Normally when the Army is called in to maintain order in the immediate neighborhood of Kolkata, police personnel are injured, places of worship are desecrated, shops of a particular religious community are targeted for looting, and communities escape their home in fear of violence we would consider it to be headlines/breaking news-worthy. Perhaps not as earth-shaking as Shiney Ahuja’s maid withdrawing rape accusations or Formula 1 racing coming to India, but definitely worth front page real estate. Yet if I look at the home pages of NDTV and IBN and TOI (at the time of writing), I find not one mention of these events.
A search on Google news on “Deganga” throws up a handful of articles (thirty one at moment of writing) in mainstream media, and an overwhelming majority of these are so deliberately vague that they sound like a parent trying to explain to a nine-year old kid where babies come from. We are told about the Army staging flag marches (one might think this is a rather regular occurrence in a state like Bengal deserving only a passing mention), groups of people (my friend Rimi told me that’s how the local Bangla papers reported it) fighting each other over a “local issue” , violence over ambiguous disputed structures——–like it is some small passing thing of no importance, or at least nothing as worthy of prime placement as one of the headline items I see on the page of IBN namely “Aamir Khan is India’s national treasure“.
Despite the standard fig-leafs of “one particular community”, Pioneer (and no doubt because it is well known to be right-leaning) [Link and Link] gives us the most information among mainstream media outlets. That of dwellings being targeted by armed mobs “of a particular community” and of Hindu temples being desecrated and of the law enforcement machinery helpless and under attack from these lumpen elements, backed by the Trinamool Congress, which has necessitated the calling in of the Army. This incident is of course an extreme flare-up in a ceaseless battle of attrition raging in Bengal’s border districts where illegal migrants from across the border have altered the demographics of the region, bringing with them the culture of religious persecution that characterizes Bangladesh, as a means of asserting their numerical and political superiority—-certainly something that deserves a little bit more seriousness than the “slanging-match between two groups of people over some triviality” angle that most mainstream media outlets are taking.
Which brings us to another question. Why this obvious shoving under the carpet? And why do media outlets talk of “communities” without taking names? One reason, many of our “liberal” friends will say, is that violence and criminal activity have no religion and hence attaching religious descriptors means giving a communal angle. Well there are two problems with this argument. First of all, it is not a universally enforced standard—the same media has no problem in citing the religion of those who murdered Ehsaan Jaffri in Gujarat or tore down the Babri Masjid. And they well should because these acts of barbarity were done in the name of religion. When gangs of football fans fight over a disputed goal, newspapers report it as “East Bengal fans clash with Mohun Bagan fans” and not “groups of people fought”.Why? Because they are clashing over a football rivalry and the cause of the conflict is defined by their club-affiliation. Similarly, when groups are clashing because of their religion, when shops are being picked out for looting because of the religious affiliation of their owners and when religious places of a particular religion are being targeted, why the hypocrisy in hiding the very basis of the selection and conflict?
Some would say that giving prominence to communal incidents have the potential of “provoking” further incidents and hence they should be downplayed. As pointed out previously, this principle of not naming principals is applied selectively. Most importantly, the job of the press is to report the truth—if “communal” riots are taking place, then suppressing the adjective is suppressing the truth. Sure the press have a responsibility—-they should not spread half-truths, conjecture without supporting evidence or use provocative, innuendo-ridden language when the atmosphere is heated but couching reports in deliberate vagueness, that too only when it is politically correct to do so, should not be approved practice.
There is of course a far greater danger when the mainstream media tries to downplay such events. That being that it strengthens extreme voices from the Hindu right, who accuse Indian mainstream media of having a strong “liberal pro-minority” bias, so ideologically rigid so as to not being averse to obfuscating or relegating to the sidelines news that does not fit into their general narrative.
And how does the Deganga reporting provide them credence?
By proving them right in at least one case.
This in turn compromises all the genuine reporting the mainstream media does (and yes they do do it) and calls into doubt their political motivations, further giving credibility to right-wing advocacy websites and blogs, who when they write all kinds of politically slanted, communally-colored “eyewitness reports” can say, with some degree of legitimacy, “Look guys this is the genuine news. You saw how the mainstream media plays down incidents involving Hindus. Well we do not, that’s why only we have the story and no one else. Come here sirs and madams for the alternative truth”.
And once this credibility is established, the distinction between mainstream media and extreme media is blurred and a dangerous equivalence established, with each side being shown to be as colored as the other.
[Note: People, and you know who you are, are told not to post links to blog-posts (or copy-paste entire posts) or report ” facts” regarding the incident. Not a comment on the “truthiness” [apologies to Colbert] of your comment, but my comment-space is neither for propaganda nor for reporting. Its is, to repeat, the private comment space of a private blog and not an “open medium for expression”. People interested in Deganga can Google it and reach your pages. Any links or copy-pastes will be removed. Unlike Sepia Mutiny, I do not have interns so please do not ask me to spend time cleaning up after you.]