India: Attacks on Journalists and the Spread of Misinformation
Journalists are duty-bound to uphold the truth through verification. But more and more, public watchdogs in India are facing the wrath of people in power for reporting facts. India has always ranked low on the Press Freedom Index, which ranks countries based on the level of freedom their journalists enjoy. Yet, in recent years, the country appears to have become increasingly more dangerous for journalists. Attacks on journalists in connection to their work have increased alongside the rapid spread of misinformation.
200 serious attacks between 2014 and 2019
A new study notes that journalists in India faced 200 serious attacks between 2014 and 2019, including 40 killings, of which 21 have been confirmed as being in direct connection with their investigative work. Perpetrators include businessmen, politicians, politicians-and-police, right wing/Hindutva groups, state security forces, village officials, Maoists and/or splinter groups, and political party supporters.
The study points to the miscarriage of justice in bringing perpetrators to book, resulting from indifference by the police and their tendency to believe that the reason for the attack was personal enmity or corrupt practice on the part of the journalist.
Another finding is the increase in the number of attacks on women journalists, as seen in physical attacks and abuses against 19 women journalists during the Sabarimala row. And in further evidence of deepening religious fault lines, a large number of journalists belonging to the Muslim community were among those attacked and harassed by the police in the CAA-NRC protests.
According to a report by independent journalist Geeta Seshu, 154 journalists were arrested, detained, interrogated or served show cause notices for their professional work between 2010-20. A majority of them worked for non-English print publications and television channels, as freelancers, or published on social media platforms. During the same time, nine foreign journalists were interrogated, deported or denied entry into the country.
Of the 154 cases, 73 originated in BJP-ruled states while 30 were from states ruled by BJP and National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Among the BJP-led states, Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 29 cases. The remaining cases were from states under President’s Rule or Governor’s rule, over whom the central government has direct control. The report highlights the nexus between law enforcers and the local administration, businesses and political entities, in delaying or denying justice to affected media persons or their families.
Dismal ranking on World Press Freedom Index
In 2013, when the Indian National Congress (INC) was in power, eleven journalists were killed in India, putting the country in third position in the International Press Institute’s list of media personnels killed around the world during the year. India was behind Syria, and joint second Iraq and the Philippines.
Five years later, Reporters Without Borders ranked India 138th on its World Press Freedom Index, noting the threat of smears and physical violence against journalists by radical nationalists. Just a year before, the country was shocked by the brazen murder of veteran journalist and progressive activist Gauri Lankesh, which lead to the arrest of 18 men who await conviction. The Special Investigative Team (SIT) constituted by the then Congress government in Karnataka held the extremist organization Sanatan Sanstha responsible for the murder.
Hindu fringe groups have come under scrutiny for practicing and engendering intolerance. Sometimes, their hatred culminates into violence against members of other religious communities, but also journalists they believe aren’t on their side. Brazen acts of killing and serious attacks against members of the press also result from their courageous work on exposing corruption and illegal activities. In some cases, challenging entrenched social practices can prove deadly for journalists, as seen in the murder of three journalists in Bihar for reporting on child marriage.
Fake news factories
Over 400 million Indians use the internet but lack the know-how to cross-check claims in order to distinguish facts from falsity. While fact-checking websites have spawned to fight misinformation, they’re struggling in the face of rapid dissemination of information on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
India has gained a dubious reputation for WhatsApp murders and lynchings stemming from the spread of rumours of organ harvesting, cattle trading or child kidnapping through the mobile app. It led WhatsApp to limit the forwarding option for Indian users as a measure to reduce the frequency of messages being forwarded.
However, WhatsApp groups remain a major conduit for propagating misinformation. Fact-checking within groups is sparse or it may not be proactive out of the fear of voicing the minority view or antagonizing dominant group members.
Social media also serves as an effective channel for political propaganda. While ministers themselves don’t engage in propaganda, they have an army of foot soldiers to spin political narratives in their favour. The ruling party has a sizable presence on social networks, led by Amit Malviya, the national convener of its IT cell.
