Ranjona Banerji: Media once again responsible for demonising all Muslims

17 Apr,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

No matter how humanity survives this virus and the economic and social collapse on the other side of it, large swathes of the Indian media will be remembered for making this fight about hatred and sectarianism.

The minute the news broke that the Tablighi Jamaat, a small, somewhat secretive sect of Islam, had held a conference in Delhi in March, sections of the Indian media broke out in joy. Here at last, they could deflect attention from the Modi government’s dismal response to Covid-19 by attacking the Hindutva right wing’s favourite target: Muslims. Stories were invented about Tablighis and/ or Muslims attacking healthcare workers, spitting on the general public and generally behaving like the virus themselves.

As a result of this vicious media onslaught, all Muslims have been victims of violence and social ostracisation. Those responsible for this, within the media, have been defiant and proud of their sectarianism. Clarification after clarification about the behaviour of those at the Tablighi meeting and about Muslim reactions have been issued, but it has made no difference. The media has been, once again, responsible for the demonisation of all Muslims.

Which of course is what they were doing before the virus hit as anyway. All India’s problems were caused by the women of Shaheen Bagh and students of Jamia Milia University and Aligarh Muslim University for instance.

Did the Tablighi Jamaat act irresponsibly? Very possibly? Did their delegates spread the disease? From all evidence? Yes. But between those two statements lie several question marks. Several other gatherings were held, of various religions. The meeting began before the Prime Minister announced the first lockdown. If there had been rigorous testing at airports from January onwards as claimed by the Prime Minister, how did infected people get in? Even if they were a-symptomatic then, why were they not tracked? There are any number of investigations which a journalist can do here to cover Covid-19, without vilifying every follower of one religion.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52306879

Covid 19 highlights the same problems for the media loyal to the Modi government and the BJP that we have seen over the last six years: in order to practise journalism, they have to question the government. And that, as we now know, is almost impossible. Rahul Kanwal’s infamous madrassa “sting” falls in this category. Somehow find a Muslim angle, put it out there and let the government’s criminal incompetence run free.

Let us not forget, the Centre is not answering questions. Here’s an example, from Caravan India’s Vidya Krishnan, about how the ICMR Covid-19 taskforce is not consulted for important decisions and the response, or lack of response pretending to be a response, via a Press Information Bureau “fact check”.

https://caravanmagazine.in/government/modi-administration-did-not-consult-icmr-appointed- covid-task-force-before-key-decisions?fbclid=IwAR09VStFBxDEUfg8vaoaVNA7u2CUFQZH86m012XPpPM6LGuXCngQtUQXpxY

https://caravanmagazine.in/health/rejoinder-pib-icmr-did-not-respond-to-questions-claiming -report-task-force-was-fake-news

While the planet struggles, the Modi government continues with its attack on writers, intellectuals and journalists. The FIR filed against Siddharth Varadarajan, one of the founder-editors of the online news site, The Wire, highlights the vendetta nature of the government. The Wire reported that the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh attended a religious function after the PM’s lockdown announcement. The first report by The Wire contained a factual mistake, attributing a quote to the UP CM, which was corrected subsequently.

This is the link to the article:

https://thewire.in/health/as-covid-19-cases-spike-nehru-stadium-in-delhi-to-be-converted-to -quarantine-centre

The Leaflet carefully examines the FIR and explains its position in law, which is evidently and clearly untenable on a number of counts:

https://theleaflet.in/fir-against-siddharth-vardarajan-criminalisation-of-media/

A number of prominent citizens have also protested:

https://www.deccanherald.com/national/about-3500-jurists-artists-slam-fir-against-varadarajan- call-it-attack-on-media-freedom-825481.html

**

Tragically, there is nothing new here. The behaviour of parts of the media and a government emboldened by a supplicant media, have both remained unchanged over the past six years of Modi rule. Criticise the BJP and you pay the price. Interestingly, the only time the media has defied the Modi government outright is by ignoring his “task”, given to citizens the other day, not to sack employees. Media owners just went ahead and sacked people anyway!

Rangoli Chandel, sister-manager of well-known Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut, has been known for her vicious and Islamophobic tweets. Her last one went a little too far, when she asked for Muslims and secular journalists to be lined up and shot. Her account was suspended. But I can guarantee you that Modi’s journalists would not find her demand strange or unacceptable. That’s the level of hatred which no virus can kill.

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/amphtml/pranavdixit/coronavirus-india-twitter-kangana-ranaut- rangoli-chandel?__twitter_impression=true&fbclid=IwAR2Guw1G3Uc1qV3LkA7syHbV8nLalpvtvhK7a1SC1UkpV1x 33lYmQEWcMbA

 

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

 

 

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