Journalists, writers express solidarity with NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha

The NewsClick founder is currently in judicial custody under the UAPA; senior journalist N. Ram draws parallels between Mr. Purkayastha’s arrest during Emergency period and under the BJP-led Centre now

Updated - December 15, 2023 09:25 am IST

Published - December 15, 2023 02:45 am IST - NEW DELHI

NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha

NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha | Photo Credit: PTI

Senior journalists, writers, lawyers, academicians, and activists on December 14 expressed solidarity with online news portal NewsClick’s founder and editor Prabir Purkayastha, during a discussion on his latest book “Keeping Up the Good Fight: From the Emergency to the Present Day”.

Mr. Purkayastha is currently in judicial custody along with the portal’s Human Resources head, Amit Chakraborty. In October, they were arrested by the Delhi Police in a case registered under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act

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N. Ram, Director, The Hindu Group Publishing Private Limited, who attended the event virtually, said the most interesting thing was the connection the book drew between the Emergency of 1975-77, during which Mr. Purkayastha was arrested and jailed for a year, and to what had happened in the present, “a much more serious attack in perhaps darker times”. 

“Institutions have been captured, institutions have been manipulated, and media freedom is under full-scale attack…of course, there are still spaces where people speak up,” said Mr. Ram, adding that it was a very disturbing period this year that he would refer to it as the “Hindutva authoritarian regime”. 

He said the most important thing in the book for him was the lesson that today things might look bad for media freedom and for the basic human rights guaranteed in the Constitution, “but don’t be pessimistic about it”. “May be short-term pessimism is inevitable, but don’t be pessimistic, and this is not contrived or artificially communicated in the book, I think it comes through living the experience,” said Mr. Ram.  

Observing that on the whole, the media had not performed well during the Emergency, the veteran journalist said currently a large section of the media was under attack; journalists were being murdered in connection with their work and no justice rendered; and many had been charged under the UAPA. However, he was encouraged by the solidarity extended by a large number of media organisations with Mr. Purkayastha. 

“We know that the whole McCarthyism campaign, it’s not essentially a media story, it’s about a complete socio-political, ideological formation which has injected a lot of poison into the information ecosystem. The McCarthyism that descended on NewsClick and, particularly on Prabir and Amit, was aided and abetted by lousy piece of journalism by the New York Times…,” he said, referring to an article on American millionaire Neville Roy Singham published in August.

Stating that the book was for him a modern classic, senior advocate Sanjay Hegde hoped that it appealed to the “emoticon” generation. “We as a nation tend to value our liberties so cheaply and, possibly, one reason is that we have people like Prabir, we have in this generation people like Umar Khalid..,” he said. 

“It is these men and women of conscience who fight the good fight, or remind us that the Constitution is a solemn compact between citizen and citizen, like this is a nation that we will work together and we will live together. It is unfortunate that Prabir has been a victim of defending the Constitution twice in his lifetime,” he said. 

However, in his book, Mr. Purkayastha explained as to why he was not a victim. It was because victimhood robbed people of participation in the creation of history and reduced them to a mere object of history, said Mr. Hegde. 

Among the other speakers were writer Githa Hariharan, Indrani Mazumdar of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, and Magsaysay awardee and social activist Bezwada Wilson, who have known Mr. Purkayastha for the past several decades.

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