Monday, September 15, 2014

Scripting the Trail of Hate - how sections of the media are manufacturing communal violence in Uttar Pradesh

Stoking the heated atmosphere, the Meerut edition of Hindustan carried a whole page on Love Jihad and how the BJP was planning to take up the issue. There was not a single critical word on the nonsensical propaganda peddled by the RSS and its fronts; reading the reports, it would appear that the BJP/RSS and the vernacular Hindi dailies are working in perfect harmony.

In a small roadside clinic in Shahpur, a Muslim majority town in Muzaffarnagar, Dr Harveer Arya is examining two burqa-clad women. “I have rashes on my face, doctor,” one of them tells the heftily-built doctor. He promptly takes out a face wash and hands it over. “Stop using this synthetic niqab (veil),” he tells her. Dr Arya is the only skin and eye specialist in this sleepy town in the Hindi heartland.  
Outside his clinic hangs an election poster featuring BJP MP Sanjiv Baliyan. 
Some locals believe he was associated with the RSS a few years ago, but nobody’s sure. But that may be one reason why his clinic was attacked by a mob last year, after the riots.
“The mob entered my clinic and ransacked it,” the doctor says, while attending to his patients. After a local Muslim was gunned down by unknown assailants, the locals, suspecting it to be a case of ‘silent war’—a term they coined for hit-and-run killings by members of the other community—laid siege to Dr Arya’s clinic. A local resident says it was quite unfortunate, and the mob was calmed down only after a few elders intervened.
Dr Arya has a rather matter-of-fact explanation for the violence. While his burqa-clad patients look on, he offers, “These Muslims are non-vegetarian. So violence and immoral activities are in their nature.” He seems unyielding when told that a vast Hindu majority also eats meat. He has other questions: “Have you ever seen a Muslim girl eloping with a Hindu? Why is it that only Hindu girls are being lured? The Muzaffarnagar riots happened because boys of this community were indulging in eve-teasing.”
“Love Jihad is a recent term. We have been seeing it happen for long years. They do not want to stop,” he adds, referring to a recent incident in Paldi village, not very far from Shahpur. “Didn’t you read the reports? It was another case of Muslim boys molesting Hindu girls.”
In Paldi, it is alleged, four schoolgirls were molested and their clothes torn. A local newspaper Dainik Jagran not only reported the incident in great detail, but also started drawing parallels to what happened in Kawal last year, resulting in the Muzaffarnagar riots. “The incident has reopened the wounds of the communal riots,” the report read, emphasising the religious identity of the culprits.
However, going by the statistics in Meerut alone— perceived as the rape capital of UP—only seven per cent of the cases of harassment and rapes involved members of the minority community. There’s perhaps a reason for this selective reporting, then?
“It seems the stories in these newspapers are adding fuel to the fire,” says Mohd Khursheed, a former government official from Shahpur. “Any stray incident of harassment is given a communal flavour. Sometimes the events are even cooked up to promote animosity,” he adds. Stoking the heated atmosphere, the Meerut edition of Hindustan carried a whole page on Love Jihad and how the BJP was planning to take up the issue. There was not a single critical word on the nonsensical propaganda peddled by the RSS and its fronts; reading the reports, it would appear that the BJP/RSS and the vernacular Hindi dailies are working in perfect harmony.
Interestingly, whereas earlier the newspapers would use words like manchale to refer to those indulging in eve-teasing, now they call them alpsankhyak samudaya and samudaya vishesh (minority community/special community).
A senior editor of Dainik Jagran, on condition of anonymity, reasons that they’re bound to specify the caste or religion if there is tension in the area because of it. “When you have BJP members taking to the streets because of it, how do you ignore it?” asks the editor. 
While political parties and the press chart their own course, the administration faces the heat. “The local press has indeed magnified our worries,” says a top district administration official in Muzaffarnagar. Recently, the state machinery was on tenterhooks when local politicians of the majority community planned an anniversary of the double murder of the cousins Sachin and Gaurav in Malikpura.
A day after it was announced, the local press was on the job again.
“You read those stories. Most of them are far from the truth,” the district administration official says. On August 21, Dainik Jagran ran a headline: “Kawal se guzre to bura anjam hoga” (The consequences will be deadly if anybody passes through Kawal). On August 24, it said: ‘Kawal ka maarg LoC nahin hai’ (The road through Kawal is not the Line of Control between India and Pakistan).
“All of it was feeding the rumour factories,” says the official. There was an attempt to show that the people of Kawal village, mostly Muslims, were not in favour of letting Hindus pass through their village on their way to neighbouring Malakpura village where the anniversary ceremony was planned.
“This is factually incorrect,” the official says. “In fact, people from both communities had decided that they would cooperate and allow the anniversary to be marked peacefully,” Kaushal Raj Sharma, District Magistrate, Muzaffarmagar, informed Hardnews, adding, “We had meetings with them and they were willing to come together to ensure that nothing goes wrong.” But because of the reports in the local press, he says, “we had to deploy 50 per cent additional forces when there was no need at all.”.. read more: