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Free Thinking Stifled

Peter Fernandes Peter Fernandes
13 Mar 2023
The fourth pillar of democracy is the free press or media. The media is one of the primary artilleries for ensuring that the heart of democracy receives adequate oxygen and the system remains well balanced to avoid sudden heart attacks.

Socrates is the father of western philosophy and liberal thinking. A thoughtful and free discourse is paramount for a progressive society, but those in power abhor it to the core. Each civilization advances through free thinking, and the layers of development are attributed to the same, and yet, every generation wants to kill Socrates. Those in power fear the presence of Socrates, for he promotes the rights of the individual, liberty, the consent of the governed, political equality, and equality before law. 

The opposite of critical thinking is illogical, irrational, and incoherent. Tyrants are the epitome of irrationality. They use this methodology to keep the masses subjugated, illiterate, and malnourished to achieve their selfish and dehumanising goal. A free and progressive society should have the freedom to evaluate information and decide how to process it in order to reach a sound judgement that allows everyone to enjoy freedom and achieve the highest goal of human existence. Hence, the government must exercise its power to protect individual liberty, and at the same time, those in authority should restrain from abusing their power. Therefore, Socrates has to live. The question every generation should ask is: Should Socrates live or does he have to die?

The fourth pillar of democracy is the free press or media. The media is one of the primary artilleries for ensuring that the heart of democracy receives adequate oxygen and the system remains well balanced to avoid sudden heart attacks. In a democracy, news outlets and other publications, even individual citizens, have the right to communicate information without fear of influence or retribution from the state or other powerful entities or individuals. 

India, the biggest democracy in the world, under the present dispensation has undoubtedly compromised with free press. Currently, the opposing voices find themselves incriminatingly targeted and investigated for reasons unknown. Intimidating tactics are employed by the government to silence the voice of truth, objectivity, and justice. It is shameful but true: India takes pride not in the free press anymore but in Godi-media. History denounces and bespeaks such a stance, especially under tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Mao, and others.

Not too long ago, the Prime Minister exalted the BBC for being fearless voice of truth and objectivity. Suddenly, the same news agency finds itself in the dock and appears to have lost its credibility for airing the documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots. By barring the documentary from airing, India has once again made sure that Socrates has to die.

It’s clear that when business tycoons take over media houses to create a discourse in the country that fits their narrative, an ominous sign of dark days is over the horizon. Among the few news channels that stood for their principles, NDTV was one of them. Sadly, not too long ago, this channel was also taken over by the now-infamous Adani Group. It was mainly to stifle independent voice that was pumping enough oxygen to keep the heart of democracy going. Those with honour and courage left the organisation to keep their voices open and free to continue to be a voice of conscience for the nation. But who will tell the Andhbhakt that Socrates should live and not be killed? 

In recent years, false allegations have silenced a number of journalists and independent voices; inquiries and arrests have been made, and a few have died under suspicious circumstances. One such voice was Gauri Lankesh who was killed for taking a stand against the government, and in favour of the poor and the lower caste. Those who target journalists do so with impunity in order to instil fear in society. Journalism is not a crime. Sixty-seven journalists were arrested, and nearly 200 were physically attacked in 2020. At least six journalists were killed, 108 attacked, and 13 media houses or newspapers targeted across the country in 2021. For the moment, it appears that they are successful in keeping Socrates silent. But can Socrates be kept silent? Keeping Socrates silent would mean taking away the true nature of humanity, and that is not possible. Sooner or later, human nature has to rise and triumph.

Socrates was killed because, they said, he was poisoning the minds of the young. But that is not the case. He leaves nothing unexamined; he questions the hegemonic values of Athenian society, demonstrating their shamefulness, and in so doing proposes a qualitatively new way of theoretically and practically approaching human life. Socrates questioned the root values that allow the Athenian aristocracy to sustain its position of power. Socrates was killed because, as Cornel West says of Jesus, he was "running out the money changers." 

The term "Godi-media" appropriately sums up the present state of the so-called free press. Paid media is doing a great disservice to the world's largest democracy and to the citizens in favour of money changers. Equally shameful are the government agencies that target independent voices to squash them. Last July, the I-T department raided the offices of one of the country's leading newspaper groups, Dainik Bhaskar. I-T raids were conducted around the same time at the office of Lucknow-based Bharat Samachar. A similar raid was carried out by the Enforcement Directorate at the residence of journalists and officials working for the Delhi-based independent media house Newsclick.in. 

In October 2018, the I-T department carried out a nearly 22-hour-long search at the Noida-based independent media house, The Quint. I-T officials were also present at the residences of the founders, Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kumar. Back in 2017, during the initial years of the BJP, the CBI conducted a raid at the offices of NDTV, its founder Prannoy Roy, and his residence. In October 2020, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) conducted raids across 10 locations in Jammu and Kashmir, including the offices of the Union Territory's leading English daily, Greater Kashmir. The money-changers know that they cannot afford for Socrates to live -- he has to die.

If humanity has to survive and thrive, Socrates has to live on with every generation. Will the nation open its eyes, hear the anguish of the masses, and answer the call? Or will the free voice be targeted as "anti-national"? Socrates exists in each and every human being, that is, rational mind with free will to live in freedom in order to achieve the highest goal of human existence. The temporal society cannot and should not crush the human soul's destiny for freedom and the highest happiness. Allow Socrates to live...     

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