Catharsis Magazine - Issue 27 (August-September 2020)

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Understanding the crisis in media

How literature has helped in the spread of propaganda

The blurring between journalists and comedians


EDITOR'S LETTER With everything that has been happening in the news recently, we thought it was a good time to analyse the current status of media in India. The role of media is integral to the functioning of any democracy. Unfortunately, over the last few years, the mainstream media has been reduced to noise. In this issue we explore the various facets of the mainstream media and the emergence of an alternative media in India. For our Ideas section, in our first article, Saahas, recalls the Emergency of 1975 and by providing a historical background asserts the importance of having a free and independent media. Barnana, through her article pushes this conversation forward by commenting on the current landscape of reportage. Mridula, talks about the necessity of positive discrimination and the inclusion of Dalits in media. Barkha, on the other hand, comments on the importance of giving due credit to reporters for their stories. With the rise of an alternative media, Shraddha brings forth the role of artists as political commentators. To compliment her article, Aditi, gives us a historical context that maps the increasing influence of graphic artists and their vast potential for the future. To get a better understanding of the necessity for an alternative media, we interviewed Abhinandan Sekhri, the co-founder and CEO of the media critique and current affairs website, Newslaundry. He spoke to us about his journey as a journalist in India, the urgency of news critiquing in the current scenario, and the future of news organisations. The interview with Khabar Lahariya, India’s only allwomen run media house, provides us with an insight into reporting in rural India and the role of local communities for the sustenance of rural reportage. We also interviewed Shakuntala Banaji, professor of Media, Culture, and Social Change at the London School of Economics. Through the interview, she articulates her research and provided us with an understanding of the effect of polarisation caused due to mainstream media on adolescents in urban and rural India. In our Words section, we have an article that explores the relationship between literature and propaganda. Through a literary lens, the article comments on the relationship between a state-sponsored dissemination of information and violence. In this issue, for the Journal section, we have a photo essay by Bharadwaj who takes us to small village called Galgibag, seated on the edge of the KarnatakaGoa border. In our Culture section, Divanshu takes a deep dive into the rise of satire news and its implication on society. Tasneem wraps up the issue by taking a walk down memory lane through neatly folded paper-cuttings from old newspapers. Adhishree Adulkar, Editor























CONTRIBUTORS Saahas Arora is currently reading law at the ILS Law College, Pune. He is a columnist at Polemics & Pedantics.

Bharadwaj Kamesh is a documentary photographer and film-maker based in Bangalore.

Mridula Arya is a Delhi based freelance journalist.

Adhishree Adulkar is an editor at Catharsis Magazine.

Barkha Kumari is a freelance journalist and a blogger from Bangalore.

Tasneem Pocketwala works as a freelancer and writes on culture, identity, mental health, and gender. She is based in Mumbai.

Shraddha Nair is a writer and curator based in Bengaluru, India.

Aditi Dharmadhikari is an independent writer and editor who has published articles on music, culture, mental health and wellness, and gender rights.

Barnana Sarkar works as a freelance journalist in Mumbai.

Divanshu Sethi is an editor at Catharsis Magazine.

INTERVIEWS Abhinandan Sekhri is cofounder and CEO of media critique, news, and current affairs website Newslaundry.

Shakuntala Banaji is Professor of Media, Culture and Social Change in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE.

Ritika Bhatia is an outreach manager from Khabar Lahariya.

Catharsis Magazine Issue 27 published August-September 2020. We can be contacted at


Pressing the Press: Recalling the Emergency of 1975, an indelible blot on Indian Democracy By Saahas Arora

By analysing the autocratic leaderships of the

remorseless dictatorial regime accompanied by a

past, one can observe a conspicuous similarity in

complete suspension of fundamental rights,

the role of oppressive laws in domineering the

forced jingoism and partisanship, multiple and

citizenry. Whether it was Hitler’s 25 Point Rule or

illegal arrests of the opposition along with rank

the Roman Emperor Caligula’s unfettered efforts

and file members, the banishment of foreign

to increase the role of the individual in the ruling

diplomats and reporters, an unnecessary

office, fundamental rights have always been

reconstruction of media laws, and a total

blatantly curtailed for undemocratic laws to take

blackout of information.

over. This was also the case in India in the mid1970s when a handful of political bigwigs led by

During Indira Gandhi’s tenure, media platforms

the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave the

like newspapers, magazines, films, television, and

Indian democracy what is now perceived to be its

radio had a wide audience and she believed that

darkest period. In response to a petition filed by

the media had infuriated her citizens against her.

Raj Narain, on June 12 1975, Justice Jagmohan Lal

This went as far as the major newspapers

Sinha of the Allahabad High Court disbarred

advising Gandhi to step down after the

Gandhi as a Member of Parliament on grounds of

Allahabad High Court judgement, which further

fraudulent election practices and prohibited her

fuelled her anger with resentment. These

from contesting elections for six years. However,

platforms had played a significant role in making

the petition was challenged in the Supreme

the citizens aware of the shortcomings of the

Court where Justice VR Krishna Iyer granted only

government as highlighted by the Courts and

a partial stay to Gandhi, allowing her to continue

the opposition leaders. She accused the media

as the Prime Minister but subsequently

houses of misleading the people against the

disbarring her from voting as an MP until the

government and thought of imposing an

pronouncement of the final verdict. Fearing a

extreme and robust form of censorship to control

complete loss of power, Gandhi, on June 25 1975,

the media’s agitation. Thus, censorship laws were

after obtaining the assent of the then President,

imposed under Rule 48 of the Defence of India

Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, immediately declared an

Rules (DIR). Even though these laws were

Emergency in the country on the grounds of

pedantic in nature and pertained to specific

internal disturbance that lasted for 21 long

content, published or telecast, that could dent

months. From here began a saga of a

internal security and peace, they 7

were used by the hypersensitive Gandhi-

For two days after the declaration of an

government as an umbrella to overshadow every

Emergency, there was a complete shutdown of

news that could possibly fuel a sense of rancour

electricity in all news agency buildings except

against the government.

the Hindustan Times and The Statesman (this was because these were located in the

The first to be crippled was the All India Radio

Connaught Place area, and Sanjay Gandhi gave

(AIR). Two hours before Gandhi’s speech on June

orders to the Delhi Electricity Supply Undertaking

26 1975, P.N. Bahl, joint secretary in the Prime

to cut the electricity supply of Bahadur Shah

Minister’s Office, usurped the AIR newsroom and

Zafar Marg assuming all newspapers were

took charge. He asked the Director-General of

located in that area). This gave the mother-son

AIR to immediately formulate a team that would

duo enough time to formulate a censorship

record Gandhi’s message to the nation. The

apparatus that would nip the freedom of press

reasons for subverting the AIR were:

right in the bud.

1. At that time, the AIR was omnipresent and had

A cocktail of proliferating political power and

the most widespread audience;

repressive censorship laws was demonstrated by

2. The officials regarded the AIR to be a

the government authorities to appease the

government body whose primary objective was

media houses in their favour and uproot any

to propagate the views and policies of the

opposition that dared to speak against the

government; and

government. Akashvani and Doordarshan becam

3. The government had a bone to pick with the

e propaganda platforms for the ruling party. They

Hindi-streaming AIR as it had verbatim telecast

glorified every policy drafted by the government.

the Press Trust of India’s news that explained the

The Motherland, an RSS controlled daily, with K.R.

Supreme Court’s partial stay on Indira Gandhi’s

Malkani as its editor, was the linchpin of the

case without giving it a positive spin.

many newspapers that pushed an antigovernment stance and heavily criticized Gandhi.

Moreover, in an urgent meeting organised and

It was known for its stentorian anti-Gandhi

headed by V.C. Shukla, who had taken over as the

content and had published many controversial

Information & Broadcasting Minister, after an

articles to water down the credibility of the

unceremonious removal of the former soft-

government. The Motherland was the first

handed minister Inder Kumar Gujral, it was

newspaper agency to be sealed with K.R. Malkani,

decided that there was a need for a new law to

the first to be arrested. This was followed by the

be passed to curb scurrilous and malicious

police raiding the office of Jayaprakash Narayan’s

writings in newspapers and that the Press

weekly newspaper, Everyman’s and shredding its

Council of India should be disestablished at the

latest edition into pieces. The staff of Everyman’s,

earliest possible. The Press Council of India was

including its editor Ajit Bhattacharjea were

an autonomous body formulated in 1966 with the

unceremoniously and coercively transferred to

aim to safeguard press freedom and maintain

the Indian Express. The censorship laws fell

journalism ethics; it was subsequently lapsed on

remorselessly even on the Tamil magazine

December 31, 1975. 8

A blanck editorial in The Indian Express. Photo Credit: Express Archive

Tughlak which had published birthday wishes for

Gita was looked down upon and proscribed.

Morarji Desai, the former Prime Minister and

Those like the Opinion, Seminar, and Himmat,

leader of the Janata Party, despite being far from

who dared to defy the censorship orders were

contravention to the censorship guidelines

robbed of their resources and were coerced by

prescribed by the government.

the censors to go out of publication. Only two non-mainstream newspapers, Freedom

While an untrammelled press is expected to be

First and Bhoomipatra had the gall to challenge

as free as a bird, during the time of a crisis, the

the illegality of the government’s actions, while

Indian press was forced to become as blind as a

the others, fearing a withdrawal of government

bat. After two days of an information blackout,

advertisements, bootlicked the government to

newspapers were allowed to be printed again on

remain in business. This was highlighted by the

June 28 1975. However, more than half the pages

Jana Sangh leader L.K. Advani who remarked that

of every published paper were either censored or

when the media was asked to bend, it chose to

left blank. The Indian Express carried a blank

completely cave in and crawl.

editorial. This was also the case with The Statesman, which had announced that the blank

Government advertisements were (and are even

spaces were censored. The Financial Express had

now) an important source of revenue for the print

quoted lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s

media. The advertising policy was a yeoman’s

poem, Where the Mind is Without Fear. But, that

service rendered by the government but for the

was also branded as misleading and delusive by

newspaper industry, it amounted to 7-8% of

the government. The censorship authorities

financial revenue, and was what kept them in

subsequently interdicted editors from using

competition. The government wanted to gain

quotations from political luminaries like

control of as many domains as possible and

Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru,

hence it decided to review and restructure the

Rabindranath Tagore, Hitler, Mussolini, and so on.

advertising policy. Thereby, a list was prepared

Even citing verses from the holy Bhagwat

which enumerated the division of all the 9

newspapers into categories of Friendly, Neutral,

Even the names of those who were detained and

and Hostile. Newspapers which had turned

arrested under the Maintenance of Internal

Nelson’s eye to the sinister activities of the

Security Act (MISA) were not allowed to be

government like the National Herald, Amrita

published. The Communist leader, E.M.S.

Bazar Patrika, The Hindu, The Times of India, The

Namboodiripad and Manikonda Chalapathi Rau,

Hindustan Times, and so on, were listed under

the editor of National Herald remarked that

the Friendly category while those who dared to

Gandhi had outdone and surpassed the British

protest against the government like The

colonials in terms of kneeing the free flow of

Statesman and The Indian Express were put

information and curbing their traction.

under the Hostile category. This was done with the ulterior motive to financially paralyse

Foreign correspondents also fell victim to the

the Hostile newspapers and deny them

media dictatorship of Gandhi and V.C. Shukla, the

government advertisements, while providing

Information and Broadcasting minister.

undisputed financial aid to the Friendly ones.

Enfranchisement to a total of fifty-one offending foreign and national journalists was withdrawn

The Statesman, which was one of the most

from the centre. The government had drafted a

reputed newspapers was battered by the shoddy

censorship agreement for all foreign news

and repressive censorship laws and was

agencies, reporters, and journalists who wanted

repeatedly reprimanded for not aligning its

to continue working in India. One of the clauses

content with the demands of the government.

in this agreement barred the correspondents

In The Statesman, international news had taken

from divulging to the public that they were being

the forefront and was given prominence over

censored. As these laws were obstructive and

national news. This was seen as a defiance to the

preposterous, the British Broadcasting Channel

government’s orders and S. Nihal Singh, the Delhi

(BBC) along with other major foreign news

editor of the newspaper, was forced to give more

houses refused to sign them. As a result, editors

sheet coverage and special weightage to national

like Mark Tully (editor of BBC), Peter Hazelhurst

news. However, the Calcutta editors of The

(editor of Times), and Peter Gill (editor of Daily

Statesman, kept publishing satirical articles with

Telegraph) were asked to leave the country

innuendos so humorous that they escaped the

immediately, and the rest were left in the lurch

vigilant eyes of the censors. Nevertheless, the

by denying them visas.

obdurate centre led by Gandhi kept debilitating The Statesman and went as far as

Judicial autonomy was also in peril and was

browbeating its shareholders and twisting their

sacrificed to serve the parochial interests of the

arms to forbid them from giving further financial

political moguls. Judicial hearings and trials were

aid to the daily. This resulted in major

redacted, and any dissent against the

shareholders like Tata and Mafatlal disassociating

constitutional amendments concocted by the

themselves from the news agency. The obituary

Gandhi led government was curbed. The irony in

column had become a source of jest. Writers from

the whole trammeling process was that even

the Times of India mourned the death of

those judgements that were ruled against the

democracy after it was murdered in cold blood by

censorship laws were also censored by the

the government’s strict laws.

government so that they don’t gain traction


among the people. In the same vein,

movie were burnt at the Maruti factory (for which

parliamentary proceedings were also heavily

Sanjay Gandhi and V.C. Shukla later faced

scrutinised and censored. Nothing except the

criminal charges). The scissors of the censors also

statements made on behalf of the government,

cut scenes of the movie Andolan which depicted

the name and party affiliation of a member

the revolutionary struggles and protests of

speaking in support or against a motion, and the

Mahatma Gandhi. The authorities defended

results of the motion were allowed to be

themselves by stating that the movie could incite


feelings of confrontation in the audience and could fidget with the internal peace of the

Even though cinema belonged to the private


sector, it was taken under the aegis of the

The legendary singer Kishore Kumar who had

draconian censorship laws as the government

refused to publicly venerate and laud Gandhi’s

feared that a cinematic demur could pose as an

20-Point Programme saw an embargo on his

impediment to its undisputed power. Every film

songs on the All India Radio and Doordarshan.

had to go through a hawk-eyed scrutiny of

The ban was lifted only after the singer agreed to

this Watch before making it to the theatres.

support the 20-Point Programme and glorify it

While Basanti danced to the tune of the


evergreen Aa Jab Tak Hai Jaan, the filmmakers of the cinematic marvel Sholay were made to

The media agencies and the film fraternity were

dance to the tune of Gandhi’s whims. The

at the receiving end of an unrivalled amount of

original climax of the movie had Thakur Baldev

coercion from the authorities that mandated

Singh, a former police officer, killing the

them to hold their peace and fall in line with the

antagonist Gabbar Singh. However, the over-

government’s policies. Needless to say, it was a

cautious censor authorities instructed the

post-independence Jallianwala Bagh massacre of

filmmakers to transplant a climax in which

press freedom that crippled the Indian

Gabbar Singh is handed over to the police. This

democracy to its last legs. Nevertheless, this 21-

was done with the ulterior motive to glorify the

month long night saw its dawn. The 1977 general

role of the police and avoid any theatrical

elections paved the way for the Emergency

portrayal that could manifest due to the

mutineers, who were languishing in jails, to take

portrayal of the retired policeman taking the law

charge and fan out their democratic ideologies to

in his hands. This same despotic streak was

an otherwise politically enslaved citizenry.

foisted on the film, Kissa Kursi Ka, which was jammed with satires and innuendos that

Though the nation, its citizens, and the opposition

mocked the state of politics in India and had

fought the authoritarian government of 1975, the

controversial depictions of some real-life

Gandhian agenda of suppression of free speech

oliticians. It also mocked Sanjay Gandhi’s small

has sneaked its way into the current realpolitik

car project. On review, the Information &

administered by an even oppressive Modi

Broadcasting Ministry raised fifty-one objections

government. While a 1975 India fought tooth and

to the film. Not only was the film banned, but it

nail to regain independence, one cannot help but

had infuriated Sanjay Gandhi and V.C. Shukla to

wonder if a 2020 India can pull a similar feat.

such an extent that the original prints of the


Reporting In An Uncertain Time By Barnana Sarkar

On September 6, 2017, while we were attending

We came to know about all of this in the year

a class on the influx of fake news and its

when we would graduate from school and enter

utilisation by authoritarian bodies for their

the world as journalists – some would cover

political campaigns in our journalism school, the

politics, some would venture into the world of

news about veteran journalist Gauri Lankesh’s

entertainment while some would take the

murder broke out. Our dean, a renowned

greyer path of rural reporting. Although till date,

journalist herself, paused the class and joined us

none of us has written a ground-breaking story

in a meeting with the other faculty members, all

and some have also moved out of journalism

of whom were deeply disturbed by the news.

entirely, the truth remains that to be a journalist

Gauri Lankesh, then 55 years old and the editor

in India – no matter how big or small – one has

of a weekly newspaper ‘Gauri Lankesh Patrike’,

to put a timer on one’s life. Especially in an era,

was assassinated at 8:00 p.m. on September 5,

when for the very first time since the Second

2017 by three men who arrived on a motorbike

World War, the leading powers in the world are

and fired at her in front of her house. She was hit

right-winged, conservative chauvinists.

by three bullets which damaged her heart and lungs, as per the post mortem report.

In America, President Donald Trump has declared the press as “the enemy of the

Few days after the murder, several journalists

American People” for reporting against his

who are based out of the nation’s capital, New

bombastic nature of blending facts with lies and

Delhi, received threatening messages from

misinformation. According to a Washington

unknown numbers. All of these were written in

Post report of June 10, 2019, the President has

Hindi and referred to Gauri Lankesh’s death.

crossed the 10,000 threshold in his delivery of

The message was quite clear, “if anyone in this

false statements and misguided claims. The

country dares to write anything against Modi,

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the

RSS, or BJP, that person will not be spared. The

former Director of Military Intelligence and the

existence of such persons shall be removed

former Minister of Defence, has notoriously

along with the Muslims.” It also cast Gauri

tightened his grip on the media since the onset

Lankesh as an ‘anti-nationalist’ and ‘anti-Hindu’,

of the COVID-19 lockdown. The President’s

two terms that have been in rampant use in the

government has already gained the reputation

years since BJP’s selection as the ruling

of an authoritarian body through its widespread

governing party of India.

imprisonment of journalists who were charged under a broad counter-terrorism law that


expanded itself to include dissent as a form of

The journalists in India have been under a

terrorism. Under President Vladimir Putin, most

constant violation of press freedom which

of Russia gets its news from state-controlled

includes police violence against journalists,

television outlets – a dangerous source of

ambush by opposition parties, and attacks

misinformation and fake news. As for

instigated by politically motivated criminal

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, he

groups. What is worse is that the media has

managed to curb the press completely by

turned against itself in keeping with the

accusing them of fascism and claiming to be

government’s strongly discriminating Hindutva

threatened by its criticisms.

ideology. Media houses such as Republic TV or ZEE are flourishing due to their ideological

At home, Prime Minister Narendra Modi along

affiliation with the ruling party. On the other

with his party BJP has also managed to pose as

hand, media that are more inclined to the left are

the neologists of their times by coining terms to

tagged under the notorious term anti-national,

vilify the press starkly. Terms like ‘sickulars’ and

which by now has gained a criminal connotation

‘libtards’ (offensive variants of the words

under the Modi government. In India, dissent is

‘seculars’ and ‘liberals’) are utilised by the Prime

considered to be synonymous to anti-national.

