Reporting By A Section Of Foreign Media On India’s Handling Of The Covid-19 Outbreak Reveals Deep-Seated Bias

Reporting By A Section Of Foreign Media On India’s Handling Of The Covid-19 Outbreak Reveals Deep-Seated Bias

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Tuesday, April 7, 2020 08:17 PM IST
Reporting By A Section Of Foreign Media On India’s Handling Of The Covid-19 Outbreak Reveals Deep-Seated BiasForeign media coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic in India is biased.
  • Western media, living up to its reputation, has shown great bias in their reporting of India’s fight against Covid-19.

Almost all Indians who saw The Atlantic magazine article on India’s response to Covid-19 were offended at the way the Indian National Flag was denigrated. The blue colour wheel at the centre of the flag was replaced by a graphic representing coronavirus of the same colour.

That should not be a surprise because the author of the article, Vidya Krishnan, has written with a bias which often exuded outright hatred against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

While Krishnan indulges in such unrestrained propaganda against India, we see a worrying trend among a section of Western media in reporting India's response to Covid-19.

On 14 March 2020, All India Hindu Mahasabha (AIHM) conducted a cow-urine drinking party in the national capital. A picture of the virus, displayed at the event, was depicted as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The media didn’t waste any time to pounce on it after which detailed reports started emerging.

The AIHM is a fringe Hindu organisation, which cannot be compared to the pre-independent Hindu Mahasabha, which faded out in 1950s.

The amount of media exposure the fringe organisation got was disproportionate, and surprisingly very high. But the coverage helped reinforce the distorted stereotype of Hindu cow veneration as superstition.

A case in point is a report by Reuters about the event. A line in the article says, "the leaders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party have advocated the use of cow urine as medicine and a cure for cancer".

On 25 March 2020, Foreign Affairs published a lengthy article titled, "A Vulnerable Population Braces for the Pandemic", which was also written by Krishnan.

She paints the usual dismal picture of the Indian health scenario – the ‘credit’ for which should go mainly to the Congress party that ruled India for six decades since 1947, but is of course ignored.

Then comes an interesting subtitle: "Hindutva in the time of Coronavirus". Here, Krishnan enters into an unsubstantiated rant against the ruling BJP and Modi. The following rather long passage from the article shows the amount of bias in the report which has no proper facts:

The cultural orientation of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi exacerbates these problems. His Hindu nationalist administration has encouraged unscientific thinking since coming to power in 2014. Modi and his ministers hold intellectuals and experts in disdain and have set up a ministry for promoting traditional medicine, such as Ayurveda and yoga. This ministry has endorsed dubious homeopathic prophylactic treatments and undermined the efforts of the health ministry to fight misinformation and superstition. The COVID-19 pandemic hits India as it is led by ideologues who have urged the use of cow dung and urine to prevent the spread of the virus. One activist belonging to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was arrested after people fell sick at a party he held in March where guests were encouraged to drink cow urine.

The truth is that the fascination for cow-related cure cuts across party lines in India.

For example, Oscar Fernandes, an important Congress leader, in the upper house of Indian Parliament extolled "the virtues of 'gaumutra' and shared an anecdote about a man claiming to have cured his cancer by drinking cow urine to drive his point home”.

This happened as late as 18 March 2020. Months earlier another Congress lawmaker from Maharashtra had spoken how cow removes negativity.

In reality, both the high voltage reports by Krishnan seemed to indulge more in ballistic polemics against Hindutva than actually reporting the facts.

In The Atlantic article, Krishnan brings in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests. The CAA which brings relief to persecuted religious minorities in India’s neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan is in no way discriminatory to Muslims in India.

In 1971, Hindus in East Pakistan underwent a genocide. If anything, the recent massacre of Sikhs in Afghanistan with the message to go back to India has demonstrated clearly the need for the CAA.

Yet Islamist politicians in India, hands in gloves with pro-Islamist left radicals, instigated nationwide protests. These protests with slogans calling for ‘freedom from kafirs’ and ‘no god but Allah’ led to riots in Delhi. This was perfectly timed to align with the visit of the President of the United States.

The riots saw gruesome killing of many Hindus and was in no way a one-sided pogrom.

But Krishnan has no qualms about presenting a distorted picture of the events as CAA being discriminatory, and Delhi riots being pogroms against the Muslims.

She makes these CAA-related Islamist responses and violence as the basis for writing about Indian government handling the Covid-19 pandemic. But she fails to mention how the anti-CAA protesters continued to defy social distancing in the capital and had to be cleared by the police.

One can contrast with such biased reports by Krishnan with a more balanced report that appeared in Science (‘1.3 billion people. A 21-day lockdown. Can India curb the coronavirus?’, Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, 31 March 2020).

The article explains in detail the measures undertaken by the Modi government – the announcement of “nearly $23 billion economic package on 26 March to support the poor, providing rations of grains and pulses, free cooking gas cylinders to 83 million families, and cash transfers of $6.65 a month to about 200 million women for the next 3 months”.

Though it says that according to "many observers" it "is too little – less than 1 per cent of India’s gross domestic product", at least the article attempts to provide an unbiased version.

While discussing the criticism on the lockdown by those like Ravi Duggal, a public health activist, the article also points out this:

But most experts agree a national lockdown was needed. Shahid Jameel, an Indian virologist and head of the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance, notes that measures taken in previous weeks — including halting international arrivals — had not slowed the rate of increase in cases. The experience from other countries has shown that if you lock down early, if you catch yourself early on the curve, there’s a better chance of limiting the spread.

Then the article points out certain crucial factors in favour of India listed out by "cautiously optimistic" Giridhar Babu, head of epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India.

These include relatively low fatality, "little need for ventilators yet, and few reports of a surge in fever cases in local clinics" and "India’s relatively young population". And also, the ability of India to "implement the lockdown so far, despite problems, is important".

Compared to China, which can implement policies with an iron hand, India is democratic country, which makes such measures not as efficient as China.

Babu says:

But the country’s success in polio eradication, which also required innovation, coordination at all levels of government, and community support, provides an example of how the entire system can sometimes rally to achieve a goal. Nobody thought India would pull off polio.

The report in Science is definitely objective and does not play on cheap exoticism of highlighting fringe cow-urine party.

What is interesting is that the Pulse Polio Programme owes it to the vision and missionary zeal of Dr Harsh Vardhan – who is now the minister in charge of health department battling the pandemic.

It should be remembered that about 25 years ago it was Dr Harsh Vardhan, whose Pulse Polio campaign reached "nearly 1.2 million children up to the age of three years with two doses of OPV being administered on 2nd October, 1994 and 4th December, 1994."

It is telling that none of the reports on Covid-19 in India highlighted the fact that the man who envisioned elimination of polio in India, is now battling the pandemic in the government of India.

Only if that section of media sepoys caters more to truth than to peddle their own ideological vested interests by highlighting fringe cow-urine events.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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