The Greeks had their Sisyphus and we in India, have our journalists, the few good ones who have now become characters in a story about mass delusion, self-destruction and the madness of the faithful. As journalists wrap up yet another year under the Narendra Modi administration, truth-telling is a Sisyphean task, equally laborious and unavailing.
Every journalist will tell you that we leave out the sensory details from horrific assignments—genocides, gangrapes, lynchings, bomb blasts. Details that are too gruesome to pass on—the smell of coagulated blood, the suffocating feel of it, the utter hopelessness of being poor, sick or a minority. So, we leave them out from stories but they remain inside us, every tiny bit adding on to the previous bits of a career spent bearing witness. A year after Danish Siddiqui was killed on duty along with hundreds of journalists who died covering the deadly second wave of COVID-19, newsrooms and journalists are gutted. What has emerged is an intricate system through which the entire country is more accepting of comfortable lies than unpleasant truths. We are at a tipping point where sensory details can no longer be left out.
Today, some of India’s best journalists, the ones who should be running newsrooms, are freelancing. As hard as that is, the unemployable among us are lucky. Being elbowed out of newsrooms is a good outcome considering that in India, on average, three or four journalists are killed in connection with their work every year. “India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media,” the World Press Freedom Index of 2022, published by Reporters Without Borders, grimly noted. It is our dead and our imprisoned who exemplify the larger story unfolding around us—of a democracy in shambles, and voters in the throes of delusion who never reward virtue and never punish vice.