Minister and his fellow Home Minister, Amit Shah, to refer to anyone who raises a voice

According to a RSF (Reporters Without Border)

against their intolerant rule and much like, the

report, ‘Criminal prosecutions are meanwhile

German word ‘Lügenpresse’ (a Nazi slur referring

often used to gag journalists critical of the

to ‘Lying Press’), this party has its own term to

authorities, with some prosecutors invoking

refer to the press known as ‘Presstitudes’ (a term

Section 124a of the Indian Penal Code, under

picked up by BJP social media supporters after

which anyone who “attempts to bring into

the term was used by a former Indian Army

hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to

Chief and present Minister of State for Road

excite disaffection towards the Government

Transport and Highways in the Second Modi

established by law in [India], shall be punished

ministry, General VK Singh, against the press).

with [imprisonment for life]”. Introduced by the British colonisers, nearly 150 years ago, this draconian law has been misused to its last morsel by the government whose supporters

The journalists in India have been under a constant violation of press freedom which includes police violence against journalists, ambush by opposition parties, and attacks instigated by politically motivated criminal groups.

now fearlessly lynch those who do not belong to their community and do not abide by their ideology. The most unsparing consequence of India’s curbing press freedom has had its ultimate impact on Kashmir. As the leading party stripped the state of its seven decades-long autonomous status claiming that this would lead Kashmir to its prosperity, it quickly followed 13

that very claim by throwing the state into the

the absence of a press card leaves a journalist

abyss of a complete black-out. Journalists were

vulnerable to every kind of threat. Even when

barred from moving around the city to collect

the threat looms large, the news of the death of

reports about the state of the imposed military

a freelance journalist, especially one who is

rule; furthermore, the internet cut-out

reporting on rural development, takes quite a

prohibited them from uploading or updating

while to reach the purview of the mainstream

the news for days. Photojournalists had to send


out their work in USBs through those who were flying out of the region. For those living in the

The death of Shahjahanpur-based journalist,

region, they were cooped inside their offices

Jagendra Singh – who set on fire on June 1, 2015,

with the military and the police forces

allegedly by the goons of state minister Ram

surrounding them in thousands.

Murti Verma – was one of those rare cases which were reported by the mainland news publishers.

While the chain around the journalists’ throat in

However, his story is terrifyingly familiar to those

mainstream media tightened, freelance

reporters who traverse into the hinterlands of

journalists, especially those in militia states such

the nation, working as the lone troopers of the

as Kashmir, face a greater, quieter threat. As

fourth estate.

freelancers, the first threat we face is the lack of protection. Not that a full-time journalist is any

The activist and politician, Yogendra Yadav said,

safer than us but as a freelancer we take it upon

“Accident karvaana is very common in these

ourselves as to where to travel, which story to

parts, and powerful people are behind it. It is

cover, what kind of people to meet and

even more common to book reporters in false

ultimately how to take care of ourselves under

cases and get them jailed. So many are

any circumstance. While there is zero allowance,

assaulted, and all of us have received threats.” 14

Other than carrying the constant threats from

Reporting in 2020, along with its unprecedented

high profile officials such as District Magistrates

relationship with the pandemic, is a narrow lane

and local police stations, rural journalists are also

that divides itself into two paths. On the one

obligated to carry on with their duty for meagre

hand, there is the impending threat of the ruling

pay and sometimes, unfortunately, for free.

party and its followers whose heavy onslaughts

From personal experience, it can be claimed

are clear indications of the inception offascism.

that while publishers are glad to pick up a story

On the other hand, there is little support from

and take it forward, the payroll is a subject of

the organisations who are keen on publishing

fantastic tales in freelance journalism. Some

anything that sells to their consumer. However,

editors also get away with the claim that

this is also the time and the decade (if I dare say)

freelance journalists do not fall under the

when the fourth estate will have to play a crucial

definition of “real, seasoned journalists” and

role since the Second World War. With ultra-

hence, perhaps, do not “require” the kind of

nationalist leaders who are constantly pushing

protection or assurance that is provided to those

the nations on the brinks of civil wars, the fourth

working out of an office.

estate’s tendency to maintain a neutral stance must be shredded. Objectivity cannot be the

As mentioned earlier in the article, most of the

tone of the reportage when ideals are distorted

problems of a freelance journalist stem from the

to serve personal credo.

fact that none of us is provided with a press card. According to Uttara Gangopadhyay, an independent journalist, “For a freelancer, the lack of an accredited card is equal to suffering from an identity crisis. I know I’m genuine, but how do I prove it to the other party?” Without a press card, it also becomes difficult for the freelance journalist to converse with government officials who don’t even cooperate with seasoned journalists, let alone the freelancers. This might prevent a potential story from taking any shape at all.

“Accident karvaana is very common in these parts, and powerful people are behind it. It is even more common to book reporters in false cases and get them jailed. So many are assaulted, and all of us have received threats.” Yogendra Yadav 15

How Long Before Indian Media Has Its #DalitLivesMatter Movement? By Mridula Arya

Recently many Indians took to social media to

out the impact of discrimination in the public

protest the discrimination against people of

domain, what other roles could the industry

colour after #BlackLivesMatter stirred the

play? According to the 2019 Oxfam report Who

United States. It questioned the systemic

Tells Our Stories Matter: Representation of

oppression and discrimination in institutions like

marginalised caste groups in Indian

police forces that has continued in 2020, and its

Newsrooms, out of 121 leadership positions —

ubiquitous nature in society. It gave rise to an

editor-in-chief, managing editor, executive

introspective space to argue why Indians don’t

editor, bureau chief, input/output editor —

voice concerns against the discrimination

across the newspapers, TV news channels, news

happening in their own land, by the same

websites, and magazines under study — 106

society they form. Despite policies, slogans of

were held by the upper castes, and none was

equality, and data available to counter the ever-

held by a person hailing from Scheduled Caste

lasting merit argument, the discrimination

or Scheduled Tribe. Not a single decision-

against people from oppressed caste remains

making leadership position was held by a Dalit.

rampant. If one is to look up crimes against Dalits, they will find ample incidents, even today, which are not only discriminatory in nature but often inhuman. Does the discrimination limit itself to rural India? Opposed to many’s belief, the answer to this would be a no. Urban casteism and discrimination is very much a reality, especially in jobs and in the workplace.

Leadership Position in English Newspapers Source: Oxfam Report

Although the media is responsible for bringing 16

‘Mooknayak’ was the first newspaper catering to the oppressed classes, on January 31, 1920.

magazines it studied, were about issues related

it nearly impossible for members from diverse

to caste. It also said that three out of four

groups to enter and survive in the industry,

anchors of flagship debate are upper castes, and

keeping it a gated society of the upper caste.

none of them is Dalit, Adivasi, or OBC. Only 5% of

Through the social media space, initiatives like

all articles in English newspapers were written

Dalit Camera and Adivasi Resurgence were able

by Dalits and Adivasis, whereas Hindi

to raise their voice on issues surrounding

newspapers performed slightly better at around

oppressed castes, but can platforms like these


have a reach as wide as the mainstream English or Hindi media?

Media’s reportage of caste-related issues does not align with its approach to create an equal

The number of Dalit journalists in mainstream

space for marginalised groups of people. It is

Indian media remains almost non-existent

also a threat to democracy and the country’s

despite stipulated scholarships in colleges like

social and demographic structure to let a small

Indian Institute of Mass Communication and

section of privileged caste shape the national

Asian College of Journalism. How does one


measure equality and progressiveness? By the number of students merely taking up a

When a certain section of the privileged caste

journalism course, or by the number of them

decides the entire media coverage in a country

employed as journalists in the mainstream

like India — which is an accumulation of diverse

media? Are the media institutes failing to act as

groups and communities — it not only affects

a bridge between academic and professional

the purpose of journalism to bring multiple

demands? Media’s low-paying nature in the

narratives forward, but also creates an echo

initial years is often a setback for those Dalit

chamber, from where unilateral opinions and

students coming from an underprivileged

thought processes are carried forward. It

background. Those who are able to overcome

negates the opportunity for several

the financial strain are then left with the uphill

communities to amplify their voice, and makes

battle of facing prejudices from the industry. 17

Despite law and order, reservations, and various

Why Leadership Positions Must Have Equal

policies, crimes against Dalits increased by 756%


from 2006 to 2016. It confirms that no amount of policies on paper can change the deep-rooted

With the increase in news consumption through

casteism in the country unless the change is

the use of social media and in the digital space,

brought on a multilevel, i.e., through law and

what goes out in the public domain is controlled

order, and through the practice of equality. The

by the people in the decision-making positions.

idea of ‘providing’ mandated reservations is far

With zero representation in the leadership

from accepting Dalits as equals; the most

positions, the issues of the oppressed class are

important component of this would be to have

not highlighted. Furthermore, their importance

an equal social representation in the workspace

is decided by a very non-diversified group of

of every industry.


With a gap this huge in representation in the

When it comes to reportage on Dalit issues, it

industry, where is Indian media’s

should be refrained from being unilateral. Like

#DalitLivesMatter Movement? Apart from the

any other social conflict, oppression of certain

limited reporting on Dalit issues, can the media

communities is a multilayered issue and needs

contribute to the change in dynamics by

to be reported individually, as well as with the

creating more space for Dalits in the industry?

exploration of intersectionality.

In a 2017 Al Jazeera report, journalist Sudipto

Casteism has expanded its roots beyond rural

Mondal, who has been covering the issue for

India, however, mainstream media’s headlines

years, said that in ten years, only eight Dalit

have not. When it comes to reportage of caste-

journalists were found in English journalism, out

based discrimination, it is mostly covered in

of which only two risked coming out. What is

terms of atrocities against Dalits unfolding in

leading to this non-existence of Dalits in the

rural India. There is a lack of intersectional study

industry, and why is it not seen or dealt with as

of discrimination in areas like feminism, job

an obstacle to a fair platform that the media

sector, higher educational institutes, and its

ideally should be?

subtle but persistent presence in urban India. Metropolitan cities are not free from caste-based discrimination, nevertheless, the coverage of minority issues limits itself majorly to atrocities in rural India. However, not only is there a lack of diversity in the newsroom, but the mainstream media still has miles to cover before providing a decent

Leadership Position in Hindi Newspapers Source: Oxfam Report

reportage of the oppressed communities. The Oxfam report stated that only 10 of the 972 articles, featured on the cover pages of the 12 18

The Age-Old Argument of ‘Merit’ What leads to this huge discrepancy in the industry? The same-old argument of merit, of not being able to find a qualified Dalit to fit the newsroom? Doesn’t the entire charade of merit depend on privilege and social status? If one is to internalise the absence of Dalits in mainstream journalism, the most definitive answer would be bias. The concept of merit is one of the oldest arguments used to doubt the qualification of a person from an oppressed community. Although, time and again a counter has been provided— shredding the existence of merit as nothing but access and privilege to resources and knowledge— a person hailing from an oppressed community still has to face the argument and prove his or her intelligence time and again. It only reinforces the already unequal level-playing field that the privileged upper castes strive to maintain, in terms of opportunities in the industry and lack of the same for minorities. What possible steps can the media industry take to be more inclusive? Few organisations have initiated encouraging people from oppressed communities to apply; however, in order to substantially bridge the gap, will this alone help? The Oxfam report compared Indian media’s current state to the American media of the 1960s, which was criticised for ignoring African-American voices and seeing the world through the white men’s eyes and perspective. Non-Dalit Journalists Need to Step Up Lastly, is it necessary to put the onus of fighting

The Oxfam report compared Indian media’s current state to the American media of the 1960s, which was criticised for ignoring AfricanAmerican voices and seeing the world through the white men’s eyes and perspective.

caste-based discrimination through journalism on Dalit journalists? The answer should always be a no. Nowadays, with the idea of diversity in newsrooms, is it fair to expect individuals from oppressed castes to focus solely on caste-based stories? No. Like every other journalist, a Dalit in the industry should have a choice to pick his or her niche. The onus of establishing equality and raising awareness to voice the caste-based conflict in India should fall on the shoulders of the privileged. People from the upper castes should make a conscious effort to positively discriminate against Dalits, to give them a platform that they have been historically denied. Upper caste journalists (as well as those from all other professions) need to acknowledge that their caste based privilege has played a very important role in all their accomplishments and that they have a responsibility towards society to help create a level playing field for those who have been discriminated against. One way to achieve this is to aim for better representation to help build an equal place in the industry for all groups and all people. Few digital media organisations have started to 19

Composition of writers on caste issues (%) Source: Oxfam Report

include disclaimers while putting out hiring

If the media has to be the lens of capturing

alerts, encouraging people from marginalised

every side of the society, having upper castes

communities to apply, however, the approach

represent the majority of the lens is not only

needs to be incorporated in well-established

unjust, but detrimental. A combination of more

media houses as well, right up to leadership

reportage and diversity in newsrooms in the

positions to create a just and fair representation

mainstream media is required to make an

on the issues being put out.

actual change in the ground inequality. Indian media still has a long way before reaching

In an interview to The Wire in 2016, journalist

equality but an active, aggressive, and a

Jeya Rani had said “Dalits expect non-Dalits to

collective fight against it, is the way to start.

work for the annihilation of caste just as we would expect men to practice gender equality. Sadly Dalit journalists are sometimes used to document caste violations. To ask Dalits to involve themselves in the annihilation of caste is as funny as asking women to practice gender equality”.

“Dalits expect non-Dalits to work for the annihilation of caste just as we would expect men to practice gender equality. Sadly Dalit journalists are sometimes used to document caste violations. To ask Dalits to involve themselves in the annihilation of caste is as funny as asking women to practice gender equality”. 20

Whose News Story Is It Anyway – A Reporter Or An Organisation’s? By Barkha Kumari

For Shiba Kurian, deputy news editor at The News Minute (TNM), the story of Kerala interfaith couples harassed by right wing vigilantes using marriage notices is memorable. Not only did she break the story on July 20, 2020, she earned two bylines for it. One, obviously at TNM and the other, surprisingly, at The Wire. The latter ran her ‘scoop’ word-by-word, crediting Kurian as the author at the beginning of the article and TNM as the original publisher at the end. If you are a journalist, like I am, you would know it is a big deal to get a byline on your competitor’s website, and if you are not, just know that it really is! Hear it from Bengalurubased Kurian, “Of course, The Wire took our permission before running the story. I thought they would credit TNM and that’s about it. But to see my byline right on top and not woven into the article in passing, was wow! I have not seen that happen before.”

Four years ago, reporter Arpita Raj was equally thrilled when TNM reproduced her Times of India (TOI) report by crediting her name next to her employer’s in the first line of their article. Raj recalls, “My editor came and told me, ‘This is surprising. Other outlets hardly ever mention the byline of reporters outside theirs’.” So, you see, the news media has a reputation of not giving the byline where it is due. In fact, The New York Times (NYT) is regularly called out for scooping up the work of other journalists, without giving them a byline or even a backlink. For the original reporters to get credited for their work in adapted, reproduced, follow-up, aggregated stories is an exception, not the rule. I wonder about this even more because if some media organisations can go as far as crediting the rival with backlinked-memos like “as quoted by XYZ media”, what stops them from 21

attributing the reporter behind it? I say ‘some’

the reporter’s inflated ego.

because most bury that credit under jargons like “according to reports” while a few steal the story

Bylines – The Past And Present

and peddle it as their “exclusive”. The modern newspaper started in 1605, This issue that I am exploring is multi-layered

Germany when Johann Carolus published

and one feeds off the other. 1) It is about how

‘Relation aller Fürnemmen und

news bylines are becoming dispensable. 2) It is a

gedenckwürdigen Historien‘ (Account of all

question of who the story belongs to – the

distinguished and commemorable stories).

organisation or the organisation and the

There was no trace of authorship for a long time.

reporter put together. Ask yourself how would

But, by the late 1800s, journalists started signing

newspapers, TV, and websites run only

their articles occasionally, and calling them

Coronavirus-related stories day in, day out, for

‘signed articles’. In fact, in 1863, Union General

months, if their reporters did not risk their lives

Joseph Hooker mandated reporters covering

to go to hospitals, migrant camps, and on

the American Civil War to sign their articles so

roads? 3) It is about how digital and TV reports

he would know whom to blame for errors or

build upon a newspaper story to earn more

security violations. Bylines would appear three

traction. 4) It is the narrative of national/celebrity

centuries later. The first Associated Press story

journalists versus local reporters from towns,

with a byline appeared in 1925. Next year, the

where the latter often works harder on the

word was entered in the Oxford English

ground for half the fame and salary of the

Dictionary, and by the turn of the century, it had

former. 5) It is about the divide between the

permeated magazines and newspapers. They

English versus the regional media, “Farmer

had gone from commemorating opinion,

suicide, agriculture distress stories almost

exclusive, and special pieces by senior editors

always break in the vernacular press – very few

and the erudite to topping daily news by

major newspapers have a rural affairs editor

reporters of all ranks, along with their bio and

now,” V Govind, who’s led print and digital news

photographs on some websites.

teams, makes a case. 6) Are all bylines worthy of citation? Should that be reserved for big

Bylines took a long time to come because of

political, crime, social, or investigative stories

beliefs such as ‘News is more important than

such as The Jungle Prince of Delhi by NYT’s Ellen

who writes it’, ‘News does not belong to anyone

Barry, or do civic reports and lifestyle features

in particular’, and ‘the institution is bigger than

matter too? 7) Is citation a matter of ethics or

the individual’. According

can it be standardised?

to 2012 Reuters article by Jack Shafer, the antibyline editors argued that ‘the business of the

The more you think about bylines, the more you

(news)paper must be absolutely impersonal; in

see what is lacking in the system. That could be

the case of signed articles, the writer thinks first

due to the disputed history of the byline. It has

of himself, in the other case, he thinks first of his

always been the elephant in the room and even

subject,’ and that anonymity enabled critics to

dubbed as an unnecessary exercise in feeding

express their real convictions fearlessly. 22

For the original reporters to get credited for their work in adapted, reproduced, followup, aggregated stories is an exception, not the rule.

the Supreme Court of India (with recommendations on the working rights of journalists like hire-and-fire policies, number of working hours, etc), big media houses like the Times Of India and The Hindu got testy. So in 2014, they decided to shift to a contract-based employment. They said that they would offer bigger salary packages to journalists than the

However, the pro-byline brigade felt that

wage board, and more bylines, which would

‘anonymity deprives the writer of all

essentially increase their market value to some

responsibility and occasionally leads to political

extent. Journalists, of course, took up the offer

dishonesty’ whereas attribution gives writers

because they were not paid well that time (and

dedicated readers, recognition, and the drive to

even today). So the news industry itself devalued

be responsible for every story and every word

the importance of bylines, making it

that they publish. I can vouch for the last bit. An

commonplace and available even to interns

ex-colleague was penalised on Twitter for

doing routine municipal stories.” The result is

writing a human-interest story that spread like

“crediting the original reporter is nobody’s

wildfire but turned out to be false – a few even

concern. If anything, everybody wants their

wanted her sacked for that mistake.

byline now,” he says cynically.

