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The Ideological Stomping Ground of ‘Peacetime’ Rioters

Source: IPF      Date: 12 Sep 2012 15:21:59




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Honorary Director’s Column


There is no gainsaying in repeating that the role of the media assumes greater significance in a nation that is buffeted by fissiparous forces and is passing through a difficult phase in its history. The issues of the nature, degree and extent of analysis of news and editorializing their content, assume great significance in this context. Needles to reiterate, the media is a powerful medium of communicating both news and views. The media is two prime responsibilities in this regard. One; to expose the truth and also expose those elements — individuals as well as groups — responsible for spreading violence, rumours, riots, discord and hatred. Along with this, the media must also analyze the role of the administration, law enforcement agencies (mainly police) and other institutions. Two; it is no less the media’s responsibility to help ensure that such tragic events are contained quickly and are not allowed to spread. In other words,the media can play an effective role in halting the contagion effect of rumour-mongering and rioting. The media must ensure that the effect of such human tragedies remains localized, to the extent possible.

The ill-effects of ill-will, hatred and violence of one place should not be allowed to spread elsewhere. It is in this very context that the nation as a whole is forced to take note of the fact that the role of the Urdu news media has been highly questionable in the light of recent events that have plagued the country. Neighbouring Myanmar has seen violent conflict between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslim inhabitants of that country, with attendant loss of life and property. The ethnic conflict there has assumed the dimensions of the Burmese state and people pitted against the Muslim inhabitants of that country. That this would stir up emotions in neighbouring India was not unnatural, but the feelings of those who have affinity for their co-religionists could have been expressed through peace marches, fasting and other symbolic gestures. But what actually happened was the complete opposite of what is expected from a sensible and responsible media. The sectarian conflict of Myanmar was imported wholesale into India, chillingly reminiscent of the manner in which Muslim resentment following the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate in Turkey in 1921-22 was transplanted in our country, with disastrous consequences.

It is also an undisputable fact that Hindus, by and large, cooperated with their fellow Muslim citizens in the Khilafat agitation, but were repaid with riots and targeted violence. Religious fanaticism and training in violent methods doubtlessly convert any individual or group into bloodthirsty animals. Kerala in the south was the most tragic manifestation of this phenomenon, where Muslims, without any provocation whatsoever, went on a violent rampage against hapless and unsuspecting Hindus, subjecting them to violence, arson, rape and forced conversions to Islam. This gruesome violence let loose by the Muslims against the Hindus in Kerala is known as the infamous Moplah riots, which happens to be a significant milestone in the history of Hindu-Muslim discord and conflict. For decades, ideologues and propagandists from the Marxist stable sought to obscure the actual nature of this conflict, i.e., Islamic religious fanaticism, and tried to portray the Moplah violence as purely an “economic conflict”. But this was nothing but an exercise in outright falsehood and a Marxist endeavour to cloak the real causes and nature of Muslim violence.Eventually, even (the late) EMS Namboodripad, one of the leading figures for communists in India, was forced to admit that the Moplah riots were indeed communal in nature.

Lest anyone be deluded into believing that these were incidents of a bygone era in India’s history, it needs to be reiterated that the same mentality is still alive and kicking as well. There are elements present in today’s age that are hyperactive in transplanting events elsewhere, which have no apparent or even an indirect connection with our nation and its Muslim citizens, into our country in a most lethal manner. The similarities between 1921 and 2012 therefore, demand our immediate attention. The events in Myanmar led to violent protests and acts of arson and rioting in many places in the country. Can this be called secularism, by any stretch of imagination? Those responsible for governance and administration have either remained silent spectators, or worse, been tacit collaborators in this shameful assault on the nation and its identity. The question naturally arises: why have rioters of a particular sect, whether from the days of the Moplah communal riot of 1921, the gruesome Marad incident in Kerala in 2003 (where fishermen owing allegiance to the RSS were brutally attacked and murdered by Muslim criminals), or in Kanpur or Assam’s Kokrajhar, always had the tacit approval of successive administrations to indulge in communal violence? This silent and tacit approval goes back to the days of colonial rule and continues even today. Indian society must find an answer to this question, which cannot be ignored any longer under the nebulousness of “respecting sentiments”.

