A ground report from Haryana’s Muslim-dominated Mewat district on the violence against Dalits. The violence has met with stony silence from the English establishment media as it goes against the atrocity narrative they are invested in.
In the heydays of mainstream media hegemony, Orwellian newspeak was rampant in reporting. During communal clashes, if perpetrators turned out to be of saffron hue, their religious identity would be prominently highlighted. But the same would be zealously protected if the other side, the ‘samudaye vishesh’, was on a rampage.
Thanks to the social media revolution, the old media can no longer indulge in such hypocrisy without being called out by a battery of woke, discerning minds.
But old habits die hard. Post 2014, the old media began reporting caste issues the way it was used to covering communal ones. Column inches and prime time – the two most treasured assets in the media – are liberally splurged to accentuate atrocities on Dalits by upper-caste Hindus. The forces of that chimerical construct 'Brahminical fascism' are questioned. None less than the prime minister of the country is put in the dock. Not out of any concern for the poor Dalits, mind you.
If that was the case, we wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the deafening silence of the establishment media when the same Dalit is oppressed or terrorised by members of ‘samudaye vishesh’. These are uncomfortable situations for narrative peddlers. In such instances, the first instinct is to feign ignorance, to turn into Bapu’s three monkeys. If somehow forced to open eyes, ears, or mouth, outright refuse to believe it. Call it ‘exaggeration’. Wait for an upper caste-on-Dalit atrocity. Go into activist mode. Rinse. Repeat.
So, we weren’t really surprised when the news of a ‘Muslim-on-Dalit’ atrocity from Haryana’s Muslim-dominated Mewat district didn’t find a place in the establishment English media discourse. This is only the latest proof of their inherent bias.
Hindi dailies Dainik Jagran and Navbharat Times carried news reports on 17 and 18 January that a Dalit family had lodged a first information report (FIR) against five members of a Muslim family for assaulting them, alleging that sustained pressure was being put on them to convert to Islam.
The FIR (accessed by Swarajya) dated 17 January carries the statement of one Shri Kishen. It says that two days earlier, their neighbour Mohammad Islam stepped into his premises around 6 am and walked away with a few cow dung cakes. When Kishen objected, Islam hurled casteist slurs at him. A scuffle ensued, and Islam returned with his family armed with lathis and saria (iron rods) to assault them. Kishen sustained injury on his hand, while his sister and wife bore injury marks.
Kishen, a Jatav by caste, lives in a BPL (below poverty line) colony on the outskirts of Mohlaka village in Nagina Khand of Nuh district in South Haryana. There are only seven Hindu families in the village and Kishen’s is one of them. The rest, though, live separately, and most of them are his cousins.
According to the FIR, some months ago, Islam illegally purchased a BPL plot allotted by the government to one Ramesh and has since been harassing Kishen. Islam routinely humiliates Kishen and his family by calling them ‘chamaar dedh’ (a casteist slur) and asks Kishen to embrace Islam. Kishen said in the FIR that he was once threatened that he would be burnt alive if he didn’t convert.
When Swarajya visited the village, Kishen said that whenever he objected to the casteist slur by Islam, the latter told him that if he didn’t want to be called ‘chamaar dedh’, he should simply become a Muslim.
“Jaatiyan hamne to nahi banayi hain, bhagwan ne banayi hain (We have not invented castes, it is god who has created them),” said a despondent Kishen, who lives with his wife and six children in a humble, two-room house, and makes a living by working as a mason.
He added spiritedly that he would prefer dying than give up his religion. Kishen’s wife Shakuntala, who was also allegedly assaulted, also joined us. She told that Islam’s wife was no fan of their Hindu customs either. She would tell Shakuntala and other women in her family to not do any shringaar (make-up), often expressing her particular hatred for their bindis and lipstick.
Kishen has named five persons in the FIR namely Islam, his wife Asmina, his sons Tarif and Mausim (a minor) and Atru, also a neighbour, for assaulting them. The police have booked them under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and IPC sections 148 (armed with deadly weapon), 149 (offence committed by unlawful assembly), 323 (causing hurt), 452 (trespass) and 506 (criminal intimidation).
Kishen’s allegations of attempts of forcible conversion against Islam do not find place in the FIR. Kishen is unaware of this. “We are illiterate. We don’t know what police have written in the FIR,” he said, offering to show up a copy he possesses. “Par ye maamla dharmparivartan ka hai (But this is a case of religious conversion),” he insisted.
Since the FIR was lodged, Islam has been absconding. So is his wife, elder son and Atru. His sister Hazarbi has been taking care of the house and Islam’s younger son Mausim in his absence. In comparison to Kishen’s and other modest houses in the area that have only bare necessities, Islam’s is a mansion – a pink-coloured sprawling cement-and-brick structure with a large verandah. Families of Islam’s brothers, who live in the neighbourhood, came and huddled around us.
