The arrest of Mandeep Punia, a young independent journalist from the farmer protest site in Delhi is a reminder how Indian state is afraid of independent information. It is surprising that when the ‘powerful’ media houses have completely surrendered and have become merely hate mongers and fixing up their prime time shows to humiliate and castigate the opponents of the government or protesters, the government is still afraid of a very few who are determined to bring the truth to us.

I can say with full conviction that it was not the ‘organised’ media but independent individuals who have fought the battle of truth with great courage. Why is case of Mandeep Punia so important when we have seen FIRs against various editors by different state police for their stories. Rajdeep Sardesai, Siddharth Vardarajan, The Caravan editors which is condemnable to say the least and reflect how Indian state want complete political loyalty from the media. It has no space for ‘dissent’ and it just wish them to carry out their agenda and diktats.

The celebrity journalists will still find many supporters and power people, it is the independent journalists who are mostly termed as ‘freelancer’ will face the biggest crisis. A young aspiring person like Mandeep Punia has a big career before him but the state want to send a message very clear that it does not care. It does not recognise what is ‘independent journalism’ and hence when Mandeep exposed the nexus of police and goons, we witness the same pattern as police forces in India are following right from JNU days, to Jamia, Hyderabad University, anti CAA protests and Delhi violence. It files cases, convert every movement and protest as ‘conspiracy’ theories and criminalise each one who is participating in these protests or reporting on them.

It has become easier for the government to close down internet services wherever the protests are happening. Why is that everytime some protests happen the authorities are closing down the internet services which has been declared as fundamental right of an individual.

Few weeks back when Mumbai police arrested Arnab Goswami in the TRP scam case, BJP ministers from number one to last one protested against ‘assault on freedom of expression’ when it was clear that he was not being arrested for ‘fighting for ‘free media’ as we all know well Arnab Goswami never believes in freedom of expression and his channel became the voice of authoritarianism and suppression of freedom of expression,, Arnab became the role model for authoritarian media which provided an ‘ideological’ and ‘intellectual’ back up to highhandedness of the state apparatus, intelligence agencies, police, ED, Income Tax, against the political opponents and dissenters. But BJP leaders, karykartas all over the country were ‘agitated against his arrest because Arnab is the role model for the ‘bhakts’ and ‘authoritarian media’. Look at the new breed of shouting brigade which has been conspiring in their studios to defame all the democratic protests in the country.

It is not ironical that the highest court was so pained to hear the ‘plight’ of Arnab Goswami and felt that bail is the right of an under trial but it refuses to listen to a Kerala journalist who was arrested while going to report Hatharas case. Uttar Pradesh courts refused to grant him bail. Supreme Court refused to accept any argument. Just for reporting an incident, the state want to push you to jail. It clearly indicate that state has become fearful of independent journalists and writers as it knows well that managing Poories, Jains, Aggarawals, Roys, Goenkas, is easier as they are business houses with lots of patronage from sarkari babus. So journalists working under these dispensation have to be economic rights even if they pretend politically secular. Now, that ‘politically’ secular too is unacceptable as ruling party want every one to sing bhajans as prescribed by them.

Mandeep was sent to fourteen days jail. It was said that he was not a ‘reporter’ and was reporting. Does it mean that only those who have a ‘valid’ I card can report. Perhaps, that will make all the PR media as the ‘only authentic’ ‘patrakaars’ while all others as criminals.

Denial of bail to Mandeep is a reflection on our judiciary. I wont say much but it reflect about their attitude that how Kappan or Munawar Faruqi continue to languish in jails for no fault of theirs. The concern for Arnab and contempt for others suggest the trends that we have become today. This is not the fall of media but that of judiciary which is allowing certain things and find no time for various serious issues. For democracy to survive, judiciary will have to play an important role otherwise our crisis of democracy will only deepen.

We hope fraudulent cases against journalists particularly those who work independently be quashed by the court. They have a bigger responsibility now as if this trend filing the cases is not stopped, the police will only become clerk of the ruling party and they wont be able to perform their duties without biases and prejudices. Such a situation will further endanger our governance system and democracy and will only bring chaos. The Supreme court face supreme challenge today to protect our civil liberties and freedom of expression. Will it ?

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social activist


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