(How a simple question from my father got me thinking about ‘facts’ and ‘truth’)
I “What you get on your television screen and what you are reading in the papers are all lies.” In which my father worries about my health and education and I start questioning the truth
“Appa, I’m going to be at a protest tomorrow at college, about the JNU issue, I might break my other leg before I come home if the wrong people show up!” I told my father in a flippant manner, three days after I’d just broken my left ankle.
“JNU? This whole Afzal Guru business? Why would you want to be on their side? Those people must be punished. I don’t understand why people are supporting people who are against the country.” He said with a puzzled look.
“Do you even know what’s happening, pa?” I asked him.
“Those people are screaming stupid slogans on campus, I’m all for free speech, but that is just outrageous. No should speak so badly against their own country, especially when they are all from here. And you’re a student, why aren’t you studying when you’re in college.”
“Pa, they did not scream those things, where did you get your information from? The TV? The videos that are doing the rounds are doctored, that too by Zee News. They aren’t the ones who were sloganeering, but even if they did, it’s all allowed under freedom of speech, isn’t it?”
“There are things you can say and things you can’t. And also, what is this you’re telling me that Zee news are putting out doctored videos. How can you say that, it’s a news channel!” Almost laughing at me.
“Pa, that’s the thing, the news channels are not reporting what’s really happening. All the things you’re seeing on the TV are not really true. The ABVP and BJP have planned an attack on free speech through this JNU issue, and the news channels are going ahead with all of that. What you get on your television screen and what you are reading in the papers are all lies.”
My father had the most helpless and scared look in his eyes. “What do you mean! We only believe what we hear and what we see. I read the newspaper every morning and watch television news every night, and have been believing it for decades. You can’t just say it’s all wrong. What do I believe now?”
II In which I face an existential crisis: Question everything
That question got to me. What do I believe now?
It got me thinking. People don’t usually think twice when it comes to news they read. It’s the same idea as when people would believe anything that a scientist say, even if it sounds ludicrous. It’s the same mentality people have towards journalists. We never question something written in the newspaper or on television. We consume thousands of words, and voices and images each day over the papers and the screen and take it for granted that the “responsible” journalists would bravely and surely tell the truth.
But the reality, at least when it comes to this issue is that that isn’t true. Zee News aired doctored videos related to the JNU issue, which were then picked up and circulated by various other news channels. All television programs had heated debates about what had happened, and all but branded the students of the prestigious institution terrorists. This was not responsible journalism. A biased and misinformed Media, and social trial of Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid happened too. Arnab Goswami of Times Now, openly said “I am naming you as anti-national tonight,” and “You (Umar Khalid), are more dangerous to this country than a Maoist terrorist!”
III “A slave is no longer a slave when he starts to fight his own slavery”; In which I try to find a resolution
I come back to the question, what do I believe? In our own college, we had the screening of the documentary ‘Fabricated’, which deals with the story of Abdul Nasar Madani, a Muslim leader from Kerala, who had been jailed for years, without any standing evidence against him. It was made by KP Sasi, an activist-filmmaker, to whom had I had a chance to ask this very same question.
“A slave is no longer a slave when he starts to fight his own slavery”
That line rang a bell. “You should always question everything you are presented with. The system is built with layers and layers of lies. We live in a world where you can be presented with lies on a national level and still get away with it. But the only recourse in a system like this is to fight, and question everything.”
I kept thinking of what he said. I got home, to continue the same conversation with my father. I felt like he was still shocked by the revelation that I’d produced to him.
I looked at him, and said, “Pa, keep looking for the truth, you won’t find it initially, but if you keep looking and keep questioning, you will find snippets of it over time, and piece together an understanding for yourself. It might feel like a lot of work, but the current system makes it so that anyone who is a passive listener is fed lies. It takes active thought and a sharp curiosity to cut through the dominant discourse and find out for yourself what you should believe in.”
He sighed a little, still with a disappointed look on his face. I went and fell asleep.