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Holy Cow!! Indian Media and the Reporting of Riots


A man walks into metro station, shoot himself. The story is a footnote on some inside pages of the newspaper. Even if someone reads it, it is security lapse which stands out. The dead doesn’t evoke attention, let alone sympathy. Without personalization, it is a lame news.

I am not a journalist. I am not even a student of journalism in proper sense. If I go by the wise words by Anne Lamott, and analyze the reports, the intent and interest of the journalist stands open for scrutiny. A murder in Dadri, sad as it is, outcome of rumor or fact, is reported way differently from the way, the gory murder of a reporter in same state or killing of a soldier in same state is reported. Annie Lamott tells us that we need to be presented with the actors in a story with human perspective, that what they were as human beings, beyond a statistics or a name.

We know the man murdered in Dadri was doing errands for the village, a soft-spoken man, who, with hard work did well to place his kids in life. One of his Sons is in the Airforce, an important point. For instance, with OROP and multitude of voices supporting soldiers on Social media, story gains interest with some soldiering brought into picture. Therefore, an unfortunate car accident is a prime time story, operative word being the victim as a war veteran. Rhetoric rise so high in the skies that the truth is barely visible. A perfect piece of journalism, and there is no dispute with it, except that the same perfect journalism is so selective that it seems biased. Why nobody wrote that Tuktuki woke up every morning, dreading her walk to the school through the roads, full of potholes in the middle of monsoons? That would have helped readers, miles away, look her as a little child that she is and empathize with her, worry about her.

What do we know about the soldier who was killed in Meerut? How many kins he had? What occupation his father pursued? Which school he studied from, under what conditions? So a serving soldier is reduced to mere crime statistics. One is always tempted to compete on numbers, 300 dead in Mumbai vs. 12 in Malegaon, which is an erroneous argument. The value of a human life is much beyond the statistical number it adds to. So I take the soldier from Meerut and put him here as contrast.

I don’t question the findings. I question the positions powerful people take. Politicians have their motives, whether it’s the one who makes televised visit to the place, claims the man was killed because of his religion, a trouble which one could totally have avoided if police has given 12 minutes to his infamous brother. He doesn’t even pretend to be bothered about loss of human life unless it belongs to his religion. That is the reason, he wasn’t there in Meerut or Kolkata to stand by a little girl, but he is there at Dadri, hailed as a great Muslim voice.

My trouble is with journalists, the opinion makers. The way debates are done, Op-eds are written indicates that either journalists are not having enough time to take what can be termed as considered view or are lazy to do the study to take an objective position. I will put forth some points in the backdrop of the current case.

  • There was no mass Hindu uprising, violent or otherwise urging people to rise and kill beef-eaters. There was no religious sanction from some Hindu high priest for the killing, not even from low priest like the Maulvi offering bounty on the head of Danish Cartoonist. Rowdy elements got together to kill the poor man. They are the same anti socials who would laugh at a Pandit and his dhoti and given a chance, would steam and smuggle old temple idols for profit.
     
  • I don’t go with the investigative culture minister, who speaks with authority, and claims that there was no planning for the murder. Well, Mr. Minister, the man could not have accidentally come in the way of blows by the rowdies, and killed himself. No Sir, the man could not have been so dumb, in spite of being a Muslim. The minister has no business on commenting on the legalities of the case. His job is to ensure independent probe and offer comfort to the grieving family which is in pain (well, actually it is Home minister's job, though comforting the aggrieved family could be his job as MP of the area).
     
  • The media projects this as if it has something to do with the religion, although they denounce the very idea, almost as an after-thought, towards the end of the program. Religion is a very dangerous device in the hands of unsteady minds. It takes a mind well-steeped in logic to dabble into religions without endangering the civilization. Let us not use religion so lightly.
     
  • Political mud-slinging is disgusting. BJP stands up as a defender of Hindus and Owaisi jumps in a defender of faith. The awkward efforts are on to somehow implicate the prime minister of the day. People demand comments from the PM. Sad as it might be, it is death of one person, of whatever religion, and PM has to comment on it. Well, expectation is not entirely unfounded when the PM is tweeting birthday wishes. But the game is not about the expectation, game is deeper and devilish. When law and order is state subject, why bring in the center and leave the state smiling obnoxiously, with its long nose upturned in derision at the disgust of the common people. In debates, media almost seem siding with the state government- the prime culprit in cornering the center. AAP, of course has jumped into it. Commenting on every national and international affairs has suddenly become important thing for this CM of a glorified municipality of Delhi, odd that the same man evaded questions on national and foreign policy when he was a candidate for national elections. Now, he is suddenly much aware of everything and of all the CMs of India, you can count on him to comment on anything where the PM is even fleetingly implied as implicated. That enhances and uplifts Kejriwal's stature and equals him with the PM as an opponent.
     
  • If all fails, attempts made to somehow link killing to Beef-ban and thereby implicate the center. Well, as much as BJP might want to take credit of (which actually they ought not), Beef ban is already there in all states but for five, BJP or no BJP. It was not enforced in UP post the formation of new government at the center. Even in J&K , Beef ban has been there since long, since the times of Dogra rulers. Media ought to introspect when they project Beef ban as a litmus test for democracy. Since when the killing of a mute animal become the sign of freedom of expression. Being insensitive to the plight of animals being slaughtered to serve the slavery of the tongue is the vortex of confused idealism. Same people who cry hoarse daring hindutva-brigade claiming to have eaten beef, go about and feed stray dogs in public places, feeling angelic as if white wings had suddenly grown around their beautiful shoulders. Do we want to say that since BJP government came, and since they imposed beef-ban, these loonies became protector of law, the village Batmans without appropriate dress and the car and went to kill people who had anything to do with beef? There is stringent anti-drugs law, when did we hear of someone killing a drug dealer in Punjab. Actions of criminals cannot define the actions of a state.

I would only submit that we as readers must not be carried away. Newspapers trade in tragedies. We find survival in hope as individuals. Therefore hope we must. And when the dailies tell us we are all doomed, let us take it with a pinch of salt and if they insist, noisily, throw your hands up in despair, exhale and whisper, “Holy cow” and walk away. That is important for our sanity as an individual and as a society. Religion is too deep and too sacred to be made the subject of primetime debate and to be left in the hands of ill-educated fanatics.

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