Media parrots the BJP in Aligarh

BY M. REYAZ| IN Media Practice | 27/07/2016
Muzaffanagar, Kairana, Aligarh…….why do leading newspapers spread the false stories of ‘a forced Hindu exodus’ concocted by the BJP?
They should check the facts instead, says M. REYAZ

Headline on Zee News, July 24, 2016

 

On July 24, two leading English dailies, The Indian Express and the Times of India reported on how, in Aligarh, Hindu families are packing their bags because they are worried about the “honour” of their women and are considering a Kairana-like “exodus” ( BJP politician Hukum Singh claimed in June that 346 Hindus had left Kairana in UP owing to threats from Muslim criminals).

Within hours of these two reports, several news portals including Zee News and Firstpost, among others, also published the rehashed version of the report calling it an “exodus” but without bothering to check the facts on the ground.

The incident relates to the sexual harassment of a 19-year-old newly married Hindu woman by a group of Muslim men which has been portrayed as “an organised conspiracy against the Hindus in the area.” Police have already arrested the accused involved in harassing the woman.

About eight families led by Aligarh mayor Shakuntala Bharti of the BJP went to the District Magistrate and petitioned the administration to buy their houses and shops. Some of them have put banners outside their homes announcing that they are for sale.

ADM Awdhesh Tiwari categorically told the press, as reported in the Times of India: “Only eight people wanted to sell their properties as they felt unsafe. This was done to garner publicity in a situation that has more to do with law and order. Miscreants involved have been arrested. We will make sure no family exodus takes place. The situation is normal now."

As politicians tried to cash in on the incident, about a dozen Muslims also apparently put up banners outside their homes announcing ‘House for Sale’ in what appears to be a tactic to attract attention.

While many Hindu families claim that they don’t feel safe anymore in the locality, Muslim families point to polarisation attempts by Hindutva forces. A poster outside a Muslim house, according to The Indian Express, reads: “Mayor Shakuntala Bharti yahan Kairana banana chahti hain, hamein bachao (The Aligarh Mayor wants to turn this place into Kairana, save us).”

Adding to the tension with provocative headlines  

The Agra edition of the Times of India has a detailed story in the Sunday edition by the Aligarh-based reporter, Eram Agha in two parts on Page 1 and 4 with the headlines: ‘House sale’ note on Muslim, Hindu homes (Page 1) and ‘Hooliganism order of the day in Aligarh’ (Page 4).

But the Lucknow, as well as the national edition, published the truncated version with these provocative headlines: ‘Communal unrest in Aligarh, `scared' Hindus plan exodus’ (Lucknow) and ‘Molestation sparks communal unrest’ (Delhi).

However, it was The Indian Express report of Sunday (July 24) that was most outrageous and disappointing, considering the otherwise bold journalism that the paper believes in. Reporter Ishita Mishra seems to have accepted the exaggerated version given by local BJP workers, mentioning that in the Babri Mandi area of Aligarh, “most Hindu families have packed their bags”. The web version of the Express report is shorter, compared to the anchor story on the front page of the Lucknow edition on Sunday that appears even more biased and provocative. According to the paper, BJP MP from Aligarh Satish Gautam has dared the miscreants: “Jisme himmat hai hamari bahu betion ko haath laga ke dikhaye. (Let he who dares keep a finger on the women in our families).”

Repeating the inflammatory rhetoric of politicians  

Local Hindi papers such as Dainik Jagran are notorious for publishing wild claims by communal leaders verbatim and giving them provocative headlines.  In fact, from July 22 onwards for three consecutive days Dainik Jagran ran stories on #OneMoreKairana: Now 10 families in Aligarh forced to migrate (July 22). The report says: “The breakdown of law and order and police inaction on hooliganism committed by members of a particular community is leading to situations like Kairana and Kandhala.” On Saturday, the same paper claimed, Babri Mandi Mein Sabhi Hinduon Ka Palayan Ka Aelaan (All Hindus of Babri Mandi announce to migrate).

