“Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural trouble.”
– William Shakespeare (Macbeth)
Three years ago a man with the skill set of a tea vendor assumed control of the worlds largest democracy, only to slowly dismantle it. The wave of ‘Acche Din’ slowly dies as tensions in Gujarat and Kashmir rise. There is vendetta and hate in the eyes of those saffron clad loons, either you’re with them or against them. Reason dies an excruciating death, as liberals and progressives are deemed anti-national. Anyone who seeks to question or oppose the leader is chauffeured into oblivion. One wonders, akhir kitne acche hai yeh din?
The tragic death of journalists and rationalists like Gauri Lankesh, M. M. Kalburgi, K. J. Singh and Shantanu Bowmick have raised serious questions. Add to this the arrest of Vinod Verma, the defamation suit on The Wire, and the ordinance by the Rajasthan government; it is clear that media houses and rationalists are being strong-armed into subservience. Ranked 139th in the World Press Freedom Index, these are dangerous times for journalists in India.
Our media and libel laws are a legacy from the British, which we did very little to change post independence. Sections like 124A, 153A. 295A of the Indian Penal Code have seen little or no change and continue to serve the agenda of any party that comes to power. The primitive laws surrounding the freedom of the press in India are at best bigoted and draconian. Any form of criticism doled out is termed seditious or defamatory. On one hand, our Prime Minister stresses that media must debate on matters regarding the leadership of a political party and policies implemented by the government to keep the spirit of the democracy alive. On the other, BJP party chief’s son slaps a defamation suit on The Wire for raising some fundamental questions.
Another attempt at silencing the Press came with a punitive ordinance passed by the Rajasthan Government. The Editors guild of India came forward and criticised the decision to make the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance of 2017 into an Act as an attempt at curbing press freedom. The ordinance effectively bars courts from taking up private complaints against public servants – such as serving and former judges, lawmakers, ministers, and officials – without prior government sanction. It also bars the media from naming an accused until the government gives its nod for investigation.
Deeply upset by the ordinance concocted by Raje’s government, the editors’ body said that though it was purportedly done to protect the judiciary and the bureaucracy against false FIRs, “in reality it is a pernicious instrument to harass the media, hide wrongful acts by government servants and drastically curb the freedom of the press guaranteed by the Constitution of India… Rather than taking stern measures to prevent and punish those who indulge in frivolous or false litigation, the Rajasthan government has passed an ordinance that is bent on bludgeoning the messenger.”
The treacle on the porridge was the arrest of Chhattisgarh journalist Vinod Verma, who claimed to possess a sex tape of PWD Minister Rajesh Munat and was arrested on charges of extortion; sent to a three-day police custody. This action was taken after Munat filed a complaint against Verma and state Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel, accusing them of trying to malign his image by allegedly distributing a “fake” sex CD. Munat calls it an attempt at assassinating his character. Meanwhile, the arrest has triggered a political disaccord with the Congress furious at the Raman Singh-led BJP government for curbing the Freedom of Press.
In this age of propaganda, it’s often hard to differentiate between fact and fiction; as the witches in Macbeth say, “fair is foul and foul is fair”. The BJP government has delivered crippling blows to the Press establishment of this country. The careful and planned dismantling of the fourth pillar had begun soon after they assumed power in 2014. They realised early on that the enterprise of free speech will be a hindrance to their propaganda, as they desire an army of yes-men.
The author, Vidushi Kala, is a Senior Editor at Indus Dictum. Her work focuses on public policy and legal reform.
Tweet at Vidushi: @kala_masala