Mumbai riots exposed both English and Urdu press

BY Jyoti Punwani| IN Opinion | 24/08/2012
Arup Patnaik's exemplary restraint while controlling a manic mob was not worthy of praise for the English press.
The national media’s handling of the recent Mumbai violence has left the Muslims frustrated, says JYOTI PUNWANI.
Jyoti Punwani
The media must be happy. They didn’t bring about Arup Patnaik’s transfer, but they certainly worked for it like they haven’t for any other police commissioner’s transfer. There have been other CPs who have been soft on rioting mobs; indeed, the record of Mumbai Police has been to let mobs riot--as long as those are led by the Thackerays or the VHP. These mobs have attacked innocent citizens only because they were South Indian or Muslim, or North Indian. But that hasn’t made the media see red. Even when the media itself has been the target of such mobs, the police have done nothing. But when Muslims riot? And don’t just riot, they attack the police and the Amar Jawan Jyoti, there must be immediate action. If 10 to 20 bodies aren’t lying around, felled by police bullets, if these Muslims aren’t taught a lesson, then a cop isn’t worthy of his gun. That’s the message the media sent to Muslims.
This was the first time the police were targeted by a violent mob without any provocation from the former. Normally, any time this happens, the police reach for their guns. As it is, when they see a stone-throwing Muslim mob, their first instinct is to fire. So the Mumbai Police Commissioner’s restraint is a first. He ploughed through the mob, went up on stage, appealed to the panicky Muslims gathered there to disperse peacefully to avoid a 1992-like situation, and promised them he would control his men. This too was a first. Hence both actions made news.
But news of what kind? Going through the Marathi press, one finds nothing but praise for the police for having controlled a manic mob that went berserk at 3 p.m. so well that by 6 p.m. things were back to normal. The English press however, found little to praise. Day after day, all the newspapers hounded Arup Patnaik with questions on his inaction, carrying obviously leaked confidential reports warning about the violence, publishing video grabs of him abusing a senior cop for having caught someone who was pleading his innocence… His explanation that he saw in his force’s eyes the same look he had seen in his men in December 1992, and remembering what happened then, he was more afraid of them going out of control than the rallyists, was obviously not good enough for the English press.
Another message came through the coverage of Raj Thackeray’s morcha held ostensibly to condemn the attack by Muslims on the police and the media. Except CNN-IBN and NDTV, every Hindi, English and Marathi channel covered the morcha live. The Times Now reporter was almost breathless with admiration. After the rally, the television channels found nothing wrong in the MNS chief addressing Mumbai’s cops as Maharashtrians and declaring his support for them as Maharashtrians. They found nothing wrong in his blaming the violence both on August 11 and in 1992-93 on “Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslims who flock here from UP, Bihar and Jharkhand.’’ Even Nikhil Wagle, who has often been physically attacked by the Shiv Sena (when Raj Thackeray was one of its leaders), gushed about the “inclusiveness’’ of the MNS chief’s “Maharashtra dharm’’. The next day, the English press was less gushing, but nowhere critical.
No wonder an Eid Milan attended by this columnist the day after Raj Thackeray’s morcha turned acrimonious very soon. Some of the Muslims there were waiting to vent their ire on the English media, for projecting the wrong persons as their leaders, for branding the entire community as terrorists, for ignoring the violence on them in Assam and Myanmar…
The first two complaints were valid. The Raza Academy is a paper outfit; its chief, Seed Noori, a fanatic and a rabble-rouser. Yet, he adorns the pages of English newspapers on December 6 every year, performing namaz on the streets. At other times he makes headlines spewing inflammatory stuff against Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen. The communal politics of his outfit resulted in two policemen being lynched in Bhiwandi in 2005. In the resultant firing, two Muslims died. He was one of the organisers of the August 11 rally which ended in violence. But here’s how the Indian Express described him after that: “Al Haj Maulana Saeed Noori Sahab’’--a title obviously taken from his website. Every second maulana has performed the Haj, so have riot victims and the scholar Asghar Ali Engineer. Never heard of them being called “Al Haj”.
The Times  of India described his organisation as a “Sunni advocacy group’’, and the HT gave this headline: “We are progressive and peaceful: Raza Academy”. Al Haj Noori Sahab must be laughing all the way to the mosque (where incidentally, he doesn’t allow Muslims of any other sect to enter except his own)!
