Dainik Jagran, UP Elections, Bijnor and More

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: February 16, 2017
One thing is more than clear and has been so since 2013-2014. The rule of law and democratic niceties do not concern the inherently anti-Constitutional ruling dispensation and its media hoards. Days ago the mass circulation Dainik Jagran got into a legal spot with the Election Commission on it’s publication of an exit polls that is illegal at election time.

Up Elections

In India, public memory is notoriously short. Jagran was among the first media groups Prime Minister Modi had chosen to speak to after becoming the prime minister. And the links of sections of the Indian, read Hindi media to the supremacist Hindutva right has been historic.

Not so long ago, in September 2016, the newspaper’s questionable reportage of the outbreak of intra-community (read Hindu-Muslim) tensions in UP was widely criticised.

As is not uncommon, an incident of eve teasing of girls became the cause of group violence. But it was the fashion of reportage of this incident that has come into question. Dainik Jagran wrote,

“A distance from Bijnor town, when some girl students, who catch the school bus every day face eve-teadsing. Youth from the minority community have been indulging in eve-teasing for some days now. Last Friday, again conflict broke out over eve teasing and as the conflict escalated, there was stone throwing and even gun shots were fired. Ahsan (32) died of gun shots while Aneesuddin (50) and Sarfaraz (22) died on the way to hospital.” (All names of males who died are Muslim names, easily identifiable).

The newspaper Jagran was clearly being the spokesperson of only one section of citizens, the Hindus. It wrote further, relying on ‘sources from the police,’ that, in fact, “ it was two girls, standard ten student from the minority, who were harassed and stalked by the youth and family members of one Sansar Singh that led to the conflict. The conflict resulted in three dead and 12 injured.” This manner of partisan reporting has been the bane of Indian journalism that has gone unchecked even before and during times of acute anti-minority pogroms. We have in India a Press Council of India that is mandated to act, but does so extremely sparingly.

As the ‘story’ unfolded one thing became clear: two Muslim girls were teased by Hindu Jat boys on September 17, 2016, while on their way to school. The boys are said to belong to the family of a Jat hegemon in the village. When the girl's family went to the Jat hegemon's home to complain about the eve-teasing, they were fired upon from the roof of the fortified house, in a brazen display of power. One member of the girls' family was killed on the spot.

The assault did not end there. The next morning, a mob of around 100 people attacked the girls' home and as many as 17 members of the Muslim family were badly injured in the violence. Three of the injured died later and a fourth, Rizwan, who works in a hair cutting saloon in Delhi and who was injured severely with bullet injuries in his neck, and thereafter succumbed to his injuries. In all, four people, including a woman, were killed in the violence, all Muslims. The fact that all the deceased and the injured belong to one family is proof that the girls' family had only gone to beseech the elders of the deviant boys to rein them in, rather than express any community driven sentiment.
 
Clearly fair reportage was not the newspaper’s aim. The tendencies in large circulating newspapers to play the sinister political tune of the Hindutva right goes back decades, heightened during the aggressive mobilisation of the majoritarian right in the mid 1980s.

 These observations by the late media analyst Praful Bidwai, in Communalism Combat, August 1997, bear recall. The article was in an issue of the journal that was assessing 50 Years of Indian Secularism, titled, “Media in Service of Communalism”

Bidwai writes, “One of the most important--- and yet among the saddest-changes to have occurred in the Indian media over the past 50 years is its communalisation, or at least, its opening up to communal influences as never before. The respectability that Hindutva has acquired among the upper and middle class elite of the despicable Ram temple campaign culminating in the destruction of the Babri mosque in December 1992, and in horrific pogroms and riots the following month, would have been quite inconceivable without the media’s complicity with and soft line on the sangh combine.

“ It is also a fact of no mean consequence that the top journalists and columnists of India’s largest-circulation English-language magazine are not just BJP sympathisers, but hardcore RSS supporters, no less. Today, in most English-language newspapers and magazines-to a discussion of which this article is largely confined-pro-BJP articles, stories and leaders far out-number those that are strongly secular or liberal and left-wing in character.

“This is a far cry from the early years of independence when the mainstream English-language press would treat the Jana Sangh, and in particular the RSS, as politically unacceptable, and as part of the lunatic fringe, far beyond the secular-democratic pale. This was only partly because of the trauma of Partition which witnessed the unfolding of the horrible consequences of communalism (of which the BJP is a legatee) and the assassination of Gandhi (the work, clearly and self-confessedly, of Hindutva).

It was also because the RSS Jana Sangh was seen as a fundamentally intolerant parochial force that threatened unity, social cohesion and nation-building much in the way casteism or linguistic-regional chauvinism did.”

It is this trend, that has crept in which is today sharp and heightened with aggressive corporate control. Under Modi, there has been an effort for ultra-hegemonisation of an already emasculated reality.