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October 22, 2006
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October 22, 2006




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Home > 2006 Issues > October 22, 2006

Different yardsticks for different people
By K.G. Suresh

When we say terrorists have no religion, how does it make a difference if Afzal is hanged during Ramzan? Criminals and terrorists have nothing to do with Ramzan or Navratras?

The application of different yardsticks by the media is not confined to Hindu issues but also extends to organisations and political parties perceived to be espousing the cause of the majority community.

'MANUVADI?, bourgeois, elitist, sensationalist are some of the tags often associated with the Indian media, which proudly claims to be one of the most independent in the world.

Having been a working journalist for over two decades, I have had the opportunity to closely observe it, particularly in the context of its coverage of the majority community, its sentiments and organisations including political parties claiming to represent them.

I believe it would be unfair to call the media anti-Hindu or to state that it discriminates against Hindus. After all, most of the media organisations, save for the transnational agencies, are run and manned by Indians and particularly Hindus. But yes, I would certainly say the Indian media has a different yardstick when it comes to dealing with the majority community.

I find a discernible tendency in the media to identify certain issues with a certain school of thought, ideology or organisation rather than viewing them in the larger national perspective.

For example, the Uniform Civil Code was incorporated as a desirable objective in the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution of India by our founding fathers, much before the Jan Sangh or BJP came into existence. On the one hand, we proudly proclaim our secular identity but how do we reconcile it with the insistence that the minorities be allowed to follow their own personal law?

Why is it that tinkering with Hindu personal laws (Marriage Act, Succession Act, etc) is considered a prerogative of the state while even a Supreme Court order (Shah Bano case) is seen as an assault on the identity of minorities? The media has to be extraordinarily sensitive to the sentiments and feelings of the people.

For example, a television ?expose? couple of years back showed the alleged sexual misdeeds of some monks of a prestigious religious order in Gujarat but in its attempts to sensationalise it, it was projected as if all the monks were like that. Individual aberrations are there even in the Fourth Estate that we are associated with but it does not call for painting everyone with the same brush. The institution, to which the monks belonged, had done yeoman?s service during the Gujarat quake and cyclone and commands the respect of millions of Gujaratis world wide. Hence, while exposing the misdeeds of individual monks, the reporter and the channel concerned should have been sensitive enough not to project the institution or the community of monks itself in bad light.

The Ramjanmabhoomi movement was perhaps the biggest people?s movement in post-independent India after the JP movement that catapulted BJP, which had merely two Lok Sabha seats in its kitty, to the centrestage of Indian politics within a short span of a little over a decade.

The fact also remains that Sri Rama?s idol was being worshipped at the disputed site since Independence and even after the December 6, 1992 demolition, the Supreme Court has allowed prayers at the makeshift temple.

The media may not describe it as Ramjanmabhoomi as members of the majority community call it but why repeatedly provoke Muslim sentiments by referring to it as a mosque or masjid? Plain and simple, call it a disputed structure so that the media is not seen to be taking sides.

The same holds true for the Gujarat violence. The state has had a long history of communal strife. The latest violence was not a stand-alone incident but had its roots in the Godhra train carnage. Then why not be fair and term it as ?post-Godhra violence??

The killing of Graham Staines and his two young children was undoubtedly an abominable act but so was the brutal murder of 57 train passengers at Godhra. Staines? killing does not become less heinous because he was allegedly carrying out conversions. Similarly, the crime at Godhra cannot be condoned because the victims were ?Ram sevaks? coming from Ayodhya or they did not allegedly pay the tea-vendors or even allegedly teased the women at the railway station.

Why is it that we in the media do not discuss these issues on merit due to perceived fears that it may be seen as espousing the cause of the right wing?

There have been occasions when Hindu groups have held press conferences and demanded deletion of what they call ?objectionable? portions in Islamic texts and the media decided not to publish them for fears that it may hurt Muslim sentiments. Fair enough. But the same media has absolutely no qualms in publishing statements of some Dalit leader demanding deletion of ?objectionable? references in Hindu textbooks like Manusmriti. Is it that the Hindu texts are less sacred than the Koran or the Bible?

The Danish cartoon on Prophet Mohammad deserved to be condemned but so did the naked paintings of Hindu deities by M.F. Husain. Now one cannot be blasphemy and the other art or freedom of expression.

The media went on offensive over an alleged fake encounter in which a Muslim girl was killed a couple of years back till the terrorist outfit itself paid tributes to her in its website.

