Arundhati Roy

The most rotten part of this country is the mainstream media. This is the most tragic part of this country, the most shameful part of this country.

Before I start to tell you what has happened to our country, I would go into a brief history of us after Independence.  When we were given a Constitution, it was for the first time in the history of this civilisation, a hierarchical civilisation, we had a legal document that said that all Indians are equal.

This is a very, very, very important thing. Today, this Constitution has been rendered useless. The police, the politicians, and even, I’m afraid, the judges in our courts are reading a different Constitution from the one we know and we were taught.

In the 60s, we had radical movements demanding justice, demanding redistribution of wealth, demanding the redistribution of land, demanding revolution. Those movements were crushed. Then in the 80s and 90s, we were reduced to just speaking against displacement. Adivasis, people who lived on the banks of rivers, people who had a little bit of land left were displaced. To say ‘please don’t displace us’ was considered revolutionary.

Now we are reduced to begging for our citizenship, and even begging not to be just incarcerated in prison. Of course, this system of incarceration began on the edges of this country— Kashmir, in the states of the Northeast, Chhattisgarh in central India–where hundreds of thousands of Adivasis and villagers, nameless and unknown, are in jail, charged with sedition, charged with this UAPA (the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act). If there is one thing we must demand at this time it is that we must demand revocation of that law, because that is not a law. It is just a loose collection of words, which allows the state to charge anyone with anything and imprison them for months and years together. Any amount of protests is not going to help us if that is not repealed.

We saw NRC in Assam. If you see what has become of people there and how much suffering those laws have brought, and the idea that they are planning to promulgate them in the rest of the country— the state has said that citizens will only be citizens provided they give a set of documents that the state approves. That was done in 1935, in Nuremberg, in Nazi Germany. What it does is it makes us all illegal until we can prove ourselves to be legal.

So, this is, you know, cutting the ground from under the feet, especially of Muslims, especially of Adivasis and for people who do not have documentation.  Their sufferings will be numerous.

On Hathras

If you just look carefully at what happened in Hathras. Hathras shows you that every organ of this country is rotten.

There was this Dalit girl who was found nearly dead by her mother and brother.  She said, in three videos, “I was gang-raped. I was gang-raped by these men”. She told their names and the caste they came from, yet the police did not register the case. She was taken to hospital; the doctors did not examine her for rape. They all started only looking at the strangulation wounds. And, gradually, the police, the medical community, the judicial community, made it sound like some unfortunate crime and, hey, all you know, maybe your mother did it; maybe your brother did it. Right? They blame the victim again.

In Delhi, after what all happened in Hathras, again a little girl less than 20 years old is found hanging in a house. Again, they take her body. Again, cremate it before evidence can be collected. So every aspect of our society is rotten now.

On mainstream media

The most rotten part of this country is the mainstream media. This is the most tragic part of this country, the most shameful part of this country. You know, the people who think or have the audacity to call themselves journalists or television anchors, are basically spineless pets, on a saffron leash, drawing massive corporate salaries and destroying the lives of people.

But the real problem is the people who advertise on those channels and the people who run those channels. They are the most despicable human beings on earth today. Really, they are beyond disgusting.

We would not be in a state of fascism, if it was not for the Indian media. I mean, we all hear about the horrors of Donald Trump. Donald Trump ought to lose that election. He’s a white supremacist, racist. But he does press conferences. The press covers it. It criticizes him. It eviscerates him. What is wrong with us?

It is really beyond humiliating to live in this atmosphere, where people are funneled and marinated in this hatred. Today, you have a country whose economy is in shreds. People are hungry, people don’t have jobs. Everything is coming apart. But we are held together by a pipeline of hatred, which is funneled by the mainstream media.

On opposition or lack of it

We are in a situation where even the election machinery is compromised, while the government goes after non conforming NGOs. It has criminalised political opposition. It has criminalised social movements. It has criminalised the space for dissent. It has criminalised individuals one by one. And yet, it’s held together by the fact that you have an election machinery where election funding is completely opaque, where one party has more money than all the other parties put together.

An election is like watching the Ferrari of the BJP compete against a few broken bicycles, and we call ourselves a democracy. We are a one-party democracy, which is an oxymoron. In other countries, and, even in India, we have seen very contentious elections; we have watched political parties fight each other in very unfair ways. That’s fine.

But today, we are in a situation where we have a ruling party that does not want an opposition to exist. So, all political leaders from other parties are either being blackmailed with ED (Enforcement Directorate) and so on. And so, eventually, you have the kind of opposition that they want, that can’t say very much, but occupies that space and continues that theatre.

But today the only good thing that is happening is it is unsustainable. It is impossible for this to continue. It will not last, it’s going to collapse.  You are seeing one by one, individual judges, individual Chief Ministers, individual politicians slowly come up to realize that it is not possible.

We have a government that is very cunning in how you can win the elections, but has no intelligence about how to rule this very vast country. So let’s not pretend anymore that this is a democracy and there is a lot of noise in the media and it’s free. It is not free. And I will lay a huge amount of responsibility on the doorstep of the corporate-funded mainstream media or the corporates that do fund this toxic media.

Some corporations started being worried about it because they know that in a climate like this, when the world’s economy is integrated, they will lose.

Even the people, who work for the BJP, who support the BJP, who vote for the BJP, even they will be punished and the people who want to have a Hindu Rashtra at home but have their children in America. The next generation of children that are educated here will not be competent to study anywhere else in the world.

The story is over unless every one of us, whatever our differences, realise that we are up against fascism. Please try and do some reading, if you want to know how things can get worse. We are all living in a time worse than any time we can remember.

But if we don’t step up now, we are going to be like a tooth-paste that’s been squeezed out of the tube. We have nowhere to go. We cannot do anything. So for every one of us; whether you’re a judge, whether you’re a politician, whether you’re a writer, whether you’re a student, whether you’re a small magistrate, whatever you are, the time to stand up is NOW.

The piece is text of the address delivered by Arundhati Roy, award-winning author and political activist, on October 22 in New Delhi at a press conference titled ‘Democracy Dies When it’s Streets Fall Silent’ held by a civil society collective over the arrest of protesters and rights defenders in the recent past. The speech has been lightly edited for brevity and style.

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