However, The Economist is an outlier in the

The byline war is a fairly new phenomenon, an

modern world, running no-byline stories since

outcome of the digital age, says Sam. Because

1843. Its anonymity has been snubbed by some

back in the day of newspapers, bylines were a

as a marketing gimmick to promote the brand

rarity, reserved only for special and exclusive

over its journalists. But the team at The

reports. So there were fewer chances of

Economist stands by its core belief that the

usurping someone’s credit. And why journalists

news is not authorial, it is a collaborative

like Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, and Faye

process, involving reporters who gather news,

D’Souza have strong byline recalls, it is, of

copy editors who plug loopholes in the reports,

course, because of their work but also the

designers who make the content reader-

visibility that TV brought them, so much so that

friendly, and editors who pass the final reports.

they are deemed bigger than the brands they

As much as I agree with The Economist’s stance,

work for or run.

I would like to remind you that their no-byline policy is an exception in the news publishing

The Change Must Come From Within

industry and not the norm. So for the purpose of this article, I have tried to focus on the gap in the

With the chequered history of bylines out of the

present system, which is, why bylines have

way, I decided to call up fellow journalists to

become throwaway titles. New Delhi-based

understand if they cared about ‘due credit’. A

media researcher Cyril Sam puts it in the Indian

senior journalist from Bengaluru Kumaran P

context. “When Majethia Wage Board moved

acknowledged that a reporter’s primary concern 23

is with the stories and the impact that they have on society, however, he does agree that, “big, national stories are often built upon the legwork done by city reporters, and they must be credited in such cases.”

“crediting the original reporter is nobody’s concern. If anything, everybody wants their byline now,”

Hyderabad-based senior features writer Neha Jha is clear that reporters deserve the credit alongside their publications, because can one function without the other? She is particularly livid about the lazy trend of rewriting viral news stories and features without giving the right attribution, but blames it to the pressures of a digital newsroom where one needs to file at least five stories a day. But should you find your hard work, ‘your scoop’ stolen, you should fight for your byline, she urges all the journalists. “In 2016, a digital media picked up my exclusive interview with Deadpool actor Karan Soni and rewrote it without even backlinking my work. Since they had a wider reach than a newspaper would, everybody thought they cracked the interview. I was upset because I had worked hard for it, right from tracking his agency in the US to finally getting through. So I shot an email to its editor. I did not get a mention but they directed the credit back to the organisation I used to work for. Not sure if I was fully happy about it,” she recalls. A few of my stories have been quoted and redrafted too and I remember how proudly I would inform my editor the number of media organisations that picked it up. Our only concern was whether or not they provided a backlink or brand’s name, and criticising them, if they did not. On the other hand, I am also guilty of spinning follow-ups and new angles, overlooking the original author.

So why am I bringing up this issue now? Because the ongoing pandemic has brought the news media in India, especially the print, down to its knees and, with that, threatened the prospects of many journalists. I have been out of job for over five months, and staring at the layoffs happening in the Indian media right now gives me little hope of returning to the newsroom soon. I don’t want to, and I hope I do not have to, start my career as a content writer or PR official, which is what a lot of members in the fraternity have now been forced into to survive. I am instead trying to learn the ropes of SEO and click-bait writing, video storytelling, Content Management System, podcasting, social media engagement, and even coding to keep myself relevant in the ever-changing world of news operation. But I am a reporter first and my professional identity, my byline, my resume is as good as the stories I put out. So I am trying to freelance stories with a hope that they become the talking point on social media and among editors; that they help me stay in the race when the job market starts looking up. Wishful thinking, maybe, but in the wake of diminishing jobs, I admit it has come down to building a solid ‘personal brand’ and your byline plays a key role there, along with your skills, work ethic, and network. Case in point is how journalists are increasingly declaring their authorship on social media with reminders such as ‘Find my story’, ‘I write’ or ‘I interviewed’. 24

Govind, who inspired this story, says that when

he notes. Meanwhile, at TNM, if writers cannot

news explodes, nothing else matters. Reporter

verify a piece of information independently, they

and photo credits become small issues. And to

have been instructed to cite the original

track which media organisations are recycling

reporter who got that quote, Kurian tells me.

your story, on which platforms – their website, TV, or social media accounts, and to what extent,

To sum up, I would like to rehash the famous

is not easy. “Now news is even breaking on

memo sent by NYT’s standards editor Phil

Instagram,” he comments on how the modes of

Corbett to his journalists in 2019 to practice

news dissemination have changed and grown in

hyperlinking by default. I seek that too, along

number, rendering news organisations too busy

with the practice of citing the original byline. It is

to pay attention to matters such as bylines.

free and easy – until it is a multi-byline story or if

“They may take action only if their report has

a dozen organisations have weighed in on the

been reproduced or stolen,” he says. So

topic. Readers, who follow bylines, like it. It

reporters should stay alert and pick up battles

deepens our journalism and may increase our

when they can, he suggests.

audience (by SEO). Our journalistic colleagues appreciate it. Why should we not do it?

But change has begun, even if it is not systematic, and he is hoping we can maintain the momentum. “For the first time in history, you can follow a journalist whose work you like. Will Twitter handles become more powerful than bylines? Internationally, when CNN picks up a newspaper story, it interviews the reporters who uncovered stories around Donald Trump,” 25

The Role Of Artists In Information Dissemination By Shraddha Nair

Credit: Holycowmics

As I soak in my contemplative existentialism, I

Twitter, and Instagram have enabled almost

often have to remind myself of how our daily

everyone to share information. Subsequently,

tensions result largely due to the structural

we have begun to move away from traditional

shifts our systems are currently experiencing.

forms of data dissemination such as

We are pulled forcefully on either end and

newspapers, radio, and television. This new

ripped into shreds which are then piecemeal

configuration has introduced a new player –

auctioned off to the radical future and familiar

artists. While artists have been proactive voices

past respectively. In rebuilding systems with

in the landscape of social change, in the earlier

these pieces, we are compelled to re-evaluate

days, their work was restricted to journals, the

our social, ethical, and moral norms. This holds

last page of a newspaper, and art galleries.

even when we examine the mechanics of

Access to their opinionated artwork was

information, news, and media today.

restricted to a niche group of people who would seek it actively.

The dynamics of the way we create, consume, and share information are changing and have

BlueJackal is a collective currently led by

been since the rise of the World Wide Web.

Shefalee Jain, Shivangi Singh, and Lokesh

While the internet creates pathways for the

Khodke which seeks to reflect on issues in

democratisation of information, it also opens up

alternate ways, using multiple visual tools to

spaces for lack of accountability. Thus, the

create a dialogue with their viewers. They said,

transparency of the internet is countered by the

“we publish comics, but we are equally

shirking of responsibility. Forums like Reddit,

interested in picture books, zines, drawings, and 26

short animations which we also regularly

not separated from it. As they say, the personal

publish; various forms of visual narration or

is political”.

combinations of word and image. We did not want to be constrained within the boundaries of

Although the risk of flattening a narrative is a

a particular form, because then one quickly

constant threat when sharing information via

tends to fall back on established rules rather

social media platforms, Appupen hopes for

than trying to expand the scope of that form or

viewers to shoulder the responsibility of

switch to a more relevant visual form that helps

informing and educating themselves. Appupen

us speak about specific concerns… BlueJackal’s

is a Bangalore based artist who is also one of the

visual narratives on political & social issues may

curators of the collective Brainded

not always manifest in the direct language of

International which shares the work made by

visual reportage. Instead, we have been trying to

independent creators to elevate visual literacy

bring together multiple kinds of effective visual

while expanding our understanding of the

languages on a single platform to talk about

prowess of animation and illustration. He says,

issues that compel and demand our attention.

“we are giving people things for free, into their

We feel this helps bring in fresh perspectives

hands and so they are looking at it. We are

and nuances to the issues we want to talk

spoon-feeding things, that is why they are

about”. Examples of this variety of forms ranging

taking it. It is a last-ditch effort, it is the last

from the poetic to the journalistic are accessible via their website, Ek Philistini Shayad Kahe by Shefalee Jain, Laila-Majnun by Sharvari Deshpande, Promises of the Constitution by Shivangi Singh, as well as Chudail, and UlatPulat: On a Mission to Free Safoora by Lokesh Khodke. There are several points of entry through which artists can develop their politically charged niche. While some enter it with deliberate intention, many find themselves in that space as a result of an unconsciously cultivated tangent. Poorva Goel of Holycowmics says, “my earliest motivation to create such work was to observe and reflect on the irony in everyday life, juxtaposing handwritten text and line drawings. It was a means of catharsis for me. When I started, I did not think of my work as political per se, not because I was shying away from the label, but because it felt natural

Credit: Blue Jackal

to me to see politics as a part of every day and 27

Credit: Holycowmics

-ditch effort, it is the last stand. All the issues are

the narrative of the other. Viewers often mistake

complex, you cannot simplify them into one

the consumption of such information to be the


first and the last step in developing awareness. However, the role of the artist very rarely plays

One line, one like, and one click. We live in an

out like that of an educator or a problem solver;

economy of information that allows quick and

her role is limited to placing emphasis or

effective self-gratification, where one can easily

shedding light when shadows and darkness

succumb to its mindless tricks. The ease of

shroud the facts. Appupen says, “people have a

being able to sign a petition against the

very short attention span. What we can do is

destruction of a national park may be a positive

highlight certain things and hope that they will

act in itself, but being unaware of its varied

go and research to find out more. This is not a

implications – including one’s carbon footprint

solution or anything… And please, if anybody

could result in more harm than good in the long

thinks that comics or art is going to save the

term. Armchair activism is increasingly revealing

world, please get off that boat and jump in the

its dangerous ramifications, as we show support

water straight away. It is a big farce, we are all

for causes that we do not fully understand.

doing things for ourselves. I say things that I want to say, and I make sense in some way –

While each artist works with different

that is the end of it. The rest is all fantasy, that it

motivations, the intention for most creators

will spark some real change and all. That is

when delivering critique through a public

completely a prayer and I don’t believe in God”.

platform is to be able to create availability of plural perspectives and provide accessibility to

In a socio-political environment where 28

from echoing the narrative of the self-righteous left who are just as dangerous as their counterparts on the other extreme of the ideological spectrum”. In 2020 so far, according to statistics laid out by Reporters Without Borders, seventeen journalists globally have been murdered in cold blood as a result of their bold, investigative journalism. This includes Kanpur based Shubham Mani Tripathi who was reporting on illegal sand mining and unlawful land grabbing activity in Uttar Pradesh. India’s ranking on the Credit: Appupen

World Press Freedom Index has dipped significantly since the rise of the NDA

independent sharing thought or anti-

government, as a result of a spike in numbers of

establishment opinion is a radical and risky

journalists imprisoned and killed. Tripathi’s

move, those advocating for the unheard,

killers have not been caught yet.

unseen, and intentionally oppressed are vulnerable to onlookers who like pelting stones.

In this developing democracy of information,

Goel shares how she navigates around hate

much of the onus in terms of navigating and

speech from online viewers, “one is undoubtedly

steering in the right direction falls upon us. We

at the receiving end of a lot of backlash when

choose our reality and our values with every

one criticises a leader who despite his series of

page that we decide to follow online. Within a

failures is so widely adored and deified by a

multitude of narratives, reality and truth are

majority of the country’s population. On my

subjective. Propaganda is a two-sided coin and

social media accounts, I get the occasional “anti-

we are ultimately enmeshed in our self-oriented,

national”, “are you funded by Congress”, “how

egoistic narratives. Due to the lack of

dare you mock the Supreme Lord” etcetera,

transparency and accessibility that has enabled

followed by a string of sexist slurs and empty

the existence of systemically oppressed voices,

threats. A year ago, I would find myself

the issue of accountability presents itself as a

extremely infuriated. It is with time that I have

major obstacle that we must negotiate.

learnt not to dignify them with a response.

Accountability toes the line between freedom of

When the critique is valid, I am all ears and

speech and censorship, and it is at the crux of

willing to indulge in a dialogue. With all the

the issue at hand. Ultimately, to pursue this

constant feedback pouring from all sides, what I

crowd-sourced, community propagated way of

find most challenging, as someone in their early

disseminating information, accountability lies

twenties, is cultivating my voice and staying true

less with those who create and share

to it. I am constantly questioning my belief

information, and more with those who consume

systems and, in the process, trying to refrain

and believe in it.


The Vast Potential of Graphic Narratives in Shaping Conversations Surrounding Socio-Political Issues By Aditi Dharmadhikari


I sat in silence, stunned, and slowly shut the

While the superhero genre of comics is what

book. I held it to my chest for a moment before

people most popularly associate with the

immediately flipping it open and leafing back to

medium, alternative graphic narratives have

some of the most striking parts in an attempt at

also served as an ode to the unsung heroes of

reliving the discovery of the story again. Malik

history — subverting the dominant narrative

Sajad’s graphic novel Munnu captures the

constructed by those in power and highlighting

turbulence and grief of a childhood against the

discrimination and abominations against

backdrop of a conflict in Srinagar, Kashmir, while

marginalised communities to give voice to

remaining at its very core a poignant

histories of the subaltern. The medium has the

bildungsroman. Graphic narratives are a hybrid

potential to skilfully convey the tales of those

format using an interplay between words and

whose experiences are often cast to the

images — this results in an intimate medium

margins, even though it is on their backs that

that can unpack the layers of a complex story

society has been built.

and contribute to visual-verbal literacy. “Graphic narratives give us the opportunity to With a visual concept crafted along the lines of

understand the depth of hard-hitting topics —

Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus —

be it xenophobia, the effects of conflict on

in which Nazis are depicted as cats and Jewish

society or a multitude of milieus,” says Gautham

people as mice — the characters in Munnu are a

Ashok, a risk analyst and comic fan. “Comics

combination of humans and hangul deers, the

often serve as a way to prick the subversive

species of Kashmir stag at risk of extinction due

subconscious in all of us.”

to the political instability in the region, habitat destruction and poaching. An evocative

While on a global scale, graphic narratives

narrative depicts the life of a young Kashmiri

like Maus, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Guy

boy growing up in the most densely-militarised

Delisle’s Burma Chronicles, or Jason Aaron and

area in the world: a world entrenched in

Cameron Stewart’s The Other Side depict the

violence. “It is only by sharing stories that a place

fusion of the public and private spheres in a way

like Kashmir begins to exist,” Malik

that ‘allows for the realistic representation of

Sajad told Scroll.

socio-political history’, I found myself craving more books from the subcontinent that have a

“On one hand, people are seeking out the

similar effect on the reader.

medium, and, on the other, the authorities are trying to choke it,” cartoonist Suhail

Where are the graphic narratives that depict the

Naqshbandi — who released his powerful

impact of national upheaval on common lives?

cartoon strip Locked to mark the first

The ones that draw us into an immersive

anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370 and

universe, shedding light on realities that many

has faced intense media censorship in the past

of us — in our own urban bubbles — might

— tells us, “looking at this, I see graphic

never otherwise have access to? Where are the

narratives as a big movement in the making.

graphic narratives that give voice to feminist,

And by the end of next decade, I hope it will be

queer, and marginalised communities in an

one to reckon with.”

otherwise polarised media landscape?


missing that gave rise to Kadak Collective,” shares Aarthi Paratharasarathy, a member of the collective of South Asian women, nonbinary, and queer folk who work with graphic storytelling. “It formed in 2016, and it was — at that point — a group of women, queer, and non-binary artists talking to each other about certain things that weren’t there in the comic illustrations of India. Kadak started off as a community of eight people.” Kadak showcased their work through travelling exhibitions and pop-up reading rooms; the community has grown many folds since. One of the most exciting releases of this year in the Indian graphic narrative space, in Credit: JamunkaPed

fact, has been the fiercely independent Bystander Anthology, entirely

Some titles I’d read over the years came to mind

crowdfunded and self-published.

such as Orijit Sen’s pioneering work River of

“Crowdfunding this entire anthology was a

Stories, a riveting tale woven around the

very big task,” Aarthi tells us. “There was a lot

Narmada Bachao Aandolan, Sarnath

of groundwork involved — from

Banerjee’s charming Barn Owl’s Wondrous

conceptualising and designing the campaign

Capers (although it was his debut Corridor that

to working out proposals for prospective co-

broke new ground in 2004 by introducing

publishers. All the work that the publisher

mainstream publishing to Indian graphic

does, but in a collaborative form.”

novels) and Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back by the feminist publication Zubaan

A collection of graphic narratives about

Books. Other inspiring discoveries include This

geography and gender, identity and self,

Side, That Side : Restorying Partition, Disaibon

boundary and exclusion, through the lens of

Hul by Adivaani, and Bhimayana: Experiences of

the experience of the ‘other’ — the bystander

Untouchability. But I won’t deny the level of

— it features the work of over 50 curated

research that this article took, nor the

artists from over 13 countries. This includes

investment it demanded. For such an impactful

two contributors who were a part of Drawing

medium, the graphic narrative movement here

Power, a comics anthology that won the

has remained painfully slow and niche.

prestigious Eisner Award for 2020.