India’s religious divide has also contributed to fake news online. Last year, after members of an Islamic group who had visited Delhi to attend a religious meet tested positive for COVID-10, disinformation targeting Muslims grew, and even resulted in incidents where Muslims were attacked for allegedly spreading the virus. In fact, the country earned the dubious reputation for producing the largest amount of social media disinformation on COVID-19.
Religious majoritarianism can manifest in insidious ways, from denying jobs to people of other faiths to renting to people only from a certain faith and generally harming the country’s composite culture. Strict curbs on fake news and hate speech by social media are needed for the welfare of citizens.
The fourth estate
As the fourth estate, the press and news media are expected to resolutely stick to the values expected in their profession – even in the face of threats and attacks. Unfortunately, media houses have come to play an important role in reinforcing religious majoritarianism, toeing the line in an apparent move to appease the ruling right-wing party. However, keeping in mind that no political party remains in power forever, media houses and journalists face the risk of losing trust and sinking their business and reputation.
Dehumanizing Representation of Tribals and Muslims in the Oscar fame RRR
Naatu Naatu was the first Indian cinema song to be nominated for an Oscar, and it is a song from the Telugu megahit RRR, also known as Rise Roar Revolt. At the Academy Awards, which are being broadcast globally, its singers also gave a performance. With the movie’s US release last year, the song went viral worldwide, generating endless Instagram clips and dance crazes on social media. The crowd loved the song’s rapid tempo and synchronized choreography. Naatu Naatu has won numerous trophies at international competitions and received accolades on a global scale.
Rajamouli’s media appearances and the movie itself make it clear that the two main characters of his film are based on real-life individuals. The Rampa Rebellion of 1922–1924, which saw the Adivasi population of the Godavari Agency in the Madras province wage guerrilla warfare against the British, was led by Alluri, a member of the Kshatriya caste. Between 1928 and 1940, Komaram, a member of the Adilabad Gond tribal community, led an armed insurrection against the Hyderabad nizams. RRR is a movie that presents a fictional tale in which the two of them come together to save a Gond girl who is forcefully taken by the British before the two revolutionaries embark on their individual rebellions. Rajamouli and his film RRR do not, however, see the two revolutionaries equally. Intellectuals support the celebration of the Oscar but warn of the dehumanizing representation of the tribals and Muslims in the Oscar fame RRR.
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Dehumanizing Representation of Gonds- The Hindu Nationalist Civilizes the Tribal
There is an emergent model of hegemonic masculinity in RRR which is the muscular Hindu nationalist type, which importantly is the fantasy of the upper-caste Hindu gaze. There are two masculine figures in the film that either embody such masculinities or work towards the glorification of it, for instance, Bheem who is not an upper caste Hindu, but whose character nonetheless glorifies the hegemony of the ideal Hindu utopia.
In the end, RRR is unable to free itself from the constraints of this unsettling structure of the Hindu caste system. It’s vital to remember that S.S. Rajamouli hails from a Hindu upper caste because this is something that comes over in his movies. N.T. Rama Rao (NTR) also belongs to the upper caste. Ram Charan belongs to the Kapu caste, which has a strong influence in the Telugu states.
Rajamouli’s gaze at Raju (who is referred to as Ram for most of the movie) and Bheem is clearly problematic. Both protagonists are physically strong, but Ram is depicted as being smarter. Bheem is mostly shown during the three hours of the movie as a simpleton wilderness dweller in contrast to the clever, diligent, and command-barking Ram. Ram actually thanks his simpleton partner Bheem for his assistance in the very last scene and asks him how he may return the favor. Bheem simply clasps his palms together in front of him and asks Ram to “educate” his people. It appears pretty obvious that Ram, a smart Kshatriya, was given the “savior complex,” but Bheem, a formidable tribal, was not.
