Last updated: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 10:37 AM
Tariq A. Al-Maeena
SOME 160 million Indian Muslims live in that country. It is a significant number, one that boasts of being the third largest Muslim population in the world. They remain a minority though, making up 13.5 percent of the total population of 1.2 billion. For the most part, they have been living in harmony with Indians of other faiths, and protected by a somewhat fragile secular democracy.
But all has not been well lately. The Indian media is contributing to the polarization and marginalization of India’s Muslim population, and worst yet, “demonizing” them. That is the charge of a respected former chief minister who also was a chief justice and a state governor.
Currently heading the post of chairman of the Press Council of India, Markandey Katju, a pandit Hindu, last week flayed the Indian media for “demonizing the Muslim community through irresponsible journalism”. At a symposium arranged by a statewide English daily on ‘Reporting Terror: How Sensitive is the media?’ Mr. Katju took the podium to express his explicit accusations.
“Whenever a bomb blast occurs or such incident takes place, within an hour or so many TV channels start showing that an email or SMS has come from the Indian Mujahideen, JeM or Harkatuljihad-e-Islam, or some Muslim name, claiming responsibility.
“An email or SMS can be sent by any mischievous person. But when your start screening this on TV and next day in print, the certain message you — the media — are sending is that all Muslims are terrorists and they have nothing to do except to throw bombs….You are demonizing the entire Muslim community and promoting communalism,” he charged.
Continuing along the same theme, he said, “Is this the responsible behavior of the media? I think it is a totally irresponsible behavior which is promoting communalism in the country. I have raised voice against this, but they said I am suppressing the media.” Katju warned that the media should stick to ethics. “Do you have the freedom to spread communalism? You will be stopped from doing devilish things. I am a strong fighter for media’s freedom but I will not allow you to do such devilish things. You will have to have responsibility in the national interest.” His charges stem from a growing belief that the feeling of injustice among Muslims is rapidly increasing within Indian society and that there is discrimination against them in many sectors because of their faith. “Unfortunately, Muslims are discriminated in getting jobs, banks loans and there is a sense of great injustice”, Katju stated. “The cause of terrorism is injustice. Abolishment of poverty and discrimination will help in checking terrorism.”
Markandey Katju is known for his controversial views. But in the words of the former Assistant Solicitor General of India Amarendra Sharan who had nothing but praise for the man and who declared, “You can criticize his views, but you can’t criticize the man. His integrity is unimpeachable.” A well-known jurist, Fali Nariman, added that Katju is “a person who doesn’t merely pretend to support human rights but lives it every moment of his life.”
With such impeccable credentials his is a voice of reason and one to pay heed to. He had recently requested the Prime Minister to amend the Press Council Act. “The amendments were sought with regard to bringing the electronic media under the purview of media council and for providing some powers to take action,” he said, emphasizing that the regulations were meant to serve as a fair watchdog and not take control over media. “But in exceptional circumstances, definite action needs to be taken,” he admitted, plainly indicating that unsupported and biased reporting would be dealt with.
During the symposium, he also said that “an NGO which will work to secure justice for those unjustly languishing in jails, particularly from minority communities, will be launched in Delhi on April 15. The NGO — Court of Last Resort — will be headed by noted lawyer Fali S. Nariman with himself being its chief patron.”
He concluded by adding that “Time has come…this organization is absolutely necessary. This forum will have branches in all districts. We need to have a large team of youths, students, lawyers…because injustice is meted out in large scale in this country.”
As India moves to the polls, there will be growing attempts to continue polarizing the minorities for ballot gains. India’s secular frame may get damaged beyond recovery if those intent on this malicious path of division enjoy success. Divisive political parties such as the BJP will definitely bring such an India to harms way.
Responsible Indians must diligently heed Mr. Katju’s call and avoid being prejudiced by a biased and distorted media campaign against the Muslim minority, or be seduced in political rallies calling for the same. The road ahead will be fraught with danger for all Indians if such a message prevails.
— The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena.