With television presenting direct potent images, the role of the media has assumed greater significance. V.A. MOHAMAD ASHROF presents a critical study of how the mainstream print and electronic media at times becomes selective and erroneous in coveri
Over the years, the press has become so powerful that, it has soon acquired unique status of “Fourth Estate”. It is supposed to play a key and crucial role of a watchdog, to see that the other three institutions – Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary – function fairly within the constitutional framework and serve the people for whose welfare they were created. The role and power of media in spreading information in a modern society is astounding. Once information – right or wrong, manufactured or factual – goes out to the public, it creates its own rhythm. One can retreat, amend or correct it but you cannot annul it. We have to agree with Schudson when he says, “The media organize not just information but audiences. They legitimize not just events and the sources that report them but readers and views. Their capacity to publicly include is perhaps their most important feature.”
The Indian print media currently include over 46,000 newspapers and periodicals; among them are more than 5000 dailies, nearly 17,000 weeklies and 13,000 monthlies, and about 6000 fortnightlies and 3000 quarterlies. These are published in as many as 101 languages and dialects. The largest number of publications is in Hindi (nearly 19,000), followed by English (nearly 7000) and Urdu (nearly 3000). Forty-one Indian newspapers still being published in various languages are a century or more old. Daily newspapers in India are believed to enjoy a total circulation of 130 million copies, of which a lion’s share is accounted for by 200 big dailies. According to recent reports, the 350 largest newspapers are estimated to employ a total of about 5000 reporters, 2000 full-time correspondents, 5000 stringers and 5000 editorial staff.
Islamophobia and Stereotyping
The Indian media are, of course, not alone in falling back on “patriotism.” Analyses of media coverage of several conflict situations in different parts of the world have clearly established that the holy cow of objectivity and even the more critical goals of accuracy and fairness are often given the go-by in the interest of closing ranks against an external enemy. In the post-September 11 scenario, the denigration and worse of Muslims worldwide has gained currency and legality. Sizeable minorities capable of influencing the course of the politics through electoral tilt or economic clout are often vulnerable to campaigns of demonisation. This happened with Jews in Germany and in the entire Europe all through the history. It is now happening to Muslims in India since Independence at the hands of the fascist forces. By now, the dominant contours of stereotypes of Muslims have become too evident to ignore. Be it media, textbooks or election rhetoric, rigid categorisation goes on unabated. Media or democratic safeguards hardly ever effectively debunk the myths floated by the fascists. Propaganda could subterfuge in myriad forms. But constant effort to explain the facts from history, society and culture must continue together with progressive interpretation of religious beliefs. Unfortunately, Muslims usually employ normative Islam to counter the stereotypes. This is unhelpful as people do not live by their religion alone. Facts from society, history and culture are much different from the religious beliefs. Living Islam in India has been much different from what a devout Muslim or the Muslims as a society are supposed to follow. Viewed from this perspective, often religiously inspired Muslims do a bigger harm to the community by their persistent reference to beliefs and by ignoring facts of history, society and culture. Media discourses about and representations of Muslims exercise a powerful influence in shaping negative stereotypical notions of the community and of Islam as the ‘bizarre’, ‘different’, ‘obscurantist’, ‘backward’, extremist’ and so on.
The Hindutva movement is a ‘conservative revolution’, combining paternalist and xenophobic discourses. 4 Anti-Muslim prejudices and what is now called ‘Islamophobia’ are not new phenomena, but these have received a tremendous boost in recent years. The attacks of 9/11, the blasts in Benaras, Delhi and Mumbai and the continuing conflict in Kashmir have further fuelled the conflagration of hatred and prejudice against Muslims among many Hindus, so much so that the claim that Islam preaches terrorism, hatred for other religions and their adherents, misogyny, disloyalty to states where Muslims are not a majority or the ruling community and so on, actively propagated by Hindutva forces, has become an integral part of the social ‘common sense’ of a vast number of non-Muslim Indians. This has been facilitated by the ever-expanding media networks, few of which are controlled by Muslims, and many of which have clear Hindutva attachments. The US-led ‘war on terror’ is only further aggravated this, with Hindutva forces and large sections of the Hindu-owned Indian media lending support to what many Muslims see is an all-out war directed against Islam and Muslims in general.
