Youth Ki Awaaz

Impact Of Hindu Nationalism On Media Freedom And Freedom Of Speech

The year 2014 was not only a so-called “political revolution” in the history of modern India, but was also a theatrical benchmark of sponsored chaos. The electoral outcome in May 2014 came with an unseen cost (Hindu Nationalism), which led to systematic deflation of media freedom and freedom of expression. The impact of this process has credibly affected the libertarian attitude of journalism houses.

Hindu Nationalism is a euphemism for Saffron Terror, reflecting the socio-political thought of the upper caste and economic statism of the current government led by BJP.

The current status of the media freedom enjoyed by the Democratic Republic of India is internationally ranked at 138, just one rank above the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (139), out of 180 nations, as compiled by the RWB (Reporters without Borders). Since 2002, on the global level, RWB measures media freedom enjoyed by the journalists on the following parameters: a) level of pluralism, b) media independence environment, c) self-censorship, d) transparency, e) legal framework, and f) quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.

Before the rise of Hindu Nationalism in 2014, India ranked at 136. The former so-called secular government (before 2014) was not so good in enriching the quality of media freedom either. In today’s epoch, it is commonly understood that the growth of Hindu Nationalism has systematically led to another debacle and assault on media freedom of the journalists. The current government has proactively failed in scorning, diminishing and condemning the existence and emergence of ‘spiral of silence’ in the public sphere, especially the media.

Prolusion

The strength of democracy is dependent upon abundant [unregulated and unchecked] production of [responsible and accountable] liberties. Without the freedom to think, speak and act, democracy generates ‘road to serfdom’ in its system. There is a thin line between democracy and dictatorship, and it all depends upon the quantity and volume of statism in the social system of an economy. In this context, the Indian economy is experiencing a bizarre and unusual attitude among the pillars of so-called democracy. This article does not favour the present status of nationalism; the nationalism trickled down is empirically showing how the cultural marriage between the spirit of nationalism and axioms of Hindutva is turning our liberties upside-down.

As long as this trend is tolerated, obeyed, promoted and undebated or unquestioned, in the current epoch, the political fraternity is likely to push down the ranking of India’s free speech from 138th to 139th by the next year? In the last two years (2015-2017), India’s global rank on free speech index – as measured by RWB (Reporters Without Borders) platform – has fallen from 136th to 138th. This downsizing is not a good manifestation of media governance, constituted by the aptitude and attitude of the current government. Nationalism (aka Jingoism) has found its solace in Hindutva since 2014, also understood as ‘Hindu Nationalism’, has motivated people to fear the government and not vice-versa.

“Pakistan Zindabad, haan?” I can’t tell what got me scared more, his bigotry or ignorance… I wanted to tell him that I am not one of those who shouted the stupid slogans in JNU; am a journalist here to cover the proceedings.” — Akshay Deshmane, a journalist with The Economic Times, assaulted by ‘nationalist’ lawyers in Patiala House court last year.

Nationalism is legitimate and sensible as long as the government fears the people. There is no coherence in embracing nationalism; ‘sense of belongingness’ is a voluntary spirit by nature. To compel people to act in a defined way debauches the feature of nationalism and ‘freedom to choose/act’, in the first place. The cultural alteration of the said spirit by the machinery of Hindu Nationalism reminds me about the rise of Nazism in Germany. The utility of judgmental terms like ‘anti-national’, ‘urban Naxal’ and beef-eater is in rampant stage against the ones who disagree, disobey or dissuade with the present policies, character and narratives of the current government. Journalists, who ask or raise right questions or post uncomfortable facts, in today’s post-truth century, are trolled [on social media] or intimidated with the legal repercussions by the cultural activists of this government.

Secularism (secessionism) between nationalism and Hindutva is essential before Indian economy compels our liberties to walk the saffronized path of Orwellian Dystopia. It is widely known that Sangh Parivar (“organizational family of RSS, BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal”) has its roots in last-cum-present century confrontation between colonial Europeans and Indians who yearned for a national identity of their own. They are actively propagating for something on the model of a Western blood-and-soil nationality, with especially Hindutva characteristics, with which to stand against their foreign rulers, both British (Christian) and the Islamic dynasties that preceded them. This family’s 20th-century godfather could be a so-called ‘atheist’ named Vinayak Savarkar, who wrote a pamphlet called “Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?” in 1928.