Indeed, the Times’ sympathy for the organisers of the rally didn’t stop at Saeed Noori. One report described the “agony’’ experienced by another organiser at the fact that he was being projected as responsible for the violence.
Here’s a strange coincidence. This dichotomy--organisers blameless, individual mobsters guilty--echoes the stand taken by the State Home Minister R R Patil who gave a clean chit to the Raza Academy on day two itself. That should have aroused some suspicions about the organisers’ link with the minister. Any knowledgeable Muslim would tell you how deep these links are. But which English reporter talks to ordinary Muslims? 
The same papers found little worth reporting in a press conference called by Asghar Ali Engineer, Javed Anand, Hasina Khan and Shakil Ahmed, all of them well-known in Mumbai. The speakers condemned the rally’s organisers and asked that they be held responsible for the violence. Why were these voices ignored? Does the English press, as Muslims have always alleged, have a vested interest in projecting a certain image of Muslims--violent, fanatic, terrorist?
However, in one respect, the press (not all TV channels though) came out with flying colours. Themselves at the receiving end of violence by a communally charged mob, the English press deliberately refrained from playing up the communal nature of the attacks. The behaviour of some of the rallyists on their way back had a definite communal overtone to it. But the English press, and the city’s two main Marathi newspapers, Maharashtra Times and Loksatta, chose to ignore it, or just hint at it. This was probably done to avoid any backlash by organised Hindutva parties in Mumbai, and showed a praiseworthy sense of responsibility.
However, by going after the Police Commissioner for his so-called inaction on the spot, the English press displayed the opposite.
The English press also, through these tumultuous days, made it a point to publish Bal Thackeray’s opinions expressed in his newspaper Saamna. One can understand that the Shiv Sena’s take on Muslim violence is part of news. But when Shiv Sainiks indulge in mob violence, do we reproduce what the Urdu press says? Through these last 10 days, only the Times carried two small paras on the Urdu newspapers’ stand.
Not that reproducing what the Urdu papers wrote would have helped. Apart from a general condemnation in the beginning, the Urdu press took its usual “victimhood” stand. In their meeting with the Chief Minister, called by him after the violence, Urdu editors spoke of a police “witch hunt’’, “counselling for rioters, not punishment’’ and reminded him of the soft treatment given to Shiv Sainiks besides objecting to those arrested being charged with murder.
The Urdu papers knew well enough the communal behaviour of the mob, but wrote nothing about it. They knew also that a Muslim woman, disgusted with the rowdy behaviour of Muslim boys going to the rally, had gone to the extent of squatting on the railway tracks to stop them. A fantastic story. But not for the Urdu press!
Instead, the Rashtriya Sahara blamed the so-called national media for not highlighting the incidents in Myanmar and Assam. Urdu journalists know well enough how the entire north-east is ignored by the English media. Before the Assam violence, how much did the Urdu press cover Assam or Myanmar? Did they at least give as much (or as little) coverage to the north-east as the so-called national media has? Some of the rallyists--readers of Urdu newspapers --didn’t even know that Assam was a part of India.
The Urdu press coverage of the August 11 rally brought out some new “facts’’. The Mumbai edition of Sahafat, once edited by the radical journalist Sajid Rashid (who died last year), wrote that the rioters had their faces covered by handkerchiefs. No video or photograph shows this. Urdu journalists know all about the rally organisers’ links with the NCP; again, nothing was written about this. The only exception was a report on the English website run by Muslims, The reporter interviewed a range of Muslims, who criticised the organisers and also spoke about their political links. However, at the end of the report, the writer couldn’t stop himself from wondering whether the violence was not the work of “non-Muslim political workers, agent provocateurs… as common Muslims are not familiar with this kind of violent protest.’’ Indeed. Ask the photographers targeted, and they would tell you how communally motivated their assailants were.  

To conclude, the non-Urdu media’s coverage of the August 11 rally and its fallout left the ordinary Muslim of Mumbai feeling once more frustrated and misunderstood. A large section of educated Muslims is angry with the Urdu press for not exposing the community’s opportunistic ulema. But when they turn to the English press, the message they get leaves them bitter.

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