The media’s coverage of last week’s nationwide ‘Not In My Name’ protests candidly exposes the divide that exists between Hindi and Urdu press in the country. It also shows that the chasm between the two is deep and profound, and too difficult to be bridged, even in significant times when mainstream Indians stand out in unity against the mindless violence and religious extremism.
The Hindi and Urdu media had diametrically opposite news coverage while dealing with violence in Muzaffarnagar and Kairana, and the two differed again when it came to covering ‘Not In My Name’ protests.
While the major Urdu dailies like Inquilab, Roznama Rashtriya Sahara, Sahafat, Siyasat, Qaumi Tanzim and Jadid Khabar carried the event on their front pages, as can be accessed online at akhbarurdu.com, a prominent section of the Hindi media appeared to belittle the significance of the protests. Most leading Hindi newspapers showed a shrinking space for this churn in the country, while some others placed it in the inside city pages. It seems as if editors of Hindi newspapers assumed that #NotInMyName was a pretty hashtag, but not a newsworthy event of national significance.
For instance, the leading Urdu daily in India Inquilab published front page reports from Delhi’s Jantar Mantar protests, where scores of journalists and intellectuals took out processions decrying mob lynchings, as well as from the gathering in Mumbai where over 200 citizens and celebrities shouted ‘Not In My Name’ protesting the hate crimes. Inquilabdedicated more than half its first and second pages to the protests, and also carried an editorial and several opinion pieces on 29 June.
A day later, on 30 June, Inquilab continued to cover the event. Shakeel Shamsi, the north regional editor of the publication, had a signed column, in which he wrote: “Saba Diwan’s call that emerged on social media and inevitably birthed the nationwide secular movement (tahreek) on Wednesday has left a lasting impact on the entire country. The sincerity that this protest has shown has not only earned the media’s attention but also inspired the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who categorically denounced the cow-vigilantes.”
Tellingly, Shamsi has some notable and substantial points to make in this context. He adds, “The communalist forces are not aware of the fact that India’s people may well be ‘religious’ (mazhabi), by professing different faith traditions, but they are not ‘extremists’ or ‘fundamentalists’ (intiha pasand). True Hindus in India never willed to enforce their religious convictions on the religious minorities. Rather, they invite and happily dine with the Muslims in Iftar gatherings and befriend them in their religious festivals. Most Hindus even today believe that they seek blessings in visiting the Sufi shrines. They show reverence for Sai Baba even after he was rejected by Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, as he called him a ‘beef-eating Muslim’.”
In the 1 July edition of Inquilab, Shahid Lateef, who is the current editor of the publication in Mumbai, has also penned down an editorial entitled ‘Not in My Name’. “Many (Urdu-speaking people) including me could not fathom, at the very outset of the ‘Not in My Name’ event, as to why the protests against cow-vigilantism were named this. It seemed as if the cow was saying that “hate crimes and killings should not be perpetrated in my name”. But research tells us that ‘Not In My Name’ was a slogan raised by the conscious Americans who stood out to protest against the US government’s war on Vietnam.”
But the Dainik Jagran group, which owns the Urdu daily, has a shown a different editorial choice when it comes to its Hindi language publications. In contrast to Inquilab’s patently clear, detailed and wide coverage of the events, the Hindi daily Dainik Jagran had a very restricted reportage on the event. It gave a very constrained news of the event, that too on the seventh page. Simply titled ‘Protests against communal incidents’ (Sampradayik ghatnaon ka virodh), Jagran‘s report purports to only tell the readers that a number of social activists, students and Left-wing workers took part in the Jantar Mantar protest against the against communal incidents. The report particularly named CPI’s D Raja, KC Tyagi of JDU, deputy chief minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia, and JNU’s missing student Najeeb Ahmed’s sister as the key participants. The two-column story, which seemed nothing short of a small news snippet in the print edition of the Hindi daily, now runs only in one paragraph and hardly in 100 words on the Jagranwebsite.
Similarly, the other leading Hindi-language daily Hindustan also sufficed to inform that scholars, students and artists took out a protest in Delhi. Doesn’t this reveal that the revolutionary significance of the ‘Not In My Name’ for a large chunk of the Hindi readers was undermined by the Hindi-language editors?
Another interesting contrast was seen in the editorial choices of Urdu-language daily Roznama Rashtriya Sahara and its Hindi edition. While the Sahara Urdu edition’s editorials, along with the national news pages, gave prominence to the Jantar Mantar protests, the Hindi editorials decided to skip commenting on the protest altogether. Even today on 1 July, Rashtriya Sahara Urdu carried a lead column on this incident penned by Prof Akhtarul Wasey. He has noted a very pertinent aspect of this issue which has gone largely overlooked in other Urdu newspapers. Wasey, an expert on Muslim affairs and a close community watcher, writes in Rashtriya Sahara Urdu in his article dated 1 July. “In India, we land very few opportunities when all people, regardless of faith and creed, take out such joint protests. However, (it has to be noted) that those seeking justice for Muslims and confronting the cruelties being inflicted on them, are not Muslims. This is a reminder for Muslims to stand up for the justice for all. But we regret that Muslim outfits like Muslim Personal Law Board, Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, Jamat-e-Islami and several others which organise large-scale Islamic gatherings, were not seen in this joint protest. Neither their towering leaders had the guts to participate in protests being held in the scorching heat on roads. We salute Saba Dewan who has created a movement of humane understanding from Jantar Mantar to other parts of the country.”
While Amar Ujala reported the ‘Not In My Name’ on its sixth page much like Dainik Jagran, it also highlighted the political angle of the event, by particularly naming the politicians, including Manish Sisodia of the Aam Aadmi Party.
However, for the ‘Not In My Name’ protesters, it was gratifying to note that there was no dearth of reports on the event in the English press. The major English dailies particularly The Indian Express, Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, Deccan Chronicle and Deccan Herald all carried full reports and also put forth objective analysis from a spectrum of thinkers. They did not succumb to the idea that ‘Not In My Name’ was a just an initiative of the Indian citizens mobilised by a call from a filmmaker. Since it was not seen as an initiative of a particular outfit or a political ploy of any party, it drew an unprecedented participation as well as media attention.
First posted on firstpost