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Title:Arfa Khanum Sherwani | India at 75: The downgrading of India’s democracy and role of the Press

A talk by Senior Editor at The Wire, Arfa Khanum Sherwani on democratic accountability in the absence of a free press in India. Abstract In 75 years of India’s history, the largest democracy of the world is facing an unprecedented crisis and threat. The threat is not coming from outside India but from within. The democratic institutions which were mandated to defend and deepen democracy are failing. The enactment of the religious-centric Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA), reading down of Article 370 and loss of statehood for Kashmir, frequent invocation of sedition law against political dissenters and assault on India’s free press are some examples which explain the backsliding of Indian democracy. The largest minority group, the Muslims of India are being projected as internal enemies and efforts are on for their complete political disenfranchisement. They are systematically being reduced to a second class citizenship with numerous incidents of them being beaten, humiliated or even killed in the name of cow-protection. Many young Muslim men and women have been wrongly jailed, their houses raised by the state bulldozers while the majority cheers it on. One of the most worrying signs of the steep decline of Indian democracy is the shrinking of the free press. The public is denied the free flow of information that essentially enables them to assess the work of the government and make political choices. How will the democratic accountability work in the absence of a free press and how should we see the future of democracy in India ? Speaker Bio Arfa Khanum is Senior Editor at The Wire, India’s largest independent digital news website, where she leads the multimedia team. She has previously worked with NDTV, Rajya Sabha TV and Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan’s TV show, ‘Satyamev Jayate.’ She has spent two decades in the broadcast news sector covering politics, policy and governance issues with a special focus on social justice. At The Wire, she hosts widely viewed video shows, primarily devoted to the issues of people living on the margins of Indian democracy that are largely ignored by the big media. Arfa is a recipient of the Red Ink Award for Excellence in Journalism and the Chameli Devi Jain Award for an Outstanding Woman Journalist–for her reporting from Kashmir despite the Indian government’s lockdown on communication following its 2019 decision to strip the state of its autonomy. She was a Media Ambassadors Fellow at the Robert Bosch Foundation in Germany(2017) and East West Centre’s Senior Journalists Seminar Fellow (2018). She has a PhD and was the second-ever elected woman vice president of Aligarh Muslim University’s alumni association. She is an ‘Advisor in Residence’ for the Led By Foundation, a leadership program for young Indian Muslim women incubated at Harvard’s Centre for Public Leadership.


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