The media also plays an important role in both disseminating and in breaking down stereotypes. If they characterise particular groups of people in certain ways, their viewers (or readers) are likely to do the same. So if a movie – or the motion picture industry in general – characterises a group of people negatively, they are likely to be perpetuating negative stereotypes and making conflicts worse. If they emphasise the positive aspects of groups that contradict prevalent stereotypes, they can have a significant role in building mutual understanding. Indian Muslims’ complaint is that instead of adopting the role of an objective and neutral medium in disseminating news and ideas relating to Islam and Muslims, the Indian government and the media had played an accommodating role to the Western perception: Islamophobia.
Communalism Made Official
The telecast of Ramayan stands out as a dividing line as far as the relationship between Hindutva and the media is concerned. The television-serial of Ramayan gave the Hindutva forces a massive impetus, the aftershocks of which were experienced on 6 December 1992 for the first time the most recent instalment being the post- Godhra carnage in Gujarat. What stands out as particularly interesting is that Raman and Sagar’s magnum opus was telecast on the national network even though religious and community-sensitive programs were debarred from being televised openly on such a mass scale. The force that the serial had on the masses was phenomenal considering the number of times women actually sat to pray in front of their television sets when the program was on. The epic had created ecstasy unparalleled in history that was carefully used by the Hindutva forces. Television gave the epic an influence it never had before and the state knew this.
The weekly telecast of Ramayan inaugurated a new era not only in television but in politics as well, with the popularity of these serials allowing the ambivalent status of religion to be exploited and to sanction Hindutva initiatives in the name of the people. The rhetoric of Ram Janmabhoomi, to its ineffable advantage centred on the violence of loss, on the pain and humiliation of an enforced dispossession, all encapsulated in the demonized figure of the Muslim ‘other’. The Hindu imagery in market circulation, in the Ramayan videos, calendar art or advertising redefined popular symbols and extended an invigorated sense of identity by inserting these symbols into a narrative of improvement. The attempt at creating a hegemonic cultural space where all other influences are carefully ignored and removed from public memory succeeded with Ramayan. The Congress government in allowing permission for the telecast neglected the power of the televised media. The support to the Ramjanmabhoomi campaign began its growing rise from here. The Sangh Parivar soon captured the imagination of the fainting Hindu masses and the rest they say is history. Many viewers actually felt that God was giving them a ‘darshan’ every Sunday morning. In this sense, the serial was able to create a collectively observed weekly ritual, one that was extraordinary to witness. It offered narratives of the ethical life and its trials, sufferings and rewards, told in alternatively melodramatic and piteous modes.
Doordarshan has also primarily been a representation of a Hindu India. Television serials, Mahabharata and Ramayana were two principal serials, which reinforced the Hindu-centricity of Doordarshan. These two programmes have propagated the Hindu religion as the national image. The circulation of the Hindu heroes into the domesticity of nearly 90 per cent of Indian homes has re-emphasised the ‘Hinduness’ of India and consequently, the ‘un-Indianness’ of non-Hindus. Later there were a variety of programmes projecting Hindu mythology like Om Nama Shivaya, Jai Hanuman, Shri Krishna, etc., running on the national network at prime-time slots. There were no questioning or even murmurs. Various social groups in the sub-continent have dealt with Ramayana, or the narrative of Rama, in a variety of ways in the past. According to Indo-Anglian writer K.R. Sreenivasa Iyengar, the number of versions of the Ramayana may range anywhere from 3,000 to 30,000. But today it is virtually seen only as a single religious concept, the concept that Doordarshan has explained to us. In the popular television serial ‘Mahabharata’, India has been re-defined as the Bharat of Mahabharata. The print media is not the only offender, Doordarshan and All India Radio played no mean role. Contrast Doordarshan’s treatment of the serial ‘Tipu Sultan’ with its generosity towards Ramayana whose serialisation many now acknowledge was a mistake of great consequence.
