Photo: Translation: ‘The government’s hand on the common man’s face’, Aseem Trivedi
A rising tide of intolerance threatens journalists in India. The killing of a journalist is not just a crime but also a human rights abuse as it stifles free speech and freedom of expression. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014, journalists have been facing greater threats from an increasingly polarized environment in India. From the death of Gauri Lankesh, a known critic of Hindu right-wing extremism, last September to the recent hate crimes against Barkha Dutt and Ravish Kumar, there is a lack of press freedom and a growing assault on constitutional and democratic values.
Complementing the death threats are increased instances of online abuse. In the case of journalist Rana Ayyub, a pornographic video with her face superimposed on one of the actors was sent to her. The case reflects on the problem of sexism in Indian society where threats of sexual nature are used to shame and silence female journalists. “Islamist”, “Jihadi Jane,” and “ISIS sex slave” are some of the epithets which have been hurled at Ayyub as she is one of the few female Muslims who speaks out against an alleged Hindu nationalist government.
While some journalists, like Barkha Dutt, have been able to afford enhanced security and get their houses debugged, many local and less affluent journalists face increased death threats while uncovering cases of corruption and local crime. Correspondingly, India’s ranking in the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2018 has fallen two places since last year to 138th, augmenting the problem is the increased impunity of these murders and harassment. A Committee to Protect Journalists report has ranked India 13th in the Global Impunity Index, a list highlighting countries where the murders of the journalists are least likely to get justice.
Considering that academics hope that India will be the salvage of democracy, stifling free speech and providing impunity to murderers is threatening the very foundation of the country’s values. While members of the ruling government have not been afraid to showcase their disdain towards media outlets, what remains to be seen is whether the opposition holds the ability to capitalize on the many candle-light protests, demand better protection against hate crimes, and protect India’s democratic values.