Censorship, Propaganda, Cold-Blooded Murder: The Future Of Indian Media?

India as a democracy has seen many ups and down in her journey of seven decades. All her four pillars—the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, and the press—have also acknowledged different seasons of success and crisis. The most discussed controversial chapter among them remains the censorship of press during the 21-month long National Emergency from June 1975 to March 1977. The central government abolished the press council and imposed a ban on the publication of anything that seemed ‘objectionable’, and only pro-government news was allowed to be published. During this severe crisis also there were vocal media stalwarts such as Janardan Thakur, Nikhil Chakraborty, and Romesh Thapar, who did not bow down to extreme pressures of the central government though the gag was removed on March 21 1977 to restore civil liberties. But now, decades later, slmost the same “Unofficial Intimidation of Journalists” is happening in contemporary India.

Journalist Rana Ayyub

The telecast of “Left, Right and Center” on NDTV on May 25, 2018, disturbed me as a citizen of world’s largest democracy.  It was an hour discussion with the confessions of journalists Rana Ayyub and Ravish Kumar about the assault on their freedom of expression. Ayyub had expressed the unimaginable outrage of her modesty over critical views she keeps on the Modi government by online goons who are paid to abuse her. She said, “A pornographic video was circulated with my face morphed on to the body of another woman. The online mob asked me to pack my bags and leave for Pakistan, some threatened to tear my clothes and drag me out of the country.” It is impossible to even image what she and her family would have undergone by seeing such unleash of rape culture. The matter was of such intense gravity that it had attracted the attention of the Office of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. They had called on Indian authorities to protect Ayyub, who has received death threats following an online hate campaign.

Ravish Kumar, one of the most lauded journalists of this country, is known for raising most critical issues which students, youth, farmers, and the oppressed sections of this country are going through. He along with his family are facing hate, insult, and death threats. Despite this daily trauma, he has many such deeds which garnered immense attention of the common man. These include continuous 28 episodes of Prime Time on rising unemployment; many episodes on the worsening situation of government universities like Allahabad University; questioning die hard right-wing elements who malign the achievements of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and a sustained character assassination of the man.

A Subjugation Of Truth, And By Whom?

These incidents with journalists are definitely not the first of their kind. Elected government, whether it was the UPA under Congress or now the NDA under BJP, both have tried to suppress freedom of press. Since 2014, when the Modi government assumed power the method of suppressing the press has undergone a two-dimensional shift.

First to target those who are constantly protesting the anti-people policies the government, and the lag of development loaded with divisive agenda on religion and caste. The second is to target those who question the fake propaganda of BJP’s IT Cell.

For example, in 2016, journalists at the Kerala High Court were prevented from covering a case involving a government pleader by a violent mob of lawyers. Alok Singh and Kaunain Sheriff of the India Express were attacked by lawyers inside premises of Patiala Court. Ashad Ashraf, Anupam Pandey, and Vinay Pandey were arrested in Hanumangarh while investigating arms-training camps allegedly being conducted by the Bajrang Dal.

A mob lynch, or bullet will decide your tomorrow; if you speak or write against one ideology which is in power with majority support, be ready to suffer. It’s as if we elected a God-like human being, not a leader who is above criticism, questions and accountability.

The brutal murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh on September 25, 2017, is a fresh instance. She was most vocal against the Hindutva brand of politics. After her murder, social media was flooded with vocal criticism against this gruesome act. But at the same time, a man on twitter named Nikhil Dadhich, tweeted: “Now a bitch has died a dog’s death, all the puppies are mewling in one voice.” Our Prime Minister follows this man. In the same manner, union minister like Piyush Goyal and many others follow serial abusers, rumor-mongers, misogynists, and various handles brimming with communal venom. Celebration of Gauri Lankesh’s murder, character assassination of Rana Aayub, death threat to Ravish Kumar and his family are not from anonymous trolls. These individuals enjoy an established political patronage. They have been awarded with posts in different outfits such as the Bajrang Dal and the Gauraksha Samiti. The pattern of threat is noticeable, and the bedrock is religious fundamentalism and bigotry. The Prime Time show on NDTV, independent YouTubers, and journalists who are busting fake news are severely hurting the fake news machinery of the BJP IT cell. Raising questions about our nation’s top-most leader for not having a single press conference makes cut-throat supporters of the ruling party feel furious.

The Divided Indian Media

In a democracy there media people should have full liberties, without any sort of subjugation, but there’s a section of the media fraternity who seem happy to be co-opted by the government. Here is the divide in media—one who is a “Watchdog”, and the other a “Lapdog”. The former is “Anti-National”, and the target of death threats, abuse, and character assassination, for keeping critical views on government. The latter is termed to be “Nationalists” who are tight-lipped about the government, and its functioning for its people. They even love to maintain pin-drop silence on how interviews with the prime minister are conducted. Here is how it is done. Aset of questions from the interviewer is sent by mail to the PM’s or his aides. They will examine them and pick the ones which are convenient.

Instead of the Press Information Bureau (PIB), the fashion of hiring a PR enterprise (through which the Government of India spends ₹4,343.26 crore on advertisements and publicity) indicates lowering transparency. The position of India in the World Press Freedom Index 2018 is really disheartening in which we have slipped from 136 to 138, out of 180 countries. Figures also indicate shrinking space for the press under the Modi government. Targeting journalists on different spheres often by ‘troll armies’ in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s payroll is now an open secret.

Threats and attempts to subjugate journalists is not the same as India’s past experience of “National Emergency”, but it is more a socialised phenomenon which aims to normalise hate and instill fear both among journalists and viewers or readers. We the people of India need to stop this assault by expressing solidarity to democracy’s fourth pillar without delay. Journalists who are speaking and seeking the truth from an elected government deserve all support and strength from every section of society.

As in words of Malcolm X, “If you stick a knife in my back 9 in and pull it out 6 in, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made. They won’t even admit the knife is there.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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