Thankfully, there are a few creators and collectives who have taken cognisance of this

Is it only through colossal — and almost

gap, and stepped up in an attempt to bridge it.

audacious — efforts like these that a plurality of perspectives can be included? Brainded

“There was a certain dialogue and community

India, an independent wing of Brainded


International (a nomadic collective of

communities. “Social media has played a big

international artists started in 2003 in

role in enabling authors that would otherwise be

Amsterdam) curated by Appupen, Catherine

excluded from traditional platforms.

Rhea Roy and Natasha Rego, is a similarly independent effort that aims to be ‘[the] island

There are now a number of independent

of independent thought in the agenda-driven

festivals and fairs, such as Gaysi Family and

current of the branded mainstream’.

the Gaysi Zine Bazaar. Progressive independent

The platform showcases artists who use comics

publications like Zubaan, Navayana, Tara Books,

and humour to encourage independent

and Yoda Press have also brought out a number

thought, dissent, and diversity. Don’t miss out

of volumes over the years. So there has been

on Sthree Sthree September, featuring Indian

concerted effort from multiple spaces, and that

female superheroes such as Bai-sexual, Ninja

has led to a welcome change in comics.”

Nani, and Moh-Maya, in response to Brainded India’s open call in August 2018.

Vidyun incidentally worked on an anthology called First Hand: Graphic Non-Fiction from

The webcomic has certainly become a gateway

India Volume 1, that was conceptualised

to the universe of graphic narratives for many,

with Orijit Sen. It started out as a short

but what about those of us who treasure

experimental publication of non-fiction comics

holding a physical copy of a comic or graphic

based on first-hand accounts of fieldwork or

novel in our hands? As a reader and fan, it struck

research done by a few writers and artists. The

me that access and price point are certainly factors at play that might indicate why graphic storytelling has remained niche — especially in print. I was, myself, only able to afford the books I needed to research this article thanks to the generosity of my friends. “Distribution was and remains a big challenge for English-language Indian comics and graphic novels,” says Vidyun Sabhaney, writer, editor, and illustrator of graphic narratives and comics, who runs Captain Bijli Comics. The independent comics publishing project was born of a desire to push the kind of content that was being created in comics at the time of its inception, as well as to expand networks for distributing graphic narratives. “I think a readership has developed,” Vidyun says, on whether there is a more accepting market now for creators from marginalised

Credit: Mir Suhail


stories that are depicted generally find little

Arun Prasad and Aarthi of Kadak Collective

space in the mainstream media, while the visual

highlight and expand upon in their research on

details take the readers on an on-ground

the evolution of comics — something which no

journey with the creators. “In October, 2014, we

doubt deserves a separate article in itself.

decided to turn the book into an anthology instead, and issued an open call for applications,”

“It is widely regarded that it’s only in the 1960s

Vidyun tells us. “From then on, it was First Hand

that the first few comics in India came up,” Arun

Volume 1, which — for me — was a masterclass

Prasad tells us. “But sequential art and graphic

in what it means to be an editor. Working with

illustrations have existed in the traditional way of

Orijit on this was fantastic because of his

storytelling through the Kavad in Rajasthan

experience, and I learnt a lot from the process.”

and Pattachitra in Odisha and West Bengal. In South India, we had illustrations drawn on

Orijit Sen’s River of Stories, of course, is popularly

leather planks and leather sheets. Coming to the

regarded as the first English-language Indian

modern form, the book form, we’ve had graphic

graphic novel, published by the

narratives — one-panel or multiple-panel

NGO Kalpavriksh, which set the ball rolling for

cartoons — starting from the 1920s.” Arun cites

socially-committed work in the genre. He has

cartoonist Pratulchandra Lahiri, often referred to

been extremely generous with his time,

as PCL, as a pioneer who published comics on

knowledge, and library of comics over the course

Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose as

of researching this article. On the publication

far back as the 1940s. In the late 1950s, a

process of River of Stories back in 1994, he says, “I

pedagogic comic book was published on the

was involved with a few NGOs that raised some

ambar charkha. “This was actually a remarkable

money from the Ministry of Environment, Forest

book,” Arun marvels. “It was used as a tool for

and Climate Change of the Government of India.

education to propagate the idea of handloom

I said that we were bringing out environmental

and handwoven clothes. This is all in a fully

literature; my book is a complete attack on

comic format, but a far cry from the superhero

government policies, but they didn’t look at that.


We were able to publish River of Stories with that small grant.”

As far as the economics of publishing graphic narratives in India goes, Orijit Sen remarks that

While the book only published 1, 000 copies at

he doesn’t see a significant difference since the

the time and went largely unnoticed except for a

1990s. “Artists are just going to have to do it out

review by Khushwant Singh, it marked a

of sheer love; there is no support system or a

watershed moment for Indian comics and

school for comics. They teach this abroad but

Orijit’s work has inspired an entire generation of

not here.” He mentions his work with Pao

artists, including Sarnath

Collective as an exception. Another admirable

Banerjee and Vishwajyoti Ghosh. The history of

effort at building solidarity in the comic

graphic narratives goes back much further,

community, it involved five established artists

though, especially if you look at folk art across

mentoring the next generation of comic creators

different states, a point that pannapictagraphist

to bring out the Pao Anthology; this was the first time that a mainstream publishing


house like Penguin offered comic creators an

the names that get branded as ‘anti-national’ or

advance, an otherwise standard practice in

‘seditionists’. Working on this has also made me


very aware of the palpable fear associated with speaking out in India right now.”

If we were to speculate on the prospects of the medium, there is a range of exciting possibilities.

To amplify the voices of the silent majority,

The cultures of storytelling and visual reading

Sharad Sharma conceptualised the idea

are both evolving at breakneck speed, and there

of Grassroots Comics as an alternative mode of

is far more potential in the digital space for

communication. He took the art of cartooning

exploring avenues like interactive art, something

and comics to the rural hinterland of India and

we get a glimpse of from the Bystander

other parts of the globe, and has also introduced

Anthology for the Web. Interest in longform

the concept of grassroots comics as a teaching-

graphic narratives, however, seems to be

learning tool at school and as comics

dipping; something several of the creators I have

journalism in higher education. His graphic

spoken to, have mentioned as well.

medicine workshops at AIIMS with medical practitioners have also helped to improve

Digital is definitely one of the ways forward,

doctor-patient communication.

thanks to the relatively democratic nature of social media. Artists like Sanitary Panels, Mir

“Unlike the mainstream comics, these comics

Suhail, Bakeryprasad and Appupen are carrying

are not drawn by the artists but by the people

forward the legacy of political cartooning and

themselves,” Sharad tells us. “This makes the

satire in their respective ways.

medium participatory and engaging. During the workshops, participants understand the fact

“There’s a quote by Charlie Chaplin that says —

that they are there to share those issues or

take your pain and play with it,” Mir Suhail tells

incidents they feel strongly about, or they have a

us. “I relate to it deeply, especially with what’s

personal connection with. When participants are

going on in Kashmir. We don’t have joy here, we

encouraged to think along those lines, they

have only known conflict. I feel like a cartoon is

would come up with issues we qualify as social

very powerful because, in an instant, it can


convey so much. When you criticise a bullet shape or the state of freedom of press, the essence and fear surrounding it get diminished. That’s how powerful art can be in changing the conversation around socio-political issues.” “Because news media is an aggregator, and focuses on numbers and statistics more often,” Meher Manda, writer of Jamun Ka Ped, tells us, “we sometimes tend to lose focus of the individual, and how their life has been affected. With Jamun Ka Ped, we try to really humanise

“I relate to it deeply, especially with what’s going on in Kashmir. We don’t have joy here, we have only known conflict. I feel like a cartoon is very powerful because, in an instant, it can convey so much. When you criticise a bullet shape or the state of freedom of press, the essence and fear surrounding it get diminished. That’s how powerful art can be in changing the conversation around socio-political issues.” 35

Credit: The Girl Not From Madras by Orijit Sen & Neha Dixit

Collectives working in solidarity like the ones I

looked at how to interpret comic-making in a

have mentioned above are another way forward;

spatial way — to create comics for space, rather

a means of achieving common goals and

than for a book. That’s something I see myself

ensuring diverse and inclusive graphic

doing more of, in the future. Although it is still an


idea best suited to a gallery, I would rather be able to create comics in public spaces.”

We come back to Orijit Sen, who has been drawing comics since childhood, for the last

With so many promising possibilities, the hope is

word. In 2017, he created Mapping Mapusa

that digital platforms can slowly become a

Market, a breakthrough game-based installation

sustainable means for creators, a way to vault

at the popular Friday market in Mapusa, Goa. A

over the distribution issues the medium has

blend of graphic narration and socio-historical

faced in print and to lead to the emergence of

mapping, the walk-through experience brought

new formats and expressions.

art straight to the streets for the people. “If I can obtain enough space and support for producing something new,” Orijit says. “I’ve 36


Literature and Propaganda By Adhishree Adulkar

“The totalitarian mass leaders based their

The ability to influence and control people’s

propaganda on the correct psychological

thinking is deeply rooted in the legitimisation of

assumption that, under such conditions, one

power structures. Propaganda is the dispersion

could make people believe the most fantastic

of ideas and information, especially of a

statements one day, and trust if the next day

misleading or biased nature, to reinforce or

they were given irrefutable proof of their

prompt a point of view about a belief, cause,

falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism;

institute, or person. It is associated with creating

instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to

a standard pattern of conviction among people.

them, they would protest that they had known

It can also be presented under the garb of

all along the statement was a lie and would

fortification of popular, albeit problematic,

admire the leaders for their superior tactical

deeply embedded societal stereotypes and


myths. While it is most popularly used by governments in times of war, with the advent of

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of

technology and the influence of mass media,

Totalitarianism, 1951

political organisations, the world over, have created a lethal cocktail of misinformation and 38

disinformation by controlling the channels of

of any backlash. It connects ideas and feelings

information, to safeguard their positions of

that a majority of people recognise as true and


aims to instigate viciousness or aggression in an otherwise passive citizenry. By creating an

Harold Lasswell, in his book, Propaganda

environment of violence or by targeting an easy

Technique in the World War defines

enemy, propagandists aim to mould the minds

propaganda as, “the management of collective

of the people so as to divert their attention from

attitudes by the manipulation of significant

the propagandist’s ineffectiveness whilst

symbols”. Propaganda techniques aim to mould

successfully creating a façade about themselves

the minds, wants, and needs of malleable

and manipulating people into accepting things

masses, to influence them into behaving in a

the way they are. To further ensure their hold on

manner that suits the propagandist. These

the public, propagandists synthesise an

techniques, either persuade people to accept

environment of fear where anyone who

and submit to oppressive and questionable

questions, speaks against, or points out their use

governance or work towards distracting the

of coercive tactics, is cast in a negative light and

people by creating an easy enemy. The French

branded as a threat to social harmony, in order

philosopher Jacques Ellul believed that

to successfully deter dissent.

propaganda was a greater threat to humankind than nuclear weapons. While the balance of

With the help of a social belief, religion, historical

truth and persuasion is a technique used by

fact, or a custom, political propagandists

most, including advertisers to successfully sell

successfully construct the notion of the ideal to

their products, the dangers of propaganda

push forth their agenda. The other, the enemy

become explicit when it is used to ruthlessly

who does not subscribe to this narrative is

suggest harm to a group of people and to tear

deemed as barbaric, animalistic, crude, or

the social fabric of a state whilst projecting

uncivilised. In most cases, the enemy is further

oneself with superiority and silencing dissent.

rendered as an enemy of the state and a threat to the national security or the well-being of a

Propagandists aim to control the media since it

country. Juxtaposed against the enemy, the

acts as a direct channel to influence people’s

ideal represents the valuable citizen who will

opinions. To successfully change people’s

pioneer change. The ideal citizen is presented as

thinking, the message should be such that it is –

the torchbearer who has achieved superiority by

seen, understood, remembered, and acted

following the propagandist; he does not just

upon by the audience. Through the effective use

believe the propagandist but is ready to incite

of media, propagandists can employ persuasion

violence, against both the enemy as well as the

tactics to push forth their agenda. Unlike the

undecided, to successfully protect his standing

historical in your face propaganda, like uncle

as the ideal, in the eyes of the propagandists;

Sam asking Americans to enlist for the war,

this behaviour is rewarded by the state, thereby

modern propaganda is subtle and can go

creating a vicious cycle of mutual benefit.

undetected to the untrained eye. It is based on a fact that can be presented as evidence, in case

Joseph Stalin, the former Soviet leader, 39

described writers as “the engineers of the

the public from being exposed to anything that

human soul”. Stalin heavily relied on

was not approved by them and thereby tried to

propaganda during his administration; he was

create an information bubble. The citizens were

also responsible for the execution of those

repeatedly told that by defending and

authors and works that were deemed as

protecting the Soviet Union and by acting in a

traitorous to the Soviet Union. The government’s

state-sanctioned manner, they were fighting for

censor authority was employed to not only

the well-being of mankind against barbarity.

abolish unwanted material but to also ensure that the correct ideological spin was cast on

The children’s novel The Young Guard written by

every piece published. Under Stalin’s rule, all the

Alexander Fadeyev in 1951 was a very popular

literature produced was state-approved and

book. The Young Guard was an underground

recognised as war literature, it focussed on the

Soviet Operation against the Germans, in the

theme of the ‘struggle for the fatherland’ and

German-occupied city of Kransodon. Fadeyev’s

the creation of the ‘new Soviet Man’. The

novel describes the valour of the Young Guard,

government’s efforts were directed towards the

their resistance to the Germans, and their

glorification of its policies; literature also had a

sacrifice for their country, since most of the

role to play in it. The literary tone at the time,

Young Guard soldiers were executed by the

emphasised upon the heroic acts and valour of

German forces. Fadeyev’s protagonists were

those who believed in and fought for the

actual soldiers of the Young Guard, however, he

government’s agenda. The function of literature

fictionalised some of their accomplishments,

was to emphasise on the patriotic duty of the

actions, and dialogues. By doing this, Fadeyev

citizens to readily sacrifice themselves for their

convincingly created an exaggerated account of

country and to instil unwavering obedience

heroism that would appeal to the minds of

towards the government and its decisions. With

children who would absorb it without

its austere censorship laws, the state prevented

questioning its authenticity. Fadeyev wrote the 40

first version of the novel in 1946, however, it was

In addition to this, the book described the

criticised by the Central Committee of the

enemy as, “the filthy breed of swaggering

Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the

fascists! They are worse than animal; they are

political party of the Communist government.

degenerates!” By the end of the 1980s, the novel

The party did not find the book acceptable;

had successfully placed itself as part of the

Fadeyev was criticised for just focussing on the

mainstream ideology; its characters were

bravery of the soldiers of the Young Guard and

decorated with medals and had streets named

not highlighting the role of Communist Party as

after them. The Young Guard was the second

the guiding force responsible for the soldier’s

most popular book for children between the

bravery. In 1951, Fadeyev wrote the second

period of 1918-1986, with more than 26,143,000

version of the book, which was eventually

copies sold.

approved for publication. The book became a part of the patriotic education designed by the

Celebrating their victory over the Germans

state for children; it was considered appropriate

forces, the Soviet Union continued to

to be included in the school curriculum. The

indoctrinate its citizens even during the Cold

second version of the book was justified on the

War. At its peak, the Cold War period was rife

grounds of historical accuracy rather than due to

with propaganda. Both, the Soviet Union as well

the coercion by the party, furthermore, within a

as the United States heavily engaged in

few years, the original version of the book was

propaganda to win the ideological war. An

withdrawn from circulation. In The Young

understanding of the use of propaganda is

Guard, Fadeyev wrote,

especially helpful with regard to the Cold War as both countries were pushing for opposite

The Soviet soldier was better than that of the

ideologies; they both supported their claims

enemy, not only in the sense of moral

with evidence, and tactfully demonised the

superiority… but simply in the military sense.

other. The Cold War is an exploration of the grey

Soviet commanders were immeasurably

area between the absolute right and wrong.

superior not only for their political consciousness

Both countries tried to project their ideology as

but also their military training and their way of

the ultimate truth whilst openly condemning

rapidly seizing on what was new and making

and criticising those who did not subscribe to it.

practical and wide use of their experience.

