By Tavleen Singh
New Delhi: Till the day she was arrested last week they gathered like a pack of hyenas outside Rhea Chakraborty’s home every morning and reported her every move. She is upstairs in her flat. She will be down soon. She has to come out now because the NCB officials are here. All this on camera in shrill, hysterical tones. When she finally emerged, they shoved their microphones in her face and jostled to get closer than the rest so they could relay their ‘breaking news’ and their ‘exclusive’ pictures fastest. They were meant to be newsmen but more resembled voyeurs at a lynching. They were just following orders. It is their bosses who need to be held to account. Their bosses are the most famous TV anchors in this country, and they have turned journalism into a lynch mob.
It saddens me to say that some of them are women. The worst of these were those who anchor primetime shows in Hindi. They made no effort to stop panelists on their shows from charging Rhea with murder, embezzlement and forcing Sushant Singh Rajput to kill himself. For weeks they have demanded stridently that Rhea be arrested. Why has she not been arrested yet? Will it be today? She will have to be arrested, they told their viewers, because the NCB (Narcotics Control Bureau) has interrogated her for four days and she has admitted to taking drugs and procuring them. How did they know?
Then, triumphantly, they declared that this was proof that she lied in those interviews she gave. These celebrated anchors masterminded the lynching, and it was they who put pressure on the highest investigative agencies in the Government of India to arrest a young woman who is charged with no more than smoking a joint or two. Marijuana is legal in many countries and has been found to have medicinal uses. In India, it has been consumed for centuries. On Holi, it is used by millions of Indians as ‘bhang’. But, this is a lynching and not just an arrest, so Rhea and her brother have been denied bail.
Had this media pressure been put on the Narcotics Bureau for the arrest of the mafia that controls the international drug trade it would have been taxpayers’ money well used. But, this mafia is ruthless and brutal, so neither journalists nor officials dare get in its way, leave alone investigate drug trafficking. When anyone has got in the way they have ended up dead along with their families. So, cocaine will continue to be imported from Latin America and heroin and opium-related drugs will continue to be imported across our borders with Pakistan. The only thing that has been achieved by this media lynching of Rhea is that the family of a retired Army officer has been destroyed.
As someone who has been in journalism since those ‘dark days of the Emergency’, it saddens me to admit that I have never seen the Indian media behave so shamefully before. I got my first job as a reporter in The Statesman newspaper a month before Indira Gandhi put the country under an internal Emergency and enforced total press censorship. Newspapers that tried to defy censorship were subjected to ‘pre-censorship’. This meant that the newspaper would have to be sent to the Press Information Bureau after it was ready and often the censors would deliberately delay returning it so that it could not come out on time the next day. It was a bad time. But, journalists continued to defy censorship throughout the Emergency even at the risk of being jailed. There were those who kowtowed and they were shunned. It was a time when the only journalists who were respected and admired were those who were ready to go to jail rather than submit to Mrs Gandhi’s authoritarian regime. How the times have changed.
Today, the TV journalists who are the most celebrated are those who do not dare say anything that would offend the Government of India. But, they make a great show of ‘speaking truth to power’ in states that are not governed by the BJP. Like Maharashtra. For months there have been attempts to bring down this government. The former chief minister has never reconciled to losing his job. He seems to believe he is entitled to be chief minister because the Shiv Sena ditched him after the votes were counted. There is also an election in Bihar coming up and BJP posters have pictures of Sushant Singh Rajput on them. The same famous TV journalists who have been responsible for the despicable media lynching we have witnessed do not dare admit that they have become pawns in a political game.
Rhea and her family have been sacrificed at the altar of lynch mob journalism. But, those of you who spend your evenings watching the very channels that have become vehicles of lynching and yellow journalism should also feel ashamed. You are as much to blame for the rot that is eating into the structure of Indian journalism as are those who used primetime shows to conduct the lynching. The rot goes so deep that it will be a long, long time before it can be stemmed. I have no hesitation in admitting that in more than 40 years as a proud member of the Indian media I have never felt more ashamed of being a journalist.