Indian media in particular, and civil society should introspect so as to mitigate the case of bias against Hinduism that may very well stand against them today.

Indian media has done a commendable job in covering international events, be it Arab spring, Tahrir square, Gaza conflicts to beatification of saints at Vatican. The only blind spot has been the plight, or rather the disappearance, of Hindus worldwide, including in India’s own backyard. This is quite inexplicable given that other events in these regions, elections and terror attacks in Pakistan, have been generously covered. Comprehensive efforts towards the documentation of this apathy have been few and far between. It is perhaps for this reason that my first effort towards that end  [145] has received more attention than I expected . It turns out that I had unintentionally omitted several human tragedies and instances of dichotomy  in my first piece. This piece is an effort to complete  the above work.

Hindus disappearing in India’s Backyard

Pakistan:

Given the apathy in Indian media on the coverage of the disappearances alluded to, let me first start with startling facts that should have  by now been well known to an Indian audience in normal course. When Pakistan was created in 1947, Hindus constituted about 15% of the population of West Pakistan (current Pakistan); by 1998 it is about 1.6%  [1]  – the population has declined by about 90% in about 50 years. This decimation is the outcome of sustained  legal and social discrimination ever since the creation of Pakistan. On the legal front[2] , only Muslims are eligible for the position of President or Prime minister of Pakistan.

Minorities protesting the criminal acts performed against them in Pakistan. Minorities protesting the criminal acts performed against them in Pakistan.

The Sharia court in Pakistan has promoted religiosity and strengthened fanatics. It  inflicts Islamic punishments, including stoning to death, amputation of hands and feet, flogging in public to non-Muslim citizens too. Blasphemy laws carry a death sentence and have been used to target non Muslims [3]. Family laws for non-Muslims do not exist. Thus, marriages can not be legally established for purpose of travel, and divorce and property right disputes can not be resolved [2].. On the social front, curriculum in government schools and Madrasas promote religious hatred against minorities. The number of Madrasas has increased from 244 in 1956  to 10,000 in 2013 p. 74, [1] .

As a result, Hindu women, mostly minors,  are being persistently abducted and forcibly converted, Hindu businessmen kidnapped for ransom, and Hindu temples destroyed. An elaborate infrastructure [8] has been designed to prey upon the likes of  Rachna Kumari [9] and  Rinkel Kumari [10] .

The human rights commission in Pakistan reports that 20-25 young Hindu girls are abducted and forcibly converted every month. Dawn puts this number at 1000 every year for Hindu and Christian women.  Pakistan has been home to numerous Hindu temples of which only 360 remain, with an even smaller number functioning; thousands of temples have been destroyed since 1947 p. 81, [1]. One of the holiest sites of the Hindus, the Hinglaj Mata Mandir has also been targeted by extremists. Bereft of any hope for dignified survival in Pakistan, Hindus are taking refuge abroad. Pakistan Hindu council estimates that about 5000 Hindus leave for India every year p. 73, [1].

Bangladesh:

From almost a third of East Pakistan’s (currently Bangladesh’s) population as per Pakistan’s 1951 census, by 1971, when Bangladesh was born out of East Pakistan, Hindus were less than a fifth of its population; Hindus constitute less than 10% of the populace there thirty years later; and  as little as  8% today per reliable estimate. (p. 30, [7]). The situation is now so dire that even Amnesty has taken note that the Hindu community in Bangladesh is at extreme risk and is being targeted simply for their religion p. 24, [1].

In 1971 alone 10 million ethnic Bengalis, mostly Hindus fled to India and 200,000 women were raped p. 26, [1]. From 1975 onwards, religious minorities including Hindus have been subjected to discriminatory property laws, restrictions on religious freedom and violence perpetrated by both state and non-state agencies p. 30, [1]. For example, Hindus are attacked almost every year during the celebration of their most important festival, Durga Puja [18].

47 temples, 700 Hindu houses burnt across Bangladesh. Photo Credit: <a href="http://himachalwatcher.com/discussion/47-temples-700-hindu-houses-burnt-across-bangladesh/" shape="rect">Himachalwatcher</a> 47 temples, 700 Hindu houses burnt across Bangladesh. Photo Credit: Himachalwatcher

Before creation of Bangladesh Pakistani government had instituted an enemy property act (EPA) in 1965, which officially labeled Hindus as enemies and enabled annexation of their properties. The EPA has continued under different names since the creation of Pakistan: VPA (Vested Property Act), VRPB (Vested Property Return Bill) etc, and has robbed 200,000 Hindu families of 16 X 107 square meters of their land between 2001 to 2007 (estimated by Abul Barakat of Dhaka University) p. 43, [1].

