31 years ago, when I was a 12-year-old kid, India was almost falling apart. And so were we. My family and thousands like us were forced to leave our homes in Kashmir.
Soviet Union had collapsed, India was struggling with balance of payment crisis, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, Kashmir was violent, governments at the Centre were crumbling and emerging only to fall again, implementation of the Mandal commission report provoked self immolations by youth, and then Bombay was hit with a series of blasts and communal riots following the Babri Masjid demolition. Also Read & Watch: “Gandhi & Savarkar, Two Irreconcilable Poles Of Indian History”: Vikram Sampath
The idea of India was going up in smoke. Part of my family, lived in a refugee camp. I saw my parents eating less so they could feed us two meals a day; I saw them wearing old worn out clothes so that they could buy us school uniforms; I saw them walking on foot and giving their savings to us to buy books.
Like the hundreds and thousands of Indians, who were struggling to come out of poverty, they worked hard to educate us because they believed in our future; they believed in the future of India. Apart from the burden of poverty, they had to bear the burden of history, violence, ethnic cleansing but my parents did not give up. Just as India did not give up.
We survived; India thrived. And that survival gave us the confidence to find our own voice. My generation began asking questions which the mainstream media had not.
The mainstream media in India had emerged from the Colonial era and yet failed to shed the Colonial influences and the template with which the British looked at the unwashed masses of its colonies. The approach to dissemination of information was top-down, with an assumption that the media organisations run by the English speaking elites, were the repositories of knowledge and information while common people were ignorant and had no mind of their own.
Even after India opened up its economy in early 90s and the country witnessed a media boom, the approach was the same. As a result, one of the most powerful stories of our times — the struggle and survival of our parents’ which rebuild India from the ashes — remained untold.
The story that despite ethnic cleansing of a community, despite hundreds and thousands of Indians who had no access to basics of life, no privileges, no power but by sheer hard work, and belief in India’s future, we turned the tide.
Many such stories needed to be told not in one way but a million ways. I tried to tell such stories of common people in Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Assam, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand with honesty and integrity while working for two decades in the mainstream media. But, by and large, the mainstream media remained caged in the established formats and old ways. Little reformation happened. The mainstream continually failed in its duty to tell intellectually honest stories and share disparate perspectives of the common people in India.
Some disrupters in mainstream media including myself found space in social media powered by smartphones — as India entered the digital age. Today, newspaper, especially after the coronavirus pandemic, is almost dead and television is driven primarily by the trends on social media. Youth neither read newspaper nor watch the polarized and theatrical television news. People across generations have moved to smartphones.
Simultaneously, India has been fast becoming the startup hub of the world. There are all kinds of startups in different fields — in biotech, in engineering, in fin tech and in media as well.
In the last few years, many digital media platforms emerged in India. Most of the professional platforms are blatantly partisan, with their political leanings coming in the way of journalism. Most of them are also focused primarily on textual content.
It has been a torment to watch the decline and deterioration of media in India. I was sensing the need for a new media institution, with a dispassionate approach to news gathering and a passionate but civilized approach to debating opinion.
Incidentally, many investors reached out to me in the last two years of the coronavirus pandemic. I turned down many offers because I did not want to compromise on my independence of thinking and action as a journalist. Because I believe in fearless, credible and non-partisan media, even as I, myself, may be socially liberal, fiscally conservative and on India’s security issues, unapologetically hawkish.
After much thought and many delays, The New Indian came into existence with the help of multiple investors, on the condition that we will be autonomous editorially as well as in day-to-do operations. The New Indian has been founded on the values enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India, and with a passion for true journalism.
We are a lean and efficient organisation, which promises to bring in-depth news and perspectives that nobody else shares with you. We promise to hold a dialogue to connect you with the new India.
The inspiration for The New Indian came from 12th century Rajatarangini —Kalhana’s documentation of history of Kashmir, which was carried on by other authors. I believe in the continuity of that documentation. Because, nothing has changed really. Only the medium has. I believe the torchlight of knowledge and education must glow at all times. We are merely adapting to the 21st century needs and the new India. We believe in the New India. We are the New Indian.