For Tapan Basu and others, ‘the serialized Ramayan reduced Hinduism to its mythology which was then presented as the essence of nationhood…it provided to the new aggressive middle class spawned in the 80s a packaged, collective self -image which with the mobilizing by Hindutva became the motivating force for changing by force and violence the image of the country itself.’
Communal Perception of History
Hindutva is not Hinduism. Hindutva is a fascist ideology and is abhorred by majority of the Hindus. Hindutva’s slogan ‘one nation, one culture, one religion, one language,’ is similar to the Nazi slogan ‘Ein volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer’ (one people, one state, one leader). Hindutva is based on racial superiority of high caste Hindus and has the sole aim to purge (or ethnically cleanse) India of religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians.
One primary tactic of Hindutva is to incite raw passions among majority Hindus through the cock-and-bull story and propagation of myths about minorities and a glorious Hindu past. This has often led to violent persecution of minority Muslims and Christians in the country. Puniyani argues that this ‘myth- making is designed to demonise the minority community and play on the fears and insecurities of the people’ Hindutva discourses construct a myth of the Hindu self as virtuous, civilized, peaceful, accommodating, enlightened, clean and tolerant, as opposed to ‘the Muslim’ Other, which is morally corrupt, barbaric, violent, rigid, backward, dirty and fanatic. The myth borrows from various stereotypes and motifs that are prevalent in India and elsewhere, including the West. The representations of ‘The Muslim’ as a danger to the security of the Hindu body politic facilitate the politics of hate against the Muslims in India. ‘The Muslim’ as an object of insecurity in the Hindutva discourse inhabits the levels of the personal, local, national and international. ‘The Muslim’ is discursively constructed as a site of fear, fantasy, distrust, anger, envy and hatred, thus generating desires of emulation, abjection and/or extermination. While destruction of temples and places of worship did take place during invasions, ‘there is nothing to justify the belief that the Muslim kings destroyed Hindu temples to convert Hindus to Islam’ In the words of V. D. Savarkar, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of Hindutva, the aim of Hindu nationalism is to recuperate manliness and “Hinduize all politics and militarize Hindudom”.
The so-called international ‘war on terror’ has only reinforced this association of Islam with terrorism. The most common image of the Muslim among Hindutva proponents today is of a ‘terrorist’. As the writings of such proponents show, Muslims and terrorism are seen as inseparable. For instance, Chitkara laments that ‘‘Common Hindu is surprised why riots take place when Muslims have already been given a separate home-land in Pakistan? Terrorism shows that their appetite has not been quenched.”
The role of British colonialist perception if history and its contemporary role of the international community in fuelling factors conducive to communal antagonism are to be fully realized: “Following on the heels of the decline of Mughal power, the British often utilized ‘divide and rule’ tactics in order to maintain their governance over the vast area. For example, the British largely employed Hindus as civil servants. This meant that the Muslims were unable to effectively benefit from educational or economic opportunities.” Acting on the principle of divide et imperial British administrator-historians painted a very dark and dismal picture of “Muslim rule” over India during which Muslim rulers were presented as destroyers of Hindu Dharma and temples and ravagers of the modesty of their women The interests of the British and Hindu revivalist-nationalists, converged in projecting ancient “Hindu India” as a “Golden age” which Hindus lost and that of medieval India as a period of misery and ignominy. Such a reading of history made Hindu chauvinists and ethno-cultural nationalists perceive all Muslims as the ‘other’ who could not be loyal to the ‘Mother India’, because of the non-indigenous origin of Islam, as of Christianity.
Defining the ‘Self’ and the ‘Other’ is an intricate process and inevitably varies in time and in the requirements of the particular nationalism. It is also worth investigating the point at which the ‘Other’ becomes the Enemy. Nationalism attempts to squeeze together the segments of society that were characteristic of earlier times. The history of the second millennium AD is therefore viewed as the history of two communities – Hindu and Muslim, each represented as uniform, monolithic, mono-cultural, right across the sub-continent, and each hostile to the other.