Sri Lanka:

The predominantly Hindu, Tamil population of Sri Lanka has been at the receiving end of economic and religious persecution for decades. The vast majority of about 200,000 Tamils living in Canada had migrated after the ethno-religious conflicts of 1980s [77]; 65,000 Tamils live in refugee camps and 35,000 outside in Tamil Nadu [78]; a bulk of 120000 Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora in UK consists of refugees who fled persecution [79]; many others have found refuge in Switzerland and Norway [80].

Civil liberties and religious heritage of Hindu Tamils have long been a casualty of the civil war in Sri Lanka; the violations have not however abetted subsequent to the conclusion of the strife. First, since 1972, Sri Lankan constitution  provides Buddhism “the foremost place” and proclaims that “it shall be the duty of the state to protect and foster Buddhist religion”(p. 170, [1, [81])). The inequity enshrined in the constitution has been followed up in practice by imposition of Buddhism on the predominantly Hindu Tamil populace (a small fraction of Tamils practice Christianity and Islam). Buddhist monuments are being constructed where very few Buddhists live and soldiers monitor meetings at Hindu temples [82]. At the World Hindu Congress, 2014,   the chief minister of Northern Provincial Council of Sri Lanka, Mr.C.V.Wigneswaran has described the religious plight of Hindus in Sri Lanka as follows:

C.V Wigneshwaran, Photo Credit: <a href="http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/page/9?ref=acillin-buy-safely.soup.io" shape="rect">dbsjeyraj</a> C.V Wigneshwaran, Photo Credit: dbsjeyraj

According to the figures released by the Sri Lankan government’s own Ministry of Hindu Religious and Cultural Affairs, out of the 1607 registered Hindu temples 1479 were damaged as of the year 1993. In 2010, which had seen the end to the brutal war in the previous year, the memorandum forwarded to the Director General of the UNESCO by the Hindu Religious Priests’ Organization of the North Eastern Provinces said “More than 1560 Hindu temples have been damaged and rendered useless while 240 Hindu temples have been totally destroyed due to the ongoing war in the North and East.’’

This was the violent side to it – there were of course the more subtle measures at play parallelly. The 1972 Constitution cast away secularism, while Hindu missions and communities were evicted from places where they had lived for centuries. This was carried out in Anuradhapura in the North Central Province, where I spent a few years as a young boy, and in Kathirgamam in the Southern Province where most Hindus in Sri Lanka visited at least annually, under the guise of sacred area preservation.

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The suffering of the Hindu community did not end when the war came to an end in 2009. It continues to this day as highlighted by the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a leading think tank in its March 2013 report.   “Access to temples in High Security Zones and areas restricted by the military;  Military intrusion into religious practices and rituals; Buddhist and other religious symbols being set up in the vicinity of Hindu religious sites; Allegations of destruction of kovils and shrines; Disputes over archaeological sites;

Threats to religious places from development activity; Concerns of conversions from Hinduism to other religions” were listed as the major impediments facing the Hindus of the North and East. In fact, when I attempted to visit an area recently as the Chief Minister, upon hearing that Army personnel were destroying a Hindu place of worship, I was politely denied access.[83]

Not only chief minister, Wigneswaran,  but even the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna has attested that:  

“A full-scale Buddhisization of the North is underway. First huge statues of Buddha and Dagobas were erected either in or near the army camps with full participation of the security forces. Some of these were erected near permanent Hindu Temples which had been there for centuries. To the total dismay of the Hindus and against their religious sentiments, in some places the already existing Hindu Temples were brought down and in those places Buddhist worship sites are established as in Chavachachcheri and Kilinochichi.” [97].

Numerous Buddhist Viharas are being constructed in the north and east by razing existing Hindu temples as confirmed by a member of the Sri lankan Parliament [87]. Kanniya Shivan temple in Trincomalee and the Murugan temple in Illangaithurai Muhathuwaram constitute eminent examples [96].

Until 2010, the official history of the Kanniya hot springs connected it to Ravana of Ramayana. Regular poojas used to be held in the adjoining Kovil (temple) despite damage inflicted by the armed violence of the 90s. But, nothing remains of the old temple structure any more, and the statues of the temple have been placed in a dusty room along with objects like a spade and a bicycle. A Buddhist temple has now emerged in vicinity of the Kovil (Hindu temple), and  the archaeological survey of Sri Lanka has now taken possession of the springs. It claims in a notice board that the wells were part of a Buddhist monastery, without informing  the archaeological evidence that constituted the basis for this revision [101].