Using the same methods of mass manipulation,

Soviet weapons and equipment were no worse

violence, fear, and ostracisation, the two

and in certain respects even better, than those

countries fought to establish their superiority.

of the enemy. (…)

Since the two countries were fighting for ideologies placed on opposite ends of the

Maybe our dad won’t come back, maybe he will

political spectrum, the study of the Cold War

die in battle, but we will know what he died for!

highlights the dangers of deploying the state

And when Soviet power comes back again, it

machinery to influence people’s thinking,

will be like a father to my children.

however righteous be the political cause that the state claims to be fighting for. 41

The 1950s and the 1960s in the United States saw a massive rise in the production of cheap pulpfiction novels that criticised communism and were often laced with lewd themes and violence. The literature produced during this time focussed on the suspicion and anxieties of communism. Through a steady diet of statesponsored propaganda, there was an active utilisation of literary tools to create an aversion towards the Soviet Union and the communist ideology. The American population was constantly subjected to the idea of a dystopian future where the communists would restrain the American freedom, rape American women, make men and women work as slaves, and pillage their country, if the Soviets won the war. Those sympathetic to the communist cause were shunned by society. McCarthyism, named after the Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, was the tyrannical practice of branding people (who showed an inclination towards anything related to communism) as traitors without a trial or even the presence of any proper evidence.

of communism. The cover of the book read,

Through the well-crafted combination of preying on people’s existing fear or prejudice

“IS THIS TOMORROW is published for the one

and creating an environment of intimidation

purpose – TO MAKE YOU THINK! To make you

against dissent, the movement quickly became

more alert to the menace of

popular among Americans. Strict political

Communism. Today, there are approximately

repression ensured that every information in the

85,000 official members of the Communist

public domain was in accord with the state’s

Party in the United States. There are hundreds

ideology. Ironically, this behaviour of exercising

of additional members whose names are not

excess control and censorship was exactly what

carried on the Party roles but are acting as

the United States was criticising the Soviet

disciplined fifth columnists of the Kremlin, they

Union of doing.

have wormed their way into key positions in government offices, trade unions, and other

The comic book titled ‘Is This Tomorrow,

positions of public trust.Communists themselves

America Under Communism’ started in 1947 by

claim that for every official Party member, there

the Catechetical Guild Educational Society in St.

are ten others ready, willing, and able to do the

Paul, Minnesota was put out as a warning

Party’s bidding.These people are working day

against communist infiltration. It was used to

and night – laying the groundwork to overthrow

educate children about the horrors of

YOUR GOVERNMENT!The average American is


prone to say, “It Can’t Happen Here.” Millions of

citizens believed America to be a vile, unjust, and

people in other countries used to say the same

a depraved country.

thing.Today, they are dead – or living in Communist slavery. IT MUST NOT HAPPEN HERE!” Not very different from the Americans’ antiSoviet propaganda, the Soviet had their version of anti-America propaganda. They also applied the philosophy of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ to fire flames of hysteria among their citizens. The elasticity and confidentiality of the term ‘national security’ allowed both nations to behave horrendously with their citizens and enforce authoritarian laws. The Soviets, under Stalin, tried to disrupt the United States’ foreign relations with other nations by undermining the

The similarities between the American and the Soviet model identify the true nature of state-sponsored political propaganda. The ultimate aim of those spreading the propaganda is to ensure complacency and submission of the citizens against an oppressive and manipulative government. While the horrors of propaganda are palpable, the greater challenge is in being able to identify violent or manipulative propaganda.

appeal of democracy. By highlighting the racial inequality in America, they questioned their narrative of America As the land of Equal Opportunities and their feat of The American

Like their American counterparts, the Soviets

Freedom. America was referred to as The

also targeted children to spread anti-capitalist

Decaying West or The Rotten West, alleging

propaganda. Samuil Marshak was a Soviet

that it was rampantly corrupt and rapidly

writer, translator, and poet. Between the period

eroding further. According to the Soviet

of 1942-1951, he was awarded the Stalin Prize 4

propaganda, Americans were immoral being

times for his contributions to children’s

who had no sense of self-control, they were

literature. He was also a recipient of the Lenin

destroyed by their greed for money along with

Prize along with being bestowed with the Order

their insatiable sexual and material desires; they

of the Patriotic War Award and Order of the Red

were egoists and sinners. Just like the

Banner of Labour Award, awards given by the

Americans, the Soviets (until Nikita Khrushchev’s

state to authors whose work they approved and

political reforms) ensured that all the

appreciated. His poem Mister Twister, written in

information that reached the public worked

1933, is a satire about an evil wealthy American

towards accomplishing the state’s goal of

and his spoiled wife and daughter. Marshak

demonising the Americans. The Soviet’s had

describes their travel to the Soviet State. The

internalised the belief that socialism and

poem gained immense popularity and was

nationalism go hand in hand; one cannot exist

enjoyed by several generations of Soviet children

without the other. Therefore, they understood

until the 1980s. It was a spoof against the

that the American capitalist-consumer culture

American way of life, their desire for excess, the

was deficient. The Soviet propaganda was

American aspiration for travel, and the American

successful and until the mid-80s, the Soviet

imperial tradition. Marshak writes,


At Cook’s M’lad! Reserve Four Staterooms: New York –

The similarities between the American and the


ensure complacency and submission of the

With a bath

citizens against an oppressive and manipulative

And a pool, And a garden, Begrad! And listen, Be sure The crowd Isn’t low-brow No Negros Or Hindos, Or riffraff From “Ho-Chow”! Old Twister, He’s touchy Concerning Dark faces. He can’t stand the sight

government. While the horrors of propaganda

Of those coloured races”

to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the

Soviet model identify the true nature of statesponsored political propaganda. The ultimate aim of those spreading the propaganda is to

are palpable, the greater challenge is in being able to identify violent or manipulative propaganda. What is considered as political propaganda by a collective of people can be understood as patriotic duty by another. While those spreading the propaganda benefit from the tension caused by this polarisation of thought, the violence instigated as a result of this, ultimately, only harms the ordinary people who are used as pawns by those in power. Monsters exist, but they are too few in number common men, the functionaries ready to


believe and to act without asking questions.


Primo Levi

Whispered Suzie, “Go automobiling? I won’t!” She wailed. “It’s a wild-goose chase. If we can’t Get a suite here, Then buy out the place!” “With pleasure,” Said Twister, And dolefully sighed, “But, darling, Remember, You’re not in Chicago Or even,” He added, “In old Santiago. In Leningrad People Just simply don’t sell— You can’t buy a house, Let alone A hotel!” 44





With your decades of experience, starting as

Newslaundry is a news critique platform,

a reporter and now running a media

among other things. In these polarised times,

organisation, can you lay out some of the

how difficult is it to critique other media

changes you have seen in the field. How has

houses constructively?

journalism transformed?

It is easier now than when we started. In 2012,

It has transformed in various ways — some

when we started critiquing media, it was very

good and some bad. One big transformation

new back then. Not many people were calling

has been the motivation of people joining

each other out, and we often would call out

journalism. Nowadays, the motivation of many

our friends and colleagues with whom we had

people is visibility, access, and fame. But back

have worked in the past. It was difficult in the

then there wasn’t much visuality; only the top

sense that journalists weren’t used to being

people were in the limelight. Things that

critiqued. So the way they would respond was

changed for the better is that much

really shocking. Considering that journalists

more exposés are being done. So a lot more

spend their life critiquing others and expect

accountability is sought by reporters across

everybody to take it and move on, their

the board.

responses to our criticism were really shocking. Since journalists were not used to

But the hysteria has changed. It was never so

being critiqued, that was a real painful

loud and noisy. I started in 1995, and the

experience for having to deal with— the

benefits of liberalisation were just starting to

tantrums and the sulking because of being

hit us. It was full-on in the late 90s. But the

mocked or made fun of.

nature of commerce changed in such a dramatic way that it has just become a reality

But I think it is a very important part. I don’t

show. I think that, that has been the most

think it is difficult at all. What could be difficult

dramatic change. News is now, at least in the

is that once you do critique, you may lose

electronic medium, a reality show. It is not a

friends and if you have spent as much time in

news show.

this industry as I have. You have a lot of friends


in the media. So that’s a bit of a bummer. But

But like I said, fundamentally it’s fair that these

otherwise, I don’t see it as a problem at all. It’s

tech giants also reward those who are doing the

not difficult, and there are enough reasons to be

hard work, but the downside will be, where will

critical. There are enough reasons to appreciate

it stop? Anything a search engine throws up or

their work, as well. There is a bit of both

should they actually have an incentivised way of

here. But I think the biggest mistake the media

having an arrangement with anyone who shows

made was not critiquing each other 20 years

up on search? I mean it could go on. It is a

ago which is why we are in such horribly

slippery slope. But in principle I am with that, I

polarised times, with such horrible journalism

think it should happen. We have disabled adds,

being pushed or such terrible content being

so we won’t get any of that because that is not

called ‘news’. It would not have reached this

out model. But others should.

stage had news organisations learnt to critique each other before Newslaundry came about.

Reading or supporting a news media organisation has become an important part of a

As you must have heard, Google announced to

person’s identity – like supporting a football

pay some publishers in Germany, Australia, and

team. People are forming an association with

Brazil for news content. And the Australian

their news media. For instance, because the

government wants Facebook to pay for news,

Guardian is left-leaning, people who associate

even though Facebook has said that news

with that outlook follow it; similarly, because

content is “highly substitutable”. Do you think

the Guardian knows that its followers are left-

such developments with big tech giants, who

leaning, they adhere to that narrative. What

are beneficiaries of the ad revenue, which

implications of this model do you foresee for

was previously enjoyed by the news publishers,

the news ecosystem?

will eventually become a necessity for the survival of the news ecosystem?

It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, it will definitely make news organisations more

This is a question that many people have been

committed to the news in my view because

grappling with. I think at a fundamental level, I

people won’t pay for nonsense. They won’t pay

agree. Conceptually, I think if they are making

for one fake report after the other. They won’t

their money from it, it’s only fair that they pay for

pay for opinions without anyone going on the

it or share the revenue that they earn in a more

ground and having done any reportage. So, I

equitable way. But how would one go about it? –

think generally if it becomes more subscriber

the little nuts and bolts of and the terms. How

driven, the commitment of the news platform

would you implement it? How would you

towards news will become a little more honest

enforce it? Because of the power that these tech

and sincere. On the downside, it may have a very

giants have; it is something that is not as simple

polarising effect on news — those who have one

as a court order or a regulatory command. So I

ideology will support one platform and those

think that it is something that should be

who have another will support another platform,

thought through and executed.

which is a potential danger, but in either case, I think people who are not doing accurate news 48

reporting will find it very hard to retain

culture of any society or any country by

subscribers. I think we are in an age

remaining an NGO. If it becomes a political

where earlier trends used to take months and

party, it has a huge impact. I can give you

decades to emerge, now trends come and go

examples of the RSS vs BJP. The RSS was

in weeks. So, I am not sure which way this will

around for a long time but only after the Jan

go because social media was supposed to bring

Sangh and the BJP, could they make an impact

the world closer together and clearly that hasn’t

politically in an overwhelming manner. Similarly,

happened. Similarly, I will not give a full

for Arvind Kejriwal’s NGO – Parivartan

authoritative or definitive answer on how it

and Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF).

will shape in the future. But the polarisation for

He was running it for 15 years and he couldn’t

me is an acceptable price to pay for accuracy,

change much. But as soon as he entered

and I think a subscription-driven model

politics – there was more of an impact. Now one

would better serve that. I don’t think too many

can question whether the impact is good or

people will be proud to say that I support XYZ

bad, but that is a separate issue. Similarly, in the

website which has been accused of like 25 fake

news space, if you are running as an NGO or

news instances. I think people would be

not for profit, you may be doing great work, but

embarrassed to say that.

you will not be able to impact the ecosystem in a significant way. For that, you have to compete

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative

commercially and win. And when you do that,

effect on media, especially local news. We hear

then everybody says —okay, that’s the way to

stories of many organisations closing or

go. So, if people can make good journalism

shutting operations from America to

commercially viable, it will have an impact that

India. But, on the other hand, the subscriptions

is greater than any amount of not for profits can

for the New York Times and Financial Times

have. That is the answer to the last question.

have increased over the pandemic period. What do you think will be the possible fallouts

The one about COVID – yes, it’s having a huge

of this since the New York Times themselves

destructive impact on the economy, various

rely on the reports of local newspapers? And

establishments, and commercial operations.

recently, The Salt Lake Tribune, a local news

So, news will not be insulated. The only thing is

organisation in America, became a non-profit

that when news is impacted in the way that it is,

news division. Do you think for local news – a

it has a huge hit on democracy and democratic

community-driven not-for-profit system makes

values. I read an article that by the end of the

more sense?

year or early next year, 30% of airlines will fold down, which will be very unfortunate. It will

I don’t believe that. If you are not operating in a

have a huge impact on the exchange of ideas

market, you cannot change the trend. The

and the cultural osmosis of people travelling to

analogy I often draw is that the difference

other cultures and experiencing them. They say

between an NGO and a political party — an NGO

25-30% of the restaurants will never open again.

can make a difference and do good work, but it

That will have an impact on people’s appetite

will not have a significant impact on the political

and culinary. But if 30% of news organisations 49

shut down, that has a huge impact on

subscribe to or has influenced you, over your

democracy itself, which is why this is a bigger

years of being in the media space?

danger. Most media were supported by advertisements and because this economic

The things that have influenced me were my

downturn has impacted commercial operations

bosses, the people I reported to. I was very

to the extent that some of the largest advertisers

fortunate and very lucky to be reporting to

have cut the marketing budgets by 80-90%, the

journalists such as Madhu Trehan, Alpana

only people left to advertise are

Kishore, Suprima Dhawan. Coincidentally, all

governments. Today there was I think, a full-

three are women. There is a lot I learnt from

page ad put out by the Telangana government.

Nakhivi dada from Aaj Tak and SP Singh. I was

These are the only people who have the money.

just fortunate that I reported to very good

Then how can the media really be fearless and

people. So, they influenced my journalism. I

fair? Because who is going to cut your cheque. It

wouldn’t say any platform influenced my

becomes very hard. So, I think, on that front, it

journalism. But one platform that I am always

has had a hugely detrimental impact.

amazed by who tell stories really well is NPR (National Public Radio). Whether it is Planet

And as far as local news is concerned — that was

Money or American Life, their ability to tell

dying even before COVID. The whole local news

stories is really good. I try to tell all journalism

ecosystem was slowly dying as far as print is

students or even my young colleagues to check

concerned and even broadcasters. It already

out how they do their storytelling. It is very well

started late last year. But I am not that afraid of

done. I wish more people in India would do that.

it because I think that could be revived digitally. I think media like the News Minute, of course now

I think there were a few shows other than

a national platform, but when they started out,

Newstrack, which were really good. I think from

they said we only want to cater to Tamil Nadu,

time to time I have found though it is

Kerala, Andhra, Telangana, and Karnataka. But

inconsistent, Truth vs Hype was a really good

that is what they said they wanted to do. Of

long format show which went into one

course, the fact is that they have a readership

particular aspect which Sreenivasan Jain used

way beyond that and have become big. But that

to do. I used to find, back in the day, some of

can be replicated on a smaller scale. I know that

Shekhar Gupta’s commentary really good. I

there are a few websites which are catering only

mean I wouldn’t subscribe to what he says now.

to a Malayalam speaking audience and they are

But at his prime, I think he has done some

very popular. So, I think that, that could be

fantastic reporting and interviews. I think when

revived digitally, by lots of enterprising

it comes to panel discussion, Barkha has done

journalists at a local level. But, it is the larger

some great work in her early days. I subscribe to

media that I am afraid has got completely

pretty much every Indian media and that is

compromised, whose operating costs are

because I just want everybody in my office to


have some reference point.

And lastly, what media organisation do you 50


The idea of grassroots digital rural journalism

not go with the mainstream criteria. We

that Khabar Lahariya stands for is a model

believe that journalistic skills can be imparted.

that is unique to you. What was your

We look for women with basic literacy and a

motivation behind starting such an

keen interest in the news. We do not always


go for the most qualified candidate, but we

Khabar Lahariya started as a broadsheet newspaper in 2002, and it has grown in leaps and bounds since! Our diversity has been binged into our DNA. Khabar Lahariya was always envisioned as an organisation that would bring women into the frontline, and even within women, we aimed to bring forth those from marginalised communities. Our rural journalism follows the everyday stories of everyday people in areas that are completely out of the spotlight of media attention. The fact that a handpump is not working 200 Km from the city centre, in a gaon somewhere, is just as important as any other piece of news, and we have always believed that it is something that needs to be brought to people’s attention. And with this, we have been called a powerful local watchdog, an instrument for enforcing robust grassroots governance and accountability. When we are selecting out reporters, we do

choose the ones who fit with our vision and help us maintain our diversity, this kind of positive discrimination is not always seen in other organisations. We understand that qualifications also come from a class and caste capital. So, if one is hiring only on the basis of qualifications, it is inevitable that there will be a one-dimensional makeup. Since we train all our reporters in-house, we trust ourselves to be able to make a journalist out of a literate woman who has a passion for news! Our diversity is what makes us unique, and it is not something that we have ever compromised on.

By making women reporters in their local communities, you help many women find their voice and exercise agency. How does their perspective, their point of view, add value to their reportage and distinguish itself from the mainstream narrative? 51

Our motto is “Aap ki khabar, Aap ki bhasha”

aspirations, family circumstances and testing

(your news, (in) your language), we believe that

their confidence, general knowledge and

if the news is something that is consumed by

technical aptitude. If we think a woman has it in

upper-class people, it is about them, and is in

her (a factor we have come to know, after 15

their language, Hindi or English. We started

years of training rural women, to be professional

from a vantage point of bringing on-board

journalists in a region where there are none),

women who could be the voice of their

then she is called for training and then an

communities, who could tell the story from its

internship in Chitrakoot.

roots. Since the women were delivering news that concerned their villages, their castes, their

Finding women reporters from marginalized

voices, they were equal stakeholders in the

communities in rural parts of Uttar Pradesh, one

process, and it was not a top-down approach,

of the most populous but economically

which is what is used by most media

underdeveloped states of India, is perhaps only

organisations. Rural journalism when it is

slightly less of a challenge than retaining them.

conducted by mainstream, urban, national

Being a journalist is a very hands-on, dangerous

news, it ends up being like a postcard from rural

job, and especially because rural India is still not

India, instead of serious reportage. We actively

used to seeing women journalists being the

wanted to change this narrative; this was

voice of the village and meeting and mingling

weaved into our organisation’s vision. Some of

with men and women from all castes and

our senior reporters and editors have been with

communities – these are the kind of barriers

us since the beginning of Khabar Lahariya, they

that our reporters face. We have to work with

have more than 16 years of experience with us,

them and their families to help them

and so they have become experts in their own

confidently face such situations.

fields, and they have been working hard towards bridging the gap and bringing rural journalism to the frontlines.

How do you train the women to be reporters?

Our motto is “Aap ki khabar, Aap ki bhasha” (your news, (in) your language)

What kind of challenges do you face while training them?

In nearly 2 decades of Khabar Lahariya, have

We publicise our hiring through word of mouth,

you seen any change in the social structures of

in newspapers, on Facebook, and through NGO

the villages concerning the acceptance of local

networks in a district where we are looking to

female journalists? Are the women treated

hire. Applications are invited, and applicants are

differently now than when you first started?

shortlisted on the basis of their basic qualifications (class 10 pass), woman, rural

Journalism is still a very upper caste, male

location and preferably from a marginalized

domain, so sometimes Khabar Lahariya

background. Senior KL members travel to the

journalists are the only women on the ground

districts to interview shortlisted candidates: a

reporting a particular story. But over the years

process that involves talking about their


we have established ourselves and created our brand name in the villages. And we also have a long list of impacts that we have been able to bring about because of which also people’s perception towards our journalists and us has changed over time. This reputation that we have built over the years have helped us combat some of the social mores. However, despite all that, there are still challenges that we face, our reporters have and continue to face threats, they also face discrimination based on their gender and their caste. It has reduced over the years, and we have been able to build a loyal audience of 5 lakh subscribers and 10 million viewers on our website a month, we have become a trusted voice for many.

