Thought Box

To the country into which we were not born

To the country into which we were not born

by Vinta Nanda January 23 2021, 2:52 pm Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins, 47 secs

“Twenty minutes ahead in the greatest terrorist attack of the year” – was Arnab Goswami’s text to the former BARC chief Partho Dasgupta, writes Vinta Nanda 

How was he ahead and why were his teams already on the ground when this terrible tragedy took place? But I’m not going to bother with answering this question. My concern is different - it is about the decay in the mind of a person playing a sport in which he is the only player permitted to break the rules. It is not possible for one person alone, in a game, to cheat. Cheats succeed because there is a referee who is accomplice and a system that can be fixed. 

So, let’s be clear, if the 500 page long text supplement put out by the Mumbai Police, no less, to the courts, happens to be true, then Arnab Goswami has committed the worst. Forty-four of our soldiers died - they were bombed by terrorists and I recall the images of that day; how can we ever forget them? I also recall our Prime Minister was at Jim Corbett Park recording an episode of the Man v/s Wild series with Bear Grylls. The two were seen riding dinghies, walking in the dense forests of Jim Corbett National Park and sharing a laugh, even after the PM was informed that 44 CRPF Jawans had been martyred. And, the rest of the country was watching the horror unfold in real time (almost) because the Republic TV team was already present there?  

I’m not going to accuse Arnab Goswami because I’m just a viewer, an ordinary citizen of the country, who holds no agency to dare suspect or state that there was something more to it than what meets the eye. But we have institutions, which are constitutional bodies, put in place to keep checks and balance. It is the silence of all these institutions and also the people of India that is deafening. Except for one channel, Times Now, which whined a bit for a couple of days like the player beaten in the game, the rest of the mainstream media is quiet. 

The freedom Arnab Goswami has, to go after the opposition/s and dissenters and to weave his fiction to calumnious extents so he can substantiate his chimerical claims, is staggering. It is not possible for any individual to have such audacity; unless he is either tripping on acid or else is enabled by the highest authorities. 

Everything else has been said and done and now that the truth is out in the open, the people who were taken for a ride, who believed that what was being told to them through the Republic channel was the truth must be given justice. But, isn’t that asking for too much? Multiple narratives are already dominating the news and they have obscured the story of Arnab Goswami. Irrespective of that, this country is going to continue to want to know how Arnab Goswami was exposed to so much sensitive information related to national security and who had given him the access. Even after the drama surrounding the upcoming Bengal elections and Sasikala’s release from imprisonment in Tamil Nadu wanes and when the euphoria surrounding the historic victory of India against Australia in the cricket match subsides, the questions will linger and therefore, they will be asked. 

What kind of a country have we become? Will surveillance cameras that capture the distress on women’s faces be placed all over Uttar Pradesh now? Who will decide if the distress on the face of a woman is because she’s abused or because she might just be menstruating? Or for all we know, she may even be distressed because she doesn’t have access to a toilet and is controlling herself until it becomes dark when she can relieve herself behind the bushes? At some time or the other, all of us women have been forced to do it. Even women like myself, who are living and working in privileged environments – filmmakers like me travel for hours, into the back of the beyond and to rural India, where facilities are scarce and even when not scarce, there are other issues - for instance in a small village school in Bihar, where we were conducting a workshop with children three years ago. There was one toilet there but it was locked. When we requested for it to be opened, the administrators were taken aback. It happened to be a weekend so while the children had come to attend the workshop, the authorities were missing – no problem there, because we were in a tiny village and the principal lived not too far away. With permission granted, the toilet was opened and I, along with my colleagues, used it. But we asked the administrators why they had needed to wade past so much bureaucracy to open the toilet. We were told that the toilet has been built for the senior staff to use. When we asked them what the children do as well as the rest of the workers, the man said: “Woh idhar udhar chale jaate hain.” (They go here and there). 

We are living in a country, which has slowly, over the last decade or so, become alien to us. We are living in the post truth era - our statistics show one thing and the reality on the ground it completely another. Out here, the BSE Sensex has just achieved a remarkable milestone this last Thursday by breaching the 50000 mark for the first time ever on the one hand, and millions of informal workers remain jobless on the other. In April alone, post the lockdown announced from March 24th 2020 due to COVID-19, 122 million workers lost their jobs because of which there was a 30% fall in employment compared to 2019-20 – this according to an estimate by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). And, although unemployment reduced from July to September 2020, "it appears that the recovery phase is over and a decline is setting in again", noted a CMIE report in December 2020, barely a month ago. How does this add up? 

