Time was, and that not too long ago, when there was media consensus about the facts relating to any particular story. What differed was the interpretation, the analysis. The average reader, therefore, could by reading a couple of accounts in different sections of the media get a broad understanding of the facts; he could then form his own opinions, or subscribe to the one that suited his own individual bias.
That time is long gone; we no longer even have consensus on what the basic facts are. And over the past 24 hours, nothing illustrates this problem as much as the story of AAP councillor Tahir Hussain.
Anubha Bhonsle, executive editor of CNN-IBN, in course of real time reporting from the ground, tweeted out this story:
Journalist and author Rahul Pandita, who was with Bhonsle at the time, also posted a similar story on his timeline:
The story then grew wings, with various media houses suggesting, citing Sharma’s father among others, that Hussain was likely responsible for the Intelligence Bureau officer Ankit Sharma’s gruesome murder. Other stories said vast quantities of petrol bombs were found on the roof of the councillor’s house. But in parallel to these narratives, there was this:
I have no personal knowledge of any of the above, nor have I an opinion about this one way or the other — expect that the riots that ripped apart the national capital over a three-day period need to be investigated with the full force and capability of the state, that every single person who is determined to have played a role in it, whether as instigator, or perpetrator, or abettor, needs to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
That said, here is the inexplicable part: the story above hinges on one simple question. Was Hussain present at his home at the time in question, or was he not?
That should be easy enough to establish without all this back and forth. Those speaking in Hussain’s defence mention the name and designation of the officer who, they say, rescued the councillor when his home was under attack, and took him to safety.
How difficult could it be to ask DCP (North-East) Delhi Ved Prakash Surya to confirm or deny that he rescued Hussain from a rioting mob? One phone call, one question, one answer — is that too much to ask?
Bhonsle’s original post was at 8:54 PM last night — and the back and forth is still going on as I write this. Worse, it has metastasised on social media, with the usual suspects led by BJP IT Cell head Amit Malaviya making hay over this ‘evidence’ of Muslim perfidy — the kind of narrative that, over time, embeds in the collective consciousness and fuels the ‘righteous anger’ of those who seek to exculpate their own role in the violence.
There, in that one tweet by the BJP’s chief propagandist, is the lurking menace. In Malaviya’s hands, an unproved allegation has morphed, in the space of 240 characters, into a dangerous “iceberg”.
Surely a simple phone call will settle the issue? Surely it is the duty of the media to make the call, to verify the facts? Surely Bhonsle and Pandita, both of whom as journalists have the access and ability to make that call, could have done so? As could any of those who are speaking out in defence of the councillor?
Surely now, more than ever, the media’s allegiance should be to verifiable facts?
Elsewhere, this, from one of the most senior members of the media:
Radical Islam? On what basis does Sardesai frame this ‘versus’ narrative? And, what is worse, how does the Shaheen Bagh protest become a “trigger” for violence, for the killing of, at last count, over 27 people; for the property destroyed, the livelihoods lost, the immense pain and misery that has resulted?
Just what will it take to make members of the media — including the seniors, who should be setting the example — understand that words, the tools with which we all earn our daily bread, have meaning, and that their misuse has consequences?
What will it take for all of us whose words have reach and influence to think before we speak?
They say the toll thus far is 13 24, as of 6.30 PM this evening. They whisper that the actual toll is much higher. Maybe we will know in time what the actual human cost is or, as has happened many times before in the course of state-sponsored pogroms, maybe we never will.
Never mind parsing the numbers, though — even one life sacrificed at the altar of the cold-blooded political calculations of those who rule us (rule, not govern, because there is zero sign of governance) and of the unthinking, unfettered hate of their bigoted base would have been one too many.