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Hindu Nationalism and the Dehumanizing Representation of the Muslim
The emotional landscape of these characters displays feelings of anger, betrayal, passion, and steadfastness. They drive their impetus from patriotism (love of the land in RRR) as well as nationalism (quest for national identity and freedom in RRR). But their patriotism and nationalism are explicitly Hindu in nature. So, for these characters, patriotism and nationalism become religion and vice versa. Religion is also culturally present to an extent that the world around them becomes de-facto Hindu. While there is a visible Muslim presence and as opposed to them being shown as outsiders or invaders, they have been depicted as helpful to the larger cause of nationalism that is explicitly Hindu in nature. However, in RRR, the movie may not depict Muslims as the evil foe to be vanquished, but it does depict them as naïve and submissive to a “Hindu unity” of bravery and freedom-fighting (much like Bheem and the tribals are). In other words, it would mean that “You can exist as long as it’s integrated into this invisible hierarchy of the Hindu caste system, where the Brahmins followed by the Kshatriyas are still at the top of everything that matters.”
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Majoritarian Hindu Symbolism
The film has a nostalgia for an imagined Hindu past and a fight for a majoritarian Hindu future. The storyline for the film has explicit Hindu symbolism. Ram has the legacy of his father to carry forward to achieve that ideal Hindu future. He moves away from their homeland to fulfill their virtuous destiny. Much like the Hindu God Ram who went into exile to fulfill his father’s wishes only to return as the rightful heir and celebrated leader of the Hindu world. The protagonists are such celebrated characters within the films who have selfless ideals and work for the collective gratification and conscience of their people, either fulfilling the legacy of their fathers or fighting for the honor of women or quite literally saving them. The protagonists’ Ram and Bheem are shown to be a celebration of not being just Indians but being Hindus, Ram being the upper-caste Hindu at that, and Bheem simply by the virtue of being a tribal uncivilized Hindu under the nationalist and therefore religious guidance of his superior Ram.
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India’s Opposition Leader Rahul Gandhi Disqualified
An Indian court last week convicted India’s opposition leader Raul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case. The court awarded him a two-year jail term over his “why all thieves have Modi surname” comment. Further, Gandhi was disqualified from the parliament, a day after the court verdict. Subsequently, the government asked to vacate the government-allotted residence. Even though the court gave him a 30-day period to appeal against the conviction, Gandhi is yet to appeal against the verdict.
Modi Surname Remark
Gandhi made the “Modi” comment in an election rally in Kolar just before the 2019 General Elections. Talking about the corruption and frauds done by some people with the Modi surname, he had said, “one small question, how are the names of all these thieves ‘Modi, Modi, Modi’… Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Narendra Modi, and if you search a little more, aur bahut saare Modi niklenge (many more Modis will emerge).” A BJP leader in the state of Gujarat with a Modi surname had filed a criminal defamation case against Gandhi after he alleged that it hurt the sentiments of lakhs of people with the Modi surname.
After the court verdict came, the Modi-led government reacted quickly by disqualifying Gandhi. The government disqualified Gandhi under the law which states that a Member of Parliament sentenced to not less than two years shall be disqualified from the parliament.
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Gandhi’s Opposition to the Law that Would Have Protected Him
The court gave Rahul Gandhi 30 days to appeal against the conviction. If the court stays the conviction, he will be reinstated as a Member of Parliament (MP). Before July 2013, MPs convicted under this law were able to retain their seat until they had exhausted all the judicial remedies. However, on 10 July 2013, the Supreme Court of India negated this position. Rahul Gandhi’s Congress Party, which was in power in 2013, had initiated an amendment to this law to circumvent the Supreme Court judgement. Rahul Gandhi had opposed the amendment and publicly assailed his party and the prime minister for protecting corrupt political allies. It was his opposition and criticism that led the government to repeal the ordinance.
