The National Project for Instilling Fear has reached completion in India. Before new highways and jobs, everybody has been unfailingly given one thing — fear. For every individual — whether a journalist or anyone else — fear is now a daily reality and we are all experiencing it in many different ways. From the moment we step out of our homes, warnings ring in our ears: be careful, look here, look there.

It is obvious that the ‘godi’ media is the only one which is safe in India today. If you jump into the lap of authority and snuggle down in it, nobody anywhere will dare say anything to you. All you need to do is to lose yourself in songs of devotion, strum the tanpura like Narada did, and chant ‘Narayan Narayan’ on the television screen.

Let me tell you about an incident about a friend who was travelling by train with his mother. A woman of conservative views, she was wearing a burqa. A mob formed instantaneously and spewed taunts at them throughout the duration of the journey. Their self-confidence was shattered within the first couple of hours. In this project for instilling fear, which is now being successfully implemented on a national scale, individuals comprise the smallest and the most vulnerable units. And now the project has reached the newsroom and individuals within it too. I have no idea how this situation will improve. Maybe we can create a helpline for those who have been beaten up and for the families of those who have died.

Certain sections of the mainstream media have always been in the firing line of hatemongers, it is now also the turn of many of our comrades practising alternative journalism to become targets—those who are running small websites with a handful of journalists. These are websites that receive maybe a lakh or two. or five lakh hits. When all mainstream voices are muzzled, it is these websites which report incidents. These journalists too are going to be beaten senseless. All this is happening systematically as part of the political game plan.

Many local political agents who play the role of vendors, ‘feeding’ information through WhatsApp, are now in the business of killing as well. Once, gathering ten men to beat someone to death used to take time. In Basit Malik’s case, it would have taken no time to assemble a crowd because they have the perfect apparatus, WhatsApp. Which rules out field reporting for most.

I speak from experience; in the days following demonetization, it became very difficult to go anywhere to report from the field. You are not going to travel with a squad of Special Protection Group personnel, right? Under these circumstances, where is one to go and, in the minimum time, accomplish the task of speaking to as many people as possible? It is up to us to find a way of dealing with this fear.

It has become necessary to tell people, ‘What you are watching on television is garbage! You are not being readied to kill Muslims. One day you will be used to kill just about anybody.’ Convert every person in a mob into a possible killer—this too is an ongoing project.

We are not just fighting against the muzzling of debate so essential to a democracy. Our problem is that very soon we will not be able to step out even in our own neighbourhood. You may think a person who is a well-known face is at greater risk. Was Basit Malik a well-known face? We have reached a stage where at the mere sight of the Urdu script written somewhere, we will start trashing it on the grounds that it is a ‘Pakistani’ language.

This is an excerpt from Ravish Kumar’s The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation. To read the full book click here.


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