Kanniya Hotsprings, Trincomalee,Sri Lanka, Photo Credit: <a href="http://http://miracleisland.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/kanniya-hot-springs-trincomalee/" shape="rect">Miracleisland</a> Kanniya Hotsprings, Trincomalee,Sri Lanka, Photo Credit: Miracleisland

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP for Batticaloa C.Yogeswaran has informed  journalists that two Hindu temples in Trincomalee are earmarked for forcible removal by the Colombo government and another temple in Batticaloa is being subjected to Sinhala militarisation, [85].

Hindu temples  have been destroyed in Trincomalee  by UPFA [86] and their lands have  been encroached upon  [90]. Thirteen terracotta  Saiva temple sculptures have been smashed in Trincomalee (pictures presented)  [91]. Hindu Tamil villagers wept when a  Siva temple located at an ancient Hindu site called Akaththiyar Thaapanam, at Kangku-veali in the Moothoor division of the Trincomalee district, where Hindus gather  to perform the Aadi Amaavaasai ritual for ancestors, was completely destroyed on the Sri Lankan Heroes’ Day on 27 November, 2009  [93].

In Jaffna, a century old Hindu temple chariot has been vandalized [94]. Sri Lanka military has stopped the renovation of Hindu temples [89], and have demolished Saiva temples in Dambulla (along with Buddhist monks) [92]. A Bhadrakali temple at Dambulla has been partly dismantled and the deity had been smashed and disposed off in a well [95, 104].  Sri Lankan government minister Mervyn Silva and his police entourage have been accused of disrespecting the traditions of a Tamil Hindu temple in Jaffna, after they parked their vehicles inside the temple premises and proceeded to enter the temple without removing their footwear [84].

Buddhist monks have also desecrated Hindu temples in Colombo [88] . In an UNCHR hearing, it was estimated that at least 1800 Hindu temples have been destroyed in Sri lanka [100] – a partial, but voluminous list has been compiled  [99,100]. Apart from damaging temples, Sri Lankan military has established a presence close to several temples of historical significance (eg, in Koneshwaram temple which has been mentioned in both Ramayana and Mahabharata and  has 3287 years of history [101] ). Fewer Tamil devotees. Have been visiting these temples ever since.

Afghanistan, Bhutan, Fiji, Malyasia:

Although Afghanistan has  thousands of years of Hindu history and  remains of several ancient temples and icons of Hindu deities,  Hindu  population has become nearly extinct there – it  has declined from approximately 200,000 in 1970s to less than 3000 currently (pp. 13-15, [1]). There is no Hindu or Sikh representative in the upper house of the country, only one Sikh is a member of the lower house. Many Hindus and Sikhs live in temples as their homes and businesses have been taken away. They are forcibly prevented from cremating their dead, stones are pelted at them while they do, and their crematoria are forcibly occupied by Muslims. They have been excluded from government jobs, and their children, especially girls,  are regularly harassed in schools (pp. 16-18, [1]).

Similarly, starting late 1980s, Buddhist Bhutan has expelled  nearly 100,000 traditional Hindus, constituting about 1/6th of the Bhutanese population [6] . Heart wrenching accounts of  refugees afflicted with syndromes such as alcoholisms that are commonly associated with long sojourns in refugee camps have been reported [102].

Hindus constitute 27.9% of the population of the Fiji islands (p. 174, [1]). Hindu population has however been steadily declining owing to migrations to US, Australia and New Zealand due, in part, to preference in government jobs  for ethnic Malenesians in the Christian majority country (p. 179, [1]). The government has implemented specific measures restricting the religious rights of Hindus, eg, they need  permits to hold events with more than ten people. Hindu temples, except those registered with one particular Hindu religious body, the Shree Sanatan Dharam Pratinidhi Sabha,  are being denied permits for religious gatherings (p. 180, [1]). Similarly, the Bumiputra policies explicitly discriminate against 6.3% Hindus in the Islamic republic of Malyasia p. iv, [1] 

Reaction of Government of India to this persecution of Hindus

Edmund Burke said that  the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing

The civil society, media  and the government of India have all remained mute spectators while this human tragedy of unimaginable magnitude has been unfolding right in their backyard.  Indian government has not accorded the official status of refugees to Hindus from Pakistan, despite satisfying the criteria for refugee status under international law due to Pakistan’s failure to protect them from religious persecution.

They live in abject poverty, in  cramped and squalid conditions in open tents in North and North West India, and have been suffering from repeated colds, coughs, psychosomatic conditions, blindness and oral tumors [11].  Similarly, over 15 lakh refugees from Pakistan occupied Kashmir have not been granted compensation promised to them, let alone citizenship [98].

This apathy has continued under governments of all political hues. It has however been reported that  the current government lead by PM Modi is planning a package which includes private jobs and a  fast track process for Indian citizenship for Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir [12,98].  The same government has however refused to grant  a package of 9096 crore rupees hastily approved for the PoK refugees towards the end of the NC-Congress coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir [98].

PoK refugees demanding rights. Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/pok-refugees-protest-outside-mps-house/" shape="rect">Dailyexcelsior</a> PoK refugees demanding rights. Photo Credit: Dailyexcelsior

 

The state government of Madhya Pradesh lead by CM Chouhan has rehabilitated 5464 minority refugees from Bangladesh [13]. No government of India has however discussed the religious persecution of Hindus in neighboring countries in any internal or external forum.  Opposition parties lead by Congress had though forced, through repeated disruptions [123], a discussion in Indian Parliament on Israeli excesses in Gaza [122]. In contrast, Pakistan has raised Gujarat riots at the United Nations [14].

This apathy of governments regardless of their political hues has perhaps resulted from the distortion introduced in classical notions of secularism by the Indian polity. Secularism has traditionally been defined as the separation of governance from religion – in India  it instead accords special legal and financial privileges to practitioners of all religions other than Hinduism, and celebrates historical figures like Aurangzeb who have followed a persistent policy of religious persecution (all governments till date have refused to rename a road named in his honor [33]).

Although, unlike India, Hindus constitute a small fraction of US population, public representatives in US have started taking cognizance of the plight of minorities in India’s neighborhood. Fifteen members of Congress had submitted a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton urging her to ensure that religious persecution of minorities end in Pakistan [15].

Democrat Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) and republican Congressman Aaron Schock (Illinois) have spearheaded a bipartisan Congressional letter that urges U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to make  human rights of the minorities in Bangladesh a priority in bilateral relations with US [16].

Tulsi Gabbard Tulsi Gabbard

 

Arlene A. Juracek, the mayor of the village of Mount Prospect has recognized the tragedy of Hindus in Bangladesh who can not celebrate Durga Puja in Bangladesh owing to its anti-Hindu laws [17].  Similarly, although US and European organizations have mostly focused on  the breach of religious freedom of Christians in Sri Lanka, it has occasionally mentioned about the persecution of Hindus too [105, 106].

Civil Society

The vibrant and ever watchful civil society in India has turned a blind eye to this gargantuan human tragedy. This is astonishing given that many activists are vigilant about caste violence perpetrated against the traditionally disadvantaged classes, as they should be.

Yet, the cause of Hindus in India’s backyard, as also their plight as refugees in India,  has not been championed despite the fact that they are predominantly Dalits. Protests against their persecution have been few and far between, and mostly relegated to much reviled supposedly casteist right wing Hindu groups [19], [20].

Protests have meanwhile been organized in Washington DC [21].  Civil rights advocacy for Hindus is being spearheaded by an organization based in US (Hindu American Foundations) but not by civil rights groups in the country that is home to the  largest number of Hindus anywhere in the world [1], [8], [11], [15], [16]. It is worthwhile mentioning that the outrage in civil society on the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits  from the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has been substantially muted as compared to that on Gujarat riots.

Yet,  the latter does not compare in scale to the size of the affected population for genocides in Kashmir (neither in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan for that matter).  From about 7% of the overall population in Kashmir in 1901 (pp. 30, 38 [34]), 4-5% in 1981, (p. 38, [35]p. 255, [36]) , Pandits reduced to a meager 808 families comprising of 3445 members in 2010 per government report. [44] . As  per figures given by UPA minister Shriprakash Jaiswal in a written reply in Parliament on 11 May 2005, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed in the riots, 2548 people were injured and 223 people were missing [46].

Indian leftist feminist movements have remained oblivious of the kidnapping, rape and forced marriages of Hindu women in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kashmir and Sri Lanka.   On a related note, feminists have held vociferous protests on right to kiss in public [148] but not on legalised gender discrimination in Indian Muslim society  (polygamy is legally permitted and divorce rights are not reciprocal).

Indian media – the most unkindest cut of all

Indian media, which has extensively covered events world wide, as in  Arab spring, Tahrir square, Gaza conflicts,  beatification of saints at Vatican, terror strikes in Pakistan, Australia was expected to remain vigilant on the status of minorities in India’s neighborhood, given how Hindus and Sikhs were butchered in Pakistan at its nascence (Bangladesh was then part of Pakistan).

Jinnah had written in a letter to the governor general that Sikhs will need to leave Pakistan (p. 175 [32]).  Well known Muslim league leader, Zafar Ali Khan, the proprietor of Daily Zamindar of Lahore, urged in his newspaper on 5 September, 1947 that no Sikh be allowed to remain in West Punjab (p. 137, [32]), and they left. Seven million Hindus and Sikhs were forced to leave Pakistan because of the organized mass slaughters.

