As India turns 74, seldom has an Independence Day dawned amidst so much anxiety. A new virus imperils the lives of Indians and a hopelessly inadequate public health system offers little cause for confidence. There are fears that the economy could slow to its lowest rate of growth since 1947. Most troubling, though, is the enfeeblement of the institutions mandated to protect our democracy.
We in the media have felt the shocks of the crumbling edifice first hand. Between March 25 and May 31, at least 55 journalists in India “faced arrest, registration of FIRs, summons or show causes notices, physical assaults, alleged destruction of properties and threats for reportage on Covid-19 or exercising freedom of opinion and expression during the national lockdown”, a report by a rights research group notes. That number has since risen.
For Scroll.in, this has meant an FIR against our executive editor, Supriya Sharma, for a report about hunger in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency of Varanasi amidst the lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
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The attacks on the press are only one indication of the assaults on the liberties of Indians everywhere. This has been experienced most brutally by the residents of Kashmir, who continue to face a variety of horrific indignities just over a year after the very arrangements that had determined the territory’s accession to the Indian Union were altered unilaterally. Elsewhere, people who have campaigned against the religiously biased Citizenship Amendment Act have been taken into custody on flimsy grounds, while advocates for the rights of the marginalised have jailed for a far-fetched conspiracy.
Earlier this month, the prime minister took a leading role in a religious event designed to mock the secular values in the Constitution he has sworn to uphold.
All the while, the courts have proved uncharacteristically lethargic in considering petitions seeking to remedy the situation. As Princeton historian Gyan Prakash noted this week: “As someone who wrote a history of the Emergency, I can say that what’s happening in India now is much worse.”
Amidst the trepidation about India’s immediate future, Independence Day offers us the opportunity to reflect on the hard-fought gains of the past. It is an occasion to recall the determined struggles of thousands of brave women and men who earned us our freedoms – and to acknowledge that these liberties could be lost if we fail to protect them with the same ferocity.
On Independence Day, we at Scroll.in reiterate our resolve to play the watchdog role that the media has been accorded in our democracy. The assistance of engaged, supportive readers is vital for this task. We appeal to you to contribute to our Ground Reporting Fund to help us keep bring you the news that matters.