Book review/ The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation
By Chitra Ahanthem
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Non Fiction: Opinion/Journalistic Writing; 177p
Author: by Ravish Kumar (Translated from Hindi by Chitra Padmanabhan, Anurag Basnet and Ravi Singh)
Rating: 4/5 stars
‘The National Project for Instilling Fear in the people has reached completion. Before the promised highways and jobs, everybody has been unfailingly given one thing—fear. For every individual, fear is now the daily bread. We are all experiencing fear; it comes to us in many different forms—from the moment we step out of our homes, with so many warnings ringing in our ears… It is only the lapdog media, which is safe in India today. Jump into and snuggle down in the lap of authority and nobody will dare say anything to you.’
At a time when free expression and individual liberty in India appear to be under serious threat, Ravish Kumar is one of our bravest and most mature public voices. Few journalists today have as keen an understanding of Indian society and politics and as strong a commitment to the truth. Fewer still can match him in eloquence and integrity.
In this wide ranging book, he examines the spaces available for people to speak out, whether in the mainstream or on social media, and why they are constantly shrinking. He investigates the threats to free expression – censorship, the fear of institutional, physical and psychological violence and how these threats are being used to replace civilized debate, dialogue and social harmony with hate and intolerance. He also catalogues the many ways in which the media, elected representatives and other institutions of the land are failing us. And, most importantly, he sets out what we must do as citizens if we are to reclaim lost ground and build an intellectually progressive, inclusive and truly democratic nation.
‘The Free Voice’ presents, with great insight, with and characteristic forthrightness, a much needed and timely report on the state of the nation. This is a book that everyone must read and ponder over.
There can be no greater irony than the fact that I first read this very significant book in the face of an internet shut down in Imphal East and West districts as a response by the Manipur State Government to curb protests from the public over intrusions by Myanmar over Manipur’s territory and by students over calls to remove the Vice Chancellor of Manipur University. The move by the Manipur Government was aimed at ensuring that mainstream media does not get to see the anger and agitations or the fall out of police brutality. Of course, it was another story altogether that the mainstream media were entirely clueless over the border row between Myanmar and Manipur and the impasse at Manipur University and how things were on a boil here. Much water have flowed under the bridge since then and I find that this book more relevant than ever given the way the winds are blowing in Manipur in the wake of the NSA being slapped against journalist Wangkhem Kishorchand.
‘The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation’ by Ravish Kumar is only 177 pages but the calm bravery that the author tackles with regard to the current political regime stands out. The incidents that Ravish Kumar mentions in the books: the assassinations (for that is what I will call them) of political activists and rationalists in the country, the attacks on people belonging to a particular religion or castes, the media divide: where majority are on board the ‘praise the leadership, throw away objectivity, attack people with different opinions’ and only a minority who do take a stand being run down…all of this reminds you of a particular regime in history. It cautions everyone against remaining passive and gives a clear call to all to stand up and be counted but nowhere is the narrative one of grandstanding for Ravish Kumar speaks about living with fear in the climate that we live today and how facing that fear is important.
I would recommend this as a necessary read for everyone who feels only despair at the state of the nation today. This is a book that needs to be read, engaged with and discussed at great length. This is a book that any opinion maker and journalist should read carefully and be inspired from.
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