As per Hazarbi, Kishen’s family has “escalated a minor scuffle”, creating a mountain out of molehill. Sajid, Islam’s nephew, said his uncle “said nothing” and has been made a victim of village politics. “There is a faction that is against my uncle. So they have colluded with Kishen to keep him out of the way.” Noor Nishan, also a neighbour, protested, “Islam is abusive but he dismissed allegations of conversion pressure as “nonsense”.
According to officers at Nagina Police Station, they did not find any merit in the conversion angle. “No one other than Kishen and his family has alleged this,” an officer told Swarajya. Kishen later refuted it saying since his is the only Dalit family in a colony of Muslims, in a village full of Muslims, obvious attempt would be to deny this.
Interestingly, when asked what charges are slapped in such cases, police officers spent the next half-an-hour trying to find the answer on internet. They also made several phone calls to colleagues, before eventually giving up and telling us they don’t know but would get back to us as soon as they do. No wonder, the police didn’t find merit in the charge of conversion.
While police have only ignored the conversion allegation, the mainstream English media has ignored the case altogether. It’s hardly surprising, given its propensity to under-report attacks on Dalits by Muslims.
This indifference was highlighted by scientist-author Anand Ranganathan through empirical data last year, when he showed how prominent national English daily Hindustan Times ignored 13 of 15 Muslim-on-Dalit attacks in its ‘hate tracker’ that aimed to keep a track on hate crimes. The upper caste-on-Dalit attacks made their way into the tracker without fail.
The absence of Mewat hate crime in mainstream media was also pointed out by author Anand Vardhan in a column last week: “The nature of the case ensured that it was a misfit in the kind of narratives that a dominant section of the English press is interested in. In fact, it was inconvenient.”
In cases of upper caste-on-Dalit atrocity, the instinct of mainstream media is to play up for national outrage, but on Muslim-on-Dalit atrocity, the first instinct is to shield the perpetrators. Perhaps because in their worldview, a Muslim is always a victim and a bigger one than Dalits.
If forced to cover such inconvenient instances, the second instinct kicks in. To deny. To term it all an exaggeration. That’s what one self-styled media watchdog portal did in a follow-up story titled ‘Dalit family counters exaggerated tale of forced conversion in Mewat’. “Tale” here refers to news reports by Navbharat Times and Dainik Jagran.
Curiously, the portal chose its story as exaggeration of conversion charges rather than the violent hate crime on Dalits.
The report notes, “interestingly, the Navbharat Times’ story did not mention the age of these accused. Reading Dainik Jagran’s report, it appears that the entire issue was one of forced conversion. Kishan, however, has said it was only Islam who pressured him. Also, in what capacity can a minor pressure someone for religious conversion?”
These observations are problematic for several reasons. One, Kishen in his statement to police and media has alleged pressure of conversion on Islam and accused the rest of only assaulting him. The Navbharat Times and Jagran reports have not quoted Kishen accusing the minor of conversion attempt.
Two, the Navbharat Times has skipped the mention of age of not only the accused but also the victims and so can’t be accused of selectively publishing and hiding information.
Three, there is no evidence to show that a minor is incapable of putting pressure for religious conversion. If minors can be booked for assaulting schoolchildren in the name of caste pride just 30 kilometres away in Bhondsi, what is the basis for altogether rejecting charges of forcible conversion on them?”
Four, the report makes a condescending commentary on Jagran’s reportage while offering little to support the argument except a line that the Jagran report “emphasised that the village has a majority of Muslims with just seven Dalit families”.
Swarajya spoke to the Jagran reporter, who said that he found the commentary on his report insulting. “The report was filed on the basis of witness statement and FIR so where is the question of me trying to give the story a certain tone? Is it not true that Kishen is part of a tiny minority in the village and does it not matter? I welcome anyone to challenge facts in my copy.”
It is very much along expected lines. The establishment media is more worried about the Muslim-on-Dalit atrocity getting more spotlight than it deserves rather than about the pain and suffering of Kishen and his family. Damn the circumstances. Only if he was tormented by upper-caste Hindus!
What was our intention to follow this story? It was neither to exaggerate nor to downplay the events. We only wanted to put things in perspective. Hence it is imperative to inform the readers what Kishen and other Dalit families living in BPL colony told us. They categorically stated that only Islam, and he alone, used to traumatise him and his family with his conversion zeal. Other Muslim families in the village have never pressured them to change religion. “Other Muslims in the area are good people and we don’t wish to sully the village’s reputation. Only Islam is at fault.”
The media must cover atrocities on Dalits or on any section of citizens for that matter without looking at the religion of perpetrators. We can only hope that in future what happens in Mohlakas of India doesn’t stay there.