PTH is grateful to Abhinav Pandya for contributing to PTH on request. This article has been posted to invite much needed debate about the role of the liberal media in India. Is the Indian media selective in only highlighting Hindu extremism? Are politicians turning blind eye when extremist Islamic organizations incite violence. This is an important area which needs to be discussed with respect to the secularism in India. PTH does not essentially agree with all the points made in the article.
By Abhinav Pandya
Amidst the allegations of increasing Hindu intolerance under Modi government, one event in Mamta’s Bengal went quite unnoticed by the left-liberal media stalwarts. Neither Ashok Vajpayee came out to return his awards nor Uday Prakash came out. Neither Barkha nor the Shekhar Gupta was found with their usual ranting against intolerance. And, I did not even get to see Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s boring article on the event. Had it not been for the social media, we would not have known much about it. The event was the carnage and arson that followed the aggressive demonstration by more than 10,000 Muslims in Malda asking for a brutal death punishment for Kamlesh Tiwari, a petty Hindu Mahasabha leader who questioned the sexual orientations of the Prophet in response to Azam khan’s statement against RSS, calling its cadres homosexuals. The mob turned violent and set fire to the police station, and burned 16 vehicles.
Well, Tiwari has already been booked under NSA for his speech in a country which claims to be democratic and celebrates freedom of speech, and Hindu Mahasabha has already disowned him. But, the larger question here is of the increasing Islamic extremism in Bengal during Mamta Bannarjee’s tenure as Chief Minister. The said incident could easily be swept under the carpet as a routine occurrence in India and something not specific to Muslims, but the issue at stake is much deeper and much more serious. The very fact that state government has played down the role of radical extremists like Jaimat and refused to recognize the incident as a case of communal violence points that state government is turning a blind eye to said ominous developments. There is a complete trail of events in the last 10 years which puts the state government’s credibility under doubt, and the dangers of Islamic extremism in the state loom large, with the Hindu and Buddhist population already being persecuted.
Mamata Banerjee refused to meet the US charge d’affaires ambassador,Kathleen Stephens during her visit to Kolkata because she got a call from Mohammed Noor-Ur-Rehman Barkat, Imam of Tipu Sultan Mosque of Kolkata. Jamaat-e-Islami leaders had warned her against developing business relations with Americans. Jamaat leaders were openly canvassing support for Trinmool in 2014 elections. Jamaat leaders even organized a major anti-India protest in Calcutta, in which they openly criticized India’s role in the independence of Bangladesh. The absence of any strong legal actions against such demonstrations by the law enforcement machinery raises some serious questions about the integrity of the political leadership of the state.
It is alleged that the state government tried to stall the NIA investigations in the Burdwan blast. The NIA had pointed that 500 recognized and 4,000 unrecognized Madrassas are engaged in indoctrination, recruitment, training and sheltering of extremists. Further, the state government has initiated lots of populist schemes which include special allowances for Imams and Muezzins, giving recognition to unorganized madrasas, reservation in jobs and exclusive Islamic townships. Despite the negative police reports against the SIMI state leader Hasan Imran the ruling party got him elected as a Rajya Sabha MP form West Bengal. Jamaat’s rise has led to increase in communal violence in the state. In 2013, 106 communal incidents took place where Hindu homes and businesses were targeted. But, sadly, the left-liberal media and intellectuals were found wanting in their criticism of the said ominous developments.
In this entire episode, the silence of left-liberal media and intellectuals is disturbing. Sagarika Ghosh said in her recent interview that if one does not criticize jihadi extremism, then he loses the right to criticize Hindu extremism and the Hindutva brigade gets after his or her life. My answer is that that it is not the question of favoring the extremism of one religion over the other. It is a very faulty assumption that in democracy there is only majority extremism. Extremism is a state of mind which comes with an irrational clinging to one’s belief or ideological world, and a minority can also have its share of extremism. In India, since the Hindu society has myriad faultiness along caste, sect, region, political ideologies and culture, and these fault lines are more pronounced vis-à-vis the fault lines in the Muslim society. In the backdrop of increasing Hindu nationalism and, a general positioning and also the portrayal of Muslims as somewhat hostile to it, leads the Muslims to vote as one block whereas Hindu vote-bank is fragmented. The politicians are bound to pander to Muslim community for electoral gains and that might involve turning a blind-eye to the threat of extremism to appease the orthodox clerics and leadership within the Muslim community, for short-term electoral gains. It happens in all democracies, including the most advanced ones.
But the silence of media over Islamic extremism, and blowing things out of proportion in the case Hindutva extremism, is condemnable and dangerous for a democratic and multicultural society like India. The media’s reactions over some minor ink-spilling incident of Shivsena or a statement of Mahesh Sharma or beef ban in some BJP governed state were disproportionately loud, spiteful and hateful vis-à-vis their biased and unethical silence over the incidents like Malda, Mamta’s reading of Shahadat Kalima in public, and death fatwas against Tiwari. It smacks of crass opportunism, sheer hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty.
As journalists and intellectuals they are expected to be honest and objective in reporting. And, the question is of the implications of keeping silence. The silence over jihadi extremism under the excuse of Hindu extremism could have grave consequences. The state could become home to some of the worst terrorists of the world. Therefore, the media is expected and requested to take a balanced and responsible stand on the all the cases of extremism, irrespective of their religious or ideological origins.
To conclude, I would say that it is high time Dobhal and his team took some serious action against the Jihadi networks developing in West Bengal. In fact, I would go on to the extent of investigating the role of state government in sheltering the extremist organizations.