In Sheikhupura, the district that contains Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak, in 2 days, 10,000-20,000 were killed in cold blood in 1947 (p. 167, [32]). All Hindus in Rohtas and Sanghoi of Jhelum were put to death (p. 200, [32]). In 128 villages of Rawalpindi district, 7000 Hindus and Sikhs were killed, and 1000 women were abducted  in matter of days in March 1947, as per news reports (the actual number is likely to be higher) (p. 80, [32]). Owing to these atrocities, perhaps, Nehru, not remotely communal by any standards, had said that the deeds in the Rawalpindi division would shame even beasts (p. 90, [32]).

Around the time of its creation, Pakistan government had also commissioned a team of Maulavis to convert young abducted women as per a civil and military gazette report in 1947 (p. 298, [32]). Hindu Sikh refugees who could flee to India had given statements that while men were only forcibly converted, women were forcibly married in addition p. 302. [32].

Hindu and Sikh girls brought by Pathan raiders of Kashmir were sold in the bazaars of Jhelum district (p. 201, [32]). Hindu and Sikh women immolated themselves to escape tortures the mobs were subjecting them to – 1)chopping of breasts, noses, arms 2) insertion of sticks and pieces of iron in their private parts, 3) ripping open wombs of pregnant women and throwing off the fetus (p. 81, [32]). Even children were not spared – snatched from their parents, they were tossed on spears and swords and some times burnt alive (p. 81, [32]).

Similarly, in Noakhali in then East Pakistan, in an elaborately planned carnage launched on October 10, 1946, on Kojagari Lokkhi Purnima, one of the holiest days of Bengali Hindus. The hinterland of Noakhali was cut off from the town by breaking the bamboo bridges across the canals. The boatmen, who were all Muslims, refused to ply, Hindus across, and Muslim league volunteers guarded all routes leading to railway stations (pp. 104-105, first edition, [26]).

A mayhem of targeted murder, rape and forcible conversation ensued. Cabinet minister Arthur Henderson reported to the house of commons on Nov  4, 1946 that at least 9895 Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam (likely many more) and thousands of Hindu women were abducted and married to Muslims against their will, stone idols were smashed and Hindu temples desecrated and Hindu men were forced to slaughter their own cows and forced to eat beef (p. 109, first edition, [26]).

Dr. Shyamaprasad  Mookerjee, who would later become a cabinet minister in India, wrote that 50,000-75,000 Hindus have had to flee their homes to escape the brutalities and live as destitutes for a while (pp. 110-112, first edition [26]).

 

Dr. Shyamaprasad Mookerjee Dr. Shyamaprasad Mookerjee

It would therefore be reasonably feared that Pakistan and later Bangladesh would not ensure the safety of its minority citizens. It is therefore inexplicable that Indian media would remain largely oblivious of  the genocide of Hindus that did follow.

To my knowledge, India Today did a cover story   on Hindus in Pakistan in the wake of the abduction of Rinkle Kumari on February 24, 2012 [22].  The tragedy of this young woman has received some coverage in other Indian news sites as well [4], [23] [24]. But, a systematic study of the genocide in Pakistan has been missing by and large; sporadic reports have focused on conditions of Pakistani Hindu refugees in India. A web search reveals that most of the limited coverage (outside Pakistan) that this human tragedy has received has been in news sites outside India.

Rinkle Kumari Rinkle Kumari

The story is no different for Hindus in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, Malyasia, Srilanka either. It is worthwhile to note that the discrimination in Sri Lanka has both ethnic and religious origin. While the ethnic aspect has been highlighted in the documentations of the Tamil refugees in national media (eg, Hindu), the religious dimension has been suppressed altogether. Although Hindus have borne the brunt of persecution by the majority Buddhist community in Sri Lanka, Christians and Muslims have not been spared either.

National media has occasionally reported the plight of religious discrimination against Tamil Muslims [103], but not the more widespread ones against Tamil Hindus.  It turns out that BBC has reported on the destruction of Hindu temples in Sri Lanka [104].

Yet, sites with much less resource than major media sites in India has started delving deeper into religious persecution of Hindus in South Asia.  India Facts will be publishing monthly reports on human rights abuse of Hindus in Pakistan – the first has already appeared[25]. Swarajya Magazine has published substantive research enumerating the discriminatory laws in Pakistan[2] and the plight of minorities there [150].

