Blindfolded to transgressions on our fundamental rights…

28 Jun,2022

 

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ranjona BanerjiFor all those within the media who have wilfully blindfolded themselves to the transgressions of the state on our fundamental rights, the time of reckoning has come.

 

Around the anniversary of Independent India’s darkest hour – the imposition of the Emergency which suspended our Constitutional rights – the current administration has tried to outdo the past. Then, the media was accused of being compliant. Now the media is an active collaborator in our mutually assured destruction of democracy.

 

After a direct nudge from the Supreme Court, the Gujarat ATS arrested journalist and activist Teesta Setalvad from her home in Mumbai on Saturday, June 25. Her crime? To dare to take on the Gujarat government for its role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Narendra Modi was chief minister then; he is Prime Minister now.

 

Whistleblower RB Sreekumar, former IPS officer was also arrested from his home in Gandhinagar. Sanjiv Bhatt, also former IPS, is in jail for a custodial death under his watch, and he is also named as part of this “conspiracy” against the Gujarat government.

 

On Monday June 27, journalist Mohammed Zubair of the fact-checking website Alt News was arrested from Bengaluru by the Delhi Police. His crime? A complaint filed by a Twitter user about a still from a 1983 Hrishikesh Mukherjee film which Zubair had retweeted.

 

The anger is Zubair is known. In recent times, he has been relentless against exposing all the legal transgressions by the state when it comes to dismantling and destroying Muslim homes, and against all those who cyber-bullied Muslim women. One of the existing cases against him is for using the term “hatemonger”. The mind boggles at the pettiness of the Indian state.

 

The underlying message is clear: any journalist who speaks against the State will feel the might of the State. In the case of Setalvad, she has been a thorn in the side of the Modi administration for 20 years now. The report by the Citizens for Justice and Peace, an NGO started by many prominent citizens including the late Alyque Padamsee and Anil Dharker in 2020, of which Setalvad is one, about a supposed meeting held in Gandhinagar just before the riots broke out in Gujarat has been the main sore.

 

By dismissing the case against Zakia Jafri and CJP on June 24, the apex court almost paved away from this harassment and legal travesty of the notion of freedom of expression and the right to justice.

 

 

The Network of Women in Media, India, has issued a statement to protest the arrest of Setalvad, as has the Mumbai Press Club. The Digipub News India Foundation has issued a statement in support of Zubair (see screenshot). There have been protests across India for Setalvad’s release. Some others may also speak up.

https://nwmindia.org/statements/the-nwmi-condemns-arrest-of-journalist-and-activist-teesta-setalvad/

https://sabrangindia.in/article/nation-unites-demand-teesta-setalvads-release

 

https://scroll.in/latest/1027071/journalist-mohammed-zubair-arrested-for-allegedly-hurting-religious-sentiments

 

Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur in Human Rights Defenders tweeted this:

 

“Deeply concerned by reports that WHRD Teesta Setalvad being detained by Anti Terrorism Squad of Gujarat police. Teesta is a strong voice against hatred and discrimination. Defending human rights is not a crime. I call for her release and an end to persecution by the Indian state.”

 

But from with the Indian media, we know that few will speak up but for the usual suspects.

 

After all, it was the pro-government ANI’s interview with Union Home Minister Amit Shah which implicitly pushed the police to arrest Setalvad.

 

Most of TV will create distractions and continue to fan Islamophobia by pretending that Hindus are under threat.

 

The rest of the time the focus will be praise of the BJP and Modi.

That’s the Indian media for you.

That’s the level of disregard for our own rights to function in a democracy.

On the assumption that we still are a democracy, in name at least.

If the bulk of the Indian media had its way… they themselves would not exist.

Right?

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal

 

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