Ranjona Banerji: Anyone willing to show some spine?

16 Aug,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


What an Independence Day to “celebrate” in India this August 15. Where anyone who objects to the way the Government of India has shut down democratic freedoms in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir is presented as an “enemy of the state”. So much for democracy, freedom, the Constitution and the rest of those fast-fading givens.

Every time anyone in the Indian media supports an authoritarian government, democracy dies a little more. It could be an individual journalist; it could be an entire media house. And with the government lockdown of Kashmir, we see the Indian media at its worst, just when you thought it could not possibly get any worse.

If the number of people applauding this government’s actions in Kashmir are comparable to a mirror of society, then the Indian mainstream media must squarely take some of the blame. The inner ignorant, ill-informed, hate-filled, prejudiced bigot has been given full rein by this government’s electoral victories and by a pandering media. Truth is the first casualty because what’s a fact when you can easily twist into a neat “factoid”, a lie with which you can bolster you case to spread hatred.

You want names? Look at almost every “news” channel and this is what they do, overtly or covertly. In Gujarat in 2002, two prominent Gujarati language newspapers printed outright lies about the victims of the February 27 fire in the Sabarmati Express. This was one of the catalysts for the barbaric pogrom that followed. Imagine the effect today if the same thing is done on television, and spread further by social media?

The Great Hack – I take you back to that documentary – demonstrates how the public are being manipulated by governments, political movements and global tech giants. The media is shown as sort of “heroine”. But what happens when the media allows itself to be manipulated? Every “news” channel which tells you “Hindu khatre mein hain” or “Hindus are in danger” and then holds a sham “debate” on this subject is pushing the majoritarian agenda.

Every journalist and every media outlet which tells you that everyone in Kashmir is happy is lying. Every journalist and media outlet which repeats – whether by a tweet or a post or an article or a broadcast or a podcast – a government line without questioning it or giving it context, is lying. Look around you and see how often that’s happening today.

The Press Club of India in Delhi this week refused to allow a video on Kashmir to be shown. Should I repeat that this is the “Press Club of India”? The club – let’s remove the “press” and “India” from their name because why should the rest of us be associated with them – claimed that it was under pressure. Hmm. From whom do we think? Those to whom we are mandated to show the truth? Those in front of whom we buckle when we should show spine? Those who claim to have fought Indira Gandhi’s Emergency for the sake of “democracy” only to bring us back to our knees a few decades later? Last time, we were forced. This time, we have colluded.


If large sections of the Indian media truly believe that authoritarian rule is the best way to restore democracy, then there is no hope. Not for us, not for India. Do these words sound over-dramatic? Not if you open your eyes to the miserable state of the nation, on every count. And then to the actions of a totalitarian government which has no concept of governance. The one-point agenda seems to be the propulsion of the RSS’s toxic Hindutva idea across India, at any cost.

The Economist writes this on chilling article on the “global gag” on free speech:

We’re featured a few times and not to best effect.



And as for our saviour of a prime minister, the Guardian is scathing about what he was up to in Corbett the day Indian security forces were massacred:


Clearly, when the people get thrilled with publicity of the cheapest kind, they deserve what they get?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal.



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