Facts lie hidden in the fine print and dramatic headlines misguide the common man on the streets, while simultaneously indulging him in bromidic; that which has serious consequences for the individuals who are victimized in the process, e.g. the arrest of Munawar Faruqui, a stand-up comedian, who was detained following a complaint by members of a right-wing vigilante group in India. He has been denied bail twice despite officials saying they had no video evidence of him "insulting" Hindu deities. Or then, with the FIRs lodged against the makers of web-series’ Tandav and Mirzapur, two massively popular dramas on the Amazon Prime Video platform. 

A sequence of the series Tandav has been deemed to denigrate Hinduism. Over the past few days, First Information Reports (FIRs) have been filed in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar against the show’s makers, who include director Ali Abbas Zafar, writer Gaurav Solanki and Amazon Prime’s Head of India Originals, Aparna Purohit. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s Media Advisor Shalabh Mani Tripathi warned that Tandav was “spreading hatred disguised as a cheap web series”. Tripathi is reported to have said, “Prepare for arrest soon.” 

And, a team of police officers from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh has, as per reports, reached the Mumbai Crime branch. They are here to investigate an FIR filed against the makers of Mirzapur, in the Mirzapur district. Three team officials from the UP police will be questioning the makers of Mirzapur and officials of Amazon Prime Video. BH Chaurasia, the investigating officer has said, "Based on the complaint, we had filed an FIR against the web series Mirzapur. It has been filed against three people - Ritesh Sidhwani, Farhan Akhtar and an Amazon Prime official. We are here at the Mumbai crime branch to take necessary permission from the DCP office. The makers have used extremely foul language in Mirzapur. This tarnishes the image of the city Mirzapur." 

All this then monopolizes the mainstream national news in India, pushing to the backburner urgent discussions surrounding the Farmers Protest, the denial of bail to the young stand up comedian Munawar Faruqui, the sliding economy, the remarkable achievement of the Sensex, which miraculously breached the 50000 mark a couple of days ago, and above all else, the curious case of Arnab Goswami, who continues to run his show from an undisclosed location every night without fear, or for that matter, any concern for his friend, the former CEO of Broadcast Audience Research Agency (BARC), to whom he had communicated very sensitive information concerning national security. 

What is undeniably clear is the fact that a fear of voicing the truth has set in among most Indians. People by and large are wary and would rather submit to the demands made of them than to fight for their rights. Amazon Prime Video didn’t take more than twenty-four hours to tender an apology and declare that they would remove the controversial scenes from the drama Tandav. Despite the muscle that Amazon Prime Video has, in terms of finances, to defend itself in the courts of law, it has chosen to comply. To a group of friends from my creative circle I had said, “It’s like the victim of rape being forced to get married to her rapist. Such is the punishment oftentimes awarded to the perpetrator in India”. 

I spoke to my friend, lawyer Jamshed Mistry, and I asked him how an industry could function when it has been made so easy for audiences, from across the country, from the district of Mirzapur to the district of Amravati, to lodge criminal complaints against content creators? 

This is what he told me, “Today the court of the magistrate is so powerful, that anybody can go and file a complaint at his office and demand for a FIR to be lodged. According to me, there should be a centralized tribunal; dealing with such matters, where objections raised against content can be submitted. This is not a matter of censorship any longer; it was done away with many years ago and replaced with certification when the CBFC was established. Today if you are a filmmaker, you can go to a review committee if you disagree with the suggestions made by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). The problem is with the system and loopholes within. A magistrate has to be empowered so that issues ranging from manslaughter, rape, pick pocketing etc., can be dealt with at the local level and the severity of each complaint is discernible because it is statutory for an appointee to respond to every complaint. It is baffling that this system, put in place to empower the ordinary citizen, is being misused today for petty politics and being exploited to deflect the attention of the media away from the real issues. There should be a mechanism for OTT and Television content, something like the mechanism that is in place for feature films. A committee should be instituted so that even the poor overburdened magistrate can guide such complainants (whose sentiments are hurt) to it. I can imagine what it must be like for overworked magistrates in districts, towns and villages all over India. The pressure upon them to prioritize these complaints against networks, filmmakers and writers is also more because the media’s attention is upon them – no wonder important and serious cases are put on the backburner to attend to such matters. Presently OTT and such platforms are unregulated, so they have inadvertently become soft targets for petty politics.” 

Basically, crooks know it does not serve their purpose of harassing content creators if they go the civil route and because there is easy access they have to the magistrate’s office, they file criminal complaints, e.g. charging creative folk with sedition. These criminal complaints can be easily lodged prima facie without any evidence or proof. And, because they can file a complaint anywhere in India, making content creators run from pillar to post in different parts of the country to defend themselves, it is a perfect way to harass and intimidate and more often than not, extort. 

Look at how Munawar is being made to suffer. It’s horrifying that he cannot get bail even after it is clear that there is no evidence of him having said or done anything pernicious. And on the other hand, look at how Arnab and his dangerous fiction go scot-free. What a pity!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.