Ground Reports

Dissecting Media Bias: Seven Misleading Narratives In Mewat Incident And Under-Reported Realities of Attacks On Hindu Processions

Swati Goel Sharma

Aug 06, 2023, 09:56 AM | Updated 06:42 PM IST

Nuh violence.
Nuh violence.
  • The reporting of these tragic events, particularly by global media giants, has raised concerns about selective narratives and bias, especially concerning India.
  • Here's an overview of the specific trends in the reporting.
  • In an alarming episode that unfolded in the state of Haryana on 31 July, a Hindu religious procession travelling to ancient temples in the predominantly Muslim Nuh district faced violent attacks.

    Participants from across Haryana were unexpectedly ambushed by local attackers chanting "Allahu Akbar," from nearby hillocks, resulting in the deaths of four individuals, including two home guards, and leaving several others injured.

    The cops, Neeraj Khan and Gursewak, were instantly killed and at least two civilians, Pradeep Sharma and Abhishek Saini, sustained severe injuries. Both succumbed to their wounds later.

    Two other civilians, Shakti Singh and Hafiz Saad, were killed by mobs in retaliatory violence that spilled into adjoining districts a few hours after. A mosque was also burnt.

    The procession was jointly organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and Matrishakti Durgavahini. It was the yatra’s third edition.

    The reporting of these tragic events, particularly by global media giants, has raised concerns about selective narratives and bias, especially concerning India.

    As this was an attack by Muslim mobs on Hindus, media outlets with an inclination towards the Left, or more candidly, those distinctly opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have been giving a variety of twists to the facts to make the aggressors emerge as the real victims — victims of violence, of institutionalised discrimination, of vigilantism, of being forced to act under provocation and so on.

    Specific trends in the reporting include:

    1. Reporting the lone Muslim civilian’s death against three dead Hindu civilians

    Two years ago, an advertisement put out by New York Times for a correspondent position in New Delhi came under a massive controversy online, as it appeared to demand clear dislike of the democratically elected Narendra Modi government and the emotions driving the country’s majority to elect him.

    It’s safe to say that a large section of the global media giants reporting on India demand no different from their respective India correspondents.

    Most recently, the bias was seen in the coverage of Nuh attacks.

    BBC’s report appeared to be describing the violence as an attack on Muslims, instead of Hindus. Its headline read: “Mosque set on fire, cleric killed in Indian state”.

    Like BBC, news agency Reuters too mentioned only the lone Muslim’s death in its first paragraph, thereby presenting the incident as an act of anti-Muslim violence.

    It said, “At least five people, including two police personnel, were killed in clashes between Hindus and Muslims that erupted on Monday around 50 km (30 miles) south of the Indian capital New Delhi, police officials told Reuters…By the evening, the violence had spilled over into neighbouring Gurugram, where a mosque was torched, killing the cleric and injuring another person.”

    In the same vein, German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle mentioned only the death of a cleric in the violence. It said, “A mosque was set on fire early Tuesday and a Muslim cleric was killed in Gurugram city outside the capital, Delhi."

    Indian website The Quint mentioned only the Muslim victim in its report, saying, “A total of five people have been reported dead in the state so far, including two home guards and two locals in Nuh and one Naib Imam in Gurugram’s Sector 57.”

    After being called out on social media, The Quint's report has been updated to remove that sentence.

    Overall as one can see, the violence was presented in a way that highlighted the death of a Muslim cleric while underplaying the deaths of Hindus.

    2. Blaming the act of taking a Hindu procession to “Muslim district” as incitement to violence

    Several media entities framed the Hindu religious procession as the trigger for the violence, implying it was a "hardline Hindu nationalist" event intruding into a Muslim area.

    The BBC avoided mentioning the religious profile of attackers in the entire report but, in its first paragraph, described the yatra as “a procession by hardline Hindu nationalist groups”.

    Reuters called the attack as “clashes between Hindus and Muslims” and said, “The violence erupted after a Hindu procession passed through the Muslim dominated Nuh region.”

    Another American news publication, CBS News, too appeared to put the blame of the violence on the act of Hindu procession passing through a Muslim area. It said, “The violence started after the right-wing Hindu groups, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, led a religious procession through a Muslim-majority part of Haryana’s district.

    3. Reporting an attack on the rally as “rally turned violent”.

    Far-Left and virulently anti-BJP publications such as The Wire and Maktoob media reported the incident as the procession itself turning violent, omitting the ambush by a mob.

