According to the latest statistics released by international NGO Reporters Without Borders (RWB), India’s press freedom rank has dropped down from 142 in 2021 to 150 in 2022. This year, press freedom in 180 countries was tracked by Reporters Sans Frontieres. With each Press Freedom Day, celebrated on 3 May, India is faring worse on the statistical indicator.
Even though freedom of expression is a fundamental right in the Indian constitution, the nation continues to struggle with violence against journalists. India boasts of a vast media landscape with more than 1,00,000 daily and weekly newspapers and 380 news channels. Bennett Coleman (Times Group), HT Media, The Hindu Group, Anandabazar Patrika, Lokmat, Malayala Manorama, and Network 18 are some of the prominent national and regional media houses.
Speaking up against the current government proves too costly for Indian journalists who are then subjected to outright harassment by fundamental nationalists. Most recently journalists Rana Ayyub and Aakar Patel were denied overseas travel, which was later allowed after the concerned journalists appealed to the country’s judiciary.
Relentless campaigns including death and rape threats have been instigated to silence Ayyub on charges of defaming Hindus. The ongoing harassment began when Ayyub self-published her book on the 2002 Gujarat riots Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up and have continued ever since.
Back in the day, British journalist Benjamin Horniman was condemned by colonialists and deported from the country when he exposed the widespread malpractices of the Imperialist government and supported India’s freedom struggle. His name is synonymous with reportage on the role played by General Dyer on one of the darkest days in Indian history, 13 April 1919, the day of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in which 379 people reportedly lost their lives. He did not even spare the British viceroys, prime ministers, and other senior officials and reported freely on the atrocities committed by them.
Barkha Dutt is another name that comes to mind for her fearless war reporting on the 1999 Kargil dispute between India and Pakistan, and most recently for exposing the plight of the Indian migrant workers during the Coronavirus pandemic. Her book To Hell and Back: Humans of Covid investigates the migrant exodus and the impact of pandemic-induced lockdowns on the humans dominating the fringes of Indian society.
A common thread binds these fearless and relentless souls – that of upholding the freedom of their pens, and the silent determination to go on despite the obstacles the world throws in their way. Democracy is strengthened by its freedom to question every concept and every entity in power. A strong nation has historically always had free and open media. India, unfortunately, believes curtailing its freedom may be a solution to suppress agitation against fascism and xenophobia that it systematically subjects its citizens to.