Hindu American Foundations has published extensive documentations  of religious persecution of Hindus all over the world [1]. The apathy of Indian media about Hindu victims of persecution has therefore not been induced by the lack of resources.

To the best of my knowledge, there are only three books in English on the genocide of Hindus in Bangladesh [7], [26], [27] (only one of these is by an Indian); one on the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits (its written by a Kashmiri Pandit); none on that in Pakistan or elsewhere. This stands in stark contrast to the extensive research directed on the Jewish holocaust and Gujarat riots (to name a few, [37]-[43]).

It is pertinent to note that journalist Swapan Dasgupta, who has reviewed the only book written on the genocide of Hindus in Bangladesh by an Indian  author [26] has mentioned in a twitter conversation that there has been limited interest in even reviewing the book, notwithstanding its historical value.  It is perhaps legitimate to ask of the Indian media and its civil rights activists why has the extent of their vigil not depended on the magnitude of a human tragedy rather than on the religion of the victims?

Religious bias in media reporting?

Rather than alleging Hindu phobia in Indian media, I would conclude  by placing a few incontrovertible facts pertaining to the difference in the nature of the coverage based on the religion of the victims.

1.Indian media had extensively covered the murder of a Muslim techie by Hindu goons in Pune [47], but barely mentioned brutal killings of a RSS pracharak in Kerala [48] and a BJP secretary in Tamil Nadu [49] or the rape of a 9 year old Hindu girl  by a Muslim [50] . Similarly, while Reuben Fernandez and Keenan Santosh were widely celebrated (as they should be) for sacrificing their lives to protect the dignity of their female friend, Shivsena leader Ramesh Jadav who was killed in an attempt to protect a woman from harassment barely received a mention [136].

2.Indian media  regularly champions the causes of under-trial Muslims at times accused of terror [71-74] and scrutinizes government and police actions to ensure that the interests of the accused are protected. Similar vigilance has  however not been extended for a Hindu woman Sadhvi Pragya who was arrested for involvement in Malegaon blasts and incarcerated for five years without charges being filed[67-69].

Sadhvi Pragya, Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.hindujagruti.org/news/newstags/sadhvi-pragya" shape="rect">hindujagruti</a> Sadhvi Pragya, Photo Credit: hindujagruti

No feminist or human rights group has come to her aid though she has alleged torture and harassment and has been denied bail despite her cancer diagnosis [69,70]. Similarly, army intelligence officer Lt. Col. Purohit has been incarcerated six years, again, without He has alleged brutal torture lasting for several days [76].  No investigative journalism has sought to verify the veracity of their claims. Worse, they have been branded terrorist and guilty even before a chargesheet was filed against them, and governments have been scrutinized to prevent any leniency for them.

This is notwithstanding the fact that  the previous home minister Mr. Shinde had asked all chief ministers to ensure that no Muslim be wrongfully held on charges of terror [75]. No media watchdog remembered that the emphasis on religion is inconsistent with the principle of secularism as has been classically defined. As practicing Hindus, neither Sadhvi Pragya nor Colonel Purohit can avail the Muslim specific leniency provisions that Mr. Shinde instructed the chief ministers to institute.

3. Media hardly uses the term Islamic terror or Muslim terror or green terror to describe islamic violence, but liberally utilized the saffron terror or Hindu terror coinages subsequent to the arrests of Sadhvi Pragya and Colonel Purohit. This is notwithstanding the fact that several Muslim extremist organizations have justified their terror acts by quoting verses verbatim from the Quran and the Hadith [107, 149] ;  whereas no Hindu has ever justified terrorism by quoting from Hindu texts .

Verses in Quran do prescribe brutal punishments for infidels for no reason other than being infidels (eg, 8:12, 8:36,  Chapter 5:33-34)   5-8 [111] citing [108-110]  and enjoin Muslims to engage in jihad or religious wars (9:29) p, 9 in [114],[112-115] Ghastly crimes such as rapes are attributed to patriarchy in Hinduism and epics in particular, although Hindu epics have not glorified such crimes anywhere, and women had a pride of place in ancient Hindu society [116].

Islam is however not held guilty, and in fact actively absolved, when Muslim clerics instruct women who have been raped by their fathers in law to divorce their husbands and marry their rapists [117], or when the pro-vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University proposes institutional discrimination against women students (denies library access to undergraduate women so as not to distract male students)  [118]. Multiple verses from Koran have in fact instructed women to be obedient to their husbands as the husbands hold gender-superiority  and have prescribed physical violence for disciplining disobedient wives; wives are but “tilth” for the husbands (2:223, 4:34) (pp. 18-22, [111]). Large scale sexual abuses, including those of minors,  in churches across the world including India are similarly never attributed to Christian teachings [119-121] .

