As I write this, the Indian Express has reported that on June 27 in a village in Giridih district of Jharkhand, a mob attacked a dairy farmer, Usman, and burnt his home, after slitting the throat of a cow that had just then died of an illness, making it seem that he had killed the cow in a state where the animal’s slaughter is banned.
An injured Usman was rescued by the police and for that we must be grateful.
It is now becoming a daily occurrence.
Somewhere, every day, a hate crime is committed against Muslims. A 16-year-old boy is murdered because he is Muslim, a Muslim dairy farmer is killed in one state and another farmer attacked in another, Muslim families are suspected of eating beef in states where cow slaughter is banned and assaulted by mobs. And if you cheer the Pakistani cricket team and you are Muslim, you can be thrown into jail.
What does the media do in an environment where Islamophobia has taken root with the tacit encouragement of the state and political establishments, which are both silent in this ongoing transformation of Indian society? And then when Islamophobia boils over into hate crimes?
The problem is that the media has in part contributed to this development. Some outlets have become silent or rather afraid to ask questions, allowing an atmosphere of hate to build up. Some have so openly identified themselves with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the National Democratic Alliance government in New Delhi that they have forgotten the meaning of “speaking truth to power”. And in one of the most terrible developments in the history of journalism in India, some outlets – mainly television – have been aggressively stoking the fires of Islamophobia in their framing of news and comment.
A responsible media
There have been a few angry voices that have spoken up to counter the media’s silence. In the English media, some independent publications – in print and on the Net – have given space to a questioning of Islamophobia. They are not many but there a few are out there carrying out their responsibilities.
Scroll.in has been one of this small number of publications. It has been highlighting news of these incidents and it has opened its pages to plaintive and angry comment on India’s newly open Islamophobia.
In the fourth week of June alone, Scroll.in published articles like this one by Samar Harlankar, this piece by Ramachandra Guha (reproduced from The Telegraph) and this article by Aarti Sethi (reproduced from Kafila.org), all speaking of different aspects of the monster in the body politic.
Commentary such as these three pieces are important, but we also need reporting that tells us how things are changing in communities in rural and urban India. How are the minorities coping? Where is discrimination and aggression more open? How is this violence being routinised and made normal? Who are the faces and voices of the aggressors and the victims? How is it that there are some communities that have refused to fall prey to Islamophobia?
Such reports will give an immediacy to the issue. They will also bring home to the silent majority that a cancer is spreading across the country and needs to be stopped.
Scroll.in has, of course, been publishing reports such as this one by Mridula Chari, who wrote from Mohad village of Burhanpur district in Madhya Pradesh where 15 Muslim men were charged by the police for threatening communal harmony because (according to the police) they “burst crackers” after the Pakistan cricket team trounced India in the Champions Trophy. Then, there was this disturbing report by Nishita Jha from Khandawli village in Faridabad district of Haryana, the home of Junaid Shaikh who on the eve of Eid was killed on a train while returning home from Delhi.
Both were comprehensive stories, but these were after-the-event reports.
Readers also need to be informed about an ongoing and everyday process that has taken root and could, as one writer has described it, yield “bitter fruit” in the long run.
With many state institutions either complicit or silent about the spreading violence against India’s largest minority and the political opposition too feeble to arrest this aggression, it is left to the media – the handful of independent publications that are refusing to go along – to be our conscience.
They, unfortunately, have a double burden. They must give space for critical comment and they must bring us more reports from the ground about how and why Islamophobia is growing, the impact it is having on people’s lives and how the people are fighting it.