Vernacular Newspapers a5nd Communal Propaganda
Most early English-language newspapers were founded by British entrepreneurs for a principally British-Indian readership and were resolutely opposed to the nationalist movement through the nineteenth century. Some newspapers, notably The Hindu, The Indian Express and The Hindustan Times began as responses to the colonial press by the English-speaking liberal Indian nationalist elite. All English language newspapers today are owned by large profit-making business houses and based in metropolitan centres. Some, like the Times of India, and the three newspapers mentioned above, have a nationwide circulation with multiple urban editions. In terms of circulation and readership, English newspapers in India share the demographic peculiarities of the English language, spoken by less than 3 per cent of Indians although a prominent and significant part of the Indian public forte and public space. This readership, like English speakers also tends to belong to an urban middle class and to urban elites. Indian language newspapers in India have a different history, economy and conditions of existence from the English language press, and they also have a different relationship to the discourses of Indian nationalism. As Rajagopal points out, Indian languages occupy very different loci in comparison both to English and to each other, but taken together, they consciously define themselves as the languages of specific regional groups.
Newspapers in India tend to follow a rather old-fashioned practice of selectively providing news in riot situations. Reports are particularly sinister whenever the victim of an outrage is a Hindu and the perpetrator a Muslim. However, when the victim is a Muslim more often than not the news reports will be brief and lacking in nomenclature or other clues. Even though 90 per cent of victims in a riot are Muslim the fact that their names are not reported when the names of a few Hindu victims are can create a false and dangerous impression of Muslim aggressiveness. Likewise the greater part of those indulging in looting and arson may be Hindus but the naming of one Muslim can contribute to the fiction of Hindu victimhood in a communally vitiated atmosphere.
Joseph Goebbels, Minister for Propaganda in Nazi Germany is reputed to have said, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” The long history of communal violence in India is full up with instances where rumours have been a foremost part of the modus operandi adopted to stoke hatred and violence. Hate speech, pamphlets and propaganda are obviously used to these ends, and even mainstream newspapers put into use for the purpose. Hindi newspapers, taken together, have a multi-million readership in India today. Yet, their role in determining public opinion is often overlooked. While some Hindi papers are known for their balanced reporting, the vast majority are infamous for their blatantly pro-Hindutva leanings, not even making pretence of secularism, as in the case of many of their English counterparts. In fact, the Hindi media has played a central role in promoting Hindutva, spreading anti-Muslim hatred and further entrenching prejudices against other marginalized groups such as Dalits, Backward Castes, and Tribals.
The attitudes of vernacular- papers, are (of course with some honourable exceptions), indeed, pathetic. They never observe any caution and often display crude prejudice in reporting about minorities. And there is yet another category, mouth organs of communal outfits like ‘Samna’, which deliberately, and even spitefully, project distorted image of minorities and thrive on this. In the north, central and western India, the Hindi, Marathi and Gujrati papers, which this writer keeps on studying from minority viewpoint, is the worst culprit. They often display rudimentary prejudices against minorities in their reporting or the stories which they publish.
‘‘Samna’’, the Marathi mouth organ of the Shiv Sena, uses highly provocative language against Muslims and Christians, especially against Muslims. During the Bombay riots this paper openly called Muslims pro-Pakistani conspirators and wrote several highly provocative editorials against Muslims. The campaign was so ferocious that the ex-chief secretary of Maharashtra shri J.B.D’Souza filed a public interest writ petition in the Bombay High Court to punishes editor under Criminal Procedure Act. It should be borne in mind that the ‘Samna’ is read by lakhs of Maharashtrian every day and their outlook formed by it. Even the policemen read it regularly and form their insights about minorities from what appears in ‘Samna’. No wonder they have very jaundiced views about them. Muslims are regularly subjected to hate speech, whose target is not only their personal dignity but their holy book, religion, and Prophets.
S. Gurumurthy, the Chennai-based auditor for the Indian Express Group and convener of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch wrote a three-part “investigative” essay on the ‘Madarsas’ in The New Indian Express. He argued thus: “Most of us do not even know the difference between Madras and ‘Madarsa’. Some believe ‘Madarsa’ to be a pious religious school. It may have been so. No more now. They, at least most of them, are now jehad factories.” A person who is oblivious of the difference between the erstwhile name of a Capital city and the term for Islamic religious schools has no business to comment on either.