4. Media highlights caste discrimination in contemporary Hindu society as it should; but observes silence, by and large, as to large scale caste and other discrimination  based on birth among Indian Christians  and Muslims. Dalit Christian activists (pp. 142-144, [124]) and Muslim scholars [125]  have however testified to such malaise. Untouchability and segregation of graveyards are rampant among Christians; inter-marriage among different castes is rare too [126].    Muslims in South Asia have stratified themselves as Ashrafs and Ajlafs, where the former claims superior status based on foreign ancestry.

In fact, discrimination based on birth appeared in Islam right after the death of its prophet – during the reign of Umayids (661-750 AD) non-Arab converts to Islam were referred to as Mawali. The term came to denote an unequal relationship during that period (pp. 24-25 ([114], [127]). They were excluded from the government, military, required Arab patrons and continued to pay discriminatory tax similar to Jaziah. In addition to this, both Quran and Bible mention and approve of slavery [128]. It is also worth noting that one of the most strident critics of the Hindu caste system, Dr. Ambedkar, has argued that the original caste (varna) system was not based on birth in Hinduism (p. 18, [129]), and untouchability emerged around 600 AD [130], that is, at least 2000 years after the Vedas were composed (p. 39, [124]).

5. Gujarat riots have been extensively reported on in the national media for a decade, while simultaneously implicitly justifying the carnage of Godhra Karsevaks that triggered the riots. The gruesome murder of Karsevaks was apparently justified as the outcome of  a “provocation’’ –  “that they were indulging in blatant and unlawful mobilization to build a temple and deliberately provoke Muslims in India’’ (Teesta Setalabad, Washington Post) [131].

Gujarat Riots, Photo Credit: <a href="http://indiaplex.com/gujarat-riots-18-get-life-imprisonment-in-the-ode-village-mass-murder/24/" shape="rect">IndiaPlex</a> Gujarat Riots, Photo Credit: IndiaPlex

In contrast to the reporting on Gujarat riots, religious violence Hindus have been subjected to in border districts of Bengal have been mostly ignored or barely received a mention in  the national and  Bengali media.  Indian army had to be deployed to quell the arson and violence perpetrated by Muslim mobs against the local Hindu community in De Ganga [51] .

Muslim mobs burnt down 200 Hindu homes in Canning police station area [52]. Islamic organizations conducted a rally in Kolkata in support of a vocal anti-India preacher, a rabid anti-Hindu who has organized pogroms against Hindus in Bangladesh [53] . Lakhs of extremist Muslims engaged in mass violence in the streets of Kolkata protesting the investigation of cross border terror  [54]. Hindus have been denied cremation rights in currently Muslim majority Murshidabad [55].

Riots in Bengal, Photo Credit: <a href="http://defenceforumindia.com/forum/politics-society/47911-riots-bengal-2.html" shape="rect">defenseforum</a> Riots in Bengal, Photo Credit: defenseforum

 

A Hindu activist organization, Hindu Samhati,  has been painstakingly documenting instances of religious persecution of young Hindu women in this region [56] – no main stream journalist has followed up or likely even verified their research (I had personally drawn the attention of several journalists towards their reports).  During a recent membership drive for Hindu Samhati, its founder Tapan Ghosh was detained by West Bengal police without citing grounds for arrest. Social media protested against his civil rights violation by trending #FreeTapanDa which made it to the top trend for almost a day.  Media organizations usually report on top trends – this incident remains one of the few eminent exceptions. Not only Bengal, as discussed later, national media has looked the other way on the persecution of Hindus in North East India too.

6.Demolition of Babri mosque occupied the center stage of political discourse in India and was widely reported in international media as well. Yet, damage inflicted on 208 out of existing 438 temples in Muslim majority Kashmir had hardly been reported [137]. In retaliation to Babri demolition, more than 75 historic temples  were burnt down or damaged by Islamist mobs throughout Bangladesh (spanning over 30 districts) over two weeks, as per a report published by the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian unity council of Bangladesh (pp. 182-191, [138] ). Similar violence was witnessed in Pakistan too [139], and Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh destroyed temples and killed Hindus in Assam [140]. None of these could perturb the public discourse in India.  On a related note, media barely reported how Allahabad high court had discredited the testimonies of historians and archaeologists who appeared on behalf of Sunni Waqf board in the Babri court case [144].

Babri Mosque Babri Mosque

7. Usually victims of marital persecution are given a sympathetic hearing in Indian media; but national level shooter Tara Sahdeo was harshly grilled in several television channels when she alleged that her husband tortured her demanding that she converts to Islam [57]. In fact, most Hindu women who have alleged attempts to convert them in the guise of a relationship have been reviled in Indian media. Not surprising then that the call of Imam Bukhari of Jama Masjid urging  Muslim youth to marry Hindu women for converting them has hardly been mentioned [58].

