On Friday, after a little celebration of besan laddus, a last cup of “office ki chai,” and repeatedly saying “of course I’ll come back next summer to visit,” I concluded my internship with People’s Dispatch (PD), a progressive media project that focuses on covering popular and protest movements from an anti-imperialist lens.
I’ve shared a few pictures of the PD office before: it feels like a microcosm in comparison to the Delhi I’ve seen. In a city peppered with political posters– mostly representing the right-wing BJP government– the office space where I spent most of my summer has a completely different vibe, filled with a collection of protest signs from different causes, kurta-clad people passionately discussing progressive politics, and the persistent smell of chai and cigarettes. More importantly, my experience with PD has exposed me to a sort of alternative world where the questions and ideas that I have only engaged with in the most critical of my seminars at Harvard, or organizing spaces filled with like-minded people, are the norm.
Prior to this summer, I applied to thirteen different opportunities, spanning across legal, journalistic, and research internships. I was rejected by all but one: my internship grant for India. While I was surely underqualified for most– if not all– of the things I applied to, a part of me can’t help but wonder if something about what I wrote in my essays or the potentially “controversial” nature of my research interests helped contribute to my failed internship search. I don’t mean to sound self-righteous here, but I feel like the past few years have conditioned me to accept certain narratives as “employable” and others less so. And as a once “foreign policy kid” turned confused-aspiring-academic, I often feel as if I am drifting towards the latter.
Perhaps a lot of this is internalized from being brown. In the past few years (and throughout this summer), I’ve been approached by so many Desi adults who are curious about “what I’m doing at Harvard.” Sometimes I’m lazy and throw around words like “development” and “foreign policy,” although both are inaccurate representations of what I actually study. Other times, when approached by a sympathetic listener, I explain what I’m up to (or what I think I’m up to), and it’s undoubtedly followed by an “ohh… umm that’s interesting… what do you plan to do with that?” I don’t blame them; I honestly don’t have an idea of what I actually want to do, and even my own parents struggle to understand and explain what I study.
That’s why this summer with PD has felt really different. For the last two months, I was suddenly in a professional space where I was encouraged to speak loudly and clearly about issues of human rights, inequality, and empire. Surrounded by journalists who were simultaneously sociologists, poets, and union activists, I was able to engage with many people who expressed interest in knowing what I was up to and supporting my growth. When I came to India, I didn’t expect Palestine to take center stage in a lot of my work. But as it turned out, of the fifteen stories I published during my time at PD, twelve of them were related to Palestine or Israeli apartheid and oppression. From tracing the US’s unconditional support for Israel, to discussing the new I2U2 diplomatic arrangement between India, Israel, the UAE, and the US, I was encouraged to factually reveal the colonial power structures surrounding Palestine, and reject the whitewashing and double standards.
There’s a lot more I would like to write about my summer work, but at the moment, it’s impossible to push out of my mind the news of Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza, the latest in the ongoing actions of a colonial military project that is built on and continues to perpetuate the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people. In light of the last two months at People’s Dispatch, the role of the media is especially frustrating.
As I open up the so-called “reliable sources”– liberal, Western media platforms like the New York Times and BBC– the rhetoric is predictable: even as one of the world’s most powerful militaries leads a siege on strip of blockaded land that has been reduced to an open-air prison, the media will persistently refer to the violence as “clashes.” Passive headlines will say that 15 children “died”; it’s the same language that these sources used to describe the assassination of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was wearing a clearly-marked “PRESS” vest when she was shot and killed by Israeli forces while covering the military’s raids in Jenin. People don’t just “die” like that all of a sudden. They’re targeted and their lives are seen as dispensable, both to their killers and to the people who cover their stories.
In May 2021– during Israel’s last Gaza offensive which killed 67 children–, State Department spokesperson Ned Price was asked point-blank by a journalist if he condemned the killing of children in Gaza; Price refused to do so. The smallest amount of research shows that this issue is bipartisan: ever since the Cold War, Israel has emerged as the US’ regional client state, and the current arrangement of billions of dollars (American tax money) poured into the Israeli military each year are from an Obama-era deal. It’s frustrating that this relationship– America’s unconditional support for violence– is ignored by the institutions that we are part of.
If you walk through Harvard’s campus, you’ll see Ukrainian flags hanging from buildings and windows as active displays of solidarity for resistance. Media platforms employ the active voice for the killing of Ukranian journalists, and reject the whitewashing of civilian deaths under the guise of “clashes.” But when the victims of violence aren’t white– and when their existence disrupts American geopolitical interests– the circumstances of their murder suddenly becomes too complex to speak of. But what can possibly be “complex” about the killing of a five year old child? When a Palestinian journalist is assassinated, things somehow become “ambiguous.” When taking a stand for Palestine becomes inconvenient and uncomfortable, we somehow start to make excuses for apartheid, highlighting specific events out of context to say “look, this is why these policies are in place.” “This is why apartheid– a racist crime against humanity– is justifiable.”
The past few months have really made me think about how empty the idea of “neutrality” is. “Neutrality,” when it comes to matters of colonialism and oppression, is nothing more than an agenda; we’re just conditioned to see it as “unbiased” and “true” because it serves a particular set of interests. At this point, international human rights organizations are at a consensus about the grave nature of apartheid practices in Palestine– although that just provides backing to something Palestinian activists have been saying for decades– yet, our universities, politicians, and news sources, are still a invoking false sense of “symmetry” to erase the reality on the ground.
I wish this post was less disjointed and perhaps more reflective. But I think these random rambles and rants have really been a throughline of this summer. I have a lot more reflecting to do about PD– from the ideological complexities of working in a Leftist space, to my emerging questions about the limits and boundaries of progressivism tied to national identity– but for today, I’m grateful to PD for teaching me to use language productively. I’ve been able to confront my own internalized understanding of “bias,” and think more about the falseness of neutrality in journalism, knowledge production, and beyond. Sometimes, I just wish talking about this stuff was easier. I don’t think stating facts is a revolutionary act or even a particular matter of social justice. Naming oppression when it exists is just the bare minimum. We just happen to live in a world where even the bare minimum seems to warrant effort and conscious decision-making. I really wish I had something more insightful to say, but I think that’s it for now.