The Gujarat Massacre
On February 27, 2002, a coach of the Sabarmati Express was set on fire at Godhra, killing 59 people. Gujarat was in a state of hysteria. The Hindutva forces in the State were all set to target Muslims. With rumours flying thick and fast, people were frantic to get accurate news. But truth was a rare commodity. The role of two prominent Gujarati dailies, Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh, during the recent round of troubles has been in critical focus. Gujarat’s two leading newspapers, Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh, were hardly instrumental in spreading peace. “Avenge Blood with Blood” was one of the headlines on the front page of Sandesh the day after the Sabarmati Express carnage. The article that followed was a statement issued by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Both newspapers carried reports about how 10 to 15 young women were pulled out of the train and kidnapped by ‘religious fanatics’. Sandesh also mentioned that two women’s breasts were cut off. This was later denied by Chief Minister Narendra Modi. But neither newspaper carried a correction, withdrawal or clarification. Gujarat Samachar published a report saying that the article that had appeared in ‘Sandesh’ regarding the kidnapping of women was false, but there was no mention of its own error.
The mass killing of Muslims in Gujarat was a part of the same agenda of spreading fear, dissention and hatred. Through this public display of uninhibited power not only on the streets, but also the demonstration of its control over the institutions and the machinery of the state, the BJP was able to coerce the dissenters into silence. This is the “fascist fix”. Fortunately for India a section of the people were shaken by the events in Gujarat. There was an attempt to oppose these neo-fascists forcers, but by then the Muslims of Gujarat had already paid too heavy a price and the core institutions of Indian democracy was dealt a severe blow.
The March1, 2002, edition of the Gujarat Samacharclaimed that Ahmedabad had been handed over to the army when the worst killings in the city happened on that very day. Another report claimed that the whole ‘Sabarmati Express’ would have been torched had it not been delayed as a mob of Muslim fanatics was waiting at Signal Falia with petrol bombs. Sandesh on March 2, 2002 featured a horrifying picture of charred and mutilated bodies claiming that they belonged to the Godhra train victims without establishing the facts. The pictures were so frightening that they actually fanned the flames of violence in localities that had hitherto remained peaceful. Photographs were used which sensationalised events, and could incite communal anger, fear and terror among people. The anti-minority stand was obvious in the slant in news reporting. Editorials and news items were often written in a manner to justify implicitly and explicitly the carnage after the Godhra incident.
The following morning the front page of the newspaper contained the photograph of slaughtered women, allegedly Hindus but no details were given. The newspaper continued its biased and one-sided coverage further into March as the 6 March 2002 headlines shouted: ‘Hindus beware-Hajj pilgrims return with a deadly conspiracy.’ The denunciatory adjectives used liberally to describe the Godhra incident is strikingly absent in reporting the ensued genocide. The most dreadful acts of violence were repeatedly sensationalized with the use of a few devices like bold letters and large pictures of mangled dead bodies. When reporting the death count, red stars were used for crude emphasis. Sandesh also effectively circumvented the code of conduct that disallows naming of communities involved in the violent conflagrations. Areas in the state or the city with large Muslim populations are referred to as ‘mini-Pakistan’. Scattered across the paper were several reports of ‘religious fanatics’ abducting tribal women and thus facing the wrath of the Hindus. Choosy usage of words and phrases serves to identify and further communalise the minds of the people.
Similarities between the victims of Godhra and the twin tower bombings hint at an overarching network of Muslim terrorists. This insecurity with the global and particularly Arab alliances of Indian Muslims confirms to the pattern of hostility with which the Gulf boom was viewed in the 1980’s-90.
