A 51-year-old father was passing by a street in west Delhi with his ailing daughter when a group of young men made gestures, passed lewd remarks and tried to harass the girl. The girl’s father, Dhruv Raj Tyagi, dropped his daughter home and in all civility thought he should speak to the parents of the main culprit, Mohammad Shamsher Alam, who had also harassed his daughter in the near past. Accompanied by his son, Tyagi went to the culprit’s house and tried speaking to his father, Jehangir, about the unruly behaviour of his son.
Instead of rebuking his son, the father and son ganged up with other men of their locality and stabbed the girls’ father and his son multiple times. The girl’s father is dead, and his son is in hospital battling for life.
Unfortunately, this incident never got the much-needed media coverage. No, left- ‘liberal’ media called out the “lynching” of a Hindu father by a group of Muslim men. No placards were held in the name of “Justice for Tyagi”. No international media ran a headline stating that “religious divide against Hindus at its worst”. No, none of that happened. Instead, it passed it off as a case of “Delhi businessman stabbed to death by a mob of men.” Do we know why?
The answer is very simple: it does not suit the “best-selling” narrative. It does not fit well in to our pre-conceived stereotypes about “Muslim minorities” being “attacked” by the Hindu majority. It does not help the cause of the Lutyens community either, many of whom work on the payrolls of certain political parties. Moreover, it does not provide an excuse to the human rights watchdogs for imposing sanctions.
Finally, if the victim is from the majority community, it certainly does not serve as a propaganda tool which may be used for international diplomacy. And of course, if you are a journalist who happens to report on this, you have lost all the chances to be nominated for the one of many, “freedom of expression” awards.
The truth is that harassment, lynching and terrorism, indeed have no religion. The hypocrisy of the dominant media is self-evident when they use the same gospel truth to rightfully defend practitioners of a particular religion, especially in cases of Terrorism; while magnifying cases of rape, murder or feud by using a communal angle, if the aggressor happens to be a Hindu.
This bias becomes even more apparent if we take some recent examples of how the media classified two incidents of crime differently based on the religion of the aggressor. In case of Asifa’s alleged rape, the national media, international media, human rights watch, and innumerable film stars came out and claimed that the “Muslim minority”, especially women, were at the “mercy” of “Hindu terror”.
Even though there has been no final verdict on the offenders, we assume that she indeed met with an unfortunate death at the hands of her rapists. In that case, why should the media add a communal colour to the rape and weave a narrative around Hindu terror - if they swear that crime has no religion.
And if crime and violence indeed have a religion like in Asifa’s case or Akhlaq’s case, then why didn’t the newspaper headlines on the day read that Mr. Tyagi’s death was an example of “Muslim harassment of Hindu women” and worse, “mob lynching”.
Many a times, as a self-professed liberal individual, I have always wondered how this word, “liberal” evolved to such a stage where it is mocked at as representing a “pseudo-liberal” outlook. Again, a dominant narrative would put the entire blame on the “increased intolerance in India” where there is no space for “liberal ideals and expressions”.
On digging below the surface, we will find that the “liberal” media seems to have dug its own grave. Dominant media channels, both in print and TV, have disproportionately highlighted societal crimes as “communal incidents” if the victim happened to be a minority community member.
Conversely, if the victim happened to be a majority community member, it was passed off as “another societal crime” not deserving a headline. For such a media where the religious identity of the aggressor and the victim is more important than the crime itself, the idea of “minority victimisation” is marketed worldwide, further adding to communal tensions.
This is the reason why the left media in India has seen the greatest fall in its legitimacy amongst the common masses. People have been able to see through the nefarious designs of most “celebrated” journalists, where they openly endorse a favourite opposition party and disproportionately target the majority community, in the garb of “secularism”.
For, if this course is not rectified by the media, it will further sow the seeds of mistrust amongst the members of a particular community against the so-called “intellectual” class which claims a monopoly on truth (this is another debate, on democratisation of the narrative).
And so has been the case in India, where an average liberal Indian feels cheated when they witness the disproportionate targeting of a particular community and the unexplained silence over violence from another community.
At its heart, secularism really means devolving yourself from the lens of religion. In that case, the media should practice what they preach - that violence has no religion, whoever the victim may be, unless the motivation for violence was religious to start with.
Conclusively, the media is very well placed to take the first step towards eliminating communalism in society. It starts with fair and unbiased reporting, whatever be the popular narrative, and depoliticisation of incidents based on the religion of the victim. That is where we can even hope to address the real roots of crime and violence in our society.
Dr. Ananya Awasthi is a Masters in Global Health from Harvard University and writes on Public Health, Wellbeing and Indic Philosophies.
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