'We have become the consumers of tragedy': Ravish Kumar on the Indian media's political agenda

Scroll Staff

“One doesn’t die only when they are buried or cremated,” said NDTV anchor Ravish Kumar while accepting the inaugural Kuldip Nayar journalism award on Sunday in New Delhi. “Fear which forbids you to speak, write and hear what you want is also a form of death.”

Instituted by journalist Kuldip Nayar and the Gandhi Peace Foundation, the prize is given to journalists in Indian languages who “promote independent thinking, democratic values and civic rights” through their work.

Going on to describe the present culture of fear, Kumar added that “we have all become consumer of tragedies” and that news anchors have become the “biggest watchdogs” of our times. “Every evening becomes a lockup, where opposition ideas are vanquished,” the senior journalist said. “And any opposing idea or thought is completely shut out.”

Referring to the slew of false cases against innocent people, Kumar said,”These are flying squads who come to check your pockets, don’t arrest you, but create a fear that you are a criminal.”

Moving on to a humourous note, the anchor said, “I wonder what will happen if someone in those anti-Romeo squads falls in love. I pray that they don’t but at least are able to appreciate a Kishore Kumar song in their lifetime.”

Here is a quick English translation of Ravish Kumar’s speech by Ikshula Arora, a research scholar at Delhi University’s Department of Political Science.

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“In times that are being looked down upon with a sense of contempt worldwide it is somewhat amusing to see oneself being felicitated. It is like watching a wall-clock that is still ticking! The ticking clocks fell silent decades ago and with that we lost the ability to sense time through mild sounds. Therefore, we fail to judge times we are running through. It feels no less than the sitting in an examination hall which is being constantly raided by vigilante groups, or flying squads, to reinforce the feeling in us that there is a culprit in us who would certainly be caught red handed. We are being searched repeatedly. The trolls have been set upon those who believe in freely speaking their minds.  A chill runs down the spines of those present in this ‘examination’ hall whenever a new raiding party visits, and a fear of being implicated falsely, without having committed any crime, takes over. These groups have not caught as many wrongdoers, as much as they have created a sense of fright among innocents! In this phase of fake degrees versus genuine degrees, it is third degree which has made a comeback in various forms.  The news anchor is the new centre of power in our times. He freely lashes out at those who speak differently from him. It is crime to hold an opposing view. To present an alternative is a serious crime, to present facts is scurrilous and to be truthful, is sinful. Television converted our evenings into a lock-up and now these ‘police-stations’ continue their operation throughout the day! You have selected a news-anchor for the first award – this is proof enough that those who are ready to take risks, still survive. There still are people who are ready to take the risk of another defeat. Although their survival may be an illusion but I am still grateful.

Thank you Gandhi Peace Foundation. I am conscious of the fact that this award has been created by the sweat of journalists. Receiving anything from my seniors in the profession is like ‘Bakshish’ to me. Its like a prayer having been answered. We all revere Kuldip Nayyar Sahab. Millions of people have read you. You have lit candles at those borders in whose name hatred and venom is spread every day. In fact, how many of us are even talking of love? I doubt whether people still think of love. Every morning we don’t see the sun rise – instead we begin our day by checking Good-morning messages on Whatsapp. It seems like soon the world will start believing that the sun rises on Whatsapp! Soon we are going to prosecute Galileo once again and this time we are going to witness a live telecast!

Anupam Mishra is not amongst us anymore. We have accepted this truth just like the society seemed to have accepted his non-existence even during his lifetime. I wish I had received this award when he was around, perhaps from him only. Whenever the fresh breeze touches past me or whenever I see a wave of fresh water, I remember Anupam Mishra. He has left for us a language with the help of which we can save a lot of things. For that, however, it is pertinent that we clear our souls. The purity within us has been blotted by filth. We must attempt to refine our thoughts and our language, just like Anupam Mishra. Without having brushed off the layers of dust covering us, we would not be able to stand up.

