Ranjona Banerji: No place for whataboutery on Thoothukudi

25 May,2018

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Events at Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) on May 22, when 11 people were killed in police firing is one of the worst instances of state violence in recent times. These were protesters against the expansion of the Sterlite copper mines in the town. Protests have been going in for years and right now, for over three months. The reaction of the state is therefore questionable, which is the mildest term one can use.

In any normal world, this would have been the main story for most newspapers and news channels. How normal are we? A letter from an archbishop about turbulent times in India continued to roil Times Now and Republic, whose rivalry and search for a Hindu India continues unabated, regardless of the consequences. Other news channels including NDTV picked up on this letter which in some alternative journalism universe counts as the biggest story of the week.

Mirror Now focused on Thoothukudi and on the fuel price hikes, much to its credit. But this raises even more questions about Bennett Coleman and the group’s varying standards of journalism. Political developments in Karnataka also got more airtime than Thoothukudi in parts of the media.

The first question that comes to mind therefore, is about the possible fear of corporate India by media managers. That 13 deaths at the hands of the police must be if not ignored then certainly not highlighted – does that come from a fear of loss of advertising or because of government pressure? Any journalist would want to know who and why the protestors were treated so harshly, why snipers were used, why people were shot in the chest, why tear gas, water cannons and other methods were not used first.

But we took a lot of time to get to all that. And we still have no clear answers. The chief minister of Tamil Nadu has defended the police and blamed NGOs. The bureaucracy has tried to shut down the area, a clear tactic to avoid independent investigation. Our patriotic news channels have tried to blame the Congress as usual.

Every passing day, we appear to reach our worst moments as journalists. Someone compared Thoothukudi to Jallianwalla Bagh. But there are some very essential differences, the foremost being that Jallianwalla Bagh was the action of a colonial force against a captive people. The deaths of Thoothikudi are caused by the Indian state, which has attacked its own people in contravention of every law.

Whataboutery has no place here. The events are horrific by themselves. Regardless of whether the protesters were right or wrong, the reaction of the State is unacceptable and appalling.

It is encouraging to see digital media showing more courage at times like this. These two links from The Wire give the lie to several journalistic pro-government spins on events at Thoothukudi.

https://thewire.in/environment/how-modi-government-helped-vedantas-sterlite-plant-bypass-environmental-norms

https://thewire.in/environment/anti-sterlite-protest

 

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The story of journalist and author Rana Ayyub and the harassment and threats she faced on social media were covered in this column and elsewhere. But to read what she underwent in her own words is heartrending. Her courage is commendable and those of us who fight similar if smaller battles everyday must not only support her but realise that to defeat these forces, the fight must continue.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/22/opinion/india-journalists-slut-shaming-rape.html

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal

 

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