That hate manifested in scenes such as this, playing out on the streets of the national capital:
Or this incident, one among the many dozens over the past three days that we will never be able to live down:
Call it by its right name — this is a pogrom, not a “riot”. Ashutosh Varshney, who has written the book on the subject, lays it out in a thread in which the money quote is this:
The cap is made to measure. It fits, perfectly. The events in Delhi over the past three days is no “riot” but a systematic campaign of elimination targeting the Muslim community. That it was planned to this end is painfully evident from the reports flooding in — including, but not limited to, this video of stones being brought in by the truckload the night before the violence began:
The Indian Express has a chilling timeline-driven narrative of thugs preparing for the attacks under the unseeing eye of the police. It goes on to document the deliberate targeting of Muslim homes and shops for violence, for arson.
As late as 9.30 last night, with Section 144 and shoot at sight orders in force, a Muslim settlement was torched by a mob acting with impunity. Police were present; they said they were “unable to interfere“.
An 85-year-old woman was burnt to death in her home. A mosque in Ashok Nagar was vandalised and torched, as were homes in the vicinity (See embedded clip earlier in this post), and a Hanuman flag planted atop its dome. 24 hours after the incident, the flag still remains in place. And a clip that has since been verified damns the police as active, willing participants in the mayhem:
The police even colluded with rioters to ensure that ambulances bearing victims were not allowed to enter the Al Hind hospital, as testified to by many including Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti. A 14-year-old boy with a gunshot wound was among those who were denied timely treatment. A doctor’s brother was among those who died while awaiting the treatment that the rioters and police refused them.
It took lawyer Suroor Mander’s midnight knock on the door of the Delhi High Court to produce a court order (the full text) asking that police provide protection to the ambulances. This clip is worth highlighting:
“Highest constitutional functionary move in Z+ security. This is the time to reach out and show that this security is for everyone,” Justice D S Muralidhar said in the matter on Al Hind hospital moved by Suroor Mander. “We can’t let another 1984 scenario happen in this city; not under the watch of this court.”
Serving and retired IPS officers pointed to the Delhi police force’s inexperience in dealing with riots — an experience that starts right at the top.
Inexperience might — might — explain why the police did not take preventive measures in time despite the signs of impending riots being painfully evident (Remember how stones were trucked in on the night before the rioting began). But it does not explain why the police participated in the stone-throwing, why it joined rioters in ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chants, why it shielded the rioters, why it indulged in actions such as in the clips above. Or the one below:
Inexperience certainly does not explain the visual below of a policeman in full gear directing rioters who are gathering stones:
Members of a Hindu mob, armed with crude weapons, begged the police to let them attack Muslims. “Give us permission, that’s all you need to do,’’ one mob leader said. “You just stand by and watch. We will make sure you don’t get hurt. We’ll settle the score.’’ Then he used a slur to refer to Muslims.
That reported quote from a New York Times story is telling. Which protestor, if he did not know for sure that the police was on his side, would actually go up to a cop — while armed — and ask for permission to attack Muslims, or anyone for that matter? Any cop worth his uniform and pay check would have immediately arrested the whole sorry lot and thrown them behind bars.
In the heart of Delhi, late night on February 25 while the Home Minister and the state chief minister and the Commissioner of Police were “appealing for peace” and “monitoring the situation”, and while Section 144 was in force, newly-elected BJP MLA Abhay Varma marched through the violence-addled Mangal Bazaar area of Lakshmi Vihar at the head of a band of supporters who chanted ‘goli maro saalon ko‘ (Shoot the bastards, in case it needs translation). Shoot at sight orders were in force at the time, for what that is worth.
The coordinated assaults across multiple locations had one significant feature in common — they were at their most virulent in the areas where the BJP had won seats in the recent assembly elections. Which is to say, where the party had numerical strength — which, in practical terms, means they were reasonably sure, particularly given the backing of the police, that there would be no real organised resistance. See the map below:
Also clear is that the first part of their mission is in a good way to being accomplished, as this video of the Muslims of Mustafabad leaving the area with their belongings shows. The second mission — clearing Jafrabad of the Shaheen Bagh-style protest that had taken root there, which was the thrust of Kapil Mishra’s infamous speech — was also accomplished, with not a little help from the police.
It is equally clear that the BJP-led thugs were aware of the illegality, the criminality, of their actions. Thus the systematic assaults on journalists who, at considerable risk to life and limb, covered the riots. One was shot; four others were brutally assaulted; rioters checked the religion of journalists they caught before assaulting them.
