Media and Free Voice: Review of Ravish Kumar’s Book     

Ravish Kumar in his book ‘The Free Voice: On Democracy Culture and Nation’ critically evaluates the role being played by the media in contemporary times. Journalism in contemporary times had turned out to be uncritical of the Government and become mere mouthpieces of the Government. In a culture of fear, what is required is breaking the silence by raising uncomfortable questions for those in power. This requires courage and dealing with one’s own fear. Prevalence of culture of fear prevents change and maintains the status quo. From being someone who resorted to Hanuman Chalisa to overcome fear in his childhood to gain resilience and moral courage in journalism profession to accept topics of larger public interest are discussed. Examples of Justice Loya and Sohrabuddin as prime time topics are mentioned which required courage. He mentions that it is important to free oneself from fear. By living in fear, one is not alive.

The Free Voice On Democracy Culture and Nation jpgFake news which are propaganda is resulting in creation of fear among citizens. Post 2014, IT Cell and Whaatsapp university had turned out to be factories of fake news. It constantly vilified journalists such as Rajdeep Sardesai, Rana Ayyub, Sagarika Ghose, Barkha Dutt and Ravish Kumar who are constantly portrayed as traitors. These cells through rumors and fake news created mobs who are filled with hate. Mobs took the shape of cow lynchers, moral police in the name of love jihad or someone who dictate release of film. Abuses and trolls by these mobs also sometimes lead to issue of death threats. An example discussed of such mobs is that of ‘Karni sena’ which called for withdrawal of the movie ‘Padmavati’ and announced for violent action against the actress. Such blind religiosity which makes constitution of lesser significance to mob threats poses danger to democracy. Blind religiosity only provides a license to mobs. News anchors have turned out to be key contributors to the creation of such mobs through maniacal debates on news channels.

Fake news creates a ‘false reality’ where the people are cut off from the truth. Through internalizing the ‘false reality,’ people become a part of the mob by getting shaped through news channels on the basis of debates on spurious issues and counterfeit agendas. Truth emerges only through questioning authority which requires thinking. Through freeing people from thinking, it seeks to create ‘robo public’ who through roboticization are programmed into ‘bhakts.’ These ‘robo public’ cannot be challenged by any argument and can be controlled by fake news. Through conversion to ‘robo public’ one only loses status as citizens in a democracy. Robo public seeks to silence others as they see themselves as the inheritors of Hinduism / nationalism and others on the opposite side. Not everyone likes to be silenced by the robo publics. Kumar terms robo public as the fake public.

The threat of fake news and role of fake news busting sites such as,,, and in exposing fake news are mentioned. Fake news is used to falsify history and also false descriptionsof individuals such as the first prime minister of India. Ravish cites examples from Nazi Germany where such fake news had contributed to heinous violence against Jews and about 6 million were killed in Holocaust. Fake news is used by fascists. It widens the schism between citizens and those who ask questions on their behalf. It perpetuates a system of intimidation, harassment, and humiliation so that the collective of people asking questions keeps shrinking.

Ravish states that there is a national project for instilling fear. In this project, the journalists are brow beaten to submit. Such journalists included those from Caravan Magazine, Indian express, Yelahanka voice, Hi Bengaluru and other regional media. It seeks to indicate that except for ‘godi media’ no one is safe. A case of Gauri Lankesh of Lankesh patrike is made where after she was shot down, social media handles associated with right wing pointed it as legitimate and celebrated it.

Coming together of such mobs are only a recreation of Nazi Germany. Instances are cited from past, where there was boycott of Jewish businessmen and traders, jewish doctors, jews forbidden in parks, segregation in train coaches and ghettoization of Jews. This happened simultaneously with ‘Hail Hitler‘slogan. Goebbels the propaganda manager only allowed the mob to let loose. Jewish houses and stores, properties were burnt down. It was declared as release of ‘spontaneous people’s anger.’ Hitler remained silent of such mob actions. These were a result of creation and radicalization of mobs through propaganda. Such mobs create their own directives, draft its orders, and identify its prey. Becoming mob is becoming part of Hitler’s Germany.

Ravish expresses concern that people’s power in democracy is getting weakened. History has been turned into one of myth making driven by what is defined as ‘true Hindus’ out to avenge the deeds of the past. In this vengeance, human beings are being turned into bombs through their involvement in killings such as the ones which happened with Pehlu Khan, Mohammad Akhlaq or Junaid Khan. This is legitimized as a way of liberating from 1,200 years of slavery or 60 years of sickularism. Transformation as human bombs only shrinks one’s space as citizens. Instead of playing the role of citizens seeking civil rights, they surrender it. The power is handed over to organizations which seek to perpetuate religious and intolerant politics. Putting unqualified trust and loyalty in a leader without evaluating only diminishes one’s space. It is important that rights in the democratic set up are protected. It is not wrong to be a dissenter. Power seeks to terrorize people including slapping cases such as sedition to curb dissent.

Kumar points out that the process of becoming democratic needs regular practice and courage. Courage needs to be displayed on a daily basis and spoken out. An example of Pew research is pointed out where the respondents preferred a strong leader who is free from institutional control which indicates a preference for ‘autocrat.’ Kumar questions how leaders such as Gandhi, Mandela, Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Vinobha Bhave need to be described. Being a leader requires conviction as was found among them as well as Bhagat Singh, Subhas Chandra Bose, and Chandra Shekhar Azad.

Referring to emergence of Babas in the media space, Ravish points that they have solutions for every problem – money, marriage, promotions, love, relationships etc. They present daily horoscopes. They dig out old superstitions and reestablish in modern contexts. They have suggestions for yantras for becoming rich, a suitable time to propose for lovemates, suggestions on when to perform pooja and at what time to undertake a Caesearean operation. Media only enhances the superstitious space.

Discussing the concept of love, Ravish points that it has been widely dealt in the film world. However, they have comfortably avoided breaking the status quo. Films dealing with Hindu-Muslim and Dalit-Non-dalit love stories are few. Breaking of status quo has not been welcomed. Instances are given that of Ankit Saxena’s death where Hindu-Muslim love was not tolerated and Kausalya Sankar in Kerala where Dalit Upper caste love was not tolerated. Honour killing in the name of caste pride is common.

Referring to celebration of Independence Day, Ravish points that if one is against forms of oppression, hatred, dominance and one has understood Bhagat Singh, Khudiram Bose and Mahatma Gandhi, one should celebrate it to keep dreams of independence alive.

In the context of loss of free media in the current times, it is important to read this book of Ravish Kumar. It not just describes the threats of fake news, godi media but also cautions how we are losing spaces as citizens in a democracy. The need for gaining courage by breaking free from fear to save democracy is emphasized.

T Navin is an independent writer

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