These reports, failed to highlight that it was at the behest of BJP leaders that a case of sexual harassment and hooliganism turned into ‘atrocities’ against Hindus and a “conspiracy” to make it “another Kairana”. What is intriguing is that even the Express and Times of India followed it up without any critical scrutiny of the facts, by ignoring the situation on the ground and by publishing a largely one sided story.

Shakuntala Bharti has gained notoriety in Aligarh for making outrageous claims.She appears to take a cue from some of her senior party colleagues and makes unsubstantiated statements targeting Muslims directly or indirectly to grab media attention, perhaps keeping an eye on the upcoming UP assembly elections.  Earlier, Bharti made a big fuss about beef being served in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) (although buffalo and not cow meat is served) and even accused the AMU administration of razing a temple.

It would be pertinent to mention here that it was the same Dainik Jagran which kept on writing extremely exaggerated accounts of “Kairana turning into Kashmir” for one week in June after which Zee News picked it up and gave oxygen to its agenda of “Hindu victimhood”.  The report of a widespread “exodus of Hindus from Kairana” under duress from Muslim muscle-men was later found to be untrue.

In fact, it later emerged that the largest chunk of those whose names BJP MLA Hukum Singh mentioned in the list of "Hindu exodus" from Kairana were essentially baniyas who were old time RSS/BJP workers and had moved from Kairana/ Kandhla to Delhi/Ghaziabad/ Panipat long ago in search of better economic prospects.

No lessons learnt from Kairana

In the case of Aligarh, reporters of these English dailies did not care to learn any lessons from the Kairana experience; neither did senior editors bother to do due diligence. People on the ground suggest that many of those who went to the District Magistrate’s office, along with Bharti, were supporters of the BJP.

One Vinay Varshney, quoted in ToI as one of the petitioners, is the general secretary of the city unit of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) and does not live in the Babri Mandi locality. Nonetheless, some of his relatives live there and they are among the eight families that have shown an interest in selling their properties.

Meanwhile, The Hindu reported on Tuesday that the BJP is now facing “internal barbs” from the party’s Minority Morcha chief in Aligarh, Rashid Pehalwan. He has blamed party MP Satish Gautam and Mayor Shakuntala Bharti for “creating a rift between Hindus and Muslims” by “communalising an eve-teasing incident.” There are also reports of several Hindu families writing to the district administration against attempts by political groups to vitiate the communal atmosphere.

Pity the media ignored the real story

What was a case of sexual harassment was easily given a communal colour to reap political benefits in the upcoming assembly election. Scuffles, fights and hooliganism are frequent in small towns, though not justifiable.  But of late, the BJP has been experimenting with these incidents as a source of communal polarisation. 

Of course, the media need to report these incidents but it needs to keep in mind the politics behind them. The story which should have been done from Aligarh, if at all, is how the BJP is experimenting with Kairana in other parts of UP.

Fear-mongering over women’s honour is old Hindutva trope in which Muslim men are projected as sexual predators. The same narrative resulted in a communal frenzy in the run up to the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013. Yet the media is blindly parroting a similar narrative and creating a scare about a Hindu ‘exodus’

Exodus literally means migration, usually of large number of people, forced by circumstances. But when it comes to the Indian media, even the most responsible of newspapers do not mind using the word irresponsibly. What is worse, the ‘hit’ based online media blindly follow the herd without cross checking the facts. The media may cry hoarse about politicians and communal leaders making irresponsible statements that may endanger communal harmony but they too are guilty.

After reaping political benefits from the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, the Hindutva forces are attempting to turn Western Uttar Pradesh into a tinder box.  There have already been several reports by even The Indian Express of how different political parties are trying to vitiate the atmosphere in the run up to the 2017 assembly elections. At least the leading English dailies should exercise caution, then,  while reporting on such sensitive issues and not end up becoming more sophisticated versions of Zee News or Dainik Jagran.

 

The writer is a journalist and an assistant professor of media communication at Aliah University, Kolkata.

 

 

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