Ayush Tiwari of Newslaundry posted a contemporaneous account on Twitter. TOI photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay has a chilling first-person account, which starts with the rioter who offered to put a tilak on his forehead to ensure his safety as he headed into the midst of the riots.
“We were not allowed to shoot or record any of what was happening,” writes Runjhun Sharma of CNN-News18, adding that she and other journalists were told “Don’t take your phones out of your pockets, just enjoy the view.”
‘I was scared they would catch me for being a journalist, molest me for being a girl, lynch me for being a Muslim’
Rioters — and the brain-dead apologists that infest social media — argued that Hindus were retaliating for the killing of their own. “What about Rahul Solanki?”, several asked on my timeline. It is an age-old tactic of the Hindutva terrorists — instigate violence, then claim that it was a spontaneous reaction to the other side’s violence.
Well, what about Rahul Solanki? His father Hari Singh Solanki, sitting in the hospital beside the body of the son who died when he stepped out of his home to buy groceries, blamed Kapil Mishra — not the Muslims — and demanded that action be taken against the BJP “leader”.
“Kapil Mishra set Delhi on fire and then hid in his home. Our children paying the price, getting killed” — Hari Singh Solanki, father of the murdered Rahul.
A mob burned down a shop belonging to a Hindu that was being run by a Muslim. Here is what a trader, also a Hindu, from the area had to say about the incident, about who was responsible, about the role of the police. Also read what the Hindus of Ashok Nagar had to say about the mosque that was destroyed in their area. Elsewhere, a Sikh — a Supreme Court lawyer, no less — asks members of his faith to form peace committees, to set up langars for the victims. Hindus sheltered 25 Muslim families all through yesterday and today, until the police could rescue them and take them to a nearby hospital. And then there was this:
There is humanity still in our minds and our hearts, despite the BJP’s best efforts to stamp out all vestiges.
At the end of the Delhi election campaign, Amit Shah said hate speech maybe — maybe — cost his party. And yet, just yesterday, BJP Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Jairam Thakur says only those who chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ have the right to remain in India.
While BJP leaders continued to pour fuel onto the raging flames, while the PM after three days of rioting contented himself with a word salad about the “immense warmth” — presumably emanating from a burning city — with which India had greeted Trump, and an anodyne appeal for peace; while politicians either went missing in action or busied themselves with photo-ops (like Arvind Kejriwal’s dharna at Raj Ghat, or his visit to victims in various hospitals, or his statement of a “positive meeting” with Amit Shah), or actively turned against those seeking help (as Kejriwal himself did when, late night last night, he had water cannons sweep his street clear of protestors even as thugs owing allegiance to his own party unleashed violence on the protestors at Jafrabad), it was left to the people to step up, to speak out.
There was a joint Hindu-Muslim peace march in the Brij Puri area; elsewhere people formed a human chain to ensure that schoolchildren could return home in safety. Hindus went around reassuring their Muslim neighbours that they were not alone; gurudwaras opened their doors to Muslims who were fleeing from their torched homes and the Jathedar of the Akhal Takht has asked all gurudwaras in the capital to offer all possible help to victims..
On the fringes of the cataclysm the BJP has visited on the national capital, this also happened: In Bihar the government voted unanimously in favour of an anti-NRC resolution. 70 MLAs belong to Nitish Kumar’s JD(U); the next largest group in the ruling coalition is the BJP with 54 MLAs. All of whom voted in favour of the anti-NRC resolution.
The next major election is in Bihar, in October this year, and this vote is a clear indication that even the local BJP leaders are aware of — wary of — the public sentiment, which has been gathering a head of steam thanks largely to the efforts of Kanhaiya Kumar who, as I write this, is into the 26th day of his 30-day road trip across the state and drawing enormous crowds.