There has been an increase in the number of organisations reporting local news, as the mainstream Hindi and English news organisations tend to overlook regional issues. Do you think that this model of a local news ecosystem – where the reporters and consumers of the news are from the same region and are not associated with mainstream media houses is the way forward for the survival of local news? Not just in India but all over the world there have been huge lay-offs across the board in the field of journalism, everyone is suffering in these difficult times. Media has been going through a tumultuous time over the last few years because of which journalists have started to compromise media ethics to a great degree. Our business model is constantly evolving to keep up with the changing times; we were a non-profit organisation till last year. Last year we became a media organisation since we decided that we have the necessary expertise in our field. We are

Being a journalist is a very hands-on, dangerous job, and especially because rural India is still not used to seeing women journalists being the voice of the village now doing content, research, and outreach partnerships with national and mainstream media organisations, research institutes, universities, and non-profit organisations to fund our local reportage. However, we are fiercely independent and are not dependent on advertisements. While I can’t speak for the future, right now I think that we are in better shape than most media organisations, who are entirely based on an advertiser dependent model! I think that as long as we align with our principles and continue to report independently, people will continue to believe in our work and support us. Just to give you a recent example with regard to Covid-19, in collaboration with the Breakthrough Organisation, we have been talking about how it is a gendered pandemic. We also did a series on the story of the migrants returning back home; Bundelkhand, where we are based, has the highest number of migrant workers. The region is parched and therefore there is no agriculture here, it also does not have a lot of industries, hence people are forced to go to other places for a livelihood. So, we had a huge influx of the returning migrants, and we reported on that in collaboration to FirstPost to ensure that their stories are also reaching the mainstream, English speaking, urban, national audience. We collaborate with other organisations like these who help us fund our work. With regard to the sustenance of local news, I remember reading how there used to be a rural 53

correspondent in most media organisations,

whole world is dealing with right now. And it

who now no longer exists. There were

has also lifted the façade separating some

investment and effort put into reporting rural

aspects of urban India from rural India, like the

news. This practice was also related to the then

narrative of “dowry and all is a regressive thing

socio-political structures, where at that time it

that only happens in villages, it does not happen

was a mixed public and socialist system where

in cities because people in villages are illiterate

there was more importance given to rural India.

and they do not know any better”, people are

However, that I think has changed over the last

now able to see the truth behind these

few years, where the focus has shifted from the

assumptions. We can now safely say that the

villages and gone more and more towards the

whole country, whether urban or rural, whether

cities and the urban populations, that has

literate or illiterate, whether upper-caste or

impacted the sustenance of local news. And

lower-caste, is equally prone to this trap of

that makes our work all the more important

misinformation and propaganda. On our level,

since we know that nobody else is talking about

we are working to eradicate it. Like with Covid-

these issues!

19, we did a lot of explainer videos to help people understand about the virus, their health

Is the prevalence of ‘fake news’ or ‘WhatsApp

and safety with regard to it, and also the

university forwards’ as high in rural India as it is

lockdown and its economic implications. We

in urban India? Why do you think that is?

also started a special Covid-19 video playlist busting misinformation and helping people by

Since everyone has access to the internet and

letting them know about the local resources

WhatsApp, the prevalence, I would say, is just as

that are available for them and teaching them

much. WhatsApp has become everyone’s

how to quarantine. Despite there being a

primary source information and

lockdown, we were very aggressively reporting

communication, so the battle against fake news

on Covid-19 and were always on the front-lines.

is just as much in rural India as it is in urban

In our way, we are fighting this misinformation

India, and we are constantly trying to combat it;


our reporters act as local fact-checkers. The insurgence of fake news is a problem that the



Welcome Professor Shakuntala, thank you for

you then become someone addicted to porn,

agreeing to do this interview. To start with,

and so on and so forth. Of course, this tradition

can you describe the ways in which media

of media effects was not the only one which

can impact the social reality and identities of

had theorised media as having a direct, almost

people in a society?

hypodermic effect on people. There was also a

You just asked the million-dollar question for all media theorists, which is, the interaction between human psychology and social phenomena like the media. Of course, different theorists answer this question in different ways. But I’ll just talk to you about the kind of work that I have done over the years. I started off more than 20 years ago looking at Hindi films and the kind of discourses around gender, sexuality, politics, religion, that there are in these films. One of the things that I was interested in was the theory that was around at that time, about media effects. It is a strong theory which came out of the US. It focussed on the tradition of examining just exactly how the media affected the behaviours, thoughts, and patterns of everyday social interactions between people. So just to give a very crude example – if you were someone who watched a violent film would you then go and become violent; if you watched pornography would

Marxist tradition which looked at ideology and how ideology worked through text and cultural products and formed a kind of hegemonic influence over people’s ideas and their minds. So that people agreed and consented to things, let’s say, women agreed to and consented things to in marriage which was actually not in their best interests, which didn’t serve them well. So for instance, the idea that, if you watch a film in which women are submissive, and they are slapped, and suddenly they fall in love with the hero, that somehow that actually makes women feel that that’s how they ought to be, that’s how a good woman is; a good woman allows her parents to marry her off, a good woman allows her husband to punish her, or she falls in love with a powerful man. I was looking at these ideas in films and I was looking at audiences. Around the time that I came into doing that research at the beginning of the 2000s, just the turn of the century, there was also an alternative theory around – which was that people don’t get so affected by media, in fact,


that they chose what they watch, they enjoy it,

critical thinking, were ones who already

they get a lot of gratification out of it, and that

conformed to some critique that maybe a

actually we should be thinking about how

young audience member already had, so let’s

people use media rather than how media

say – there was a young person who had

influenced people – this was commonly

already started to think that it was very unjust

designated as the ‘active audiences’ theory’

that their father should control something to

and it was very very popular around that time.

do with their mother’s life or a young person

Both in India and the US there was a lot of

who is already questioning whether their

work taking place to validate audiences’ – we

boyfriend should be telling them what to wear

are watching things, but it is for joy and there

or what not to wear, if they then watched a

is nothing wrong with this, and we should

Hindi film which had a sequence in it, which

give up on all theories of hegemony.

was very liberating or questioning, or critical, that had much much more impact on people

So I positioned myself between these two

who had already started to think and question

schools of thinking with a very negative idea

those critical things. And of course, the peer

of terrible immediate effects of watching

group is a huge place for opinion formation,

media, which I now think is a very naïve idea

and over the past 20 years, I have watched this

because the assumption that would follow

particular cycle of social relationships to

then would be that – if you watch something

media play out in a number of ways. First of

that is very liberal or egalitarian, that you

all, through television and television news. But

would immediately become that sort of a

it’s been very clear that we can’t throw all the

person. So I come from a very school of

old theories of effects out with the bathwater.

understanding media, in a sense, that I think it

It’s become very clear particularly with regard

is all about the context in which you are

to social media and through messages that

consuming media and that media is part of

are received on WhatsApp, moving from Hindi

that context, but there are many things that

films to now WhatsApp. It’s become very clear

are a part of that context as well, for instance –

that a process of consent and hegemony is

your school is a part of that context, you family

still in progress. And that the active/inactive

is a part of that context, your religious

audiences can often be or remain active in a

institutions are a part of that context, and the

very dangerously conformist way with the

history of all those things is very relevant. So, I

prevailing political ideology.

was studying Hindi films within social, political, and historical contexts. And it began

Since you mentioned television and news, I

to be very apparent that the discourses, or the

would like to ask you about your

sequences, or the scenes, within Hindi films,

book Children and Media in India. In this

that had the most effect on people were the

book, you discuss the relationship between

ones where they reinforced the ideologies, the

young people from different parts of India

worldviews, the values, that people already

and the role of the media. Could you tell us

held very dear. And the ones that had the

what was the main understanding from this

most influence in divergent thinking, in

book and how does this fit with the rise of 56

digital media sharing platforms like TikTok,

amongst urban youth, particularly amongst

that has been particularly popular in rural

middle-class urban youths, some small-town

areas and among people from diverse

urban youth and children but also a massive


amount of exclusion amongst children in impoverished households or working-class

Back in the middle of 2006-2007, after I had

children in cities, even if they might have

finished my work with young audiences of

access to someone else’s mobile phone, they

Bollywood, I started doing some work around

didn’t necessarily have one of their own. So

the disparities in media access between

there was a real divergence between the

children who lived in very poor households

experiences. Previously, maybe everyone

and those who lived in the middle class or

would have occasionally had some access to

wealthy households. First, I started

something, like a radio, or a cassette player, or

researching in Maharashtra, and eventually, I

a television set back in the 70s, so actually the

extended it to other parts of the country, with

inequality in terms of media access, what I call

research assistants working in different parts

the ‘media wealth’ and ‘media poverty’ was

of the country. I became more and more

changing dramatically between 2010 and

interested in patterns of urban-rural

2017. By the time I finished the book and had

migrations, so there were children and young

analysed the 100s of notebooks that I had

people whose families for 6 months would be

collected over the years, it became extremely

in villages where they had access to television,

apparent that even the ideas and ideologies of

and they were watching it; then they would

the people using this media were changing at

come to urban areas as migrant labourers

a very rapid rate. So, you could call it – the

with their families. So, you got these 10, 11, 12-

encroachment of extreme far-right ideas

year old children who come and they would

through internet access.

no longer have any access to television, or even electricity, in the camps where they

The narrative of a lot of development for

lived. So, I was interested in looking at the

Information and Communication Technology

divergence of experience between the then-

is that the more digital access you have, the

burgeoning digital sphere. I worked over a

more participatory you are in civic media and

long period, from late 2006 onwards till

the more you take part in politics, the more

almost late 2018, so a span of more than a

educated and informed you are. What I was

decade. Of-course the media landscape

seeing was almost the exact opposite,

changed enormously at that time and, with

especially, and I want to stress on this, among

the rise of digital India and the influence of

young men and boys in well-to-do middle-

Aadhar, the narrative outside of India was that

class Hindu families. Since mine was not a

India was digitising at a massive pace and

quantitative study, I was not looking at caste

that everything was going mobile, that more

and religion as a large sample, but if you do

and more people were connected. Whereas

qualitative work, over years and years, with

what I was seeing were patterns and pockets

groups of people, you become familiar with

of connectivity, access, knowledge, and skills

their thinking patterns. In some of those 57

households where I was, when they were 6 or 7 years old, when I started working with them and we had chats and talks, there was very little discriminatory talk. There was a sense of being an Indian and what that might mean in 2007. But by the time they were going off to junior college in 2014, 2015, 2016, there was a change in their behaviour. Some of these people were saying “Hitler is a good guy” and when I asked them where they found it, they would show me memes online and sometimes they would laugh about it or disavow it and just say, “well, you know I don’t really believe in this, this was shared by my uncle or my cousin”. And then in 2017, by the time I was writing up the research and was in preparation for another project on WhatsApp groups, following through into that work, what I found is – it became really clear that the ones with less access, the more rural young people, the less digital media experience ones, were the ones who had a much broader, a more humane imagination of what India was or what a citizen was, and how they should help and support each other in their families. And the ones, it’s a broad generalisation, but particularly among young men who were very technologically literate, had become quite politically embedded with their family values, either in terms of caste politics, or they were very anti-positive discrimination, antiaffirmative action. They absolutely believed that if you were below in the caste system, you should stay there and not try to step out of your bounds. They would tell me all these things in a very trusting way because I had worked with them, known their parents for many years. We debated it; I never concealed my views from any of them. But it is a funny

Who had very low media literacy, very little access to phones, few digital skills, were the least likely to express extreme views and hateful content. thing, being a woman researcher in India, that a 17-year-old young guy absolutely thinks that he knows better than me. (laughs) And so he would say, “ya, you know, you have gone abroad, and you have all these firangi ideas and whereas here, it is different. Let me show you on the internet”; and he would show me things which were totally propaganda coming out of far-right-wing websites and things like OpIndia, Republic TV who would replay clips multiple times, they would replay all kinds of fake news and misinformation. So you began to see this change amongst this very educated, highly literate students, who were going to colleges, many were aiming to go to colleges abroad, that strata which were about 1/3rd of my sample. Then you have the urban working-class young woman, no doubt, there were many antimuslim views aired in those, but when you talked about where they came from, they did not appear to come as much from the media, those who would pride themselves with being educated and independent thinking would say, “look at this website, it agrees totally with my parents say”, so I am right. They were drawing in the media to say that the media supports my arguments and values, the media was the evidence. And they would even use words like evidence, they had the whole vocabulary of “liberals have done this, they are like that”, it was entirely coming from the channels that would repeatedly watch on their mobile phones, coming from the websites that they perused. So I go back to repeat that those who had very 58

low media literacy, very little access to phones,

the act and defend the regime, is very

few digital skills, were the least likely to

unevenly matched. So, you have a smaller

express extreme views and hateful content. It

group of people who are also using the

was not always true in terms of practice

internet with fewer resources to mobilise, they

because there was a lot of caste practice in

are being put under extreme surveillance and

the villages that we looked at, but certainly in

pressure, so it is a double-edged weapon. I

terms of what they said and what they

don’t think this surveillance is inherent in the

watched. If they had access to television, they

media this way, but unfortunately, we live in

would watch wildlife programs, they would

times where you have increasing

watch cricket, and sometimes they would

authoritarianism. So, while I think it is amazing

watch serials. Of course, the serials had all

that what I have seen of the Black Lives

kinds of stuff going on in them, but truth be

Matter movement and the mobilisation of the

told, none of those people was responsible for

young people, those people show incredible

the hateful content circulating on WhatsApp.

bravery, but I think they are still pitted against citizens who consider themselves to be

That is fascinating and a rather surprising

patriots and they will use the media in any

conclusion! Shifting from the negative aspect

way they can, including social media to

of media to the positive, I would like to ask

instigate violence and mobilise against those

you about the power of social media to

young people.

mobilise people. We can see examples from the recent George Floyd case and the anti-

I will give you an example – many young

CAA protests in India. With regard to these,

people that I see today, including even their

how has the relationship between citizen

older parents, have taken a conspiracy

engagement and digital media evolved?

theorist view of the coronavirus. They are

Have you observed any trends? And how do

using media in ways that, I think, are quite

you think it will develop in the future?

inflammatory to blame coronavirus on you name it – the Chinese if you are in the US, or

I totally agree with you, I wrote a book in 2013

on Africans if you are in China, or on Muslims if

called The Civic Web, particularly looking at

you are in India, each country has its group of

young civic producers online who were doing

people who have been set aside as ‘the devil’

things to connect people working on issues

or ‘the other’. Both social media and

related to poverty and inequality, racial

mainstream media are being deployed to

discrimination, and state censorship. Those

portray those people in particular ways. Young

kinds of people were doing an incredible job,

people tend to be more sceptical than older

but I argued in the book that we need to start

adults in these things. But like you asked in

conceptualising citizenship more widely, in

the beginning, what is the logical outcome of

terms of, who considers themselves to be

these tendencies towards scepticism and lack

citizens. And if you look at India today, the

of trust, and I think it is actually quite

civic activity of those who protested against

dangerous because it means that people who

the CAA and the so-called civic activity, even if

are viewing the media, particularly young

it be violent, of those who wanted to defend

people feel quite cut-lose, they do not know


whom to trust. It is likely in their view that

a keyboard warrior doing your stuff, it can

coronavirus does not exist and has been

make you feel very empowered, it can make

invented. Even very politically alert young

you feel like you are contributing in some way,

people who have a sense of the internet as

that can both be a very positive thing or a very

being something for social justice might also

damaging and problematic thing especially if

question whether a lockdown was imposed to

you are contributing to a violent ideology. And

save lives or prevent protests, and maybe

I think that unfortunately, the power is in the

there is some truth in what they are saying.

hands of those who are using social media

So, I think that the proliferation of social

and digital technology for more violent and

media and internet have allowed and fuelled

more divisive means.

great, wonderful, civic protests but they have also fuelled, supported, sustained, and are still

Moving on from the digital media, I would

sustaining a lot of misinformation,

like to ask you about your take on the

disinformation, and conspiracy theories,

traditional media – they often critique these

especially ones which are harmful and

kinds of protests, and they are often short-

damaging to particular communities.

sighted in realising the realities on the

Therefore, I go back to this issue of who is a

ground. What do you think is the perception

citizen, even people who pass on

of traditional media? And what is their role in

misinformation that leads to the lynching of

causing polarisation?

someone, consider themselves to be doing their civic duty; one of the ways in which these

That is very interesting to consider! Are you

people justify what they are doing is by saying,

talking specifically with young people?

“any patriot or any citizen would have done

Because it is interesting, and I think that there

the same, it is our duty”. And when I ask them

is a divide opening up between younger

if they care if the information was right or

people and older people in relation to this and

wrong, they say, “no, because it is my duty to

I would say that the cut-off comes somewhere

act when I hear something”.

in the mid-20s. I would say that a lot more younger people have been more willing to

So, this discourse of so-called civic action is

question mainstream media narratives and

extremely widespread on the internet and

how those narratives are controlled by the

social media, in many apps. So you will have

government, particularly in metropolises like

someone making a tik-tok video boycotting

Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad. You

China or boycotting something that China

have a lot more university students who are

did, there were 1000s of those proliferating

willing to open their minds and listen to

before tik-tok itself was boycotted! I think the

something which might be quite

point here is that it depends on what the

contradictory to what they might see on a

ruling consensus of the day is saying. One of

mainstream media channel. The news

the things that we didn’t talk about is how the

unfortunately over the last 10 years has

media can make you feel like an agentic

deteriorated to such an extent in India that

person, someone who is doing something,

there are only a very handful of voices who

even if you are sitting at home and you are

can report any kind of dissident activity in


Black Lives Matter movement and the mobilisation of the young people, those people show incredible bravery, but I think they are still pitted against citizens who consider themselves to be patriots and they will use the media in any way they can, including social media to instigate violence and mobilise against those young people. India, in a fair and balanced way. I would say that fairness and objectivity have almost all but a few deserted the Indian news sphere. Of course, there are always people flying the banner for investigative journalism, and those are the one who tends to be patronized by the young people more than by the old people. This is not to say that all older people have gone over to a particular ideology, but it is to say that it is far more likely to find an aunty in her mid-60s outright believing lies on where coronavirus came from or why petrol prices have gone up or who is to blame for what is happening in the Galwan Valley; it is much more likely that the 65-year-old would believe that than the 15-year-old would believe that, particularly in terms of girls. There is a real upsurge of girls being critical in all kinds of things, from the way in which they are being treated in terms of gender and sexual harassment to national politics and actually taking a stance. Again, when you compare them to the number of members who don’t speak out, it is not huge; but I think that they would have been disempowered if social media did not exist. They are people who are getting information, making connections, and staying in groups to find like-minded individuals because there is an internet, and there is social media. In the days when there was just television, those people were actually stuck in place. So, there is that thing about geographical displacement as well. I am sure