    The Wire reported, “At least three people were killed, including two Home Guards, and 20 were injured when a religious procession by the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad turned violent in Haryana’s Nuh on Monday, July 31.”

    It may be recalled that some months ago, The Wire was forced to pull down a series of reports from its website accusing a major social media company of bias towards the BJP after confessing that the reportage was based on fabricated material.

    Similarly, Maktoob’s report said, “At least one dead and five, including two policemen, were injured when a procession by Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad turned violent in Haryana’s Nuh on Monday.

    4. Justifying the attack as “retaliation” to verbal provocation

    After reading numerous reports authored by such media outlets, any casual observer might be tricked into presuming that the savage mob violence, involving over 800 people throwing stones and glass bottles causing instantaneous deaths of two policemen, is a standard response to verbal provocation.

    These publications have attributed such provocation to the victims' audacious decision to venture into a district inhabited predominantly by another religious community, or to a post on social media satirically referring to the assailants as "in-laws".

    News anchor Rajdeep Sardesai, who has long been facing the ire of critics of the Left-wing media, described the trigger like this: “There are two narratives flowing. One is that the Bajrang Dal was inciting and creating a situation ahead of this yatra that led to retaliation from the Muslim mob. The other is that the Muslim groups in Nuh were waiting to strike back against those who, in the name of gau raksha, have been spreading hate”.

    Sardesai made the attack seem like “retaliation” in either case. In the same vein, several social media users have posted a video by a member of the Bajrang Dal in Haryana, named Bittu Bajrangi, holding him directly responsible for inciting the mob to attack.

    In a report titled ‘How Provocative Videos and a Background of Hate Preceded the Nuh Riots’, The Wire’s Alishan Jafri wrote, “Locals also blame Hindutva leader Bittu Bajrangi for his provocative video inciting Muslims before the yatra.”

    The said video was posted by Bittu Bajrangi at 10:53am on the day of attack, that is, about four hours before the attack. In the video, posted as Facebook Live, Bajrangi is seen virtually addressing Nuh’s Muslim population saying, “…they will complain we came to our in-laws' and didn’t meet them. So we are giving our exact location...Keep the garland ready.”

    Blaming Bajrangi for attack defies facts and puts a question mark on the morals and ethics of those making this point. Multiple reports have now confirmed that the planning of the attack was done for several days.

    The preparation included blackening of number plates of motorcycles to be used, collecting stones and empty glass bottles, making petrol bombs and creating Whatsapp groups and designating duties, among other works.

    Bajrangi’s video, however provocative, might at best could have added to the fury of the attackers and not served as the trigger for the preparation of the attack itself.

    More importantly, justifying the attack as retaliation to a social media post dangerously conflates a non-violent act with a violent reaction. Violence, especially when it leads to loss of life, is an unequivocally disproportionate response to verbal or written provocations.

    Justifying such behaviour sets a dangerous precedent, potentially encouraging similar disproportionate reactions to other non-violent provocations in the future.

    It is also pertinent to mention that a day before Bajrangi posted his video, several social media users from Nuh and the larger Meo-dominated Mewat region has posted a spate of videos and posts threatening violence.

    A YouTuber named Arif Mewati threatened Monu Manesar, head of Bajrang Dal’s Haryana Gau Raksha dal, saying “we will tear you apart”.

    Another YouTuber, who was later revealed to be resident of Pakistan while pretending to be a resident of Alwar in Rajasthan, had posted a viral video saying, “If Monu enters Mewat, then kill him. Either kill or get killed. If you die, you will be called a martyr and get Jannat…Hindus shiver when they see tip of a sword. But we Meos cab stab and slash without fear.”

    It might be that Bajrangi’s post itself was a response to these threatening posts.

    On the evening of the attack, the Pakistani YouTuber posted a video  celebrating it. He played a video of the mob chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and gleefully remarked, “What a day! It was so much fun. These Allahu Akbar chants filled my chest with pride. It has swelled from 36 inches to 40 inches.”

    5. Justifying violence as “manifestation of Muslims losing faith in institutions”

    Some narratives rationalised the violent outbreak as a result of Muslims' declining faith in Indian institutions.

    A report by far-Left website The Scroll quotes an anonymous “YouTuber” from Nuh as saying, “There is a limit to what a person can take.” The report cites “observers” as saying that ‘what happened in Nuh on Monday was an “unfortunate” manifestation of people losing faith in the institutions.’ The report quotes Historian Ali Khan Mahmudabad that there is increasingly a perception among Indian Muslims that “the institutions of the state are partisan”.

