First published in 1940, Caravan ceased operations in 1988 and was relaunched in 2010 by a new set of ambitious staffers as India’s only magazine dedicated to narrative journalism. For Virginia Quarterly Review, writer Maddy Crowell profiles the monthly magazine and its driven executive editor, Vinod Jose, who she describes as ”one of India’s more subversive journalists,” ”practically inseparable” from his journalism. She knows. She interned at Caravan six years ago. She explores the magazine’s unique identity, its history, and its inspiration.
For India’s young intellectuals, the magazine quickly became an essential venue, cutting an anomalous figure in a media environment rife with sensationalism and government flattery. “Caravan is this lonely but incredibly brave beacon in this unending toxic sewage, fake news, social media violence,” said Deb. “It has been going it alone as far as Delhi is concerned.” It was neither entirely a literary magazine nor a newsweekly nor just a book review, but a combination of all three in the form of a periodical that, as Mishra put it to me, “analyze[d] the news with adversarial politics.”
She also examines its future. Revisiting it in 2020, she finds a magazine facing dangerous challenges to its existence and freedom. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the powerful Hindu-nationalist organization, is building its New Dehli headquarters outside the magazine’s headquarters. Caravan and RSS have a tense adversarial relationship, partly due to the magazine’s frequent investigations into the organization, partly due to the magazine’s defense of Indian democracy. Threats of violence are taken seriously. ”Living under a constant, simmering threat is, for Jose, evidence that he’s doing something right as a journalist,” Crowell writes. The situation is worsening.
As tense as the atmosphere was for India’s free press following Modi’s first election, things have only worsened since. A number of editors claim to have been bullied by Modi loyalists seeking to remove online coverage that was critical of the BJP; newspapers that have published negative stories have been penalized financially, often through the loss of government-funded advertisements. At the same time, journalists at mainstream outlets have become ever more explicit, if not boastful, about their political connections. When Arun Jaitley, the BJP’s finance minister, died in August 2019, a reporter from one of India’s largest television channels, Times Now, tweeted: “I’ve lost my Guiding Light my mentor. Who will I call every morning now?”
Most sinister of all, the censorship of Modi’s critics has escalated into violence. Since he first came into office, twelve journalists have been killed because of their work, and at least nine have been imprisoned. In 2017, the prominent journalist and editor Gauri Lankesh was gunned down in the early evening in front of her estate in Bangalore. Lankesh, an outspoken feminist and human-rights activist famous for her left-wing tabloidesque attacks on Hindu-nationalist figures, was a close friend of Jose’s—the two had worked together covering contentious riots in Goa in 2005. Her death confirmed the seriousness of what Indian journalists were up against under the new regime. Not long after, a right-wing nationalist followed by Modi on Twitter posted: “One bitch dies a dog’s death all the puppies cry in the same tune.”
After Lankesh’s murder, Jose began implementing protocols for Caravan’s staff to follow: All communications are now handled on encrypted channels, such as ProtonMail or Signal (WhatsApp, he believes, is compromised in India), and reporters working on sensitive stories are instructed to be especially vigilant in protecting their sources. And yet, like almost everyone else I spoke with at Caravan, Jose wasn’t all that interested in talking about the government’s intimidation. “You can’t slow down your work just because something has happened. There are certain requirements of the job.” Rather, he was eager to know whether I’d been following their coverage of the mysterious death of Indian special-court judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya (twenty-eight stories and counting), or whether I’d read their cover story about how the RSS had been systematically infiltrating India’s intellectual spaces.