(This is part-1 of a two part report)

Let us begin with the latest news :

“We cannot curb the freedom of press,” a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said, on April 13 Monday. Very much   welcome, but for the context.

The very next day, April 14, BR Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, in compliance of the same Supreme Court orders denying bail, two scholar activists, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha surrendered before the NIA. The court has gone strictly by the letter of law, it is argued by some, while others say it has killed the spirit of law. But that is aside the subject now being reported.

Supreme Court  refused to pass any interim orders in a petition seeking action against the media for communalising the coronavirus pandemic in light of the Tablighi Jamaat meeting held in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin area in March last.

The petition, filed by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, had claimed that the media had communalised the Nizamuddin Markaz event and that some sections of print and electronic media had “demonised the entire Muslim community”.

This has led to serious “threat to life and liberty of Muslims” and the violation of their “Right to life under Article 21”, the petition said, adding that most reports had used terms such as “Corona Jihad”, “Corona Terrorism” and “Islamic Resurrection”.

Not stopping such communal reporting would only “promote ill-will, enmity and hatred towards the Muslim community in India”, the petition added.

Such fake media reports were a violation of the Supreme Court’s March 31 order directing media outlets “to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated”, the petition added.

The petitioners said there was violence due to the “communal headlines” and “bigoted statements” in the media about Tablighi Jamaat members and Muslims. Advocate Ejaz Maqbool added that there were cases of violence against Muslims in Karnataka and that names of patients had been made public.

But the Court was unmoved.

The Court deferred for two weeks hearing on the petition seeking directions to curb media coverage  “We want to take solid and long term measures. We are not going to pass any interim order at this stage,” CJI Bobde said.

It means the media can go on unhindered for two weeks at least.

The court, however,  said that if it was a question of violence, killing or defamation, “then your remedy is somewhere else”. But, “if it’s a question of larger reporting then Press Council of India (PCI) has to be made party”. And advised the petitioners to approach the PCI for redressal of  grievances.

Ironically, same and similar issues came up before the Court only a few days ago:

caravanmagazine.in, 06 April 2020 reported :

In an official media briefing on  April1, it came out that  Ajay Bhalla, the Union Home Secretary, had written to the chief secretaries of all the states informing them of a Supreme Court order in which it took “serious note of the panic created by fake news.”

Bhalla wrote that the apex court “has also given directions on taking effective measures to check circulation of the fake news.” The home secretary’s letter informed the chief secretaries that the centre “is creating a web-portal where people can verify facts and unverified news promptly,” and urged all the state administrations to “create a similar mechanism.”

But health journalists discovered that the  government had introduced other measures following the Supreme Court’s order that directly curbed the freedom of press.

On 31 March, the Supreme Court had ruled on a plea,  by the Modi administration, for directions that no media outlet could print, publish or telecast anything on the novel coronavirus “without first ascertaining the true factual position from the separate mechanism provided by the central government.”

the hearing, the bench, comprising the chief justice SA Bobde and the judge L Nageswara Rao, observed that fake news and panic would destroy more lives than COVID-19. The court directed the media to “maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated.” It added, “A daily bulletin by the Government of India through all media avenues including social media and forums to clear the doubts of people would be made active within a period of 24 hours as submitted by the Solicitor General of India. We do not intend to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic, but direct the media refer to and publish the official version about the developments.”

As is evident, the court specifically refrained from passing any strict orders curtailing the freedom of press, and simply urged the media to be responsible in its reporting…

Yet, the central government appears to have interpreted the court’s to justify even lesser transparency. Since 1 April, the centre imposed strict restrictions on the journalists allowed to attend the briefings and ask questions of the government officials.

Since then, most health reporters are no longer permitted to ask the government about its actions and strategies.

Many reporters frustrated by the Islamophobic dog-whistling and compelled by an effective media gag, have taken to social media to raise the questions that the government has evaded….

KS Dhatwalia is the principal spokesperson for the Indian government, who heads the Press Information Bureau and moderates the press briefings…. After the PC ended and cameras were off, Mr Dhatwalia came up to me and informed me that only DD and ANI would be allowed to ask questions from now on,” the journalist wrote, referring to the national broadcaster Doordarshan and the agency Asian News International.

The Report significantly added:

Since late March, the Tablighi Jamaat conference has occupied more time in press briefings than any other topic raised by health reporters. These included urgent issues, such as the shortage of personal protective equipment for medical professionals and testing kits, India’s low testing numbers, the pressures on doctors, chief ministers demanding PPE kits, and the government’s continuous denial of community transmission in India.

The references to the Tablighi Jamaat conference, combined with a Supreme Court mandate that the government used to impose restrictions on the media, have altered the nature of India’s COVID-19 briefings…

Perhaps the present Court order, that needs to be compared and studied with the earlier ones, came one working day late,  on April 13.

