Slowly, the truth is emerging about the unspeakable police and state violence perpetrated in Uttar Pradesh against those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act; the manner in which the country’s heartland has been turned into its killing fields is now seeing the light of day.
This is being done, not by institutions like local media and the courts, which are mandated to expose and check such abuse, but citizen’s groups, civil society organisations, human rights bodies and politically conscious individuals in various parts of the country. In Mumbai, there was a public meeting organised on the theme by PUCL India, while Delhi saw the ‘People’s Tribunal on State Action in UP: Citizenship, Democracy and Protest’ (‘UP Police Inflicted ‘Enormous Violence’ on Muslims During Protests: People’s Tribunal’, January 17), as well as a courageous initiative undertaken by university student largely from Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, and supported by their peers from at least 100 universities and institutions across the country. More evidence, if that is needed, of how the students of India are emerging as its voice of conscience.
Why is all this figuring in a media column? The reason is simple: the media in Uttar Pradesh, with a few honourable exceptions, have acted as the sword arm of the state and its coercive apparatus in their coverage of these protests. They did this through information control; by framing the protestors as “rioters” and “terrorists”; and – in some instances – even directly expediting violent police action by identifying protestors and providing their personal details.
As someone remarked during the people’s tribunal on state action, “They conducted themselves like the Salwa Judum.” Inherent in the headlines they carried was the presumption that all those arrested were “apradi”, criminals. No presumption of innocence here! The images they displayed focused more on the “angry mob” than on trigger happy policemen, thus helping to foster the impression that it was the protestors who were the guilty party, when it was the other way around. In an instance recalled by a student fact finder, a journalist informed his cameraperson not to record an instance of police firing with the comment, “Let them do the job of finishing off these people.”
There is more than just an anxiety in media ranks to genuflect before those in power at work here. What is clear is how imbricated the media has become in the anti-Muslim politics and narrative of the Adityanath government. In the process, they have no real interest in getting the real story. When arrested youth are spirited away and not produced before the magistrate’s court; when Muslim families are asked to pay large sums in compensation without due process; when the chief minister gets away with ugly pronouncements of avengement, the media remains indifferent. When Muslim teenagers are beaten; when young madrassa students are forced into a bus and taken to the police thana; when an eight-year-old ends up dead in the melee, the media either looks the other way or underplays the story. The question is: Do such entities even deserve to be termed as “the media”?
Fact-finding to correct past injustices, even if it takes place after events have run their course, is valuable. It conveys public remorse for having let the tragedy take place. But it does something more by piecing together shards of memory. A fact-finding tribunal into the recent violence in Karnataka’s harbor city (‘People’s Tribunal Holds Mangaluru Police Responsible for Violence During Anti-CAA Protests’, January 22) could, for instance, resurrect in great detail an unprovoked lathi-charge by local police against protestors.
In fact, fact-finding is so integral to reporting that much of journalism is really serial fact-finding. As I write this, I cannot but recall one of the most touching pieces that I have read in a long while, and it was essentially about putting together the facts related to Naresh Koch, a figure lost in the labyrinths of disputed citizenship in Assam (‘The Tragic Demise of a ‘Declared Foreigner’ at Goalpara Detention Centre’, January 12). The story of Naresh today could well be the story of hundreds of thousands of the poorest Indians tomorrow if the prime minister and his home minister succeed in their single-minded drive to communalise and bureaucratise the norms governing citizenship in this country. That’s why it is so important.
At a time when faith in democratic institutions is far from buoyant comes a judgment, Anuradha Bhasin Vs Union of India & Ors, which, at first glance, appears promising but somehow seems to wilt under more direct scrutiny (‘The SC Must Go Further and Recognise Access to Internet as a Comprehensive Right’, January 11). The piece written up by The Wire‘s desk was one of the more comprehensive ones to suss out its limitations (‘Why the SC Judgment on Kashmir Internet Shutdown Falls Short of Expectations’, January 10). These include the court’s lack of response to some significant prayers made by Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of Kashmir Times, in her petition, all of which involve the journalistic profession directly. The first of course was the immediate restoration of all modes of communication including mobile, internet and landline services throughout J&K in order to provide an enabling environment for the media to practice its profession; second, the ensuring of the free and safe movement of reporters and journalists and other media personnel; third, the framing of guidelines ensuring that the rights and means of media personnel to report and publish news are not unreasonably curtailed. The court also seems to have given short shrift to her valid submission that internet restrictions would have had a “chilling effect” on the freedom of the press.
This seeming lack of response from the court on the need to ensure the functioning of an independent media is disturbing, for the reason that another piece – ‘Modi’s Thought Control Firewall in Kashmir May Be the Internet’s Future in India’ (January 19) – touches upon. Noting the response to the SC judgement of the government, which while declining to lift the internet ban, keeps 153 selected websites open, the writer explains how that move exceeds even what Indira Gandhi sought to do during the emergency. [More websites were added to the ‘whitelist’ on Friday.] Gandhi’s censors blacked out news that they thought unacceptable, Modi’s government has blacked out all news from digital sources. One of the reasons the government has given for the Internet ban is the need to check rumour mongering and fake news. But if this is allowed to stand as a reason for restricting the Internet in Kashmir, the piece argues, “no part of India should consider itself safe from an eventual assault on the right to free speech.”
Republic Day and its chief guest
The 70th anniversary of this “sovereign socialist secular democratic Republic” with its constitutional guarantees of justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity, is especially significant because the Republic has never seemed more vulnerable than it does today. There is a curious appropriateness of the chief guest chosen to honour the occasion. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, with his unapologetic authoritarianism, racism, misogyny and disdain for indigenous populations, shares with other authoritarian leaders across the world, including our own, the either-you-are-with-us-or-against-us mould.