India, in a fair and balanced way. I would say that fairness and objectivity have almost all but a few deserted the Indian news sphere. Of course, there are always people flying the banner for investigative journalism, and those are the one who tends to be patronized by the young people more than by the old people. This is not to say that all older people have gone over to a particular ideology, but it is to say that it is far more likely to find an aunty in her mid-60s outright believing lies on where coronavirus came from or why petrol prices have gone up or who is to blame for what is happening in the Galwan Valley; it is much more likely that the 65-year-old would believe that than the 15-year-old would believe that, particularly in terms of girls. There is a real upsurge of girls being critical in all kinds of things, from the way in which they are being treated in terms of gender and sexual harassment to national politics and actually taking a stance. Again, when you compare them to the number of members who don’t speak out, it is not huge; but I think that they would have been disempowered if social media did not exist. They are people who are getting information, making connections, and staying in groups to find like-minded individuals because there is an internet, and there is social media. In the days when there was just television, those people were actually stuck in place. So, there is that thing about geographical displacement as well. I am sure that a lot of young people whom I interviewed in villages as well, who are now entering their 20s, whom I have spoken to since they were in their early teens, I am sure that many of them have now acquired phones; they did not have them when I interviewed them. I think phones are also beginning to help with information around health, and health information does


not just mean corona, it means things around

posed. It isn’t and can never be polarisation

periods or STDs.

because these are not two equal and opposite groups, you are talking about massive state

Previously these people had to travel to a

machinery which has taken over almost

town, find an internet cafĂŠ. Now there is a

everything in terms of institutions, judiciary,

gender divide in rural India, in terms of young

media; and it is not just the right, it is the far

men having more access to that kind of

right. It is ideas which until 20 years ago would

information and young women having to

have been seen as genocidal which have now

delete their search histories, not giving their

come into the mainstream. It is ways of

number to someone who might want to call

speaking about people who are totally

them, it is quite problematic in terms of how

dehumanising, and it is not true to say that

they feel. So, if you like, India has a stratified

the official left of India has any fewer of these

system of surveillance. If you are a dissident

views. Many official left parties have not

citizen and you are living in an urban area, of

spoken out against caste in the way that they

course, you are going to be under surveillance

should; they have not spoken out against

but, also if you are a teenage girl, and you are

misogyny and gender violence for many years.

living in a rural area, and your family has 1

So, I think the divide is between an

phone or the children all share 1 phone, you

increasingly far-right discourse which has

are still liable to surveillance. It is a different

taken over the state institutions and at least

kind of surveillance, and there are multiple

half of the voting public in India and then

levels to this, where the family can surveil you,

people who have some kind of dissident or

and it can have equally deadly consequences

critical thinking, not necessarily with the

in both cases; you could end up being beaten

traditional left. The divide then is not a

to death if the wrong boy texts you at the

polarisation; it is simply people struggling to

wrong time, on a phone that you share with

understand how anyone who believes in

someone in your family, it has happened and

democracy could speak in such genocidal

it is still going on.

ways about half of the population of the country and treat them in such a manner. It is

Staying on this for a minute, there is an

a very small minority of people, perhaps

aspect of polarisation and people say that it is

liberals or open-minded individuals who are

because of the way that people consume

starting their own media outlets. It is a

news based on their identities; therefore

privilege to be able to do that. Most of the

many people who distrust the mainstream

young people that I talk to are just struggling

media, from both the left and right side of the

to survive, whether that happens to be

spectrum, are moving towards creating their

working in their dad’s store or going to work

own space. What do you think will be the

in the local factory or fields, or whatever have

future implications of these developments?

you. They do not have the time or energy to do any of that stuff. And the ones who do, the

I get asked a lot about polarisation these days,

ones who are going to college are being

and I think that there is a deep flaw at the

targeted in such vicious ways that their family

heart of the way that that question is

will think twice before allowing them out of


the house again or letting them go to college.

WhatsApp or Share Chat or ShareIt, they were

So, one must not characterise it as

going on everywhere, they were not just on

polarisation, it is an extreme far-right take-

WhatsApp. So, I think it is fair to say that pretty

over of pretty much every institution of our

much every social media app and platform

country, and it is a long game! Those people

was used to push that agenda. At the time, it

have been infiltrating the textbooks and

might have seemed that that agenda was not

curriculum for more than a decade now. We

a very political one because, it just talked

are going to reap the very very bitter crop

about kidney snatches and child kidnapping,

from this in the coming generations.

but now in retrospect when you look at the fact that it is largely targeted at the people

In your WhatsApp research project, you

from the Northeast saying that intruders are

looked at the spread of misinformation and

coming from the Northeast or Rohingya and

disinformation and how it instigated violence

other places, it is very clear that that kind of

like mob lynching in India. Can you discuss

dissension was started in a broad way, but it

the typology of these users, what do you

was intended at every level to target particular

think motivates them to perform such

communities. Second, of course, all of the cow


vigilantism and lynchings related to cow trafficking and beef, all that was absolutely a

When one is undertaking any kind of

particular fascist behaviour and for a political

research, you have to come up with, in the

base which the BJP subscribes to. Although

beginning, some kind of a framework to test,

no one has yet been able to do either a sting

some ideas, or some hypothesis. One of the

operation or an investigation publicly which

theories that social media companies were

links very high ranking BJP members to all of

pushing around the time that we started our

those cow lynchings. It has also become

research was the idea that misinformation

absolutely clear that there is no one who is

was passed on largely by digitally illiterate

willing to speak out against them and

people. So these actions were done by people

therefore, in some way is reaching out support

who only saw images, didn’t really read texts,

to the people who are doing that, it helps

didn’t know how to operate phones very well,

them, it supports them, it supports the

otherwise, they would have known better. It

narrative of strong governance against people

was the rural user with less knowledge and

who are of other faith, so against Muslims; it

access skills in terms of the digital sphere who

supports a narrative of strong governance

were passing on all of these genocidal,

against secularism, and it clearly has a certain

dangerous, lynch related WhatsApp

kind of payoff amongst a group of voters, not

messages. Maybe to an extent, in terms of

everybody, but a certain kind who want that

some kind of messages, especially the ones

kind of strong Hindutva action. So, just looping

around child-kidnappers or kidney snatchers,

back to your question, in terms of the

this was not accurate since there were some

typology, when we started to investigate, to

people involved in these and there were 50 or

find whether it is these digitally illiterate

more deaths which can be directly related to

people who are passing on these messages,

those kinds of messages on Tik-Tok or

we found that it was the absolute


opposite. So, in our interviews with more than

family, and I did not want to disrespect them.

200 people and in focus groups which took

Therefore, I passed it on.” Or maybe, some of

place across the country in 4 different states,

them said, “at the time I wondered if this was

in rural and urban locations; we really carefully

true or not, but I felt it was imperative for me

made sure that we just didn’t stay in urban

to pass it on”. But some people were very

areas. It began to emerge that clearly there

open, “anything against Muslims, I will pass it

were fewer women doing this than men and

on”, “anything in favour of the Modi

the women who were doing it tended to be

government, I will pass that on as well”, “do I

middle-class and urban. There were fewer

care if it is the truth or lies, no. Because a good

rural men passing on false or misleading

patriot doesn’t ask questions like that”. So, you

information, and there were certainly fewer

have a typology emerging not from us

rural men passing on misleading information

imposing a schema on people but from

related to politics than there were in urban

people’s own mouths. They were very proud of


the fact that they could do all kinds of workarounds on WhatsApp, so if WhatsApp

So, urban, male, middle-class, educated, and

puts a forwarding limit, they were like “Oh,

then if you looked in terms of religion,

c’mon sister! I can get around this!”. They

because of course there was a diverse range

would tell me things like, “come with me, I can

of misinformation on pretty much every topic,

show you how to clone your Aadhar number!”.

and that was then evenly distributed across

They were very proud of their digital literacy

religious communities; but of course,

skills, some of them were even saying, “I do

misinformation related to vigilantism which

this kind of work, I do it for our government, I

resulted in the death of someone was pretty

do it for my country, this is my dharam” they

much concentrated among the upper-caste

were very strong about that, they didn’t feel

Hindu community. The lower-caste tended to

ashamed of saying it.

be targeted by the vigilantes. We didn’t expect it. We didn’t go looking for it, I have

To wrap up, can you give some

been accused multiple times of hating a

recommendations to our readers to

particular community and therefore going

understand the emerging trends in media

after them but, it is true that some of my best

that can inspire hope?

friends are upper-caste men, they are my student body, my colleagues, and of course I

There is a wonderful book by an author called

have no personal vendetta against any

Clemencia Rodriguez from Colombia and it is

community. The truth is I wasn’t looking for it,

called Citizens’ Media Against Armed Conflict.

we found it, and we found it in terms of

And although at the moment it seems like a

people actually admitting it themselves; they

sort of optimistic or hopeful dream, I would

talked about their prejudices, they would feel

say that my hope is that citizens can use and

ashamed of them, they talked about passing

develop an alternative media and ways which

on misinformation. Maybe some of them

are against violence, whatever else we

occasionally said that “I might not have

manage to do! That somehow in situations

passed it on if it hadn’t come to me from my

where there has been extreme violence


between communities, which we know there

So you don’t have to be an academic, you

has, and extreme oppression of one

don’t have to be a politician, you can be an

community by another, can find some way of

ordinary person; your story may not appear in

reconciling communities with each other.

the mainstream but it also might. And I think

That is something that we really desperately

there are a few young new producers, on

need! And there is a lot of very interesting

Netflix, for instance, who are making

work going on around new media and caste

programmes about India, about rural India,

which I think is fascinating. It is just starting

about minority communities. And doing so in

and burgeoning. Some of it is online, some of

a way which is challenging the mainstream.

it is offline. And I think it is very interesting

And they have been subjected to terrible

that people are talking about using new

trolling. I mean they have been subjected to

digital technologies to tell their own stories.

awful reviews, consolidated attacks by the

And there is a whole tradition of people

adherence of the BJP regime — saying that

talking about digital storytelling as a means of

they are against India. But they do

reclaiming one’s place in the public sphere.

demonstrate the power and the hope of a different media narrative, of the different use of new media and social media connections. And I think from that one can say that nothing has died, but democracy is on its last legs, and we need to do something to support it. We need to do something to support all of those people in those movements. And I think the Rodriguez book, Citizens’ Media, is one which I recommend to a lot of my students because she is a very hopeful person. And as we know, Colombia has been through decades of terrible violence and civil war. If they can do it, we can do it!

Citizens’ Media Against Armed Conflict by Clemencia Rodriguez


What people have said about us

Noam Chomsky

"I was very pleased to learn of the appearance of the new journal, Catharsis. An independent voice for students should be a most valuable contribution to discourse and inquiry in India during the current period of serious dilemmas and crisis. I hope it will be very successful."

"Catharsis magazine is unusual in being a broad-based student-led initiative to give voice to students and to focus on issues of concern to them. I have been very impressed by the thoughtfulness and writing skills of its editorial team, and wish them success."

Avinash Dixit


In-Between Development – Freezing Time in a Changing Village By Bharadwaj Kamesh


Galgibag beach is silent, clean, and almost ethereal in the setting sun.

In March 2019, I found myself in a quaint little

along with a team from Dakshin Foundation.

village called Galgibag, resting at the edge of the Karnataka-Goa border.

Galgibag beach was not like any other beach that I had seen in my life. It was one of the few

The Silent Shore

beaches in Goa that managed to remain silent and clean. Visitors to this beach were mostly

Goa’s ever-growing tourism industry has

foreigners, who had been escaping to this slice

resulted in a massive influx of travellers,

of paradise annually – some for as long as 20

tourists, and employment seekers. Naturally,

years. In the evenings, children from the village

hotels, shacks, and parties were soon to follow.

would gather on the shore and play football. As

The beaches of Goa are now crowded, heavily

the sun set, the sounds of the gushing waves

littered and poorly managed. Although the

grew increasingly louder. A few meters from the

shores of South Goa remain relatively unknown

shore, a long stretch of trees loomed over

and clean, the ecological damages of

everything else. As a seasonal treat, the waves

unchecked tourism has resulted in an immense

would light up with bioluminescence at night.

reduction of nesting sites

Bright blue hues appeared and disappeared in

for Olive Ridley turtles. I visited the beach of

the ebb and flow of the ocean. The beach was

Galgibag on an assignment to document the

not allowed to have any permanent structures

ecosystems and social systems of the region

within a specified distance, and all the lights on 69

the beach would be switched off after a certain

found it difficult to blend in. The process of

time; all as a measure to shield the Olive

documenting the community, therefore, was

Ridley turtles from noise and light pollution and

gradual – going from one person to another,

encourage them to swim ashore.

talking about their experiences with genuine curiosity, learning their names and where they

The forest department of Goa was planning to

lived, and eventually their problems. The people

demarcate this beach as a conservation reserve

also had their fair share of internal conflicts and

to protect the Olive Ridley turtles. My goal was

biases, which took time to work around and

to document the socio-economic and cultural

understand. However, they all agreed on one

practices of the village and its people; how their

particular issue.

lives affected the beach and vice versa. I spent over two weeks in that little village, exploring

Less than 300 meters from the proposed

their culture, understanding their livelihoods,

conservation reserve, a massive highway was

and their relationship to this beautiful beach. To

being built. The NH66 bypass road was an

this day it remains one of the most satisfying

attempt to improve the connectivity within the

projects I have worked on but for a rather

state and a part of the state’s larger industrial

unusual reason – I was given time to

corridor. Many, whose homes lay on the path of

photograph and document.

this site, were asked to turn their land over and were in-turn compensated poorly. The

Amidst Two Eras

construction process was bearing a negative impact on everyone’s livelihood as the incessant

When I went to Galgibag initially, I was an

dumping of cement into their estuary reduced

outsider. I didn’t speak the language and I

their catch of fish day by day. The noise of the

Locals from Galgibag walk to Mashem on a make-shift footbridge. Earlier, they had to use a small boat to cross the estuary. The steel footbridge was made for the construction workers.


The highway appears otherworldly amongst the traditional Goan houses, like a storm destroying everything in its path.

A young construction worker from Karwar rests on a beam beneath the highway.


Two locals from Galgibag use the steel bridge to do some afternoon fishing.

construction turned their quiet and peaceful

concrete object dominating everything? Will

village into a cacophony of whirring machines

Galgibag be the same when it is complete?” I

and screaming workers. Tourists were repelled

struggled to imagine the silent lives of the

by the noise and the locals lost valuable income

people before this pledge for development had

that was earned as rent. For years, requests from

altered it. As much as I tried, I could imagine no

villagers for a small footbridge connecting the

scenario in which the highway helped the

two sides of the estuary fell on deaf years, but

people of Galgibag.

the construction of the highway was carried out promptly. It flew over Galgibag with authority, as

Just like the highway imposed itself into the

if the land on which it was being built belonged

lives of the people living in Galgibag, it found its

to no one else. The greater irony was that the

way into a lot of my photographs. The images

construction directly contradicted the efforts to

that I produced during my time there were

make Galgibag a safer nesting site for the Olive

connected to each other through this ominous

Ridley turtles.

object in the background. I realised how the highway was an entity of its own. It woke me up

In the afternoons, when not much was

in the morning and kept me up at night. It felt

happening, I would walk under the highway and

alive. And the more I looked at it, the more I

photograph the construction. It was because of

could see how the lives of the people there were

a thought that kept recurring when I stayed

slowly being shaped by something that they

there – “How did the place look without this

had no control over. As with most cases


development projects, the people in peri-urban

major factor influencing this decision, there is

and rural areas are forced to adjust. I knew that

more than what meets the eye. The time that

eventually, the metallic inner beams of the

photographers get to cover a story greatly

highway that protruded as I walked underneath

impacts the quality and narrative of the images

it, the bundles of large steel rods that made

produced. I have been in situations where I have

people stray from their regular paths, the

had to simply go to a place, get photographs of

cement charring the shallow waters of the

what was happening, and leave. This usually

estuary and making it look like crude oil – these

leads to images that cannot capture a

would all be covered up, cleaned

compelling narrative. More importantly,

out, beautified. The people of Galgibag will learn

normalisation of such practices shifts the focus

to adjust, so much that in a few years, one would

from photos as a story-telling medium to an

assume that it was the people who settled

accessory that can be easily ignored, or even

around the immortal highway.

removed. It also greatly impacts the visual literacy of the viewer, who looks at the

As Active and Passive Witnesses

photograph as a kind of proof for the text as opposed to interpreting it actively. In contrast to

Over the years, I feel like photography has lost its

such practices, it helps to look at social and non-

sense of narrative in the mainstream and is used

profit organisations, who produce significant

solely in accentuating the text that it is printed

documentary and photography works. The work

with. It is rarely interpreted in the opposite

is at a grass-root level with local communities, it

manner. While economic reasons are a

is accessible, and the photographers

Construction workers arriving at the site early in the morning.


The locals gather for the annual Shigmo festival at the village temple.

commissioned have enough time to use the

gliding past it. With more time spent being on

medium effectively. This is especially

site, I am able to understand the complexities of

true for organisations that work with

the subject covered and successfully

conservation and sustainability. The visual

incorporate it into my work. Had I been given a

medium has proven to be increasingly helpful in

day or two to photograph the people of

conservation efforts. With its ability to move

Galgibag, the resulting images would not have

people and connect them to a reality that they

featured the highway. Even if the photographs

are shielded from, it is capable of conveying

did feature the highway, they would not convey

more than words. I believe that this practice of

the same meaning that they eventually did due

providing sufficient time to photographers

my experience of briefly living there.

needs to extend to mainstream photojournalism, at least whenever the project

My time in Galgibag opened my eyes to the kind


of documentary photography I always aspired to practice. The project allowed me to take a long,

By spending time in a place and with its people,

hard look at what I was photographing, and

I find that my photographs tend to stitch

focus on content and narrative in a way I had

themselves together in strange and beautiful

never done before. Over the course of two

ways, as opposed to hinting at a story or merely

weeks, the village became my home and the 74

people a surrogate family. The end result was a narrative that distinguished itself because of trust. People allowed me into their lives, revealing slices of vulnerability, and passion. I didn’t have to be a fly on the wall – hopping from one place to another, clicking my images and leaving unnoticed. “Where are you going?” the village’s priest questioned when he saw my packed bags two weeks later. “It’s Shigmo, you’re having lunch at my house!”

The new tar road specifically built for the construction process, is used in the evenings as a cricket pitch.

View from the balcony of a resident in Galgibag.



