Ranjona Banerji: How low is low for our news media?

19 Aug,2022

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji

 

Is this the moment when the large section of the Indian media which is in a self-induced coma must wake up?

This moment, when a committee of citizens in Gujarat agreed to release 11 rapists and murderers for Independence Day?

Bilkis Bano was gangraped during the Gujarat 2002 riots and seven members of her family were killed by these 11 men. They have been convicted. The trial court in Mumbai was against their early release.

But this committee, which had two BJP MLAs in it, decided that these rapists and murderers deserved to be free.

https://scroll.in/article/1030779/gujarat-ignored-trial-courts-opinion-as-board-with-five-bjp-members-set-bilkis-bano-convicts-free

One of the BJP MLAs then went on to inform the people of India that these rapists and murderers were good Brahmin men and Brahmin men have “good sanskaar” (culture)”.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/bilkis-banos-rapists-are-brahmins-have-good-sanskar-bjp-mla-3266193

 

The Print, was silent for a couple of days and then wrote one of its famous 50-word edits:

“Remission of Gujarat gangrape convicts’ life sentence is a political obscenity and their celebratory ‘welcome’ a national shame. We know there is an election in Gujarat soon and the BJP needs polarization. But stooping to this? Bilkis Bano is owed an apology and return of the rapists to jail.”

On the face of it, excellent.

But give me a moment. Check this sentence: “We know there in an election in Gujarat soon and the BJP needs polarisation.”

In effect, this means the media accepts that polarisation – here specifically on religious grounds – is acceptable up to a point. And that the polarisation is how the BJP wins elections and that is also acceptable.

Is there any aspect of the Constitution or even of a civilised political system which mandates hatred as a legitimate form of political behaviour?

And how low is too low for such a media?

All right, ostensibly releasing rapists is too low in this instance. But we have since the BJP came to power at the Centre, accepted gangrapes of children reportedly by BJP members and politicians, we have accepted gangrapes of young Dalit women by upper caste men and subsequent bullying of Dalit families for protesting against the gangrape, we have accepted the lynching and killing of Muslims and Dalits because some Hindutva proponent suspected them of keeping meat in their refrigerators, we have accepted the suicides of Dalit students who have been discriminated against.

And as we have accepted all this, we have decided never to blame the ruling government for any of its transgressions. All transgressions are blamed on previous governments.

This edit itself also does not apportion blame. It does not mention any senior BJP members, certainly not the Prime Minister himself. In case The Print is unaware, let’s educate them. The honourable Prime Minister of India was the honourable Chief Minister of Gujarat when these 11 Brahmin men committed his heinous crime. He was also honourable chief minister of Gujarat when 2002 riot cases were moved out of Gujarat because justice was not being done in Gujarat.

Sometimes the Indian media tells us that the honourable Prime Minister is all-knowing, in total control, and that everything he does is a “masterstroke”. Sometimes they tell us that other people do things – people from his own stable by the way – and those show him in a bad light. Both positions cannot be correct. If one is excuse, the other is a lie.

Thus, as all TV channels protest against the release, they do it in isolation from the larger situation. It cannot be the BJP Headquarters which have done this. It is some local effort. And so on. Or we must object but not mention the BJP at all.

The extent of this capitulation we all know. We also know this cowardly media will soon stop about the injustice and hop on to the next subject, which will be dictated to them from the BJP HQ.

At least a few citizens have spoken up:

https://thewire.in/rights/over-6000-signatories-demand-revoking-remission-of-convicts-in-bilkis-bano-case

 

Between despair and humour, let’s end with humour. Just to see how TV star Rahul Kanwal cannot even look the camera in the eye when Tamil Nadu’s Finance Minister Dr P Thiaga Rajan, deftly and consummately rips the Honourable Prime Minister’s Independence Day meanderings to shreds.

https://twitter.com/ptrmadurai/status/1560222721870483463?s=20&t=ZROqgd6pO5fiYVbPv8qoRw

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal.

 

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