Nothing reflects this more than the manner he has torn into Glenn Greenwald, award-winning journalist, known best for breaking the Edward Snowden story. Greenwald is also the founder-editor of the news site, Intercept Brasil, which exposed the collusion between the executive and the judiciary during the trials that got Lula da Silva – Brasil’s former president and whom Bolsonaro regards as his principal rival – and several others thrown into prison on charges of corruption. Not only has Bolsonaro hurled his trademark slurs against Greenwald, but his government has also now charged the journalist of cybercrimes which entail a jail term. Human rights defenders and free speech activists across the world have expressed their outrage over this crass attempt at media repression.
There are other problematic aspects of the Bolsanaro visit, including the attempts that Brasil is making to prise open India’s agricultural markets. As The Wire piece, ‘Bolsanaro, 2020 R-Day Chief Guest, Is Making Life Harder for India’s Sugarcane Farmers’ (January 19) pointed out, farmers’ representatives in India have clearly signalled their opposition to the Bolsanaro visit:
“The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements (ICCFM) has given a call to farmers to protest the injustice in the World Trade Organization (Brazil has taken India to the WTO’s dispute settlement body), the threat to our farmers’ livelihoods and the invitation by the Indian government to Bolsonaro.”
Budget Day blues
Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman is extremely unlikely to be a reader of The Wire, but I would urge her that between now and the Budget Day (February 1), to spare a glance for the piece, ‘Job Growth Data Shows Even 5,000 Years Not Enough to Structurally Transform Indian Economy’ (January 13). We have been hearing the term “structural transformation” of the Indian economy ever since 1991, when Manmohan Singh, in the post that Seetaraman now occupies, liberalised the economy in order to “lift all boats”, including those of the poorest of the poor. One of the ends of structural transformation is to reduce precarious employment and ensure that not more than 10% of employment will be in the subsistence segment. Using that as a parameter, the writer calculates how long it will take India, in current conditions, to achieve this goal.
The conclusion is stark:
“If the labour force and employment in the modern capitalist segment in India continues to grow at the currently observed long run rates of 1.69% and 0.48%, respectively, then the Indian economy will be unable to complete its structural transformation even in 5,000 years.”
What does this signify? Well, unless there are “radical changes in policy orientation and institutional setup”, we may have to wait out those 5,000 years.
The J&K Students Association (JKSA), a body of Kashmiri students, has complained bitterly over the suspension of internet services in the Valley and how it is affecting the lives of innumerable students in the region. Its additional spokesperson, JKSA, Younus Rashid, writes in to say that since the onset of the technology era, Internet has become an invaluable tool for students in the Valley, not just as a source of information but in terms of enrollment and the checking of results.
“Right to internet is a part of right to life and right to education. Abnormal conditions have been induced in Kashmir through restrictions on the internet. Education sector has been the worst victim of the prevailing uncertainty, and with internet services snapped, the students have no source at home to even access their results. For instance recently, in order to access their 12th class results, they have had to ask a post-paid user to forward an SMS in order to receive this information.”
The anxiety and trauma of these students can well be imagined.
Support for the on-going struggle against CAA-NRC continues to pour in from students across the world. SuddhaSatwa GuhaRoy, a doctoral researcher in the Department of Philosophy, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, sent us this mail:
“We, the students of the University of Manchester, have officially published our statement of solidarity, with the ongoing protests in India, from the official website of University of Manchester Students’ Union. The statement can be accessed through the link attached herewith. The Students’ Union here at the University of Manchester is the largest students’ union in the whole of UK representing nearly 40,000 students.
“We express our solidarity with all the dissenting voices of India and stand against the discriminatory and unconstitutional CAA and the ultimate harassing tool NPR-NRC, a pair of legal instruments that threaten to disenfranchise millions of undocumented Indians, especially Indian Muslims and other disadvantaged groups within India. We stand shoulder to shoulder with all the students who have faced both, direct state terror and indirect state-sponsored violence unleashed by people who enjoy implicit and explicit state patronage.
“We are sending this to you because you have been continuously reporting on the protests which have been happening abroad and the different solidarity messages that have been published from different universities in UK, Europe, America and elsewhere, ever since the bill was tabled in the parliament. We are sending this to you also because we firmly believe that your media house is one of the remaining ones in India which has not compromised with the moral commitment to truth and honesty and stands the ground to speak truth to a fascist state.
“We will also be holding a protest demonstration on the 26th January here at Manchester, as we felt that it is one of the best days to celebrate our constitution and our cherished communal harmony.”
As the anti-CAA struggles continue to rage across the country, state repression carries on apace. Saathi Sundaresh, a state secretary of the CPI, mailed in to protest police inaction over an attack on the CPI party headquarters in Karnataka, Ghate Bhavan. On 25th December 2019, at 1 am, miscreants hurled petrol bombs and attempted to set the party office on fire. The attack, Sundaresh writes, “appears to be the handiwork of right wing elements in order to intimidate the party from its principled opposition to the CAA-NRC process… The attack on our party office is an attack on the democratic, civil liberties of our society and reeks of a political culture that is fascistic in nature and stifles all form of dissent.”
Meanwhile, Samir from Thiruvananthapuram, while appreciating The Wire’s “straightforward and unbiased journalism which is rare in these difficult times”, has a concern: “I found that your articles are very lengthy and exhaustive. Sometimes it may be necessary to be so descriptive to convey the message. But you see an average reader like me will get bored – to the extent that he or she may just give up reading it entirely. So my humble request is that edit your articles to size, so that it fits the busy reader. Alternatively, you could add a summary of the contents of the piece or highlight its main points.”
Thank you, Samir, for the suggestion, and apologies if this column strikes you as too lengthy!
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