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Questions over the Timing of the Verdict
The court verdict convicting Rahul Gandhi came at a time when Gandhi had led concerted attacks against the government on the issue of the Adani Group. Gandhi has accused Modi of protecting and shielding the Indian business conglomerate Adani Group. Adani Group was accused of fraud by US short-seller Hindenburg Research which termed it the “largest con in corporate history”. Subsequently, Adani Group’s shares tumbled. Gautam Adani, Adani’s Group’s Chairman lost more than 80 billion USD and fell from the world’s third richest person to the world’s 26th richest person (as of today).
Adani’s rise is closely linked to the rise of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Adani comes from the state of Gujarat where Modi served as a Chief Minister for almost 15 years. Adani Group is involved in infrastructure, airports, ports, coal and cement among many other sectors. India’s opposition party has alleged that the Modi government is tweaking India’s foreign policy to serve Adani’s interests. They substantiate it with the evidence that Adani visited various countries and bagged contracts in those countries just after Modi’s visit to these countries.
Even though the allegations against Adani Group are serious in nature, the government has hardly taken any action to investigate these frauds. Congress has raised many questions on the row and persists with its demand to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the charges against the Adani Group. Rahul Gandhi was leading the opposition criticism of the government. Even after the disqualification, Gandhi said, he will still ask these questions against the government.
Also Read: Why Is Indian PM Modi’s Silent About Attacks Against Muslims?
Indian Democracy under Threat
The farcical disqualification of Rahul Gandhi has raised serious questions about the current regime in India. The disqualification has signalled that the Modi-led government will not tolerate any kind of opposition. The aim of the disqualification is to strike fear in the hearts of opposition leaders and other groups that oppose the policies of the Modi government.
It is not just Rahul Gandhi but the Modi government that has targeted activists, students, human rights defenders, civil society, research institutions, universities, businesses, judges and all political leaders that publicly oppose his policies. Most of the politicians belonging to opposition parties today have corruption cases lodged against them. Central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate and Central Bureau of India that work directly under Modi’s orders are daily summoning opposition politicians these days for questioning in different cases. Interestingly, politicians from opposition parties who had cases registered against them but later defected to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and had their cases withdrawn against them.
These are challenging times for India and India’s democracy. The way the Modi government is acting, it will be safe to say that India today is under a tyrannical government. Since General Elections in India will be held next year, it is possible that the Modi government may not be ready for a peaceful transfer of power. Further, the freedom of opposition parties to contest elections freely is also under threat. Therefore, the next elections will determine what way India goes.
Pro-Khalistan Activist Amritpal Singh declared fugitive- What is happening in “India’s Bread Basket” Punjab?
Internet services were suspended across the state of Punjab on Saturday and are still suspended as of now on Sunday, officials confirmed. According to press sources, Amritpal Singh, the leader of Waris Punjab De and a supporter of the Khalistani movement, has been the target of Punjab Police operation.
The Department of Home Affairs and Justice, Government of Punjab, stated that all mobile internet services, all SMS services (aside from banking & mobile recharge), and all dongle services provided on mobile networks, aside from voice calls, shall be suspended. The Punjab Police today conducted a large crackdown on “Waris Punjab De,” detaining 78 activists in the Jalandhar area in response to criticism regarding the allegedly worsening peace and order situation in the state. Amritpal Singh, a pro-Khalistan activist, evaded capture despite a significant police presence in the Jalandhar neighborhood of Shahkot. The police asserted that they had taken 373 ammunition, a revolver, seven 12-bore rifles, and one 315-bore rifle from the demonstrators.
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Is Amritpal Singh still on the run?
The radical preacher Amritpal Singh is still on the run, according to the Punjab Police, who also stated that a big search operation has begun to apprehend the leader of the Waris Punjab De organization.
The statement followed earlier today’s media reports that stated Singh and a number of his allies had been detained by the Punjab Police.
According to a statement from Punjab Police, the state has begun extensive Cordon and Search operations against Waris Punjab De members.
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What led to the Crackdown?
