Bombs defused in newsrooms

BY Shahina KK| IN Media Practice | 05/09/2008
The blast which occurred on 24th August hardly found even a single column space in the leading news papers like The Hindu and Times of India, next day.
SHAHINA KK says the media uses different scales to measure terrorism.

The national news papers are now awash with stories of the past and present of Jihad, depicting the picture of the ‘venomous, truculent Indian Muslim youth’ each carrying an improvised explosive device (IED) within himself, lethal enough to burn the country. It is a fact that a section of the community is attracted by fundamentalist outfits, most of them motivated only by blind faith and a few of them by material ‘offers’. Each and every time a blast occur, the entire Muslim community is put in the dock and they themselves carry a strong sense of guilt as if they too are accomplices in a cold-blooded crime. The media of course plays a vital role in charging a community for crimes executed by some sick minded monomaniacs, by the colored stories, semi-fiction and fiction on SIMI, LeT, HuJI, and of course ISI and the involvement of the youth in the same. It is turned out to be tough to distinguish between a believer and a terrorist. Anybody who grows a beard, does namaz, and  follows his religion, is prone to be arrested and detained at any time!


Some times the stories untold serve a purpose more, than the stories told. Covertly, for a couple of weeks the national news papers effectively serve this purpose, deliberately or not. Look at the way media handled the blasts in which Sangh activists have been involved. Let me cite an example. The Indian Express and Mail Today have carried the story of Kanpur blast in which two Bajrang Dal activists were killed. Both of them were killed while they were engaged in bomb making. (The Bajrang Bomb?-IE; Bajrang Dal plotted revenge blasts in Kanpur-MT, 26th /27th Aug.2008) It is also reported that, the police was astonished to see the quantity of bombs found.


The blast which occurred on 24th August hardly found even a single column space in the leading news papers like The Hindu and Times of India, next day. Hindustan Times carried the item, but with out mentioning the identity of those who killed. The only information the story delivers is that the father of Piyush Misra, one among the dead, was running a private hostel in the locality! On the next day (26th August) The Indian Express and Mail Today carried the item with some detailing. There was hardly any follow up stories in HT, TOI or The Hindu. Thriller like stories of Omprakash alias Bundy, a notorious gang leader gunned down by the police was the feast TOI gave to its readers next day. Times lavishly spend more than a page for Bundy the gang leader. On the days that followed, there was intensive and extensive coverage of police cracking down the Jaipur blast mystery, ‘investigative’ stories on Shahnaz Hussain, the ‘computer savvy’ master mind alleged to be behind the serial blasts. But a dreadful silence was kept about the origin of bombs dug out from the camp of Sangh Parivar all along. A great number of human rights activists and organizations demanded immediate probe to unearth the explosive agenda hidden by Sangh Parivar .The statements issued and press conferences conducted in this regard were squeezed to single columns in the national newspapers.


In an interview to Tehelka former Madya Pradesh Chief Minister and Congress leader Digvijay Singh had pointed out that there is solid evidence for the Sangh Parivar’s involvement in making bombs and other explosive devices. "Investigate the timings of the blasts¿ Digvijay Singh demands, "the timing is quite uncanny. Why does it always happen when the BJP is in trouble? That needs investigation". He cites several instances in which VHP and RSS were caught in trouble. "There was a bomb blast in the VHP office in Madhya Pradesh, in 1992, where one VHP member died and two were injured while making bombs. Then in 2002, there was a bomb blast in a temple in Mhow. When the police arrested the VHP activists after investigation, they confessed that they were even given training to manufacture bombs. I have a videocassette of that confession. Again, in 2006, in Nanded, there was a bomb blast in the house of a RSS activist where two RSS activists died. After that in March 2008, there were bomb blasts at two places in Tamil Nadu. Then too VHP activists were arrested by the Tamil Nadu police who confessed that they were involved. And how did the Gujarat police suddenly find eighteen bombs planted on trees in Surat?"


BJP leader Sushama Swaraj too had a similar take on conspiracy behind the terror strikes though her allegation (from which the BJP back tracked later) was against the Congress. Nevertheless she had admitted that the terror strikes need not necessarily be designed and executed by ISI and Jihadis all the time, but there are other possibilities too at times. She alleged that Congress might have had a role in the blast to deviate attention from the cash for vote scandal. With leaders of the stature of Sushama Swaraj and Digvijay Singh joining the party, accusing each other of conspiring behind terror strikes, these kind of conspiracy theories -which had only been in air as whispers in the past- got in to the public discourse. Yet our mainstream news papers decided to keep away from this hot potato.


 It seems that media is blind to such possible egregious designs by Sangh parivar. Teesta Setalwad called for an immediate ban on Bajrang Dal and VHP for spreading terrorism across the country. The Nanded bomb blast is a clear case of Sangh’s disastrous bomb making business. The incident was in 2006 in Nanded in Maharashtra, in which two RSS activists were killed. The Hindustan Times termed it as a ‘mysterious explosion’ in which the possibility of any mischievous activity had been ruled out prima facie by the police. The facts unearthed by activists like Teesta Setalwad and the allegations raised by politicians like Digvijay Singh as well as Sushma Swaraj need deeper analysis from the part of the media. Unfortunately the media discourses on terrorism are largely run by the postulated theories about the Muslim youth who carries a dangerous killer instinct within themselves.


