Defending the Defenders
This is especially pertinent in the context of current political regime which is using all powers at its disposal to intimidate dissenters. RTI activists are living under threat of death and false cases. Journalists are facing pressures from their owners and editors to desist from doing critical stories.
The pressures range from threats of physical assault and sexual violence against women journalists, to financial threats of losing their livelihood, to shrinking democratic space. In addition to the same, vulnerable groups like Dalits and Muslims are being severely marginalized and repressed by the state and security agencies. The mass incarceration of Dalit, Muslim and minority activists based on false terrorism and national security cases has led to widespread fear, frustration and trepidation.
Human rights activists in India have also come under repeated attacks in recent times. Right to information (RTI) activists have been killed and a number of civil rights activists have been implicated and imprisoned in false cases using oppressive draconian laws. There is an urgent need to protect and defend the human rights activists/institutions, especially journalists in India today.
Despite the growth in the number of newspapers, TV channels and increased access to the web space; freedom of speech and expression which is a fundamental right enshrined in the Indian Constitution (from which the freedom of the press and media derives) is being greatly compromised in India. Three powerful forces – the state, corporate interests, and religious/nationalist extremist forces – seek to abridge, compromise and muzzle the free voice of the media.
The attempts to throttle the freedom of expression also continue. Extreme right-wing organizations have attacked media offices frequently in the past few years. Prominent Journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead outside her house in Karnataka. Senior Journalist Malini Subramanium was attacked in her house in Chhattisgarh.
Senior journalists like Sai Reddy in Chhattsigarh, Lenin Kumar in Orissa, have also spent several years in prison for raising their voices against the atrocities of their respective state police and governments. Seema Azad[journalist] was in judicial custody in UP in 2010 and in West Bengal Swapan Das Gupta (a prominent journalist) died while in custody in 2009. While powerful forces file cases against journalists, they receive scant support from media organizations. Stringers are intimidated, harassed by petty government officials and their organisations and fellow journalists too are helpless to support them.
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