This is a phase of discovering possibilities. We are continuously on the lookout for new and remaining possibilities and the people who continue to cherish and safeguard the new hopes and possibilities. However, these hopes and possibilities are now fading away. In the midst of this, our hopes seem to be getting alone. For how long will we all survive, this question is bothering us all. Till whenever we are around, we have even forgotten meaningful way of living.  In such a situation, there is need to rekindle our energies and passions. Hone your questions; question the political groups you relied upon. Those groups have broken our trust. Also ask those in whom you do not have any faith. Our communication with the society has completely broken down. The society pins all its hopes in political parties to bring about change. The society now knows that it is only the politically powerful who can bring about pleasant or dangerous transformation. It is because of this that people do not step back from pinning hopes in political parties. The people have been continuously taking this risk. Political parties fail them every time, but they still place their bets the next time.

 There has been constant decline in the political parties after various members left them and got engaged in various directions. These are people who no longer see politics as an instrument to bring about social change. The absence of such people in political parties has led to a decline in their morality. There is a need to restructure and reshape political parties. Please set aside your inner-contradictions. We’ve seen them enough for the past 30-40 years. Leftists, Gandhians, Ambedkarites and Socialists – all have left their mainstream political formations. As they left, mainstream politics has lost the sense of alternative politics. Return to those parties and take over the organizations. Forget the past. Work hard for a new politics. It is a good time to recognise our helplessness and cowardice. These dark times are the right occasion for us to assess ourselves, by being brutally honest.

I am being awarded for my journalism. It gives me immense pleasure to tell you that there is no crisis in journalism today, if you thought so. All the editors – from the Capital city to those in the districts are very happy to be swept away by the ideological storm of a particular party. How much ever we criticise them, we need to accept that they are extremely happy. It is now that they feel accomplished as journalists. The media had made incessant efforts for the past 56 years to merge with political entities. Hotels, malls, mining leases and the different licenses they procured could not satiate their hunger. Their souls remained unfulfilled. Now, they have attained peace. Finally, the media’s dream of being a part of power politics has been fulfilled.

Indian media is right now in the state of ecstasy. There was a time when they found a stairway to heaven; today they have found heaven on earth. The stairway is not needed any longer. If you do not believe me, please go ahead and have a look at any newspaper or watch any news channel. You will be overwhelmed by watching their love and loyalty to one particular political agenda. Only when you appreciate the bliss they have attained after decades of desperation, will you take your pain less seriously. Never before have these decked up anchors looked so handsome! Neither did the female anchors praising the government look as beautiful, ever before! Journalists are also the government now. 

If you intend to fight, fight the newspaper and television. Let go of your stubbornness to salvage journalism. Journalists themselves do not want to be saved! The few in number who are left can be easily evicted. How would an individual journalist surviving help the situation? Organisations as a whole have been communalised. Journalism is spreading communalism in India. It is thirsty for blood. It will make the nation bleed one day. It may not appear to be very successful in promoting its agenda today, but we cannot ignore the efforts it is making. Thus arises the need for us to deliberate upon this with anyone and everyone we come across. Newspapers and television channels have become branches of political parties. Anchors wield more power in political parties than the general secretaries of these parties. Until one fights these new political formations, alternative political ideas cannot take shape. They have also managed to hegemonise minds of people in such a manner that I am asked by many why I question. Those who throw ink are being appointed spokespersons and those who write with ink are only indulging in propaganda. Contemporary journalism is the contemporary propaganda.

But how can we overlook journalists who are making efforts to safeguard possibilities. While their possibilities would eventually fade, their legacy would empower us in future. Whenever these journalists, tired of sycophancy or humbled after betrayal, would wake up from their slumber, it is these cherished hopes and possibilities would save them.  That is why I insist that we must cherish our hopes and possibilities. Refrain from seeing these times through a prism of hope or failure. We are on rail-track where the giant engine is just before us and there is no way to run away or save ourselves.  Hope or sense of failure are both not an option. It is time to throw yourself to work. We are running short of time and its pace is very fast. “