Nothing better could be expected from news rooms stricken with minority phobia. Alarmingly, media exposes itself in times of violence against minorities. The Gujarat genocide was such an instance in which the secular credentials of the mainstream media had been challenged. Now again we are going through a period of Sangh violence in which people are being burnt alive, nuns being raped, priests abducted, humiliated in public and killed. Media does nothing better than it did when the Muslims in Gujarat were effaced.


The coverage of the Sangh Parivar violence in Orissa, by the mainstream media reveals the character of the Indian press. After the very first day of violence, the leading national daily in the country, Times of India, hasn’t find it worth enough to run it in the front page! After 26th of August, the Times’ reader can hardly find news from Orissa, unless he diligently spares more time to go to the inner pages. TOI has written an editorial demanding to put an end to violence against Christians in Orissa. From the day next, the newspaper runs as if it had completed it’s duty and has better things to do!


Look at the effort the Times News Network takes to endorse the VHP argument that Lakshmananada Saraswathy was killed not by the Maoists but by the Christian missionaries (Maoists didn’t kill VHP leader –TOI 31st August). Media may have their own policies about page design and lay out, but of course it conveys a meaning, disseminates a message, as it is said by Marshal Mc Luhan, ‘media is the message’. On the other hand, Orissa violence has had a rather fair deal in other news papers like The Hindu, IE and HT.  They have given extensive coverage to the plight of hundreds of Christians, who are forced to flee. The voice of the Christian church also well heard, but in general, it seems that the Sangh Parivar violence is never dealt with the same vigor by which the ‘Islamic terror’ is treated.’


Media uses different scales to measure terrorism. The word ‘terrorism’ is never used when a story on Sangh violence is told, No matter how ever large scale the violence is. The violence unleashed by the Sangh Parivar in Gujarat was defined only as the flagrant expression of communalism and the same is the case with what happens in Orissa at present. Conceptualizing ‘Sangh terror’ is a rare exercise in media discourses. The style book followed by each and every media itself is a fine expression of how they conceived the ideas of Hindu fundamentalism and ‘Muslim terrorism’ as well.


More than a dozen explosions have occurred within a couple of years in different parts of the country. When ever there is a blast, we hear stories about Jihadis behind .The top officials of investigating agencies along with political leadership come forward with statements about the involvement of Pakistan and ISI instantaneously. The ISI story has turned out to be rather stale which carries no substance at all, as far as a reader of news paper is concerned. Each and every terror strike is followed by the same, usual drama by the police. Red alert is declared in the area (nobody knows when it is lifted; most probably no information is available from News Papers in this regard!) The immediate arrest of a few numbers of Muslims for alleged connection with SIMI, Indian Mujahideen or similar organizations, is the next step. Raiding internet cafes nowadays have become another ritual from the part of the police and of course Madrassas are not spared, they are put under strict surveillance. In many cases police claims that they have cracked the case by presenting half a dozen of beard faced people detained. Many questions are left unanswered like who are the bigger players and where the money comes from. In all the recent incidents of serial blasts, police were in a hurry to claim that the case is cracked and thus to close the file. The ATS (Anti Terror Squad) enquiring into the recent Ahmedabad serial blast stated that there is indeed connection between all the serial blasts taken place recently in different parts of the country, especially that of Ahmedabad, and Jaipur. It might be true, but nobody knows what breakthrough is achieved and what all are the solid evidence to prove this claim. The investigating agencies as well as our mainstream media is very much preoccupied with the idea that ‘bombs are made only in the stores of Muslim fundamentalist groups’.


The police and investigating agencies seem to be more than happy to nab soft targets who are  small timers like street vendors, rickshaw wallahs bicycle thieves and even vagabonds. It was found that unmanned bicycles were used to carry bombs in Ahmedabad. The immediate action by the police was to hunt down these soft targets who are striving to survive in the margins of metros. It seems that Police and the media are hardly aware of the fact that, terrorism is a ‘big deal’ beyond the reach of the poor. The story carried out by Times of India on this (28th July) brought to my mind once again the life of Antonio Ricci, the protagonist of the Dissica classic Bicycle thieves. The film is considered one of the ever best made. A desperate Antonio Ricci, after several abortive attempts to get his stolen bicycle back, tries to steal another, a crime pardoned by its owner. History absolves poor Antonio Ricci who lives in poverty stricken Italy devastated by World War II.


It is an old story. In the present era nobody will spare Antonio Ricci. He is under strict surveillance by the Police, Intelligence and Media, be cause we are living in a reign of terror. No option is left for a terror stricken country but to book all the bicycle thieves, as long as there are no measures to identify terrorism, its roots, and its goals.



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