Media systems control our access to manufacture, distribution, and consumption of information. Therefore to understand the media it is important to identify with who owns these means of communication. In India, a few business houses own chains of daily newspapers in English and also in the vernacular languages and corner a substantial portion of the total circulation. In 1991, as many as 21,610 different newspapers were published by 2,445 individuals in the country. Another shift in the concentration of ownership and control in newspapers is the forming of joint stock companies and conglomeration of companies. Large industrialists own most of these, and many of them are staunch RSS supporters. Some politicians have large ventures in these newspapers, while most newspaper owners have political links. Aware of the power of the press, many political parties have even nominated media magnates as members of parliament. This nexus between politicians, industrialists and newspaper owners explains, to a large extent, why much of the Hindi press is so manifestly anti-Muslim, for it appears to serve the interests of all three groups. Adding to this is the fact that many workers of newspapers are not trained journalists at all. Many of them are local goons, who use their access to newspapers to promote their own political agendas. Perceptibly, they too have a vested interest in communal politics. Further, many lower ranking journalists apparently find their chances of promotion blocked if they refuse to toe the line of their editors who zealously support the Hindutva cause. This works to suffocate dissent and to perpetuate existing communal, particularly anti-Muslim, prejudices in the press.
If one further looks at it from community point of view, it is the Marwari business houses, which have assumed major control over the newspapers. The Times of India group of Sahu Jain is the principal publishing corporate house. The Goenka industrial house owns the Indian Express group, and its dailies are published from as many as eleven main urban areas. The house of the Birlas, are the owners of the Anand Bazargroup. Out of the 300 English newspapers published in India, only one, Mid-Dayof Bombay, belongs to a Muslim family, and furthermore it is more a tabloid than a mainstream newspaper. Of the hundreds of weekly and monthly papers very few of significance belong to Muslims. The national dailies, particularly the ones in English have generally abstained from overplaying communal issues. However, the Hindi and regional language newspapers tend to adopt an anti-Muslim bias in reporting communal events.
One of the most significant analyses of the American discourse around the ‘war on terror’ has been Mahmood Mamdani’s study of the neo-Orientalist ‘culture talk’ in America. Mamdani argues that the Bush administration’s conflation of Islam with terrorism singles out ‘bad Muslims’ as those responsible for terrorism, while acknowledging ‘good Muslims’ who are seen as ‘anxious to clear their names and consciences of this horrible crime and would undoubtedly support ‘us’ in a war against ‘them.’ Older discourses of the Muslim or Arab Other in the United States merge with the American government’s support for the State of Israel, to emerge in the post 9-11 scenario as a universalizing essentialist narrative of a medievalist Islam. Mamdani writes, ‘The scale of Israeli atrocities – “our terror” – has ballooned since 9/11. It has been packaged in the American media as an inevitable response “to their terror” and has shown the way for the Bush Administration’s “war on terror”.
Israel has also become a touchstone in current Indian discourses of terrorism, where India’s traditional support of the Palestinian cause was reversed, and the Hindutva vision of India as a modern non- Muslim homogenous nation-state fighting ‘Islamic’ terrorists took the Zionist foundation of Israel as its model. In this Manichaean discursive shift, the Pakistani state and Kashmiri separatists stand in both for Palestine and for the US’ own ‘axis of evil’ in acting as a metaphor for ‘Islamic terrorism’ that would justify the Indian state’s attacks on its Muslim citizens and its identification with the United States and Israel. Mamdani traces American religious fundamentalism, as represented by Evangelical churches to the 1920s American protestant political movements, which have achieved their highest form of political representation in the presidency of George W. Bush .
The recent (August 2006) ban on Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya shows that Indian media is clearly authoritarian and anti-democratic. In a country widely referred to as the world’s largest democracy, the Indian government has succumbed to mounting Israeli pressure and ordered a nationwide ban on the broadcast of Arab television channels. The official highlighted that India enjoys close and cordial relations with Israel and the US more than any of the Arab governments. Several senior Indian journalists explained that the ban was an indication that India had succumbed to Israeli pressure rather than American. “The whole exercise is to browbeat Arabs and show them as terrorists. The government is subscribing to the absurd argument that channels like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya promote hatred and encourage terrorism,” they said. Political analysts in India described the move as a game of double standard that India is playing. On the one hand India establishes friendship with the Arab world while simultaneously it joins with Israel and the US in defaming them. It seems that the pro-Israeli lobby wishes to drive a wedge between India and its time-tested Arab allies.
