Ranjona Banerji: No ‘personal liberty’ for Sidiqque Kappan?

17 Nov,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


I heard Carl Bernstein on ABC News last night. He and Bob Woodward are the lodestars of investigative journalism if you will, inspiration for brave journalists of a certain vintage the world over. Last century of course. Anyway, Bernstein felt that the American media needs to get away from the circus of Trumpism and tantrums and focus on the real issues that face ordinary Americans.

We’ve reached such a state of non-journalism in so many parts of the Indian media that no journalist of similar stature here or of similar vintage would even bother to say this in a TV studio. Who’s listening and who cares even if someone did.

It is also true that print journalists – like Bernstein – of any stature are not glam enough for TV studios in India. Nor do panel “discussions” or screaming matches on TV care about stuff like fake news spread by the ruling regime, political shenanigans unless they are by opposition parties or the plight of ordinary Indians. Anything that will not descend into a high-decibel screaming match is of no consequence. You can see how quickly “justice” for Sushant Singh Rajput has been dropped as a story.

The irresponsibility of the Indian media is matched by the mixed messages from the Supreme Court of India on the Indian media. From the high-sounding bombast of the importance of “personal liberty” and how we are the “path to destruction” without it in the case of the imposter journalist Arnab Goswami’s bail hearing in an abetment to suicide case, the same Supreme Court took a somewhat oblique view when it came to journalist Sidiqque Kappan jailed for trying to go to Hathras in UP to cover the horrific rape there.

Suddenly, Kappan’s right to “personal liberty” without which we are on the “path to destruction” is in all sorts of limbo. The Supreme Court of India now feels reluctant to accept petitions under Article 32, where citizens directly approach the Supreme Court for relief. This reluctance was not on display for Goswami obviously where a vacation bench hurried to give him his “personal liberty”. But anyway, Kappan has been in jail since October 5 and most of India has forgotten the Hathras gangrape and murder case. The apex court has now issued notice to the UP government “on a plea to grant bail” to Kappan, but the matter of the actual release will come up again on Friday.

I think of Charles Dickens quite often these days. And John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey.


Journalists who do their jobs continue to get killed, assaulted, harassed threatened across India. It was Moses working on illegal land deals outside Chennai that we mentioned last week. Now we have Parag Bhuyan, deliberately run over by a car in Assam on November 11. He died from his injuries in hospital the next day. Bhuyan had been working on a series of investigations on local corruption for Pratidin Time. The pattern is clear but the further you are from centres like Delhi and Mumbai, the less the journalistic community itself and the judicial system cares about your right to life and personal liberty.

It is true that we are on a path to destruction but not for the same reasons that the Supreme Court of India grandiosely declares we are.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at @ranjona. Her views here are personal

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