Ranjona Banerji: To be a Muslim journalist in Modi’s India

09 Jul,2021

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji

 

I have taken the liberty of using this long quote from a moving and telling article by journalist Mohammad Ali, in The Baffler, about being a Muslim journalist in India, in the current scenario. And his own case, being a Muslim journalist who covers sectarian violence by Hindutva “activists”:

 

“I had extensively reported on Hindutva vigilantes before. I had spoken to extremist leaders who would say the most atrocious things about Islam, often openly calling for mass violence against my community. Yet up until then, however tense the situation, I had never quite feared for myself as a Muslim man. Extremist leaders would add ji, an honorific, while addressing me, and usually smile at the end of meetings. They took me to be a journalist, and by extension, I suppose, an educated, well-connected man, somehow above the communal fray.

 

“But things felt different after Modi’s election. The masks were finally off. The facade of courtesy and civility I once counted on as a shield didn’t exist anymore. As an epidemic of communal violence took over India—according to Human Rights Watch, at least forty-four people were killed in “cow-related violence” across twelve Indian states between May 2015 and December 2018—I grew hesitant in approaching my old contacts, aware that their words had easily turned into deeds, that many of them were attacking and even killing Muslims with impunity.

 

“Friends suggested that I hide my identity while reporting. I decided against it, if only to provoke the fanatics into revealing their real selves. At the same time, I was acutely aware that in Modi’s India, my Muslim name could get me lynched. I wondered if a Muslim reporter could actually cover such subjects without paying a terrible price.

 

Reporting on people who could kill you tomorrow is a harrowing experience. A day of reporting would lead to a night of uncertainty, pain, fear, trauma, anger. It was a double-edged sword. I was resigned to reporting what perhaps cannot be changed, and yet I felt helpless, like my fellow Muslims, against a marauding, hateful crowd. In any case, it was clear that Muslim journalists could no longer be objective, impartial observers. We were moving targets in Modi’s India. Tragically, we had become part of the story, and it was a story I was determined to tell. The long-term impact on my mental health became clear only later.”

https://thebaffler.com/salvos/the-scream-ali

 

Ali’s honesty is stark and eloquent. Sadly, he is not saying anything new or anything we did not already know. In Modi’s India, it is not just certain journalists who are targeted for their journalism, but it is journalists who are non-Hindu upper caste who face the biggest threats from various government agencies and from influential Hindutva forces close to power sources. And Muslims top that list of targets.

 

The fact that journalist Siddique Kappan is consistently denied bail because of trumped up charges of “terrorism”, while on his way to cover the gangrape and subsequent murder of a woman in Hathras, UP, makes it clear why and how Muslims are targets in India. The UP government tried its best to stop the public from knowledge of the Hathras gangrape, and Kappan’s arrest is one more act of malice towards Muslims in India.

UP court denies bail to journalist Siddique Kappan

 

Journalist Rana Ayyub has been a consistent target of government and BJP attack. Her international presence is especially irksome for the Modi government and she, and other Muslim journalists and Muslim politicians, are currently in the dock for tweeting a video of a Muslim man being harassed and beaten up by Hindutva “activists”. (In Modi’s India, Hindutva goons and thugs are known as “activists”.) Many people who were not Muslim also shared that video but do not face any action.

https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2021/jun/16/twitter-rana-ayyub-among-nine-booked-by-up-police-over-ghaziabad-viral-video-2317012.html

 

Mohammed Zubair of the fact-checking website Alt News and journalist Saba Naqvi have also been named by the UP police for tweeting the same video.

 

Unfortunately for the Modi government, the more they target Ayyub, the more international coverage these attacks get:

https://scroll.in/video/999516/the-brazenness-of-it-has-taken-me-aback-rana-ayyub-speaks-to-bbc-about-police-case-against-her

 

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But by far one of the most disgusting assaults on Muslim women including journalists, has been the recent “sullideals” incident, where the details of Muslim women were put up for auction on a website. “Sulli” is a derogatory term for Muslim women used by the Hindutva rightwing and by Hindu supremacists.

https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-we-were-targeted-for-having-a-voice-and-being-muslim-women-who-were-auctioned-online/387586

 

One of the women so attacked on this website was Fatima Khan, a senior journalist with The Print.

 

Although some legal action has been taken after condemnation, it is also true that the perpetrators are unashamed and carry on with impunity. They were brazen in their attitudes on social media and kept reappearing even as the site and their social media handles were taken down. You can but help thinking that they have support from within the Hindutva system from which they draw confidence.

 

The Editors Guild of India issued a strong statement on the matter:

“The Editors Guild of India considers it reprehensible that images of women journalists and other professionals from minority community were posted online and shared over social media, in a denigrating manner, putting them “up for auction”. Journalist Fatima Khan, who had done intrepid reporting on the Delhi riots of 2020, was one of those targeted in these posts.

 

“This vile attack is symptomatic of underlying misogyny in some sections of the society, especially against Muslim women as well as those who have been outspoken critics of the current government. Earlier this year, freelance journalist, Neha Dikshit, was threatened and harassed online, stalked, and had an attempted break in at her place, all which was linked to her journalism.

Statements Issued

 

The last seven years have proved over and again our helplessness in combating majoritarian hatred which draws strength from the government in power. We have seen this particularly with Muslim journalists who cover Kashmir, especially after the abrogation of Article 370. Part of the blame must rest on the journalistic community itself, particularly those who continue to kowtow and remain obeisant to the Modi government, the RSS and the BJP. They not only undermine journalism but are also real dangers to those amongst us who do actual work, not just regurgitating press releases.

 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued earlier this month its list of “Press Freedom Predators”. Of the 37 “heads of state or government who crack down massively on press freedom” is Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India.

https://rsf.org/en/news/rsfs-2021-press-freedom-predators-gallery-old-tyrants-two-women-and-european

 

I leave you with that thought.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday. Her views here are personal

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