On Thursday, in an anomalous course of events, a group of men armed with swords and guns stormed a police station in Ajnala, on the outskirts of Amritsar, demanding the release of Lovepreet Singh, also known by his alias “Toofan,”.Singh was being held on kidnapping charges and assault on a Chamkaur Sahib-based resident Varinder Singh. Lovepreet Singh alias Toofan, who is a close associate of “Waris Punjab De” leader Amritpal Singh, had turned to activism during the farm agitation at the Delhi border. Lovepreet Singh, a Sikh preacher, and modest farmer has long advocated for Sikh causes.
Amritpal Singh, 30, who has gained notoriety in Punjab over the past six to seven months as a Sikh preacher and infamous sympathizer for Khalistan, was at the epicenter of these events. He claims to be a devoted follower of Bhindranwale, a militant leader who supported Khalistan and was assassinated in the infamous operation Blue Star on June 6, 1984.
Lovepreet Singh was released from jail the following day, but this entire incident has raised numerous issues with Punjabi politics, government, and law and order.
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Who is Amritpal Singh?
Born in 1993, Amritpal Singh Sandhu hails from Jallupur Khera village in Baba Bakala tehsil of Amritsar district. He is said to have studied up to the plus two levels before he left for Dubai for work in 2012. Singh, a 29-year-old Dubai-returned Sikh who recently moved to Punjab, has abruptly entered the religiopolitical scene after taking control of Waris Punjab De, an organization that actor-activist Deep Sidhu founded before his supposed accident caused death in February 2022.
“We (Sikhs) have become a community of slaves” – this is a message Amritpal Singh, the head of Waris Punjab De, is heard proclaiming in most of his speeches.
His surrounding social media activity suggests that he had been advocating for Sikh causes for at least the previous five years or so. He joined the anti-farm law demonstrations, notably the Deep Sidhu-related faction of the movement. According to Deep Sidhu’s statements at the Shambhu Border, his branch of the movement was distinct from the farm unions since he advocated for a more comprehensive political and social reform of Punjab rather than just the repeal of agricultural regulations. He believed that the movement should’ve been carried forward even after the repelling of the controversial farm laws.
According to Quint, apparently, Amritpal never met Deep Sidhu and the two interacted only through social media.
However, the ministry of home affairs is reported to have told the Punjab government to keep a watch on his activities. Captain Amarinder Singh has asked the government to take action against him and a Shiv Sena faction wants him booked under UAPA. His Twitter account was withheld in India on 7 October 2022, reports The Quint.
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What does the Socio-Political scene in Punjab look like?
There have been a number of political responses to this, with the Shiromani Akali Dal-Amritsar denouncing the crackdown while the Aam Aadmi Party and Congress supported it. Following the announcement of the crackdown on Singh, a number of political figures from various parties have pleaded for peace in Punjab. However, the general public’s perception of him is sharply divided, with supporters applauding his efforts to resuscitate Sikhi and his anti-drug campaign in addition to the enormous crowds at his events. Critics, on the other hand, charge him of usurpation and with attempting to destabilize Punjab.
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Anxieties over the rise of a potential militancy in Punjab?
The Khalistan movement, which was previously seen as more of a foreign diaspora concern, is currently making news in India due to farmer protests, but the subject is becoming more prominent due to the recent series of events and the emergence of Amritpal Singh as a pro-Khalistan leader. Anxieties are being risen along the lines of this crisis turning into a potential threat of militancy in Punjab.
Harjeshwar Pal Singh, an assistant professor of History based in Chandigarh thinks that it will not lead to a rise in militancy because there has been strong criticism within the community against the ways adopted by Amritpal Singh.
Author of Panjab: Journeys through fault line, Amandeep Sandhu enunciates the larger problems which have been plaguing the state and which might have come into the forefront with such issues. The rise of someone like Amritpal Singh, in Sandhu’s opinion, is evidence that numerous governments have historically failed to address various issues at their root.
While the state has been apparently working to put Punjab’s violent history of bloodshed and militancy behind it, these images have brought back memories of those times. Anxieties are being risen along the lines of this crisis turning into a potential threat of militancy in Punjab.
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