In democratic countries like India, freedom of speech and expression is shrinking. People are afraid of expressing their opinion. And those who have contrarian views are being hounded and trolled and described as anti-nationals. In the new scheme of things, you are not allowed to question. A question is seen as a threat to the integrity and sovereignty of the country. In fact, in some cases, the Official Secrets Act and other such laws have been invoked to curb the freedom of expression.
At the same time, the speeches and statements that incite people against another community and religion are being ignored. In spite of stringent laws in place to book people responsible for the hate speeches, the law enforcing agencies have not invoked such acts against accused organisations and persons whose speeches and statements have led to lynching and killings.
There is no thin-line that separates hate speeches from the expression of dissent, or asking a question or speaking truth to the power. Hate speech and statements are quite visible. Here you threaten a community of violence and then justify that violence. While in case of freedom of expression you express dissent against the government policies and talk truth to the power.
Whenever people speak about the growing intolerance toward the minority and liberals, they are painted as anti-nationals and are accused of misusing provisions of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in the Article 19 of the Constitution of India. But at the same time, those who garland criminals accused of lynching Muslims are hailed as proud nationalists.
Post Pulwama attack, that shook the nation to the core, things worsened vis a vis freedom of speech and expression. Kashmiris were hounded and targeted. Hate posters were spread across different states. The organisations and people who criticised the targeting of Kashmiris in different parts of the country were ridiculed. The groups and people who came forward to help Kashmiris and evacuated them from the areas of impending danger were targeted and described as anti-nationals. Getting life threats, rape threats and extremely derogatory messages has become the new normal. Some of the selfless serving groups like Khalsa Aid, which did a remarkable job by sending back all students to Kashmir safely, give up hope. And hope is what you need the most in today’s times.
“Give me a ministry and I will drop bombs on those who do not feel safe in India.” The statement which kicked up a storm was given by the BJP MLA Vikram Saini. This came as a shocker after actor Naseeruddin Shah expressed fear for the society that has been inflicted by sectarian poison. The actor said, “He fears for his children because they will not have an answer if a mob surrounds them asks them whether they are Muslim or Hindu.”
Shah was referring to the Bulandshahar violence, expressing his shock on how the death of a cow was given more space and importance by outraged right-wing activists, than the killing of a policeman. Not just right-wing groups and leaders, veteran actor Anupam Kher also jumped into the ring countering Shah’s statements. Anupam Kher said “There is enough freedom in the country. How much more freedom do you want?”
Today freedom of speech has become limited more to praising top leaders or speaking things which do not hurt the sentiments of hard-core Hindu activists. If a person who dares to speak his mind, he is described as anti-Indian or anti-Hindu and can even be asked to leave the country.
Along with Shah, many other Bollywood actors fell prey to trolling for speaking up on the increasing instances of intolerance and fear in the country. Whether Hindu or Muslim, you cannot express your fear publicly, for you will be made to live in fear all your life once you open up about it.
These instances are not new now. Even different media channels are a part of this pool of hate, just to hold the top notch in terms of TRPs, totally playing as puppets of government demonstrating things in the interest of the government. Credibility standards have dipped to bottom.
Indian media has a notorious reputation for sensationalising news or making claims that are far from being accurate. The problematic way of reporting and demonstrating things on national television can trigger serious communal riots and online bullying, especially when covering incidents like the Pulwama attack.
A report released by The World Economic Forum has labeled the Indian media as the most corrupt and untrusted institution in the world.
The Edelman report showed that the trust of people in the media hit an all-time low and the credibility and motive of these institutions have been under question.
Now here’s a big question for the country, which is who can be trusted and who cannot? The decision lies in the hand of those people who have that ability to see the truth and can guide others who believe everything that the mass media shows these days.