The Rise Of Satire News By Divanshu Sethi

On 24th September 2010, in a publicised

on American farms would have seldom

congressional hearing, Stephen Colbert, a

produced big media coverage or citizen interest.

comedian, gave his testimony to a judiciary

But due to Colbert’s comic rendition, it gained a

subcommittee on the issue of farmworkers and

wide resonance among people. He was able to

immigrants. Playing true to his satirical

evoke the important elements of the issue by

conservative character from the show, The

challenging the current conditions and bringing

Colbert Report, he comically shared his

out the reality of farm production in America. In

experience of working at a farm as part of an

recent times, there has been a rise in comedians

initiative by the United Farm Workers (UFW)

and satirists using comedy to disseminate and

that invited U.S. citizens and legal residents to

discuss important issues, this has led to a new

replace immigrant workers. He begins the

space in media — political humour. Even though

testimony by stating “I don’t want a tomato

this space has existed for a long time; what

picked by a Mexican,” but after working at the

makes it interesting is how influential and

farm, he says, “please don’t make me do this

mainstream it has become over the years. It has

again. It is really, really hard,”. He goes on to

allowed more people to engage in the political

explain the inconsistency of the initiative by

discourse of their countries whilst making

UFW as Americans will not do such jobs and an

space for dissent and criticism. In addition to

‘invisible hand’ in the economy is responsible for

this, it has also had a wide ramification in our

shifting such farms to Mexico. He proposes that

society with comedians becoming as trusted as

instead of looking at immigrants (who will do

journalists, a title they willingly deny, and with

the job anyway) as the problem, the country

viewers watching them to stay informed, a

should give them visas and improve their legal

privilege previously reserved only for the

status to cease their exploitation. This will

mainstream media outlets. When Colbert was

improve pay and working conditions on the

asked about why he chose this issue, he replied

farms and possibly also convince Americans to

“I like talking about people who don’t have any

do such jobs. He ends the testimony by saying “I

power. And this seems to be [about] people

hope both sides [Democrats and Republicans]

without any power”.

will work together on this issue in the best interest of the American people as you always do”, with this statement, laughter draws from

In around 400 BC, the Athenian playwright,

the room.

Aristophanes, discussed a wide range of themes with political humour through his plays. His

The issue of immigrants working without rights

parody comprised ideas, the public sentiment, 77

and issues of the day. He criticised the

cities and sometimes even the king.

politicians through humour and satire and explored areas of status, power, and the polity.

Nevertheless, while there was a space for

An example of this can be seen in his play, At

political humour in the different epochs, it was

Clouds, where the clouds imitate whoever they

still restricted by various levels of control. This

see. Aristophanes writes,

led to a gradual shift in the nature of comedy. Satirists and comedians focussed on the

Suppose they catch sight of Simon, who’s been

experience of ordinary human life and moved

robbing the public treasury, what do they do?

away from sensitive news topics. Therefore,

SOKR. To show his nature, they turn into wolves.

there was a period of division between the satirists who focused on the trivialities of

Aristophanes describes his characters in a comic

everyday life and ‘serious’ political

manner with regard to their social perception.

commentators and journalists who focused on

This tactic is replicated by many who aim to

the politics of the time. However, this was about

provide comic relief by highlighting the true

to alter with a change in politics, news, and

nature of a person, especially those in power.


Like Aristophanes, Socrates is also perceived as a “sage satyr” (Schutz, 1977, 79), he was known to critique the powerful men in Athenian society, through the voice of a playful clown. Unfortunately, Socrates’s comedy led to his death. However, despite this, he laid the foundation for recognising satire as a form of political criticism. Over time, satirists and comedians have created a space for themselves in different societies and cultures. However, due to their impulse to questioning the status quo, they have faced persecutions and possibly even deaths. Some kingdoms, co-opted the satirist in the form of the court appointed jester, as entertainment. This eventually led to the conception of censorship, since the jesters were restricted

On the surface, The Day Today appears to be a typical British current affairs programme, however within a few minutes, it transforms itself. While rendering comic and absurd stories like Prince William’s initiative to voluntarily admit himself to jail to help improve its conditions, or the bullying in the Church of England, or the alternative medicine of the medieval ages, it makes fun of the prominent and powerful. While this formula is popular among many shows nowadays, it was The Day Today that pioneered this pattern. The programme regularly made fun of the politicians, especially the Conservatives who were in power at the time.

from making certain jokes. Nevertheless, particularly in India, there are instances where jesters like Tenali Ramkrishna, Gopal Bhar, and Gonu Jha, used their wit and satire to discuss the injustices and issues of their time. They would criticize the important people in their

The shows facilitate investigation, critique current affairs, and discuss pressing issues which makes them an important part of journalism. 78

The American satire show, The Daily Show and

satire news chose to be comprehensive in their

its host John Stewart played an important role in

reporting. The Last Week Tonight by John Oliver

the widespread influence of this blueprint.

takes a deep dive into complex topics like

Stewart’s ability to intertwine political humour

corporate mergers, pharmaceuticals, gene

with pressing issues, resonated widely with the

editing, and many others. His reports are

American people and fans all across the world.

investigative and are presented in a humorous

The format of the satire show gave him the

way which makes him accessible to a wide

space to ask critical questions on air which were

variety of audience. This pattern is also followed

out of bounds for traditional journalists. He

by Hasan Minhaj, who once worked with John

critiqued the media on its sensational reporting,

Stewart. Minaj discusses a wide range of topics

a sentiment that many agreed with. And true to

from the Indian elections to the problem of

his ability, made fun of both parties — the

public transportation in America. These shows

Democrats and the Republicans. It is, therefore,

have become popular over the years, especially

not surprising that in a 2009 TIME magazine

with the younger generation. The shows

poll, Stewart was named the most trusted

facilitate investigation, critique current affairs,

journalist in America. His persona, according to

and discuss pressing issues which makes them

research by Jones, Baym, & Day (2012),

an important part of journalism.

“ [the] unique place he now holds as a trusted

News being delivered as political humour

fount of reason and sanity grants him

became a source of entertainment in the early

additional license to occasionally step directly

90s. With its unique style of addressing a topic,

into the political fray, with serious intent and

juxtaposed against the backdrop of increasing

demeanor, and challenge public actors on

mistrust in the news landscape, it has now

moral and ethical grounds” (p. 45).

become a source of influence for millions of people.

His style was adopted as the new wave of satire news across the world. One particular example is Stephen Colbert, who in his show, the Colbert

Humour as a mental state has been examined

Report, plays a conservative character and

by various thinkers who have produced different

presents his arguments as shortsighted, ill-

theories about its form. One such example is The

informed, or as a hypocrite. This is an intentional

Superiority Theory, which explores how laughter

inversion of reality because Colbert in real life

expresses feelings of superiority over other

does not believe in a conservative ideology. A

people. Prominently discussed by Thomas

similar idea is seen in the videos of the Indian

Hobbes and René Descartes, this theory is

satirist, Deshbhakt, where Akash Banerjee plays

prominently visible in political humour,

a nationalist character who criticises the

especially when making fun of an opposition.

opposition and labels them as ‘anti-nationals’,

The Relief Theory, on the other hand, argues

highlighting the limitations and absurdity of his

that humour releases a set of emotions which

character’s arguments in a satirical manner.

are repressed due to hostility or desire. But the

While this was a popular format, other forms of

most popular, The Incongruity Theory, discusses


the dissolution of logic into absurdity — the

have renewed critical inquiry in journalism and

transformation of a strained expectation to

advanced deliberation in society.

nothing. An example of this type of humour can be seen in this joke by Immanuel Kant,

But some people have downplayed the positive impact of political humour. One such issue is with

The heir of a rich relative wished to arrange for

the lack of the viewer’s ability to recall the

an imposing funeral, but he lamented that he

detailed information presented to them. Due to

could not properly succeed; ‘for’ (said he) ‘the

its comic nature of reporting, with political

more money I give my mourners to look sad, the

humour, while the gravity of some elements is

more cheerful they look!’

highlighted, an overall understanding of why a particular topic is important is usually missed.

While the limitations of the different theories of

Furthermore, the increased consumption and

humour are debatable, the act of humour is

reliance on satire news leads to a lack of an in-

understood as a dialogue between comedians

depth understanding of political information,

and their viewers, that explores elementary

knowledge, and interest as the format induces a

observations and assumptions — an act of

level of entertainment and heuristics that is

philosophy itself. This is evident in satire news

incapable of evolving into important analysis.

where the humour element allows viewers to engage and connect with the topic of discussion

But a significant criticism of the genre is how

(Wells 2002). Studies have shown that with the

satire news is responsible for priming individuals

addition of humour, audiences’ are able to

in their assessment of particular issues (Kelleher

connect with the issue and understand it in a

and Wolak, 2006). This is especially important

better manner (Truett 2011). This explains why

when it comes to elections, where shows with

comedians like John Oliver and Akash Banerjee

political humour are capable of influencing and

can talk about a complex topic and still attract a

swaying the viewers. A study was done by

large number of viewers. This leads to the

Jonathan S. Morris in 2004 to understand the

assertion of how devices of political humour

impact of The Daily Show on its audience during


the 2004 Party Convention. The show coverage

now become difficult to go through any satire

associated an increasingly negative attitude

show monologue without finding the mention

towards George W. Bush compared to his

of his name. While Trump’s actions and words

opponent John Kerry, due to more jokes being

are an easy target for comedy, Trump uses this

made on the former than the latter.

criticism to solidify his claim of the media hating him and his values. There are shows, like The

The criticism for such satire stems from its

Daily Show by Trevor Noah, where Trump and

format. A show like The Daily Show subscribes

his supporters are often reduced to caricatures.

to these criticisms, whereas, a show like Last

Different clips showing the irrationality of his

Week Tonight, due to its format of presenting its

supporter’s beliefs are used as comic relief for

viewers with a detailed enquiry, does not align

the audience. While this entertains Noah’s

with the criticisms. Nevertheless, the rise of

audience, it induces a separation in society

satire news has had wide implications on our

where the viewer is entertained and feels

society and this needs to be examined further.

intellectually and morally superior at the expense of other people’s beliefs. While Noah’s caricaturisation has been a part of

Satire news has become an alternative source of

the political humour which has been happening

political information for citizens globally. It

for many years, it is distinct due to its frequency

critiques those in power and engages in

and its societal consequences. Casting

important topics in a manner which is widely

judgement on Trump’s supporters polarises the

accessible and entertaining. The rise in the

people and Noah’s audience feels a sense of

influence of such shows are ever-growing as

superiority whilst reaffirming Trump’s opinion

there are a diverse range of comic voices

on how the liberal media sees him and his

pushing for political advocacy. A political satirist,


Volodymyr Zelensk became the president of Ukraine in 2019. He gained popularity due to his

Political satire does not just offer jokes, it offers

show Servant of the People, where he played

critiques of political institutions and structures.

the president himself. However, addressing the

For example, George Carlin, an American

trend of satire news and its influence became a

comedian, reflected on the country’s politics

necessity due to the rise of polarisation in

through his dark comedy. However, the current

society, especially with the election of Donald

format of satire news is unable to provide


constructive political criticisms. Their audience is homogenised, often urban-liberals. There is a

There has always been a level of partisanship in

sense of political apathy and humour at the cost

satire news; it is usually presented to an urban-

of other people’s beliefs, without an

liberal audience. With the election of Donald

understanding of their background, inequalities,

Trump, however, it played an increased part in

and social norms. This has fuelled questions

the polarisation of America. More than 90% of

about the show’s contribution to healthy

the jokes were about Trump’s personal life. It has

deliberation in society. 81

Nonetheless, some satire shows chose to rise

issues of the time. It shows that just grabbing

above placing blame and polarising the

the attention of the viewer is not enough, but a

audience. They focussed on the important issues

better and sustained democratic engagement is

and provided their viewers with a deep dive

needed. While the rise of political satire is a

analysis. This helped them engage with a

welcome addition in getting the public

broader audience and provide them with a

interested, the genre needs to adapt to the

different context and an alternative perspective

needs of society as it has now become the

to news events, as opposed to the partisanship

mainstream media.

of the mainstream media outlets. With the increasing popularity of satire shows, it is important to consider their ability to engage with their audience politically. Only critiquing is not enough, they should be able to inform and provoke their audience to understand their social realities in a humorous manner. Before leaving the Daily Show, John Stewart said “I’m angry all the time. I don’t find any of this funny. I do not know how to make it funny right now, and I don’t think the host of the show, I don’t think the show deserves a host who does not feel that it is funny.” This statement by Stewart highlights the limitations of satire and comedy and its engagement with the political


Of Archived Newspaper Clippings and Unclosed Tabs By Tasneem Pocketwala

Sifting through old albums and papers at my

I’d save them to relish them slowly. I had all the

grandfather’s house one day, I came across a

time in the world, I was a teenager and it was a

yellowing newspaper carefully folded over. The

Sunday, the more I waited to read them, the

lettering was in Gujarati. I unfolded it and found

greater was the pleasure in finally getting to

it was an article, neatly cut out of the

them!Sometimes, I would be driven by an urge

newspaper, about a home-made cure for cold. It

to save a fascinating article that I had been

didn’t take long to find out who had saved this

reading. I would then fold the newspaper

curious bit of Gujarati paper: my late

around the edges of that article and tear the

grandfather, an ardent subscriber and reader

article along the crease, as opposed to my

of Gujarat Samachar, and quite keen on saving

grandfather, who tended to neatly cut around

and archiving peculiar articles cut out from

the article with a pair of scissors. I would then

newspapers, a habit he has passed on to me.

fold it in four parts and store it in my plastic bag, which was already brimming with similarly

Back in the day when newspapers arrived at our

folded articles.

doorstep in physical form, I loved reading them, I especially looked forward to the Sunday ones,

There was no rule governing what went inside

when the quota of newspapers delivered to our

that bag. There were articles about the latest

house was the highest (five!). Weekend articles

Harry Potter movies and books, some columns

were my favourite kind of reading material, and

that I found funny, informative and well-written 83

pieces on history, some articles on politics that I

-speaking youth with internet access. According

found compelling at the time but later found

to this survey by the Reuters Institute for the

out were biased and persuasive, and a few short

Study of Journalism, 56% of those under 35

stories that I thought were beautifully written. I

primarily consume news online, whereas only

would often go back to visit the newspaper

16% prefer print media.

clippings that I had saved in my plastic bag. I would go through the clippings, sometimes

Now that most news consumption has shifted

discard those that held no meaning for me

online, what happens to this culture of

anymore, and re-read several others. There was


a joy in retaining the physical form of something that I thought I would want to visit later. My grandfather would keep aside certain articles to read them again. I’m not sure if he ever kept the ones he re-read, though. It’s curious to examine the kind of articles my grandfather archived, the ones about homemade cures, or that one particular article on college and college entrance exams for studying abroad that he kept for me, when I had just stepped into junior college. For my grandfather,

This behaviour of relentlessly opening new tabs with new articles in them, or the need to Pocket articles to read later reflects the overwhelming abundance of information at our disposal.

the newspaper clippings had to serve some practical purpose. If they were to be kept, they had to be useful in some way. My own store of roughly cut-out newspaper clippings worked

An article by Slate talks about the Japanese

like a catalogue of things that once interested

word tsundoku, which refers to the act of

me immensely. When the Harry Potter series

hoarding books, letting them pile up and never

was at its peak, I was riding on its wave (very few

reading them, and equates it with one of our

were not, to be fair), collecting everything

most persistent digital habits: the act of opening

associated with it in the print form. To go back

tabs of articles that you mean to read soon,

to my own personal archives of these

without actually getting around to ever reading

newspaper cuttings is like going back to a

them. This phenomenon is so prevalent, that it

particular time in my life.

has become a running joke on social media. There are too many interesting things to read,

This was, of course, all possible in a time when

and each of these interesting things has other

the internet was yet to boom in India properly,

interesting things hyperlinked to them, so the

and when digital-native news sites were entirely

pile of articles to read is ever increasing.

unheard of. Today, however, there is a

Furthermore, with the internet, you also have

substantial shift from print media to digital and

access to good work from all over the world –

mobile platforms. Online news consumption has

which only means more open tabs, more unread

largely increased especially among English-



To deal with this alarming abundance of stories

those people could also create and publish

and articles to read at our disposal, apps such as

information on their own.

Pocket and Instapaper may help, along with the bookmarking feature of internet browsers.

Perhaps this could be one of the reasons that

When you want to read a new article, you could

explain the proliferation and success of

save it on the app or bookmark it and close the

newsletters, including in India. Curatorial

tab. Ideally, this would work if you save only

newsletters such as the one by the United

those articles that you know you will read later,

States based journalist, Ann Friedman or those

and then fix a time to go through them. But this

by writer Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan and

rarely happens, at least it has never happened

blogger Resh Susan often carry a list of articles

with me. I still have articles Pocketed from years

from various sites on the internet that they

ago and optimistically retained bookmarks from

recommend reading. These are writers that

years ago. So, unfortunately, instead of an

have gained some currency in the online

endless stream of open tabs on your browser, what you have is an endless scroll of articles in your app. This behaviour of relentlessly opening new tabs with new articles in them, or the need to Pocket articles to read later reflects the overwhelming abundance of information at our disposal. There is a lot of information constantly released over the internet, more than you can ever hope to keep up with, more than perhaps you can process in a lifetime. This ultimately results in just skimming most articles at best, or not reading them at all and quietly letting them accumulate in forgotten apps and folders. Even though a lot of good writing is available for the curious to peruse, not many actually get read, and much less so, in-depth. In a manner of speaking, this information overload that we seem to be experiencing, started with the invention of the Gutenberg Press. The invention of the printing press meant that, what once required months to reach a select few, would now take far less time to reach many. This was further accelerated when the photocopier and other technologies came along. And with digitisation, new information could be distributed to a large number of people, and


reading world; possibly, those who have subscribed to their newsletters are already familiar with their work and know the kind of reading material to expect. The list of articles that ultimately gets delivered in the subscribers’ inbox is imbued with the sense of being culled and carefully selected by a known person whose insights and recommendations you trust, who could satiate your need to read interesting things on the internet. A wonderful article talks about how it is logical that we will miss out on most things that we want to engage with – good movies, art, performances, books, and articles, which may lead to feelings of underachievement and of not being well-read. There are, says the writer, only two responses to deal with this feeling: culling and surrender. In culling, you move head-on with actively sorting out the things that are

I have a strong feeling that my grandfather would still, if he were here today, largely stick to print, and continue with his archiving habits. I have long since moved on to consuming news digitally. But I haven’t yet found a permanent way to archive the few stories and features that I like. Perhaps saving only the links to a notetaking app could work, organised under particular categories or genres. I have wondered before if my Pocket (or a similar app) could serve as a place to digitally archive favourite news articles, which I could go back to and re-read, just like my grandfather would do with his print articles. But the chance doesn’t ever appear. There are far too many unread articles to be still trudged through first. And they just keep increasing.

absolutely worth your time from those that aren’t. You read articles from only particular sites or only a given number every day, and dutifully close the other tabs with interesting articles that remain open in your browser. Or, you surrender to the fact that you are never going to have the time to read every interesting article, feature, or story there is in the world, even though they are still worth your time. At the same time, you also acknowledge that this doesn’t make you a less curious or well-read person. You read a few good articles worth your time, and find value in them.


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