Ranjona Banerji: Fear and loathing

03 Mar,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


Prime Minister Narendra Modi set the world of Twitter on fire when he announced on Monday night: “This Sunday am thinking of giving up my social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Will keep you all posted.”  Unsubstantiated news informed me that Arnab Goswami of Republic TV first hopped about discussing “fake news” (about which he undoubtedly knows more than most), then decided that this was the most important news of the day, week, month, year, century. Well, obviously.

The Deccan Herald’s “Speak Out” quote section outdid itself in its gentle mockery of prime ministerial puffery. Modi’s announcement was countered with this quote from British writer Charlie Brooker: “There is no point. That’s the point. Embrace the lack of a point.”

As we know, we only have a handful of brave Indian journalists left. Who can blame them? Sedition charges flying freely, being attacked on the streets by murderous mobs often incited by your bosses in studios, detentions made for no reason. One week in Calcutta was joyous because of the courage of The Telegraph. But as we know, the less said the better about the group’s Hindi channel, APB News.

The Network of Women in Media, India issued a statement condemning the attacks on journalists who covered the Delhi riots. It makes several pertinent points: “It is commendable that, despite the violence and threats, journalists have continued to report from the ground at considerable risk to their lives. However, given these recent developments, we believe it is also incumbent on media houses to equip reporters to deal with such contingencies – for example, by providing training in how to report in hostile environments. With press cards evidently not a guarantee of safety any longer, it is also necessary to ensure that journalists do not have to venture into such volatile situations alone, unprotected and ill-equipped.

“The NWMI is also concerned about sections of the media shying away from highlighting the fact that targets of arson were deliberately selected.  Focusing on economic losses as a whole, which may well affect all communities in the violence-hit neighbourhoods, while failing to point out targeted violence, including destruction of property, amounts to not telling the whole truth.”

And here is the crux of the matter. Journalists are unwilling, reluctant or instructed not to cover any aspects of this riot which show the BJP in a bad light or portray the riotous Hindu mobs as anything other than patriots.

As far as Muslims are concerned, several journalists have gone out of their way to find “good Muslims”, that is those who have protected Hindu sites or can read Sanskrit or the Bhagwad Gita. It sounds very sweet but the larger implication is that Muslims who do not read the Gita are somehow less worthy of general sympathy because they are not “Hindu” enough.

Of course, in the real world, as far as the Constitution is concerned (whatever is left of it), it does not matter if you are good or bad at following this or that religious rite or whether you celebrate Eid or Diwali. Your individual rights are inalienable, and this includes the right to practise your own religion without practising someone else’s as well. I understand the need for this sentimental projection of Indian secularism, but it can be counterproductive because it stigmatises those Muslims or Christians who do not read the Gita or know Sanskrit. It is worth noting that no such burden is placed by journalists on Hindus and definitely not on Hindus who owe allegiance to the Sangh Parivar view of life.


I see squabbles on social media between journalists on this uneven coverage and on attempts by company journalists to play down the damage done to Muslims and in Muslim areas. Even if you look at our worst moments as journalists and our gutter press strain of DNA, to mock and expose the powerful in any field was always an unerring instinct. Now, alas.

The NWMI has also issued the following statement on the sexual harassment and assault allegations made against the son of journalists Swapan Dasgupta and ReshmiDasgupta. Apart from this website which commented on the initial stories and a couple of others, most news sites have taken the news down on fear of legal action. Thus is news buried. This is shameful at a time when Hollywood mogul has been found guilty.



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



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