Understanding the Gruesome Realities
The collective consciousness of the people is largely shaped by the media. Media plays the role of communicator and as such it has to inform and not to misinform, disinform or non-inform the people on issues of vital importance. It has to educate, motivate, persuade and entertain. They must have their fingers on the pulse of the people and has a virtuous obligation not to jeopardise or harm the welfare of the society. The mass media is ultimately an ideological institution framed by, and rooted in, the wider milieu of corporate elite power in society. As a consequence, the mass media largely propagates news and information in a manner that is distorted – and sometimes fictitious – in accordance with corporate elite interests and the ideological requirements legitimising those interests. The advocates of Hindutva talk about protecting pluralism, but that is not a pluralism based on equality. Their brand of pluralism stresses that Dalits and Muslims and other marginalised and oppressed groups must remain under the Brahminical umbrella as wholly subordinate. This is sheer intolerance.
The most important characteristic of the vernacular newspapers had been to feed on prevalent anti-Muslim prejudices of its Hindu readership and provoke it further by sensationalizing, twisting, mangling and distorting news or what passes for it. The vernacular media should have followed the National Integration Council’s guidelines that it should not reveal the identities of the victims or attackers and efforts should be made to maintain social and communal harmony.
There is no semblance between “Media Islam” and “True Islam”. Every religion has its zealots. But to stereotype a whole group based on the actions of a minuscule minority is to propagate the same type of message the Nazis delivered. To blame Muslims as a whole for the scattered acts of violence throughout the world is to perpetuate the centuries old myth about Islam that it is a violent religion waiting to take over the West. Learn about the various perspectives in the world, because misapprehension only leads to hatred. Every time Muslims react to provocations they contribute to the perception that they are fundamentally intolerant and that their beliefs and conduct are irreconcilable with the modern secular world. They can turn blue in the face protesting that this is a stereotype but nobody is likely to listen to them in a climate which, for reasons that are too well known to bear repetition, is not on their side.
Indian Muslims’ complaint is that instead of adopting the role of an objective and neutral medium in disseminating news about events and ideas relating to Islam and Muslims, the Indian government and the media had played a subservient role to the Western perception: Islamophobia. A prerequisite of democracy is the democratization of communication, which in turn requires the empowerment of individuals. The concept is important because a democratic society depends on an informed general population making political choices. The prejudices against minorities are based on a series of grievances (real and imaginary), on half-truths, myths and blatant distortion of reality. The communal organisations have adopted techniques that even the most shameless lie repeated a thousand times over finally becomes self evident truth.
Sevanti Ninan wrote: “We focus on the pogroms in Gujarat but do not investigate what happened on the Sabarmati Express at Godhra with equal fervour. But we are also guilty of blatant communalism. Critics of the media have convinced me that a lot of the problems that this country has would disappear if my tribe took a collective jump into the Arabian Sea. Tarun Vijay of Panchajanya put it colourfully when he said we are in the grip of the Marxist-Mullah combine.” 18
Also we see Frontline, Mainstream, Economic and Political Weekly, Tehelka, The Hindu and, to some extent, some of the channels on TV. India’s reading public and viewership wants to know the truth. They want the press and the other media to represent them, and not represent vested interests. There’s enough room for a hundred Tehelkas and Frontlines. I do believe the public will support it. We may have not got the money, but we got a whole lot of public support and affection. In dark times, it has seen us through. We will not only expose, and knock those doing wrong, but also appreciate those doing the right thing. We badly need to create the right role models for the young. It is not just fashion designers and fancy models that can be role models. While there were honourable exceptions — Outlook, The Hindu , and Frontline among them, as well as individual reporters in some newspapers and channels — would the media’s coverage have been more balanced had there been a greater degree of caste diversity in the newsroom and editorial boards of our newspapers and channels?
The attacks on Parliament and Akshardham, the Ansal Plaza shootout, the constant encounter-death in Jammu and Kashmir are just some instances that help understand the media. The alternate possibilities, despite having abundant evidence, were not even considered by the dominant media. The tendency of the press just to reflect the police-version, which most often might have mingled with communalism, is simply misleading.
What about Islamic Terrorism?
Violence by the Palestinian Hamas is called Islamic terrorism. By the same logic, the bombings of Gaza by the Israeli army that kills and maims innocents’ everyday should be called Jewish terrorism. Hamas is only a resistance movement defending the rights of life of Palestinian people against the Zionist Israel’s brutal military onslaughts backed by US imperialism. To term such a movement ‘terrorist’ is itself an act of terrorism and subservience to imperialism.
