A Closer Look into Press Freedom in the World’s Largest Democracy

India’s democratic principles were tested Friday when a leader of the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) threatened journalists covering the brutal rape and murder of eight year-old Asifa.

Choudhary Lal Singh, a member of the BJP, organized a rally in support of those responsible for the Asifa incident, which took place in Kathua, a district in Jammu and Kashmir.

Singh cited the killing of Shujaat Bukhari, who was a veteran reporter in Kashmir, and warned Kashmiri reporters to “mend their ways” and “draw a line” to avoid facing the same fate as Bukhari.

While the official motives of Bukhari’s assassination are unknown, Singh’s remarks have encouraged the BJP to continue attacking the free press.

Since the BJP took power in 2014 with the election of Narendra Modi, right-wing politics has been sweeping throughout India. The country was among the first in the world to experience the wave of populism and nationalism that has been spreading across the western world for the past few years.

Constant attacks on the press and support for censorship have become commonplace in India. Reports show that forty-six reporters were attacked, twenty-seven were arrested and eleven were killed in 2017. Half of the forty-six attacks were carried out by politicians and police.

Censorship has also played a major role in India since Modi was elected. According to the same report, five state governments (Goa, Kerala, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal)  have deterred media outlets from reporting on certain events. Reporters without Borders ranks India at 138th worldwide in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, falling two positions since last year.

Social media outlets such as Whatsapp have also been subject to censorship making Indian citizens think twice before sending anti-government content or spreading rumors that could lead to ethnic or religious tensions. Last April, the Indian government acted out by arresting a user for sending content that was believed to have posed a threat to the religious harmony in his area.

The government has made it clear that it will hold not only the sender of such material accountable, but also the group administrator if he or she fails to report ‘fake’ material to the police. Furthermore, if no action is taken by the administrator, he or she is assumed guilty.

One of the reasons for this crackdown on Whatsapp users may be because of the violence that began just last year after a Whatsapp message circulated between Indian group chats warning people to be careful of strangers, as they may be a part of kidnapping mobs. Hysteria broke out resulting in two incidents where angry mobs assaulted alleged kidnappers and seven people died.

 

 

 

 

 

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