“Things have nonetheless deteriorated on Mr. Modi’s watch. This government is particularly ruthless about cutting off access to reporters it deems unfriendly. The BJP also appears to at least tacitly encourage social-media lynch mobs that go after any journalist seen to be stepping out of line. No other major political party appoints trolls to responsible positions.” – Sadanand Dhume, writer and columnist, wrote this in The Wall Street Journal, in July 2017

A U.S. Congressional report (September 2018) has claimed, as it warned that social media platforms provide “both tacit and overt sanction” for rising incidents of “majoritarian violence” in India, that Hindu nationalism has been a rising political force in India in recent decades, “eroding” its secular nature.

In its report, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) — an independent and bipartisan research wing of U.S. Congress — mentioned specific areas of alleged religiously-motivated repression and violence including cow protection vigilantism and perceived assaults on freedom of expression. The report, titled ‘India: Religious Freedom Issues‘, said: “Religious freedom is explicitly protected under its Constitution. Hindus account for a vast majority (nearly four-fifths) of the country’s populace. Hindu nationalism has been a rising political force in recent decades, by many accounts eroding India’s secular nature and leading to new assaults on the country’s religious freedom.” Taking a cue from this report, few journalists who have not compromised with the statism of the current government have faced insults, sexual harassment, right-wing trollers and last-but-not-least the killings.

As it was seen, in February 2018, finance minister Arun Jaitley drew a sharp rebuke from liberal onlookers and critics of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when he argued that freedom of expression should be subordinate to upholding the sovereignty of the nation. He has failed to draw a thin line in comprehending that sovereignty of the nation is not above the constitution of Hindu Nationalism. In this regard, India Freedom Report (2017), published by media watchdog The Hoot, spoke of “an overall sense of shrinking liberty not experienced in recent years”. It counted 54 reported attacks on journalists, at least three cases of television news channels being banned, 45 internet shutdowns and 45 sedition cases against individuals and groups between January 2016 and April 2017.

“India is going through an aggressive variant of McCarthyism against the media,” said Prannoy Roy, co-founder of NDTV, India’s first private news channel.

Reuters, in its news report on 8th April 2018, had reported how Indian journalists are intimidated and ostracized if they criticize Prime Minister Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “At least three senior editors have left their jobs at various influential media outlets in the past six months after publishing reports that angered the government or supporters of Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP, according to colleagues,” Reuters reported.

To add fuel to the fire; the first quarter of 2018, according to The Hoot report, “has seen three killings and 13 attacks on journalists, defamation cases that came to trial, a sedition case against a journalist and a clear push by both state and central government and the judiciary, through regulatory policy as well as judicial orders, to curb free speech”. Besides, it said that there were also around 50 instances of censorship, and more than 20 instances of suspension of Internet services, as well as the takedown of online content.

The investigative report on “state of media freedom” from January 1 to April 30, 2018, reveals that a range of actors, from politicians, businesspersons, members of Hindu right-wing organisations, the police and paramilitary forces, government agencies like the film certification board, the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry, different state governments, lawyers and even media organisations, have acted to protect the sanctity of Hindu Nationalism at the cost of freedom of expression.

Spiral of Silence (SOS)

Originally proposed by German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann in 1974, Spiral of silence is the term meant to refer to the tendencies of people to remain silent when they feel that their views are in opposition to the majority view on a subject. The theory posits that they remain silent for a few reasons:

  1. Fear of isolation when the group or public realizes that the individual has a divergent opinion from the status quo, and,
  2. Fear of reprisal or more extreme isolation, in the sense that voicing said opinion might lead to a negative consequence beyond that of mere isolation (loss of a job, status, etc.)

Hindu Nationalism has almost produced this SOS feature in the Indian ecosystem of media. Directly or indirectly, it has created or reinforced when someone in the perceived opinion majority speaks out confidently in support of the majority opinion, hence the minority begins to be more and more distanced from a place where they are comfortable to voice their opinion and begin to experience the aforementioned fears.

As it is evidently known that the health of Hindu Nationalism is sustain-ably dependent upon the uncritical distribution of SOS in the system, especially the journalism sector. From assaulting the views of dissent to religious polarization, freedom of speech has become a costlier and unaffordable factor in today’s regime.

Examples of SOS include:

In the conflict-ridden state of Chhattisgarh, the state police arrested four journalists within the span of one year alleging they were Maoists and working against the state.

In Tamil Nadu, news publications have seen over 200 cases of defamation against them in 5 years, especially under the late chief minister J. Jayalalitha’s government.

In October 2016, Kashmir Reader, a Srinagar-based English daily was banned by the government.

In Delhi, an attempt was made to take NDTV India (the Hindi news channel of NDTV or New Delhi Television) off-air for a day for ‘irresponsibly’ covering the attacks on an army base in Pathankot.

