‘Space for scribes to speak without fear’

It was a typical Delhi party. A sprinkling of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, all part of one large parivar. As I entered, there was a brief silence, and then a voice from the corner, "Here comes the anti-national!" I smiled, but the voice continued to taunt: "So, now you’ve got the Best Bakery case to attack the Gujarat government. How about focussing on the anti-Sikh riots and what the Congress did for riot victims then for a change?"

I was hugely tempted to tell the gentleman that we had just done a programme with the widows of the 1984 riots, but chose to avoid a confrontation. Arguments like this are often self-defeating, and it is perhaps best to sit in a corner and sip one’s Bacardi-coke. The fact is that we live in an increasingly intolerant society, one in which any form of dissent or attempt to question the conventional wisdom only earns the label "anti-national" or a questioning of one’s faith. (I’ve always believed that those who question patriotism should do a compulsory one year service at Siachen, but then that’s another matter).

Unfortunately, the media too is trapped in this growing polarisation of the mind. The prevailing philosophy of the ruling elite (and this is perhaps as much true of the Congress as it is of the BJP) is to believe that journalists must be either seduced or else intimidated. Those who are seduced are promised Rajya Sabha seats, appointed on various committees, or else guaranteed Padma awards. Those who are intimidated are threatened with criminal suits, ostracised from social events and denied access to information.

The polarisation of the media makes Communalism Combat important as an outlet for some form of protest in the prevailing atmosphere of "manufactured consensus". In a sense, it forces people to look into a mirror at a time when there is a concerted attempt to keep the images of hate and violence as blurred as possible. There is a need to be reminded that the tragedy of the child who lost her mother in the Godhra train burning is no different to that of the infant who lost her family in Naroda Patia; that the terrorist who maims a girl at a bus stop in Rajouri is no more heinous than the one who wields a trishul to torment another community. The fact is that in a society which attempts to rationalise violence as some kind of action-reaction process, there is a need to condemn ALL kinds of violence as unacceptable in a civilised society.

This, of course, is easier said than done. As one has seen in Gujarat, in Mumbai, in Jammu & Kashmir, it isn’t easy defying the establishment. In all instances, there is a sustained attempt to shoot the messenger. In Kashmir, it has taken the more dramatic form of journalists being intimidated at gun-point. In Gujarat, the television camera became the "enemy", with camerapersons being routinely assaulted. Since Mumbai happened in the pre-television era, there wasn’t the prying camera to attack, but there are enough instances of reporters who found themselves being threatened by the political bosses of Mumbai.

But whatever be the form of intimidation, there is an urgent need to carve out some space (call it a sanctuary if you will) where mediapersons can express themselves with some sense of freedom from fear. Hopefully, Communalism Combat will provide that ultimate sanctuary for those who still swear by the Indian Constitution.

This article was posted on Sardesai’s blog on February 12, 2010.

Archived from Communalism Combat, August-September 2003, Anniversary Issue (10th), Year 10, No. 90-91, Media 2



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