If it were to be earlier, it could have averted a major and rare event:

Arnab’s Republic TV apologises for hurting Muslim sentiment

Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV on APRIL 12, Sunday issued a rare apology after being accused of hurting the sentiments of Muslims with a piece of fake news, which was hugely provocative in nature. reported siasat.com, APRIL 12, 2020.

While posting its letter, the Republic TV’s apology came after the All India Muslim Personal Board issued a scathing letter accusing the channel of falsely accusing the Jamaat-e-Islami India chief Maulana Jalaluddin Umri of being a terrorist. Taking exception to the channel’s ‘mischief,’ several Muslim groups including All India Muslim Personal Law Board wrote a letter to the channel condemning its act and demanding an immediate apology. The letter by the AIMPLB also condemned CNN-News18 for committing ‘blasphemy’ by linking three of the holiest sites for Muslims to Jaish chief Masood Azhar’s ‘terror factory.’

IMPLB wrote, “We strongly condemn @republic channel for falsely accusing Ml Jalaluddin Umri, the vice president of @AIMPLB_Official, of being a terrorist. We also condemn @CNNnews18. It has committed blasphemy against Madjids (sic) in Mecca, Madina and Quds. Both channels must apologize.”

Its tweet read, “CORRIGENDUM & APOLOGY for taking a wrong image of Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umri carried on Republic TV at 4:03 PM. It was an inadvertent error, the video editor concerned carried the wrong image which was wrongly broadcast once & immediately corrected.”

Realising the potential consequences of its fake reporting, Republic moved in with lightning speed and said : “Republic TV unconditionally apologises to Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umri for the same.”

(https://www.siasat.com/arnabs-republic-tv-apologises-hurting-muslim-sentiment-1872940/)

The apology tacitly acknowledges some issues raised by the petitioners, it may be said.

But Republic TV is not the only media outlet engaged in this dirty job. And it is not the first apology too from it.

A Cluster Of Corona  virus Cases Can Be Traced Back To A Single Mosque And Now 200 Million Muslims Are Being Vilified, is the title of a report, of April 3, 2020,from Delhi of www.buzzfeednews.com.Six COVID-19 deaths have been linked to a religious gathering in March.

It’s led to a huge spike in anti-Muslim narratives and misinformation.

The report,not by any Muslim, but notably by Nishita Jha and Pranav Dixit, pointed out:

At the start of March, thousands of people gathered in India ….At the time, the world appeared to be a much less terrifying place. Even though social-distancing measures were being introduced, India, along with most other countries, was still waking up to the coronavirus; it would not be until March 11 that the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, while India itself did not go into lockdown until March 24.

Now, Indian authorities fear that many thousands of people may have been exposed to the virus as a result of the congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat group at a mosque in the Nizamuddin neighborhood of New Delhi last month. In India, at least 647 attendees have shown symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, while six people have already died. (India hasofficially recorded 2,567 cases and 72 deaths.)

While the Tablighi Jamaat is far from the only group in India that has ignored social distancing instructions across the country, it is the only one that has been singled out as a scapegoat.

On March 8, when the New Delhi government had already shut down schools and asked people to avoid large gatherings, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind attended an awards ceremony along with hundreds of other people…

Then there are the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers stranded away from their homes since the lockdown began, now crowded into soup kitchens and temporary encampments, at tremendous risk of spreading the virus.

Thousands of migrant workers and laborers, along with their families, were stuck in New Delhi…. after the national lockdown was introduced.      (Yawar Nazir / Getty Images)

But in India, news channels have focused on the link between the religious gathering in Nizamuddin and the spread of the virus, which in turn has led to a huge increase in anti-Muslim sentiment.

They have been fanning the flames of communal hatred, declaring that the virus is being spread by “corona-jihadis” in an act of terrorism. And anti-Muslim narratives are being turbo-charged by constant disinformation spread online and via WhatsApp.

Making matters worse was an audio clip that emerged last week, shared on WhatsApp and broadcast on some news channels, in which the voice of a man. Maulana Saad, the 56-year-old organizer of the religious gathering,  called on Muslims to reject social distancing and continue to gather at mosques.

Since the clip emerged, Saad has gone into hiding. Now anyone visiting the mosque’s YouTube page can hear Saad , self-isolating in quarantine, saying:  

“Staying at home is the only way to calm the wrath of God. It is important that we follow the advice of doctors and the guidelines issued by the administration,” he said. “We must cooperate with the government, wherever our members are. Quarantine yourself, no matter where you are, it is not against Islam or sharia.”

(But this statement, notably, was given little coverage. Instead…)

But for some, this statement was not enough. Every night, Indian prime time television dubs Saad the “mastermind” of a terrorist operation meant to infect the whole of India, drawing blame away from the Indian government’s missteps in responding to the virus.

Ruling BJP leaders lead the vilification: “corona jihad”

We have plenty of backwardness, ignorance,more so among the religious general public, Tablighi Jamat being only one of them.Tirupati temple had around 66000 daily visitors on March 19th, as per TTD data, even while Tabligh event was formally over but thousands were staying back. So had Shirdi 25000 visitors on March 15.

