Wednesday, March 22, 2023
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Indian media’s communal violence reportage needs to be consistent, not just show one angle

Delhi’s Hauz Qazi incident shows how media white-washes reportage when victims happen to be from the majority community.

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As a young boy growing up in 1970s India, I developed a reading habitin part by emulating my parents’ morning ritual of poring through newspapers. While I enjoyed reading the national papers, I was often befuddled by the particular way they covered some types of crimes.

There was reportage of routine, normal’ crimes, including robberies and murders, sometimes with gory details. And then, there were occasional reports of assaults and deaths that were puzzlingly vague. Unlike the former, the latter never revealed the names of the perpetrators, but alluded to “clashes between two communities”It took my young mind several years to figure out what they meant, and the rationale for why they were reported differently.

Things have changed now, and it is worth understanding the implications. Seven decades ago, India’s Partition had seen religious strife and gruesome communal violence on a scale rarely seen anywhere, at any time. While Pakistan from its inception was a theocratic state, India chose an egalitarian Constitution that guaranteed equal rights to all citizens. The republic’s founders were clear that the Muslims who remained in India deserved assurances that they would not be discriminated against here.

Also read: As lynchings increase, Modi govt dawdles on central law that SC wanted a year ago

From Gandhi to Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the first prime minister, and Sardar Patel, who many felt ought to have had that distinction, all repeatedly reiterated that assurance. Although some commentators have tried to credit Nehru more and Patel less in the degree of their commitment to such principles, the truth is different. Rajmohan Gandhi’s authoritative biographyPatel: A Life, documented the Sardar’s ironfisted efforts to bring a balkanised India together and establish equal protection for all its citizens.

There is no better proof of that promise being honoured than a simple comparison of the demographics of the two nations from Independence until now. Pakistan’s Hindu community has come down to 1.per cent now, while India’s proportion of Muslims has in fact grown, to more than 14 per cent today.

It was not just political leaders in newly independent India, but also the news media who took it upon themselves to help restore and maintain normalcy at the time. In the aftermath of Partition, a norm took hold, an early form of political correctness, that aimed to avoid stoking already inflamed passions.

Since totally suppressing news of riots went against journalistic ethics, they did the next best thing and tamped down the reportage of communal violence, as compared to that of other violent crimes. Besides being far less lurid, it became commonplace to not name the communities to which the victims and perpetrators belonged.

Also read: A 91-year-old law is making a comeback in India due to lynchings and WhatsApp forwards

But for at least two decades now, most media platforms have overcome this reticence, although with a twist. And that twist has led to a yawning gap in their credibility as perceived by large sections of the population. In a form of mollycoddling, this new norm not only names but also puts extra emphasis on incidents of communal violence when the victims happen to be from the minority community and perpetrators from the majority, and plays down, even whitewashesreportage when it is the other way around.

This trend has become pronounced in the last five years or so. Vigilantism and hate crimes, for instance, have been reported through this lens. While every single instance of cow vigilantism has been widely reported — which they should be, as heinous crimes— the same cannot be said of other kinds of equally violent vigilantism and hate crimes, which usually only get a passing mention, if at all.

To ignore the rise of vigilantism in general, and to downplay a communal angle in them other than the dominant narrative, is a disservice to news reporting. Scientist and columnist Anand Ranganathan has extensively documented such bias in mainstream media’s reportage of hate crimes.

There is no better example of this bias than an incident in Delhi last week. When a place of worship was ransacked and vandalised by a mob from another community in Hauz Qazi, for two days much of the national media simply did not report it. They not only did not disclose the communities to which the perpetrators and victims belonged — in stunning disregard of their own current norms — but censored the news altogether.

Also read: Communal violence in the time of Modi has a distinct shade. Here’s why

That censorship was not dictated by anyone, least of all the government. It was selfimposed. The irony in that should be selfevident. The same mainstream media outlets who claimed to be under pressure from an allegedly majoritarian government, even as they continued to report communal incidents that they placed at the doorstep of its sympathisers, had no compunction in whitewashing a significant example going against that narrative.

Of course, in this era of social media and with halfabillion Indians on the internet, it is no longer possible to suppress information. Sothe news went viral, but also took several news platforms’ credibility one notch further down in the minds of many.

