I don’t remember what time it was when I returned from the march by journalists on Tuesday and fell asleep.
Crossing several time zones and nations, I had a lot of sleep to catch up on. I woke up with a start to the sound of shouting from below.
For a moment, the sounds made me feel as if I was still in a different country, in a different time zone. Despite an evening drizzle, the heat radiating from the cries outside seemed to scorch the earth dry. They were shouting about coming into homes and killing people. The violence in their words weighed me down. I couldn’t find a place of refuge between those cries of murder and the calls of shooting people being heard on TV. It was as if I could see a target drawn on the backs of everyone I knew.
As streets rang out with slogans against JNU, TV anchors kept people tied up in debates. Delhi’s Dwarka and Rajendra Nagar were witness to such rallies. It seemed the media couldn’t care less that with these shrieks, an air of dangerous and violent animosity towards the JNU was being fanned. I cannot give a count, but I can say for sure that such violent marches have walked through many a neighbourhood, markets and malls.
In the WhatsApp group of a Residents’ Welfare Association or RWA as they are known in Delhi, a screenshot has been shared. It says “This girl is a supporter of Afzal Guru – the Parliament attack convict”. In one such message, I saw that she has been circled in black in a photograph. Alongside her name, it says “This girl is a Bengali and her photo should be shared so widely that the whole world finds out that she is a supporter of Afzal”. The girl in the photograph is part of a protest by JNU students.
We journalists have often been profiled like this and we have had countless rumours spread about us – like how we are enemies of the State; there has even been a tweet that claims Ravish Kumar is hundred per cent born of a prostitute. Though I consider my mother a real Mother India, I have no qualms in calling a prostitute my mother either.
But I had not thought that a next-door girl could one day be profiled and targeted like that.
The fact that members of a Residents’ Welfare Association will target a young woman makes it even more dangerous. Maybe she doesn’t live in that area, but if this habit has invaded us, can you imagine what is waiting to happen? Isn’t this against the fundamentals of our independence? First, they measured the length of their skirts and now they are gauging the angle of their political leaning. Watching over gates of the neighbourhood, they will soon become watchdogs breathing down our necks.
People of such ideologies – are they recent additions to our societies or have they only recently started working for such ideologies? This is something that people, especially the youth, have to think about. Tomorrow, one of them will click a picture or lift a comment from Facebook and make it go viral saying that a girl called Antara skips college to hang out with a boy called Rajiv from Sector 6. Circulate this picture so much that her parents find out about her misadventures. This was the language of that WhatsApp message. If a young man or woman doesn’t understand the perils of such a thing, then it really is a worrying day for our country.
Will we in the name of nationalism let our independence be hijacked by thugs like these? What if one day these people lynch those kids in the name of saving our culture? Or what if those kids kill themselves out of that embarrassment?
Social media is increasingly becoming a tool to stifle the freedom of citizens. The possibilities it once showed have been eclipsed today. These incidents are not being reported in the media today because people are fixated in front of debate shows on TV watching “patriots” and “traitors” take shots at each other while with the powers of organisation; a conspiracy to rob the independence of people spreads unabated. As if the entire plan was already laid out.
En masse, television started making traitors out of people. Anchors kept on yelling and perceptions kept on perpetuating. And I kept drowning in the din of such savage voices. It felt like we were losing the balance, like something was being overdone. The question wasn’t of right or wrong. When we start feeling that our word is the final one, that is the time to stop and reflect. We must give space to doubt. And question once more.
We have often heard such tales of control within an organisation, but the spread of such control within our society is new. Streets seething with slogans against JNU and homes of its supporters marked out, targeted – this is not benign. A social order emanating from a political order, and a political order from a social one. If you think this is right, then please pass around sweets in your neighbourhood and bid goodbye to your home because you have welcomed in a new guardian for your children, congratulations.
This is that noise that I wanted to talk to you about. That’s why we turned off the lights so that in the darkness we can have a word and yet not be marked out. So that you can hear what we say.
To stroke their ideologies, TV anchors have turned debates into firestorms – burning down all semblance of reason and basking in the drama. Some on such shows cower in fear while others blare on about anything and everything. We have made mistakes before and questions have been raised but we haven’t mended our ways.
I did not host this episode of Prime Time to “fix” television, but merely in the hope that when we find ourselves in such darkness, we also find it within to ask questions or stop and reflect. We did it today, somebody did it yesterday, and someone else will do it tomorrow. But for now, television has lost its vision. Debate TV is butchering spaces for logic and reason. It is being used to slaughter public opinion. But let no one remain under the illusion that TV is dying; it is those watching it who are.
I am grateful that you liked Prime Time. But I have to ask a question. The way you spoke out made it seem like you were living in fear and then something gave you the courage to step out. As you were making that episode go viral, I don’t know why but I felt as if you were reaching out to someone else to hold their hand – searching for a semblance of courage. But honestly, if in your reaction, there is an element of coming out of fear, then I am not happy about how popular the show has been. I am worried. Do tell me, why are you afraid? Who are you afraid of? Don’t give in to the crowd. Get out a little. Out of your home and out of your fear. You should not fear the fearful.
(Ravish Kumar is Senior Executive Editor, NDTV India)