Whether it be ?sati? or child marriage, the Indian media has done a wonderful job in creating awareness against the evil practices but why does it shy when it comes to the plight of Muslim women or in exposing the superstitions or myths surrounding polio drops, non-administration of which has paralysed many Muslim children?

A leading television channel recently unleashed a campaign favouring entry of women (on attaining puberty) to the hill shrine of Sabarimala in Kerala, which has been prohibited for centuries. But why Ajmer Sharief is being kept out of this reformist crusade? I am sure women devotees want to pay their obeisance at the dargah on an equal footing with men.

Lucknow?s prestigious Loreto Convent recently organised a date with Lord Jesus Christ, which led to several students fainting and horrified parents questioning the school?s wisdom and motive behind it. The school principal, a dozen staff members and about 250 girls from Class VIII to XII were privy to the ?special? occult session that had a medium ?transforming? into Christ and blessing them. A dozen students fainted while some others required medical attention. Most of the students were either too horrified or shocked to narrate the experience. The innocent children, mostly non-Christian, were exposed to a demonstration of the little-known cult based in Krishnanagar, West Bengal.

However, the media, which lost no time in slamming a former BJP minister when he organised a meeting of traditional and tribal medicine practitioners like ojhas in Bihar during the tenure of the NDA government, chose to focus on the protest against the incident by some Hindu youth organisations and not on the outrageous and scandalous ?date with Christ? organised by the ?prestigious? school.

The media, which has been baying for the blood of Santosh Kumar Singh (Priyadarshini Mattoo case), Vikas Yadav (Nitish Katara case) and the perpetrators of the Gujarat violence, has suddenly found virtues in Mohd Afzal, the key accused in the Parliament terror strike.

Criminals are criminals and they should be dealt with as such. Afzal was not tried in a Gujarat court, where the verdict could have been ?prejudiced or influenced? as was alleged in the Best Bakery case. There is something called enlightened national interest. For even the highly-rated CNN, the American onslaught on Afghanistan was ?Global War on Terrorism?. Why we in India lack that spirit? When we say terrorists have no religion, how does it make a difference if Afzal is hanged during Ramzan? Criminals and terrorists have nothing to do with Ramzan or Navratras?

If deities drinking milk is superstition, so is the sea water turning sweet near a dargah at Mahim creek and a statue of Madonna oozing blood from the eyes. We need to call a spade a spade.

The application of different yardsticks by the media is not confined to Hindu issues but also extends to organisations and political parties perceived to be espousing the cause of the majority community.

For example, the RSS, VHP, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad have been consistently raising their core issues over the years but they were blown up, sometimes out of context, when the BJP-led NDA government was in power. The moment the party was voted out of power, the wide coverage for these organisations too came to a grinding halt. These organisations continue to raise the same issues, whether it be the Ram temple issue or disinvestments, but now they are not considered worthy of publication. Only if they abuse each other will they get into print. Thus, it becomes clear that neither the issue nor the content mattered when the intent itself was to embarrass the party in power.

Of course, it goes without saying that there are vested political interests, both in the editorial and in management of media enterprises, who perceive a threat to their hegemony and ideology if the Hindu organisations, leadership and issues are shown in a positive light. The free usage of terms such as communal and secular without the mandatory inverted commas or adjectives like alleged, while referring to political parties and organisations, is reflective of this mindset.

Therefore, even the good work done by these organisations often tend to get ignored. The yeoman?s service being done by Ekal Vidyalayas and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram tend to get lost in the lanes and bylanes of Ayodhya and Mathura. Very few media organisations show the courage to give due credit to RSS swayamsevaks when it comes to their stellar role in disaster relief, whether it is Tsunami, cyclones, earthquakes or even the mid-air collision at Charkhi Dadri.

The media is not wrong in highlighting any negative traits or trends but as they say ?Give the Devil His Due.? The media has every right to highlight the work being done by the Missionaries of Charity for street and slum-dwellers of Kolkata but it would certainly not harm them if the service being carried out in sewa bastis across the country by the selfless volunteers of Sewa Bharati too gets a pat on the back. After all, they too are equal citizens of this country.

While treating ?different? people differently is fine, let there be no different yardsticks when it comes to objectivity, fair play, sensitivity and equality. The Indian media?s credibility would only go up further.

(The author is a senior journalist and was till recently with the PTI.)




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