Journalistic freedom in India declining
|By Amit Singh|
Apr 30, New Delhi: Ancient India is well known for freedom of expression, scepticism to religion and toleration to opposing views, however, scholars and activist has noted the rise of Hindu religious nationalism in India threatening secular values such as human rights, rule of law, democracy- particularly freedom of expression. In its latest report, Reporters without Border placed India abysmally on low rank-136th in the list of 180 countries . Even Afghanistan, Burma and Cambodia outshined India as far as journalistic freedom is concerned.
Interestingly, in India, not a single journalist, media assistant and netizens killed in 2017, however, it is fear of mob, threat of physical violence and government backed support to Hindu fundamentalist elements that discourages a free thinkers-students, intellectuals and journalist to voice their dissent publically.
This report has stressed, “with Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media...Journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals....”
Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists who are overly critical of the government, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment. These laws are vaguely worded, overly broad, and prone to misuse, and have been repeatedly used for political purposes against critics at the national and state level.
However, more alarming is the ‘polarization of people’ on the religious lines and ‘callous attitude’ of majority of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) supporters (media, intellectuals, party-workers including fringe Hindu nationalist religious elements ) who are quick to label any dissent as an anti- national thus narrowing the space for logical debate; hindering access to fundamental rights of freedom of expression. In fact, military wing of BJP- R.S.S (Rastriya Swam Sawayak) decides for a nation of more than one billion people-what to eat (Ban on Beef-controlling the eating pattern of largest minority of India), what to read/see/listen (media control, self censor) and what to say (threat of sedition laws; only dominant Hindu narratives allowed in public discourse).
In fact, it’s not just a journalist freedom which is under jeopardy, but also, other kinds of dissecting voices, too. In this connection, the Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh has banned all kinds of strike by employees and teachers in state universities and colleges effectively violating their right to protect and freedom of expression. The ban is put under the stringent Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA). ESMA gives police the powers to arrest, without a warrant, anybody violating the Acts provisions.
Fringe religious elements of ruling party such as V.H.P. (Vishva Hindu Parishad), Hindu Yuva Vahni and Bajrang Dal are actively trying to censor (physically and legally threatening) the opposing narratives or critical discourse in the public space prevailing at the local, regional and national level.
In today’s India anti-nationals are those who questioned the credibility of surgical strike on Pakistan by India, protested against note-ban, or anything against Prime Minister Narendera Modi’s policy. In such situation, free thinkers and journalist if not officially censored, but forces to self censorship and risked being labelled as anti-national.
No wonder in coming year, we might see India sinking at the bottom of the journalist freedom and religious freedom.
The Oslo Times International News Network