Journalism and Human Rights in South Asia

The democratic process in India was characterized by a growing and responsive newspaper press, which played a major part in bringing attention to human rights violations during the struggle that won the country its independence from Great Britain in 1947. Contemporary India however, has grown into a media-rich poor country, and keeps facing severe challenges regarding human rights, which include demands for secession; deficient distribution of health and education to a population in excess of one billion; corruption; Hindu and Muslim conflicts; human rights violations by government security forces; and the perpetuation of an archaic caste system. The long standing tradition of human rights activism during the freedom struggle was accompanied by the newspaper press. In recent times, studies show that such activism has been helped by new media, for instance the internet.

The first Indian website dedicated to citizen journalism was established in the year 2006. After merely six months of operations it received the Manthan Award for publishing the best e-news content in all of India. It soon inspired a wide range of citizen-driven news sites. Some of the most important forms of human rights coverage have been followed closely in blogs, where open debates take place on a regular basis.

Not many topics have been as controversial on the net as the demands for secession in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, and the seven North-East states. Such an issue allows to see the ways that citizens affected by human rights violations in the North-East employ the internet to raise awareness of problems such as secessionist insurgency, separatism inside India, fights for local autonomy, inter- and intra-tribal strife, locals versus ‘outsiders,’ locals versus immigrant Muslims from Bangladesh, language battles, boundary conflicts within the region and others; and seek to abolish the laws that grant security forces involved in anti-insurgency operations ultimate power.