If Pakistan makes a nuclear bomb, it is christened as an Islamic bomb. The bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima was not a Christian bomb, and the bomb which was made by Israel is not a Jewish bomb, the bomb made by India is not a Hindu bomb but if Pakistan succeeds in making a bomb, it is an Islamic bomb! There is little doubt that the IRA has very deep Catholic roots and the Protestant groups allied against it also have deep religious roots. But no one deduces their terrorist activities to Christianity, to Catholicism or to Protestantism. Muslim activities, however, are attributed immediately to Islam. So this demonisation of Islam is a long, long saga, one which appears regularly on the political screen of the world. As mentioned earlier, this is a drama which has dangerous consequences for mankind
In India, ‘terrorism’ is also not generally used to describe the activities of the Bajrang Dal, VHP, RSS, the Ranvir Sena or the Shiv Sena, even though most of their activities would qualify them as terrorists within the dictionary meaning of the word. Yes, the usage of ‘terror’ is heavily politicised. Stark examples of these differentiated standards of judgement confront us when we consider the boundaries that religion shares with the world of terror. Contemporary common sense does not associate Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity or Hinduism with terror and terrorism. However, Sinhalese Buddhist monks have been known to participate in anti-Tamil violence in Sri Lanka. The Zionist ‘Stern Gang’ and ‘Irgun’ indulged in ‘communal killings’ of Palestinian villagers to enforce the mass departure of territory. Irish nationalists and loyalists alike (Catholics and Protestants) used terror for decades as an integral part of their politics. And it is the Hindu Tamil Tigers who began the latest use of suicide bombers and Rajiv Gandhi was killed by one such a bomber in 1991. Let us not fool ourselves. Every major religious tradition has produced theological justifications for murder and mass killing in the name of sacred causes. And it is clear that terror is and has been employed by states and anti-state activists alike. No such attribution to Hinduism was made, of course, when Hindu mobs embarked on that bloody slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat or in the case of innumerable cases of such violence prior to the Gujarat genocide, in which the principal victims were Muslims. Nagaland Christian Rebels (1948- present) are active in a predominantly Christian state in India. They were involved in several bombings in 2004. Likewise, the killings of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, Koreans, and Vietnamese and so on by American forces have never been attributed by the media to Christianity. One wonders why Muslims must be singled out as an exception in this regard. Europeans are well aware, of Baader-Meinhof Gang (German), Red Brigades (Italy), and Red Army (Japan), but no one calls them Christian or Buddhist terrorists. Why? Simply, because they re are Christian or Buddhist, not Muslim.
A process of collective myth-making thus emerges by which one community defines its attitudes to the other. The need or search for a common enemy to fight against then takes shape. Similar to Hitler’s fabrication of Jews as the ‘demon’ race, the Hindutva have singled out Muslims as the absolute evil. In fact, hostility to Muslims and Islam has always been central to their political logic, including the Hindutva, right from the beginning. All out efforts are thus made to rationalise such myths and on the other hand mythicise reason, logic and rational understanding of social issues. The ultimate aim of all such reprehensible notions, designs etc. are to force a new agenda of restructuring the existing socio-political system on the basis of Hindutva. An expression of one such social engineering is the attempt to distort history and general language-text books to project a pro-Hindu-mythology education and on the other hand, attempt to shamelessly cultivate anti-Muslim sentiments. In a class-caste driven society with glaring economic disparities the polarization on religious grounds has become an added and pronounced factor today. People are divided as “Us” against “Them”. Ultimately, a whole propaganda package of myths, counter myths, un-reason etc. get forged. The great myth of “Muslim pampering and appeasement” (exposed recently by Sachar Commission) etc. etc. is one such package, with its associated cluster of myths. One reason why fascists and communalists make use of myths is that myths appeal to the emotions and reach down to the unconscious mental layers of the common people. The marginalised people of India need develop multifarious ways to combat such hate propaganda.
[The writer is a professional columnist and author, both in English and Malayalam, and can be reached at [email protected].]