threats being faced in troubled/ war-torn areas, they may also face threats from those who are exposed by them, and at times they pay a very heavy price for their work.
As for freedom of speech is concerned the dictatorships/ monarchy are generally considered the challenging eras, whereas in democracies journalists breath comparatively freely. The free press is one of the important pillar of a successful and functioning democratic society. In the democratic India the freedom of speech under BJP government is in doldrums. It’s not the first time that the free press is under clouds in India; the threats to freedom of expression have been, more or less, constant since the 1950s.
A low point for press freedom came in the 1970s when a 21months long emergency was imposed by ex PM Indira Gandhi. Draconian censorship was imposed on the news media and many political opponents and journalists were imprisoned in that period. However, the press freedom in India has declined to its lowest ebb under the present Indian regime. Surprisingly the, so called, world’s biggest democracy has become the most dangerous place for the journalist in the world after war-torn Syria and Iraq. Especially under Modi’s Hindu extremist government, it has become a nightmare for the journalists to work with impunity while being true to their profession.
A renowned journalist Swati Chaturvedi has revealed in his recent book that the BJP has been developing an army of millions of trolls called “Yoddhas”, with the job to use social network to attack journalists on the BJP hit list, calling for them to be raped or murdered. In India many journalists have been brutally killed, attacked and many keep receiving threats of murder, torture and rape etc on daily basis.
The hurling of abuse on social media to the journalist, especially to the female journalists is a routine affair, even the Union Minister for External Affairs VK Singh has repeatedly used the common online slur “presstitutes” to refer to journalists.
The Indian society has become intolerant under Hindutva wave, especially under the aegis of RSS influenced Modi administration. An explosive intolerant environment has been created in the society where individuals, gangs, political factions and religious groups have taken law into their own hands. The journalists who dare to tell the truth to public are silenced through various means and made example for others.
The individuals threatening the journalists even include, in addition to others, the government functionaries and members of parliament. In one such case a prominent political journalist Professor Kancha Ilaiah was threatened by a Hindu member of India’s Parliament for critiquing India’s caste-social order, he threatened the Kancha by stating that he should be hanged publicly. Many journalists have been killed, Gauri Lankesh, a publisher and editor and a prominent journalist, was ruthlessly killed for criticizing Modi Government, she was branded as being against Hindutva Ideology.
Earlier, rationalists Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar were also killed in circumstances like Gauri’s murder. On September 20, another journalist and TV reporter Shantanu Bohwmik was abducted and killed. Three days after Bhowmik’s death, another senior journalist, KJ Singh along with his 92 year old motherwas found killed at his residence. In addition to the murder, the journalists keep receiving serious life threats from various quarters.
TheIndian journalists face backlash for producing work that exposes any powerful man, for highlighting any communal issue or raising questions or criticizing Modi’s government or his BJP/RSS. There is an unending list of journalists who keep receiving life threats and abuses on daily basis. Swati Chaturvedi, a veteran print and TV journalist has been receiving hundreds of threats a day.
One of the India’s best-known TV anchor Barkha Dutt has been receiving rape, sexual abuse and even death threats for criticizing Modi’s policies. The extreme Hinduism has been declared as the nationalism by Modi’s RSS/BJP extremist, and any rational criticism of extremist Hindu acts/policies or Modi’s government is equated with the criticism of the country. To fuel it further some prominent media companieshave swung towards an aggressively hyper-nationalist stance and an inflammatory style of broadcasting under extremist’s influence. Even the sitting ministers offer rigid views on the issue, egg the Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani stated that “the nation cannever tolerate an insult to Mother India” similarly the Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that “anyone shouting anti-India slogans will notbe tolerated or spared”.
The life of Dalits, Tribal Groups and Religious Minorities has become hell; the vigilant groups that claim to be the supporters of BJP attack them on several pretexts. Any journalist who tries to highlight the sufferings of these oppressed people or criticizes the acts of these vigilant groups faces the wrath from RSS/ BJP supporters. These hardliner extremists, who threaten journalists, may includesupporters from any segment, department and profession. When in 2016 the students who expressed their views, and raised concernsabout the challenges to civil liberties were accused of sedition and tried in the court.
When the reporters tried to cover the public protest in favour of these students they were beaten up by none other than the lawyers. Even the Hindu religious leaders don’t lag behind, a journalistRam Chander Chhatrapati, who exposed Gurmeet Ram Rahim Sing for raping his female disciple, was also killed by Gurmeet’s men. Asper the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the journalists killed in India included entire spectrum of reporting from politics, corruption, crimes, business and human rights to culture etc.
The moderate space of objective reporting is almost disappearing for the journalists and they are being forced to take sides and adopt self-censorship. The condition of the journalists has gone so grave that in US congress concerns were shown over the issue. Congressman Harold Trent Franks highlighted, in his speech in the House of Representative on 12 October, some of the recent incidents which curb the freedom of speech in India.
He voiced his deep concern over the murder of journalist Gauri Lankest and threats to others including Kachna Ilaiahby a Parliamentarian of India’s ruling coalition. In India it has become really hard for the journalists to get access to information as they are subjected to arrests, death threats, torture and abuse. Especially in Chhattisgarh state the agencies of the central Indian state are in volvedin these heinous crimes against journalists, human rights activists and lawyers. A climate of fear has been created which provokes a kind of voluntary censorship by the journalists, as per a 2016 Amnesty International report there is a “near total information blackout in India”.
Between January 2016 to April 2017, 54 journalists have been attacked and 45 sedition cases filed against individuals and groups. Since2015, over a dozen journalists have been murdered; strangely most of them criticized Hindu extremism and were vocal about the same.
The death threats are received by innumerable journalists from those who describe themselves as Hindu nationalists, supporters of RSS/BJP and claim to have blessing of Modi himself.
Their claims can be validated from the fact that Modi follows a number of them on Tweeter and even received some of them at his official residence.