It is no one’s case that mainstream media should be irresponsible, nor, of course, that they should fan the flames of communal incidents. But it is equally irresponsible to consistently present bad news in one preconceived angle. Just like the Constitution says, and the founders of the republic practiced, media too should treat the rights and obligations of every Indian on an equal footing.

The author is BJP vice-president. Views are personal.

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  1. Why shouldn’t the BJP Govt start publishing stats on mob violence with detailed data on perpetuators ands victims? They are in power and can do that starting tomorrow. Oh waits…..the results will go against their narrative of poor 80% Hindus being constantly victimized by 14% Muslims who are collectively some of the poorest people in India.

  2. Now read below what Indian industrialist Adi Godrej said today about the impact of attacks on minorities on economy.

    MUMBAI: Noted industrialist Adi Godrej Saturday warned that the rising intolerance, hate crimes and moral policing can “seriously damage” economic growth of the nation. The remarks come amid a continuing spate of hate crimes like mob-lynching in the name cow or in the name of religion being reported from many parts of the country, including from a Mumbai suburb where a Muslim cab driver was assaulted recently because of his faith.

    He, like the main stream media, doesn’t talk about any attacks on majority members, or what happened in Hauz Qazi. Why?

  3. Mr. Panda, even the western media does the same as the Indian main stream media! New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Economist, the newspapers in UK, all report in details the attacks on minorities in India, cow vigilantism, lynching, etc. As I am sure you know, recently the US state dept. published a report on religious freedom around the world, and criticised India for attacks on minorities. A recent UN report did the same. Just yesterday, the speaker of the US House of Representative, Nancy Pelosi said she was concerned about the attacks on Muslims in India! None of these publications or organisations, or people, NOT ONE, has ever mentioned an attack on a Hindu by a minority member! Apparently you haven’t done due diligence before writing your column. Why don’t you help yourself, and find out why this is so?

  4. It is precisely because of this kind of biased reporting that mainstream media is not taken seriously by the public at large. Newspaper reading habit is going down. TV viewership is there only for entertainment. All journalists, both established and wannabes, must seriously introspect on the damage that they are doing to their profession and consequently, their careers.

  5. That one set of people getting clobbered in India are Hindus, the so called majority. From JLN/MKG till date, the mainstream narrative through lies and selective projection is to victimisation of minorities at the hands on majority. Real truth is exactly other way around. Outright murders in daylight taKe place of hindus by muslims for issues like marrying their girls, temples get desecrated in daylight with impunity, but never or under reported by the sold out media as Jay argues. Application of articles 25 to 30 of constitution bear most naked testimony to the fact of bias against Hindus. Majority Hindus are lesser citizen in India by conferring unequal higher rights to minorities, in the garb of presumed minority protection. Look at the gross bias in some legislations like RTE and also court rulings wrt to hindu religious institutions making them the only exploited section to be fingered around by the state. Yet, the MSM and so called public intellectuals play the fake narrative other way around, lest majority Hindus are brought at par. You need to analyse the reality from depth to get the full import. More and more hindus are waking up to this gross lie being perpetrated. The lobby that does this is now clearly identified, the chrislo-islamic-commie axis, their malcontents operating in media, academia and polity.

  6. Jay Panda! Man without honour or convictions! Man who changed sides when things became inconvenient! Man who speaks with rwo sides of his mouth! Preaching consistency to the indian media? What a joke!

  7. The media is a culprit and it is part of our elitist hypocrisy. Just recently the Indian Supreme Court delivered two diametrically opposite verdicts in the case of women’s entry for Sabrimala temple and Mosques. The verdicts show the hollowness of our legal thinking and how it is based on appeasement and not legal doctrine. This too was blanked out by the “secular” media. It must go to the credit of Shekhar Gupta that he did highlight it. But not one of the supreme court bar lawyers and JNU academics mentioned it in the dozens of articles that they publish as they relentlessly push a left wing agenda.

  8. Well, if one set of people are getting clobbered all of the time, that is what will – or rather ought to – get shown. My peeve with the columnist is at 180 degrees to his views. Social media is filling up a vast void that is being created by mainstream media.

    • That is exactly what Panda has shown the Print and all secu-liberal left Libtards. Only Muslims getting “clobbered all the time” is shown and written about extensively, while Hindus “getting clobbered” most of the time by Muslims never gets reported. Like sacking the Hindu temple in Chadi Bazaar in Delhi by Muslim mobs screaming Allah hu Akbar was shown as a parking jhagda!

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