Politicians have been accused of promoting a culture that prevents questioning of public institutions, particularly steps taken in the name of national security. Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju went as far as saying that people should stop asking questions: “First of all we should stop this habit of raising doubt, questioning the authorities and the police,” Rijiju told journalists. “This is not a good culture.” He was responding to questions being raised around circumstances in which Madhya Pradesh police shot dead eight under-trials who escaped from a central jail.

The targets of a wave of threats that began on 14 September include Deeksha Sharma, a journalist with the news website The Quint, who received several messages threatening her with rape and murder after she called out a rap video as misogynist. One of these messages, written in Hindi and sent to her by WhatsApp on 17 September, referred to Gauri Lankesh, a woman journalist who was brutally murdered on 5 September. “Why was Gauri Lankesh killed?” the message said. “Because she was a journalist (…) because Gauri used to write against the Modi government (…) She was anti-nationalist and anti-Hindu. Now, if anyone in this country dares to write anything against Modi or his party, they will not be spared. They will be eliminated.” Abhay Kumar, a journalist with the Asian News International news agency, received a similarly threatening message the same day from a phone number that has been unreachable ever since. It attacked all those who criticize Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its paramilitary wing, the RSS. At least two of Sharma’s fellow journalists at The Quint received death threats from 17th to 20th September in 2017.

Mohammad Ali, The Hindu newspaper’s correspondent in Uttar Pradesh, received threatening calls from two different numbers on September 20.

Debobrat Ghose, a reporter for the Firstpost website, received the same threatening message three times from different numbers on 21 September. The same thing happened to NDTV’s Sonal Mehrotra Kapoor.

The interviews conducted by RSF suggest that this is not an exhaustive list of journalists who have received death threats. “This wave of threats is indicative of a climate that no longer allows the use of press freedom in India,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, journalists have repeatedly been the targets of threatening campaigns orchestrated by nationalists, campaigns that can lead to death, as we saw last month. The government must demonstrate its support for the targeted journalists and clearly condemn the hate messages they are receiving.”

Gauri Lankesh was the first of two journalists to be murdered in 2017. The second was Shantanu Bohwmick, who was beaten to death while covering a nationalist demonstration on 20 September. As journalist Swati Chaturvedi revealed in a recent book, the BJP has for the past three years been developing an army of millions of trolls called ‘yoddhas‘ (warriors) by Modi. Their job is to use social networks to attack journalists on the BJP hit list, calling for them to be raped or murdered. Instead of condemning these messages, PM Modi follows the trolls on Twitter and even received some of them at his official residence.

Kishorechandra Wangkhem, a journalist from Manipur, was arrested under the National Security Act for speaking against BJP on his personal social media account. The draconian National Security Act allows the administration to detain people merely under the presumption that they could do something detrimental to national security. It also denies them access to a lawyer or a hearing before a court of law. Later on, he was charged under sedition. He was released a few days back.

The travesty of civilization under Modi government is that the cultural development under the constitution of Hindu Nationalism is equating Modi with the sovereignty of India, otherwise, why would activists and journalists face “sedition charges” for refuting or criticizing BJP government of Hindu nationalism?

Ratiocination

I have received ‘feedback’ in my professional (academic) life for my views on Modi government, Hindu Nationalism and Saffron Economics, from the respective course coordinators of a renowned media as well as a management institute based in Mumbai, in September 2018. Read my story here.

This trend is logically unacceptable or contemporarily unsurprising if one happens to be a staunch supporter of critical consciousness, freedom to think and personal liberty. Other than pauperisation of media freedom, academic freedom is also in grave danger.

Ceteris Paribus; if media freedom is legislated as per the whims and discretion of the cultural policies of any government (not just the present one in power) then it is a tragedy of our civilization to offend and condescend our natural right to think, speak and act. Modernization of any civilization is incomplete without limiting the government interventionism in our social system. Media freedom, please note that, is not only about freedom enjoyed by the journalists. It also encompasses the liberties enshrined on the choices of citizen journalists; social media account holders or general audience. Any act that we consensually do, with intent to transmit information or message to the decoders, is an act of journalism. Communication is the most important necessity in our lives. If it is free from the unconstitutional shackles of cultural machinery (Hindu Nationalism) and ‘draconian’ press laws, mankind in India would be able to uplift itself from the statism of mastery-slavery agencies.

Before the media personnel endeavour to liberate people from the matrix of ‘false’ information, the burden of proof is also on the media system to stay libertarian against any cultural or legal challenges. If their organisational commerce is simply about displaying and enforcing the views of the current government on the audience or layman individuals, it is ‘not journalism’ but ‘propaganda’ (public relation stunt) out there. Intimidating or expropriating media freedom also has a cyclical effect on other genres of liberties.

“Do not tread on anyone” – Christopher Gadsden, US Revolutionary, in 1775