If they arrest me or conduct an encounter, I am not going to stop: Prashant Kanojia
Prashant Kanojia became a familiar name when the UP government and the police were accused of muzzling voices of dissent and power. Having been arrested by the state police for posting “Objectionable comments”, the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his entire governance have been put under constant criticism.
Hailing from Mumbai, Prashant, a freelance journalist who had worked with The Wire, does not associate himself with any of the political ideology or parties for that matter. In an interview with Kavya Kamal, Prashant tells about his experiences and what he feels about the present nature of the state and the system.
With the constant attacks on anyone who has dissent, where do you think the idea of freedom is heading towards?
Freedom becomes essential when you live in a fascist state. The freedom gained by these countries is always put under question. History has shown us that disagreements and dissent cannot be imagined in any of the fascist or authoritarian states. The party or the people in power had always suppressed such voices.
India has not given much importance to the idea of freedom as our struggle did not evolve as a result of revolution by the masses. Here, it was dominated by the elite class unlike France and the Russian revolution. There, the entire proletariat classes from peasants to the labours were a part of the struggle and they certainly value it more than us. Freedom is definitely on papers but ironically, the one responsible to maintain it cannot be put under any question. You will be labelled as anti-national or traitor if you fail to simply please them or agree with them.
While going through the trajectory of your career, it was found that you do not associate yourself with any of the ideologies. How does it feel to remain aloof from ideologies in this era of constant branding?
It is true that not inclining to any ideology and criticizing the system appears quite strange and unbelievable. I was born in Mumbai where Communism was totally eradicated and socialism was eroding. It was also difficult to understand Congress and the BJP-Shiv Sena politics.
The only thing I fathomed was the need to fight for the poor, peasants, Dalits, labour, tribals, Homosexuals, women and the need to speak against the exploitation they face. That is what I have been doing. Some call me a communist and some call me BSP, Congress and even AAP supporter. We cannot stop each and every person. I have never bothered about the branding and have beenvery vocal about issues around us. I welcome all those people who find their ideas close to mine, to fight together.
How far has the “Freedom of press” eroded in this country?
We have seen journalism by Ganesh Shankar Vidhyarthi who was lynched by a mob while he was pacifying a riot-hit place. On the other hand, now we see media being blamed for most of the mob lynching cases. The level of journalism has reached so low that it goes with the powerful class. We are declining in the ranking of press freedom every year and sadly our media is not addressing it seriously. Instead of the editors, media houses are being operated by the owners and corporate, which turned everything profit-driven. In fact, many of them do not consider this decline as a serious problem, rather they are enjoying this fall. When problems are not being accepted, how can you look for solutions?
Where do you see the whole idea of journalism in India after 10-20 years?
If journalism survives for the next ten year, then I would believe that it has life in it. We all know thatmedia houses are being manipulated and how they are becoming corporate houses yearning for profits. I don’t think if journalism will survive all the coming years, albeit there are many journalists who still try to voice their opinion against the power structure and for the masses. But I certainly doubt its continuity for a longer period. In India, people want news for free of cost and that is why we are here. If people start paying for the news they read or hear, the media no longer has to rely on advertisements and can function freely. Very soon, the media will be under the clutches of Ambani and his group.
In one of your tweet it was mentioned that media’s job is to question the government. Does that mean that the government be it in any state, should not be appreciated ever?
Yes, it is definitely the media’s job to ask questions to the ruling party and people in power. If someone disagrees with it, they can join organisations like Press Information Bureau which acts as a PR to the government. There are thousands of employees and many top officials working with them. It is their duty to appreciate and protect the government. What is the point if the anchor does the job of a PR or a party spokesperson? Do the media houses want to take away the jobs of people like Sambit Patra? The media should never praise the government; rather it should carefully observe and question each and every step and speech made by the leaders in power. Because while a reporter questions the government, knowingly and unknowingly he has the power of all 125 crore Indians with him.
Having faced the system so nearly, how stringent and arbitrary are things inside?
It is very easy for us to talk about law and legislature without getting inside the system. But once people in the power decide to destroy and make you incapable, there is no one who can rescue you. I have seen every gimmick of the government to suppress people’s voice. Knowing that justice will be provided by the court of laws, the government starts playing from the initial levels through the police. Most of the judges in the lower courts are not sincere enough which eventually forces the alleged convict to stay in jail for months.
On the day of arrest, neither was I showed any warrant, nor was I given any transit remand whilst taking to UP. No one asked or told me anything. While I was produced in the Magistrate court, I was immediately sentenced to Jail for 14 days. People questioned my arrest but think of someone who is poor, peasant, tribal or a Dalit. Will he or she ever get justice? The Police have even accused Rupesh, a journalist from Jharkhand, for planting explosives in his car. This clearly shows that power can make even journalist into a terrorist.
Can a journalist still speak out for the truth without clinching onto any idea or political party for that matter?
Of course, yes! It is wrong to say if a journalist can work without an ideology. Humanity is the core ideology of a journalist. It depends on people’s perspective as to how they see you. It is true that if you question people in power, you are labelled as communist or leftist. Then let me ask, what would you call a journalist who questioned Jyoti Basu when he was in power?
As many of the reports and analysis say, do you think that the press freedom has come down comparatively after 2014’s election?
If you closely look at RSF’s (Reporters without Borders) ranking, we have come down to 140th rank this year when compared to last year’s rank which was 138. Sadly, it is even lower than most of the undemocratic countries of the world. But I am glad that at least Pakistan and Bangladesh are behind us! It is a humiliation for the world’s largest democracy. The position has surely come down after 2014 but no one really cares about it. I have observed that post-2014, many reporters were asked to resign and many media houses are on the verge of shut down. The biggest media house is in the hands of the country’s billionaire which will slowly swallow all the other houses. Editors have been reduced to the clerk and the idea of “freedom of the press” will soon turn into some old saying.
How will you look at the world now? Will you have a different perspective or will you be the same firebrand for platforms like The Wire?
I am a reporter and I will always be one. Whatever that happened to me has made me stronger. After hearing a lot of stories within the jail, I have set an aim as to what to look for, in the future. Mr Yogi has ignited the fire he thought he would extinguish by sending me to the jail. My ideology has not changed but I experienced things I read in the reports. I will work for jail reforms too, since the condition of the inmates is piteous. They are deprived of proper food and medication. I will continue what I was doing inThe Wire with great vehemence. If they arrest me or conduct an encounter, I am not going to stop.