What is more pertinent here is the role of the Urdu media in this regard. Examining this becomes all the more important as we find that a substantial segment of the country’s populace relies on the Urdu press in order to obtain news and also forms its views based upon the news and the manner of its portrayal in the Urdu media. There can be no denying that a large section of the Urdu media has been guilty of presenting and portraying the unfortunate events of the past month or more, clothed in exaggeration and rumour, in a downright offensive manner without the slightest regard for restrained reporting, and by uninhibitedly publishing news, photographs that are disturbing, apart from aggressively analyzing and editorializing the concerned news items. Far from acting in a responsible manner to curb the spread of rumours and violence, most Urdu newspapers actually acted as the active purveyors of rumours and incitement to violence against certain communities.More disturbing is the fact that the otherwise vocal and active Press Council of India and the Information & Broadcasting Ministry were mere onlookers even as the Urdu press had a field day in its completely biased reportage and handling of the situation. If the Government of India finds itself inadequate in gaining information about the country’s vernacular media, it is welcome to visit the website of a truly independent research organization like the India Policy Foundation (IPF) and appraise itself of what the Urdu press actually said and wrote throughout the duration of these incidents. But again, one can impart knowledge only to those who are worthy of it.

The regime in the centre is clearly overeager to impose censorship on Facebook, Twitter, the Blogosphere and other organs of the rapidly growing social media. The reasons for seeking to do so are more than clear, recent events only being a convenient excuse to its impose its diktat. The dictatorial regime, which has failed on all fronts, has undeniably decided to wage a war against democratic consciousness, participation in the political process and the rising anti-establishment sentiment.Had the government been really concerned about the situation at hand, it would not have he  sitated in taking action against the Danik Azad Hind published from Kolkata, which carried inflammatory news items and gruesome photographs. The August 3 edition (see page no. 17) of the said paper clearly attempted to inflame passions in a bid to incite violence, by publishing photographs of persons of a certain community supposedly murdered in what was reported to be violence in Myanmar, and by carrying news related to those incidents, written in a manner that was clearly intended to arouse anger and provoke them to engage in retaliatory violence in India? What was the source of the photographs? What is their authenticity? Are those pictures really of Myanmar or pictures taken from somewhere within India and used to incite violence? Even assuming the photographs in question to be authentic, what is the motive and mentality behind their publication? Is this not a blatant violation of the directions of the Press Council, circulars issued by the Home Ministry, and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry? Let no one be in doubt that there has been a well-planned and concerted attempt to inflame passions and spread violence and separatism throughout the country, using the events in Assam and Myanmar as an excuse.

The events in Mumbai on August 11, 2012 are also a grim pointer. Where did the sentiment to assault the Martyr’s Memorial emanate from? The country has also witnessed the shameless spectacle of the representatives of state authority and the — self-appointed — sermonizers of “secularism” shutting their eyes, ears and mouths, like the three monkeys of Gandhi, thus exposing their true colours. It is this self-same coterie of secularists that willingly chose to look the other way when the same jihadi elements carried out the Marad massacre of 2003. It is imperative to confront and defeat this shameless abdication of administrative and political resolve, and the truthful exposure of facts, and their factual and objective analysis is only the first step in that direction.This is not to decry all Urdu newspapers or media outlets. Exception do abound; there is indeed a section of the Urdu media that wishes to eschew its communal and fanatic image and behave as a responsible member of the fourth estate. But this section is confronted with real challenges. Recently, the India Policy Foundation had a distinguished visitor, the editor of a large Urdu daily. He was candid in admitting that his own colleagues in the Urdu journalism world are opposed to his secular ideas and mission, and refuse to cooperate with him. They warn him that his continuing on the secular path would cause a reduction in his newspaper’s circulation, and that Urdu readers are used to being fed on a diet of rumours, and news and analysis laced with plenty of malice.

The Urdu media clearly need to shed its “Aziz Burney” mentality. Keeping itself shackled to this mentality in the name of “readers’ preferences” is nothing less than the shameless dishonour of national integrity and identity. This issue on the role of the Urdu media has been put together by senior journalist and intellectual, Shri Manmohan Sharma and his team. It is hoped that this will be instrumental in understanding the role of the Urdu media in matters concerning the nation. Does the Government of India have the will and capability in curbing this mission of the Urdu media, which is gnawing at national unity? This may be sad to state, but so long as the country’s Prime Minister continues to entertain editors and media outlets possessed by the proclivity of rumour-mongering, marketing of malice, and the ghost of separatism, at tea and Iftar parties, the fear of the political vote-bank turning hostile will continue to circumscribe the government’s will and capacity to act in the interests of the nation. In such a situation, it is impossible to conceive of any firm action. Finally, it needs to be stressed that the ‘peacetime’ rioters of this country are the actual enemies of secularism and national unity. The regrettable but grim fact is that a large part of the Urdu media has become the ideological stomping ground for such enemies of the nation.
                                                                                                  —Prof. Rakesh Sinha