Ranjona Banerji: Time for fake ‘neutrality’ is over

17 Dec,2019

By Ranjona Banerji

 

What happened in India on Sunday night? Depends on who you ask.

For enablers amongst the journalistic community, it was all about “objectivity”. I put the word in inverted commas for a reason. Because as the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens are ready to tear India apart, you have journalists looking for as many reasons as they can to somehow absolve the Indian state of brutality, of unconstitutional behaviour, of fascist violence, by blaming students, protestors, the past, anyone else.

Objectivity is not looking for false equivalences and excuses. In this case, where it is students who are being attacked by an armed and violent police force, it is glaringly obvious who the aggressors are. As long as we are still a democracy – though under the current dispensation who knows for how long – dissent remains a right. The fact that journalists find it necessary to condemn police brutality with carefully crafted caveats about how students should behave reeks of a need to assuage the powers-that-be.

It demonstrates how far we have internalised and normalised police brutality. Let us not forget that these are the same Delhi police who held their own protest marches demanding justice from violence from lawyers. As a matter of public interest, why not compare the level of violence which the lawyers used against the police with the level of violence that the Delhi police used against the students of Jamia Milia or the UP police against the AMU?

The time for this fake “neutrality” is over. It cannot protect you any more; it is transparent and exposed you. If you are on the side of the oppressor, you have no moral right to claim “objectivity”. Then you are just looking out for yourself, or for whoever pays your salary. It has nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with fear and a desire for favours. Objectivity would be reporting on everything. Making false equivalences is trying to draw parallels between unequal examples and thereby excusing majoritarian extremism. It is not hard to understand.

Many well-known journalists resorted to a disingenuous universal condemnation of violence on Sunday. By Monday as it became clear that the police had used needless and brutal force, there was a little bit of backtracking. If these commentators had not been so quick to try and equate the use of force by the police with protests by students, they might have saved themselves later humiliation.

Of course, on the whole journalists must have thick skins and are used to being proved wrong, but it is humiliating for all of us when so-called shining stars expose themselves as cowardly, self-seeking and stupid.

Given the Constitutional dangers posed to India by the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed rollout of the National Register of Indians across India, there is no option now for journalists but to choose between the Constitution and the nefarious designs of the party in power. Many commentators have speculated that the anger against the CAA is being used to cover up the economic disaster facing India. But this is also mistaken. The economic disaster is real and so are the horrors of both CAA and NRC. The students’ protests cannot therefore be discounted and nor can the viciousness of the state’s response.

Across the world, media houses have taken note of reactions to the CAA and NRC and the government’s response to students.

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/12/15/india/india-protests-assam-delhi-citizenship-intl-hnk/index.html

 

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-citizenship-protests/student-protests-against-indias-citizenship-law-spread-after-clashes-on-campuses-idUSKBN1YK0DD

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/india-citizenship-law-protests-latest-updates-191216080909659.html

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/12/16/asia-pacific/student-protests-indias-citizenship-law-spread-clashes-campuses/#.XfexgWT7TIU

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/protests-erupt-across-india-against-new-citizenship-law-after-police-storm-university-campus/2019/12/16/9ebbeae6-1ff0-11ea-b034-de7dc2b5199b_story.html

 

 

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And then there’s the Indian contribution to fake news, as exposed by the BBC, where fake pro-Indian websites work to influence decision-makers in Europe:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-50749764?ocid=socialflow_twitter

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

 

 

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