A shrinking space for Muslims in the Indian media

04 Jun,2019

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The Times of India’s website ran a headline on June 2 which read like this: “Pak origin London mayor brands Donald Trump a fascist”.

The underbelly of this tweeted headline is evident: Sadiq Khan is a Muslim. Sadiq Khan is mayor of London, elected by the people of London in 2016, but he is of Pakistani origin and by insinuation, how dare a Pakistani Muslim call the President of the United States a fascist, when and perhaps there is a further insinuation here, that Muslims and/or Pakistanis are fascists themselves.

Is there an underlying message here for Indian Muslims from the mainstream Indian media? This is not from Opindia or Swarajya. This headline is from India’s largest read English language newspaper. If this headline was just one off, it could be dismissed as the work of a rogue sub-editor on a late night shift. But let’s not forget Times Now’s anchors like Navika Kumar and Rahul Shivshankar screaming themselves hoarse about how Hindus are in peril or that the Congress Party and Trinamool Congress only care about Muslims.

What a difference from the newspaper group which once launched the “Aman ki Asha” campaign in 2010 together with the Jang group of Pakistan, to push for peace between India and Pakistan regardless of government policy.

I mention Times of India because of the toxic undercurrent of its Sadiq Khan tweet. It is a mindset. According to various experts, this victory by the BJP and Narendra Modi represents an upsurge of Hindu pride. The co-relation to that is a rise in anti-Muslim anger. It’s not that we haven’t seen it before and as if it hasn’t been underlined by every lynching, every bit of violence in the name of “cow protection”, every mention of “termites”, every insinuation about graveyards and cemeteries, every move to push the NRC, every allegation that Bengal does not allow Durga puja celebrations but only Muharram processions or even every statement that the Congress only cares about Muslims and not about Hindus over the past five years. All these have insidiously made their way into the public discourse so that the anti-Muslim idea can be normalised.

Political parties themselves have found themselves bamboozled by BJP strategy. The Congress ran around trying to prove that every member of the Nehru-Gandhi was a Brahmin. Shashi Tharoor took a pro-religion anti-Supreme Court line on the entry of women into Sabarimala. Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress are still being played by the BJP and Sangh Parivar on this issue.

The role of the media in furthering this political game by the BJP and its cohorts cannot be ignored or even exaggerated. Often, journalists in their private capacities reveal themselves to be highly Islamophobic, prejudiced, susceptible to rightwing Hindutva propaganda, if not open advocates of anti-Muslim sentiments. I include their Twitter and Facebook profiles in this.

Journalists who do not toe this BJP-line are as ever tagged lefties, commies, Maoists, Congress stooges and all the rest of it. But that is par for the course and hardly new.

What is dangerous for democracy is when journalists are allowed by their media houses to be proud of their ignorance of democracy, of the Indian Constitution and of India’s diversity. The number of TV journalists especially who have put forward the line that one cannot criticise the Modi government because it has won an election is horrifying.

The ignorance of journalists has also been exposed here. Partly because newsrooms are so young and so eager to get rid of institutional memory, partly because our education system is skewed and tampered with over the years. Who Delhi’s Khan Market is named after is a case in point. So is “Pak-origin” London mayor.

As Muslims celebrate Eid today and tomorrow, notice how the focus on Ramzan, on post-fast celebrations, on Eid itself has reduced in the Indian media. The cultural impact of this will hit us down the years if journalists continue to give in to Hindutva propaganda and remove parts of India’s diversity from the public consciousness.

What is in danger is not the Hindu or Hinduism, it is India’s future and the space for a combative, strong, holding truth to power Indian media.

 

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

 

 

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