The rally will culminate in Patna in five days with a public meeting demanding that the state government block the NPR/NRC; this resolution is likely an attempt to take the wind out of Kumar’s sails. From what I’ve been seeing, and from the clips of his speeches I’ve been following on his timeline, I suspect though that it is not going to be that easy — the Patna rally, unless I’ve totally misread the signs, is going to be a clear indication to the ruling dispensation that there is a right side and a wrong side to this argument, and that the people will be unforgiving of those who pick the wrong side. But we’ll see…
Elsewhere, the Supreme Court — which a wag on Twitter renamed the Supine Court recently — has yet again postponed a hearing it had scheduled in the issue of the Shaheen Bagh protests, saying “Let everything cool down first”.
Remember that when the SC was approached to intervene following the December 15 violence at JMI, its response was that it would listen to such pleas after the violence had stopped — analogous to a fire brigade responding to a four-alarm fire by saying it would wait for the flames to die down before responding.
And it is worth saying, in so many words, that the SC’s serial abdications of responsibility in cases ranging from the lockdown of Kashmir to the state-sponsored violence in JMI is a major contributing factor to why we are where we are today.
It is left, then, to the lower courts to stand up for what is right. A Division Bench comprising Justice Muralidhar and Justice Talwant Singh of the Delhi High Court heard a Harsh Mander plea into the ongoing violence in the national capital, and it was quite something (Read the blow by blow account by LiveLaw via the link).
In a cringe-worthy performance, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said he had not seen the video of the Kapil Mishra hate speech that was the proximate cause of the hearing (Begs the question: If the SG hadn’t seen the video that was central to the case before he appeared in court to respond to the petition, how incompetent is he?). He asked what the urgency was, and suggested that the hearing be postponed.
Judge Muralidhar wasn’t having any of it — after first castigating the SG, the judge ordered the video to be played in court, then asked the SG and the officer representing the police, Deputy Commissioner Rajesh Deo, to watch it, read the transcript, and respond after a break. Read the proceedings — here is a minute by minute account on Scroll, as does Live Law; it is a handy reminder of how judges function when they remember that they are there to protect the Constitution, the rule of law.
In late-breaking news just as I was writing this:
And in response to that, the Solicitor General of India, no less, argues that this might not be the best time to be filing FIRs against those BJP leaders. Painful as it is, try and wrap your head around that argument from the lawyer representing the government of India.
“They beat me till they broke me. I begged them and they beat me some more, viciously. They made communally charged slurs and took (BJP leader) Kapil Mishra’s name. I don’t remember much. I just hoped my children were safe. I can’t bear to look at my photograph, my legs shiver with pain.”
They took Kapil Mishra’s name, says the victim of the gruesome assault that is captured in the lead photo of this post. Kapil Mishra, banned twice for hate speech during the Delhi campaign. Kapil Mishra, who made the hate speech the SG and DCP haven’t had time to listen to yet. Kapil Mishra, against whom the SG is in no hurry to instruct that an FIR be filed. And again, the SG got spanked by the judge:
“You showed alacrity in registering FIRs for damages to property and arson. Why aren’t you registering it for these speeches? Don’t you even want to acknowledge the presence of a crime? Just register FIRs!”
Worth pointing out here that despite a full-scale pogrom in the national capital for three days and counting, the police has not seen fit to take one single individual into preventive custody. Unlike, say, in Kashmir where hundreds remain in custody, some under the draconian PSA, despite there having been no trouble of any kind in the lead-up to the abrogation of Article 370.
It is ironic, meanwhile, that the rioting, the mayhem and all these stories on the fringes happened precisely when dozens of crores of rupees were pumped into a spectacle that was supposed to showcase the bonhomie between the world’s largest and oldest democracies.
It is typical of Modi that he skipped the press conference at the end of Donald Trump’s tour, leaving it to the US president to take questions on the CAA.
It is symptomatic of the ineptitude of this government’s foreign outreach that all that effort and money went into an event that produced nothing in the way of a substantive trade deal, or in fact a deal of any kind whatsoever.
And while on irony, the expensive spectacle staged by Modi and his minions not only failed to attract positive notice within the country and around the world, global media — both print and television — focussed on the riots that were tearing the capital apart (and more than one commentator pointed to the tone deaf nature of Trump’s statement that the US and India were committed to fight global Islamic terror, at the precise moment, and in the precise place, where Muslims were being targeted for annihilation).