    This argument has many flaws:

    One, it appears to misplace the responsibility for perceived injustices by state institutions onto an entire community even though individuals within a community are not synonymous with the state institutions.

    Two, by justifying violence as a response to perceived injustices by state institutions, rule of law is undermined, and anarchy is promoted. There are legal and democratic avenues available for addressing grievances against the state.

    Three, justifying violence based on perceptions rather than concrete evidence is a slippery slope. Perceptions can be subjective and vary greatly among different groups. If one community's perceptions are considered valid grounds for violence, this can lead other communities to adopt similar reasoning, leading to a dangerous cycle of retribution.

    The argument can be easily exploited by opportunistic individuals or groups who might exaggerate or even fabricate perceptions of bias to justify violence for their own ends.

    Let’s also take a step back and ask a question: Can these same publications apply their argument to cow vigilante groups as those too cite lack of trust in state institutions in controlling cow slaughter that hurts their religious beliefs? The answer is evidently a big no, and it exposes their hypocrisy.

    6. Spreading misinformation on the religious profile of attackers

    A propaganda video was widely circulated after the Nuh violence showing a bunch of men armed with guns at the site of the attack.

    One of those who posted the video was Aasif Mujtaba, who describes himself as a journalist. He wrote, “A goon with an automatic gun right in-front of a policemen is said to be from the violence site today at #Mewat. Decide for yourself, the role of state police in protecting the goons.”

    It was later pointed out by several social media users that the person with the gun was a policeman in civilian clothes trying to protect the Hindu procession. A senior government officer confirmed this to Swarajya.

    Aarif, however, has not deleted the video or written a clarification, suggesting that he deliberately wants to keep the confusion alive on the religious profile of the attackers.

    7. Misrepresenting Nuh-Mewat as a beacon of communal harmony before RSS-Bajrang Dal

    Another propaganda being spread after the Nuh violence is that Nuh-Mewat was a beacon of communal harmony until Bajrang Dal and its supporters vilified the atmosphere, a depiction not entirely accurate in the context of history.

    For instance, Aarif (the same person quoted above) wrote (translated), “Mewat is a place where no Hindu-Muslim violence ever happened…But Bajrang Dal and radical social media users have turned the Mewati community into rioters…”

    The same tactic was noticed after communal violence broke out in Nuh in 2014 following a Hindu man’s death in suspected road accident.

    A report by Economics and Political Weekly blamed the violence on increasing influence of Sangh and called Mewat an island of communal harmony otherwise.

    The report said:

    “Hindu community too has been largely free from communal and fundamentalist forces. However, during the last few years Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates have made significant inroads in Mewat and they played a highly provocative role in injecting anti-Muslim virus in the body of Mewat.”

    “Even during the Partition and also during the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Mewat remained an island of harmony.”

    These assertions are far from true. There was a very active ‘Meostan’ movement for Meo Muslims of Mewat in the run up to partition, accompanied by significant anti-Hindu violence. The movement was started by Kunwar Mohammed Ashraf and a section of the Rajputana Muslim League.

    While it’s true that until the beginning of the 20th century, Meos were Muslims only in name and were rooted in their native culture, the formation and outreach of Tablighi Jamaat by Maulana Mohammed Ilyas made the Meos fundamentalists.

    Anti-Hindu sentiment, including cow slaughter, became rampant. For several decades, Mewat has been known to be a hub of illegal cow slaughter and beef trade, proving to be a constant headache for government and police.

    As reported by Swarajya earlier, the top cop of Haryana police said in an affidavit in high court that cops in Mewat faced danger to their lives. Vigilante cow protection groups are a direct result of the beef trade flourishing in the region.  

    The assertion in the EPW article that “during the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Mewat remained an island of harmony” is also plain wrong.

    That the Meo mobs ransacked temples in Nuh a day after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, attacked gaushalas to burnt cows alive and the army had to be called in, was reported by several publications in 1992.

    Though not immediately relevant to this piece, a sentence from the report comes out as plain odd, putting serious questions on the intent of the author.

    Touching on the allegations of “love jihad” by Hindu organisations, the author writes, “When we posed the question of love-jihad to several responsible Meos, they drew a blank face and expressed total ignorance of this. There is not a single instance of a Muslim boy marrying a Hindu girl in Mewat.”

    How the author reached this conclusion without a survey, whether by government or a private agency, is hard to understand. There were at least 10 lakh people living in Nuh in 2014.

    Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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