 

Tara Sahdev, Photo Credit: Iamblogger Tara Sahdev, Photo Credit: Iamblogger

8.Indian media was outraged when a Hindu activist, Dina Nath Batra, slapped a civil suit against Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism and had the publisher withdraw all copies of the book. It is worth noting that Mr. Batra attained his end through constitutional means, and not by inciting public violence.

Yet, the same media has remained largely silent when author Tasleema Nasreen who happened to offend Muslim fundamentalists through her criticisms of Islam was forced to move from Calcutta  due to violent protests by Muslim mobs [60]. She has been subjected to physical violence for her views  by MIM leaders, and the assault has been publicly defended by  Akbaruddin Owaisi, the brother of the president of MIM  [61].  TV serials and movies associated with author Tasleema Nasreen have routinely been banned in West Bengal even when they were unrelated to her views on Islam [62]. Indian media has failed to compellingly defend her freedom of expression in each of those instances.

 

Taslima Nasreen Taslima Nasreen

9.Indian media has freely questioned whether Hindu avatars Rama and Krishna were historic figures [141], but never the authenticity of Jesus or Mohammad, though historians and professors of Muslim theology (who are also practicing Muslims) have questioned the existence of both [142, 143].

10.There has been a furore in Indian media and in Parliament on one instance of conversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism. Neither has however agitated on predatory proselytizing  and at times forcible conversions enabled by millions of dollars of foreign grants (missionary organizations pushed more than 250 million dollars to India in one year) [63].

English language media has condoned the state patronage extended to Christianity by CM YSR  through its elegant silence [64]. Even worse, national media  which highlights Hindu fringe on every conceivable opportunity has remained silent on a violent Christian fringe which has sought to forcibly convert  Hindus to Christianity in the North East.  Dayanath singh, Gujarat press club office secretary, has reported that  in Bhuvan Pahar, one of the most holy places in Barak valley of Assam, a Christian militant organization, namely, Manmasi National Christian Army (MNCA), has been forcing at gun point  the Hindu residents, including priests,  to convert to Christianity [31].

Footages of blood stained crosses drawn on hindu Temples also exist. Tripura state government contends that the Baptist Church of Tripura supplies arms and gives financial support to the separatist group  National Liberation Front of Tripura, NLFT[30] , which  has among its stated goals the conversion of all Hindu tribes in Tripura to Christianity [29].  NLFT has banned Hindu festivities like Durga Puja [28] , killed over 20 Hindus from 1999 to 2001 for resisting forced conversion to Christianity[65] , forcibly converted tribals  using  “rape as a means of intimidation’’[66],  broken  into a temple and gunned down a popular Hindu preacher known as Shanti Kali [29].

It is telling that my references for  the terror allegedly fomented by the church in India’s North East have been BBC,  and not Indian media reports. Similarly, unlike the murder of Graham Staines [134],  the murder of Hindu missionary Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati (which instigated the Kandhamal riots) [132-133], likely committed by Christian militant groups,  never made it to the front pages of news sites.

Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati

 

It is perhaps not a coincidence then that the Archbishop of Delhi  has described media as an  indispensable component in the evangelizing mission of the church – the event was attended by dignitaries such as former election commissioner Naveen Chawla, journalists Anna Vetticad and Josy Joseph  Rev Anil Couto [135].

Conclusion

The religious bias in the coverage offered by India’s fourth estate has severely dented its credibility. This is perhaps evident from the fact that the  long form article that I wrote [145] has been widely read – the tweets plugging it have been retweeted several times [146, 147]. Many readers who I did not know before have shared their feedback in encouraging emails and have provided several pertinent incidents that I had missed; this feedback has motivated me to expand and complete the first article.

The dent in the credibility of the fourth estate in any country bodes ill for the democracy therein as this organ of our polity is expected to serve as a watchdog of our society. It is therefore hoped that Indian media in particular, and Indian public discourse in general, would introspect so as to mitigate the case of bias against Hinduism that may well stand against them today.

Principles apart, despite a decade long campaign against the current prime minister, media could not stop his ascent from the chief minister of a state to his current office. This certainly owes to his remarkable record of governance and his talent as a campaigner – but perhaps not only to those. Media could not stop PM Modi also because it had lost its credibility long back. This, if anything, ought to motivate Indian media  to question its efficacy as an opinion builder.  I rest my case for introspection in media.

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[4] HRCP report March 11, 2012

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