November 21, 2020
I was born in a slum in Kurla, Mumbai. We lived in a small, 80 square feet house. I studied in a run down school that operated out of a four-room chawl. Despite so much poverty and many challenges, I went on to graduate in journalism.
Most youth in Mumbai get busy in making money or earning their daily bread & butter as soon as they finish their studies. I couldn’t do that. When I was 16, I saw a demolition drive of the slums. The government of the day was seized by wanting to turn Bombay into Shanghai. I was deeply affected by how easily they decided to sacrifice the poor. But I didn’t know how to raise the issue as even the police is part of the government. At that time, I met a journalist and raised our concerns. He raised this issue and it made an impact.
That moment changed my life. Understanding how powerful journalism can be if it adheres to ideals and the truth, I decided to become one. I was especially spurred on by watching Ravish Kumar everyday at 9 pm. Like him, I wanted to give the voiceless a voice; and I wanted to fight for the truth.
Even though I didn’t get an opportunity in Bombay, I started working for Indian Express. I was so proud that I was doing exactly what I set out to do. Some people say that my language is harsh. But my language is just a reaction to the actions of the State. Look at how Dalits, tribals and minorities are treated. They are not just ignored; their rights are suppressed, they are discriminated & tortured. I cannot and will not be mum about this. It angers me and frankly, it should anger everyone. If the situation changes, my language will mellow down.
But things have changed since then. Earlier the media was editor driven. Now it is owner driven. Now, businessmen with no interest in the truth tell journalists what to say and what not to. Consequently, they don’t talk about Dalits, Adivasis or minorities. They don’t hold the government accountable either. These people aren’t journalists. They’re paid PR agents, plain and simple. That’s why I took a step back from institutional journalism to be a freelancer. It gives me the freedom to work as I should be.
Honestly, I feel that the media is no longer the fourth pillar of our democracy anymore. It’s funny but comedians are doing a better job at telling the truth today. It is only when the Wire, led by Siddharth Vardarajan and MK Venu, came up that I thought “here is an outlet that truly lives up the ideals of journalism”. They completely changed my perception & after a long time, I felt like I am doing something meaningful and for the nation. Being a good journalist has become so difficult now. You can get killed, like the journalist in the Vyapam scam. I myself was arrested twice and was in jail for 80 days simply because I raised my voice against the Yogi Govt.
When I was jailed, the first day was very painful; I was subjected to 3rd degree torture- electric shocks and 10 policemen beat me up. No reasons were given. There was no interrogation, only punishment. I was scared for my life and future.
But then I met many undertrial prisoners. Their strength and will inspired me to go on. So to stay sane, I just started doing my job. I spoke to them, collected stories and investigated the prison system. It is hell. But it‘s up to you and how you take it.
But I will go on. Because to me, the choice is simple. There are two ideologies at battle in India: one wants to protect the Constitution and the other wants to destroy it. One ideology killed Mahatma Gandhi and the other wants to protect the ethos of the country. We are fighting against oppression and division, for the idea of India. Are you?