India’s Magsaysay award winner says ‘democracy is in danger’

Ravish Kumar an award winner Indian journalist. (Photo by Sanjay Kumar for Arab News)
Updated 07 October 2019

India’s Magsaysay award winner says ‘democracy is in danger’

  • Kumar is pained by the decline of independent institutions that have upheld the flags of democracy for more than seven decades

NEW DELHI: Ravish Kumar is nervous about the “danger that Indian democracy is facing today” and how “a systematic attempt is being made by the ruling establishment in Delhi to suppress all the dissenting voices in the country.

“Journalism prepares you to face the unknown everyday, so I was not really surprised when I got the call from the (Magsaysay) award committee,” Kumar said.

“The problem was that I was asked to keep it a secret until they had made a public announcement. It was painful to keep quiet for almost a month,” he told Arab News with a smile.

“When the news became public, I realized what I had been bestowed with. I feel the award is a vindication of trust in good journalism. People felt as if the award had been bestowed on them,” he added.

It is this concern for democracy and its institutions that earned Kumar the prestigious Magsaysay award for 2019.

Instituted in 1957, it is awarded every year by the Philippine government in memory of its former president Ramon Magsaysay for “integrity in governance, courageous service to the people and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society.”

Kumar, who works as a managing editor of India’s leading bilingual TV channel, NDTV, has created a niche for himself in the world of journalism with his daily primetime show, which draws huge audiences from across India. 

At a time when most mainstream TV channels and newspapers have stopped questioning the government and challenging its narrative, Kumar’s reporting takes a critical approach to the lawmakers.

For this constant critique of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the government does not send any of its spokespersons on his show or the channel.

He laments that a large section of the Indian media has become “an extended arm of the government and the mouthpiece of the establishment.”

For his outspoken attitude, Kumar and his family have received threats from “people who are subsidized by the ruling party.”

“I don’t have any hope for the media. It is dead in the country. Just a few are holding the placard of fearless journalism,” he said, adding that “the death of independent media has affected true reporting from Jammu and Kashmir.

“The situation in the region is so bad that after the abrogation of its special status, even the significant moderate voices in India have been pushed to the militant camps,” he said.

Describing the government’s policy on Kashmir as “brazen,” he questioned the “audacity of the government to hold local body elections in the valley when there is a complete lockdown.

Kumar is pained by the decline of independent institutions that have upheld the flags of democracy for more than seven decades, adding that he was aghast at the Supreme Court’s silence on the abrogation.

“Why is it taking so long for the apex court to intervene on the issue of the internet lockdown in the Kashmir valley? Can you imagine the American Supreme Court behaving the way the Indian judiciary is acting on such a crucial issue?” He asked.

He said that the decline of independent institutions such as the media, judiciary and election commission is gradually creating a democratic imbalance.

Kumar understands the award has given an extra responsibility on him and that he felt “burdened with expectations.” So great are those expectations, he has not ruled out entering politics.

“Politics is a good thing. I tell everyone to join politics,” he said, adding that his current responsibility is to “warn people about the danger that is lurking in Indian society.”


Kosovo declares Nobel laureate Handke ‘persona non grata’

Updated 12 December 2019

Kosovo declares Nobel laureate Handke ‘persona non grata’

  • The Swedish Academy’s pick for the 2019 prize has reopened old wounds in the Balkans, where many see Handke as an apologist for Serb atrocities
  • Tuesday’s award ceremony was boycotted by representatives of the embassies of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Turkey

PRISTINA: Kosovo declared Peter Handke a ‘persona non grata’ on Wednesday in the latest protest against his induction as a Nobel literature laureate, barring the Austrian writer from a place he has visited numerous times.
The Swedish Academy’s pick for the 2019 prize has reopened old wounds in the Balkans, where many see Handke as an apologist for Serb atrocities during Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse.
One Nobel committee member resigned over the choice, while Tuesday’s award ceremony was boycotted by representatives of the embassies of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Turkey.
“Today I have decided to declare Peter Handke as not welcome in Kosovo. He is a non-grata person... Denying crimes and supporting criminals is a terrible crime,” Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli wrote on Facebook.
The writer is not popular among Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian-majority, who fought Belgrade for independence in a 1998-99 war that claimed 13,000 lives.
But he was a frequent guest in the tiny Serb enclave of Velika Hoca, one of several small ethnic Serb communities scattered around the former Serbian province.
Handke has visited Velika Hoca at least five times and donated nearly €100,000 ($110,000) to the community of 500 people, whose village is nestled among the rolling hills of southern Kosovo.
“Even if there are big problems, I think life has a good rhythm here,” the writer said during a 2014 visit.
“I can be alone here. I can hide. I can walk very hidden behind the hills,” he added.
Handke’s elevation to Nobel laureate has also been painful for many Bosnian Muslims, as he is accused of questioning the genocide in Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serbs slaughtered 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995.
On Wednesday he was formally barred from Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo, where the regional government said his appearance would “provoke the anger and humiliation” of war victims.
Yet he is still welcome to visit the Serb-run zone that spans nearly half of Bosnia’s territory — a legacy of the war that left the country carved up along ethnic lines.
On Tuesday Handke told RTRS, the public broadcaster in Bosnia’s Serb-run region that he would like to visit “in the spring.”
Handke has defended his work and denied any allegiance to the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
Critics say Handke made his loyalties clear by speaking at the funeral of Milosevic, who died in 2006 while on trial in The Hague for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Handke’s 1997 book “A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia” was also accused of minimizing Serb war crimes.
But among Serb fans, Handke is still celebrated for taking note of their suffering during the conflicts and challenging the narrative that Serbs were the sole aggressors in the wars.
In Belgrade, one politician suggested creating a human rights prize in Handke’s name on Wednesday.
Handke was one of “very few who searched for the truth during the 1990s,” said MP Mirjana Dragas, describing the author as a “brave, but above all great, novelist.”