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‘Action begins’, ‘bulldozers roll’ – TV news treated razing of a family home like a film shoot

Several news channels supported and even justified the bulldozer demolition in Prayagraj as a legitimate punishment even before a trial.

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When you read the following, what do you think?

‘Mastermind made to pay. Riots won’t be tolerated. Bulldozer ‘justice’ time.’ (CNN News18).
‘Tuesday’s payback for Friday?’ (India TV).
‘The reply to stone pelting is bulldozer’ (ABP News).
‘Justice bulldozer punishing miscreants’ (India Today).
‘The response to violence is bulldozer’ (NDTV India).
‘Bulldozer out for Rioters’ (Times Now).
‘Those who conspire will pay the price’ (Times Now Navbharat).
‘Bulldozer used on prime suspect’ (Aaj Tak).

The way these headlines and ‘Breaking News’ have been framed, the news channels appear to endorse what India Today called ‘Justice Yogi style’ on Sunday after last week’s protests in many states against former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s comments on the Prophet.

In fact, news channels supported and even justified the demolition of Mohammed Javed’s home (the main accused in Friday’s violent protests in Prayagraj) as a legitimate punishment even before a trial. And in doing so, they ignored what India Today’s 9 pm debate, Tuesday, asked: ‘Bulldozer unconstitutional?’ Didn’t this question cross the minds of anchors, reporters and headline writers, at all?

Also read: UP Police’s brutality shows Indian law enforcement remains true to its colonial heritage

Who will watch the watchmen

Sunday’s full-day coverage of the demolition saw reporters enthusiastically follow ‘Bulldozer Baba’— ‘After UP riots, Javed’s house to be razed,’ screamed the CNN News18 correspondent. Several channels treated it like the shooting of a blockbuster film: ‘Action,’ announced Zee News, ‘Action begins,’ added Aaj Tak in case you didn’t get it, and ‘Now bulldozer rolls in Prayagraj…,’ said Republic TV.

When furniture and other items from inside the house were piled up outside, the reporters were on hand to examine each one, like curios in a gift shop: ‘Yeh dekhiye, many documents have been found. Look at this poster which says, ‘When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes a duty’. Yeh dekhiye, flags!’ yelled out the CNN News18 reporter waving it about like a memento. He went on to describe, in detail, how the house would be razed by the bulldozer.

Meanwhile, the ABP News reporter marvelled at the prowess of the bulldozer: ‘It took only 10 seconds for the windows to be chakna choor,’ said he. And as dusty clouds engulfed the house, he pronounced its obituary: ‘The house has been reduced to rubble.’

The entire coverage was surreal as if this was genuinely reel action rather than the home of a family. Nobody expected the news channels to display sympathy for the alleged ‘rioters, conspirateurs’ (Times Now) of Friday’s violent protests but we did expect them to question the legality of the demolition. Instead, they were almost exultant, reveling in the ‘justice’ of the action. Tuesday on Aaj Tak, at 8 pm, the anchor said that the channel had learnt that the bulldozer was likely to reach the property of 37 other alleged protesters, next. And you know what? She smiled.

Also read: Muslims in India are semi-citizens now. Political and civil rights have been bulldozed

Conspiracies, speeches, ‘hate Modi campaign’

There were ‘conspiracies’ hatched in madrasas, incitement by Muslim leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi (Zee News) or cleric Tauqueer Raza whose intemperate speech was broadcast on channels like Zee News, India TV – why? Weren’t these telecasts also inciting people? But that wasn’t enough for some news channels—they went after Mohammed Javed’s daughter, Afreen Fatima. ‘What is the history of Afreen?’ asked Aaj Tak and then ran extracts from speeches she had reportedly made – these were aired by other channels too, in which according to the Times Now anchor at 9 pm Tuesday, she was ‘spewing venom’. What exactly did it have to do with the Friday protests? Nobody said.

The enormity of the action, its human consequences were dwarfed for most news channels by the righteousness of the cause. The ‘action’ was against the ‘conspirators’ of Friday’s violence they said, who by their alleged actions were deemed ‘anti-national’ by Republic TV.

It is nobody’s case that the protesters or ‘stone pelters’ should not face the legal consequences of their acts of violence and arson—as the Times Now anchor Tuesday 9 pm pointed out: ‘Everyone’s sentiments are hurt sometimes,’ but that doesn’t mean one should resort to stone-throwing.

However, does that justify ‘bulldozer justice’? That question ought to have been asked, forcefully by the news channels.

Also read: UP bulldozer action ‘mockery of Constitution & fundamental rights’: Ex-judges, lawyers to CJI

The Congress protests in Delhi

From one violent protest to another. News channel reporters were out on the streets of Delhi to cover the ‘Fire. Assault. Violence’ (Republic TV) of the Congress during the last three days when Rahul Gandhi was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate in the National Herald case. Here too, the majority of news channels had no hesitation in condemning the Congress for its ‘violent satyagraha’ and finding Rahul guilty: ‘Freedom struggle for profit,’ said Republic TV.

The Congress may have imagined that its staged protests against the ED’s interrogation of its leader would create a wave of sympathy. And, undoubtedly the sight of Congress women and men being unceremoniously bundled into buses, arguing with the police, or marching purposefully towards barricades would have stirred the soul – had it been towards a public cause like unemployment or better still, as many have pointed out, bulldozer politics.

The public would have been moved if these antics were for the citizens, and not Rahul Gandhi. Didn’t it smack of sycophancy?

It was also absurd. On Monday, channels like Times Now and Republic TV interviewed some of the protesters who were ‘clueless’ (Times Now) about why they were there. And then there was the ludicrous sight of Youth Congress District president BV Srinivas eluding the outstretched arm of the law that belonged to a policeman by ducking and running for cover.

Sadly, the joke was on the Congress.

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