Sections of the Indian media desperately kept the focus on Trump at the Taj, and Melania attending “happiness school”, and what the menu was at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan reception (more irony: the star was biriyani, the very dish the Shaheen Bagh protestors have been demonised for eating), global media was unsparing. Chris Hayles of MSNBC in fact pointed to the fact that Trump was silent about the riots:
And that comment was a gentle prelude to Hayes’ show last night, where he tore into the two leaders. Watch:
The POTUS press conference didn’t go that well, and an incident also served up a reminder of why Modi refuses to meet the press (and also makes you wish that India had the kind of media the US still has, despite Trump’s best efforts). Here:
It is easy enough for the likes of Piyush Goyal, on behalf of the government, to call publishers and editors and browbeat them into tamping down on negative comment about Modi and his minions. It is not for want of trying, though — yesterday, the government pressured Hotstar and Disney India into deleting a John Oliver segment on Modi, that had aired on the eve of Trump’s visit. The outcome? On YouTube, the video has over 5.3 million views at the time of writing this.
I’ll leave you with Oliver’s famous last words here:
It is incredibly depressing to see India heading in this direction…. Because India, the home of this enduring symbol of love (the Taj Mahal) frankly deserves more than this temporary symbol of hate (Modi).
PostScript: Events are happening at too great a pace just now to make sense of; I’ll leave this round-up here, as a document of the major events of the past 48 hours, and write around it later, once things have simmered down somewhat and there is room for meditation, for thinking it all through.
Credit: The lead image, emblematic of everything that is wrong with India today, was shot by Praveen Khan of Indian Express.And below, a little reminder of our times, for our times.
During my time away, a story that fascinated me — in a train-wreck kind of way, and as a cautionary tale of the danger of the media disseminating half-baked news — relates to the murder of one Paresh Mesta. The India Today channel and its consulting editor Shiv Aroor played a lead role in propagating the story; social media backlash then prompted Aroor to write an extended defense of his actions. Here it is, and it is worth reading in full as an exemplar of everything that is wrong with the media in general, and TV news in particular.
The first four paras are an extended ‘woe is me’ pity-party aiming to paint himself as the victim, and an attempt to stake out the high moral ground. Skip lightly over those, and consider the real story, which begins with paragraph five and the tweet that started it all:
SP under #SiddaramaiahRule has declared this as 'Samaanya Saavu' Hindu boy 21 yr old Paresh Mesta goes missing.when he was found, he was mutilated,castrated.burnt by boiling oil poured over his head & his head split dastardly with a weapon. pic.twitter.com/tmxkK6r2GS
The recent Jat agitation for reservations left at least 30 dead and approximately 200 injured, besides who knows how many women raped, their lives shattered. It also resulted in a reported Rs 250 crore in damages to the Railways; Assocham estimates Rs 20,000 crore loss overall. In its wake, the state government has been reduced to saying it will issue gun licensesto traders who suffered at the hands of the rioters — just what we need, open anarchy with everyone shooting at everyone else. Law and order outsourced is an emerging business model, seemingly.
So now what do we have? Jat leaders saying cases of arson and rioting registered against the community should be withdrawn, or the riots will start again, and be worse. The community has actually set a deadline — 72 hours — for government compliance.
Why is this not sedition?
“Polarisation” is often talked of as a political ploy. This is what happens when you play the politics of division, of polarisation — you lose control. And it all goes up in flames.
I like Raj Thackeray. Unlike the garden variety rabble-rousers who call for tongues to be cut off and heads to be chopped off and rape women because they think they should get reservations, the guy has a gentle, caring heart. Vide this exhortation to his followers:
Now I will tell you what you should do. When you see any new rickshaws with new number plates, stop them, take the passenger and driver out of the vehicle and burn the rickshaws,” he said.
In passing — how the hell is it that in a country where sloganeering invites the full might of law and government, politicians of every stripe routinely call for violence without even the raising of an official eyebrow?