Religious gatherings were expressly exempted from restrictive govt. Orders issued in early phase in India. It was only after Modi’s call for Janata Curfew on March 22 that they were also restricted. And Tabligh as an organization  fell in line.

The grave threat posed by the Covid-19 was NOT appreciated by many experts too. The unique feature of  Covid-19 was  the imponderables and unknowns, unknown unknowns too.

President Trump, despite briefing by top experts, was dismissive of  Covid-19 until late in the day. UK’s Premier, who underplayed it for sometime, had to be put under ICU. There were no lockdowns for long there, as elsewhere in Europe,

PM Modi while giving a call to light lamps on April 5 Sunday, had appealed for unity of people irrespective of caste and creed. He said the event was meant to unite the people to drive away the corona virus. By that time the Tabligh event was twisted and  blown up in the media, including by Ministers. It was hoped the call by the PM, lauded as the only true and able leader of the whole country as he was described in the media, was serious and and solemn. But later events proved otherwise.

BJP President J P Nadda, directed party leaders to refrain from giving a “communal colour” to the pandemic.

However, it appeared as if it is merely for record.

Ms.Shobha Karandlaje said she smelled a “corona jihad”, reported The Hindu, April4, from Chikkamagaluru. Those who attended the Nizamuddin event, she said, were engaged in spreading the infection across the country. She urged the goverments at the Centre and in states, to punish those who attended the event and did not take tests. She suggested life sentence, and appealed to the Centre.

The event was allowed by Union Home Ministry headed by Amit Shah, and it happened in a ground adjoining a Delhi Police Station, said Maharashtra Minister Jitendra Awhad. How can they blame delhi govt., he asked.

Haryana govt booked five people under Sec 307, attempt to murder, for not disclosing, within the deadline of April 8, their visits to Nizamuddin event, Times of India reported on April 10. Yamuna Nagar Dt police booked the case, as warned by Home Minister Anil Vij. 19 people had disclosed their visit.

The Uttarakhand govt booked two Tabligh members under same sections, Deccan Herald reported on April 8, quoting the DGP Ashok Kumar, who said they hid without disclosing their visit, even as he admitted 180 such people got themselves tested.      

Ms.Shobha Karandlaje, Karnataka Chief Minister Yediyurappa’s political confidante and Udupi-Chikmagalur MP, (and ex-Minister) led the anti-Muslim chorus. She was joined by BJP legislators MP Renukacharya, who is also Yediyurappa’s political secretary, and Basanagouda Patil Yatnal. Together, they constructed a narrative that painted the pandemic as “corona jihad” and warned the Muslims of “death by bullet” if they evaded quarantine or misbehaved with doctors and paramedics at hospitals, reported. business-standard.com, April 12.

The report added :

However, B S Yediyurappa spoke up against faith profiling by his followers. He went with the general tide running through the southern states, in the aftermath of the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) episode, and earned kudos from the Opposition. In the process, he risked crossing swords with his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its ideological wellspring, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

There was a trend that all the southern CMs followed during the TJ fallout. Every one of them — K Chandrasekhar Rao, Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, E K Palaniswami and Pinarayi Vijayan —stressed the incident must not be communalised. They were joined by the Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray (Maharashtra CM).

In these circumstances, “Yediyurappa demonstrated he was a leader,” remarked a Bengaluru-based political observer. The CM called an all-party meeting and separately met Muslim leaders and MLAs. In his interaction with the latter, he exhorted upon the Muslims to pray at their homes and not mosques for some time and share details of TJ members who attended the Delhi event. “They are cooperating,” Yediyurappa was quoted saying.

A BJP source explained: “If you don’t demonise a religion or stigmatise a community and induce fear, people of all faiths will voluntarily come forward and share their histories. That’s why Yediyurappa decided to go against the party’s grain. It helped that other leaders later supported him.”

Despite PM Modi’s Appeal for unity, and Nadda’s call to refrain from giving a “communal colour” to the pandemic….other BJP leaders, including Ministers,  were engaged in anti-Muslim tirade.

The UP CM, Yogi Adityanath said those who attended the event should be caught and their mobile phones be seized to examine their call details. The CM and a statement issued by the UP govt. said, as per a report by india.com on April 4, intentional violation of social distancing norms etc., was “ part of a well planned conspiracy” , NSA, Sec 307 of IPC were being contemplated by UP govt.

While the TJ was justifiably criticised for the irresponsibility it displayed by hosting a gathering amid the pandemic, the episode led to a virulent attack on the Muslims in the mainstream and virtual media, as well as by politicians.

For instance, Dainik Jagran,  the popular broadsheet Hindi newspaper(circulation claimed is around 3.4 million daily, as of 2018 December) in north India ran an incredible 171 stories and pieces on Muslim religious congregation held at Tabligi Jamat Centre in New Delhi,

 Dainik Jagaran, most widely circulated Hindi media, ran  an incredible 171 stories and pieces on Muslim religious congregation held at Tabligi Jamat, over a 15-day period. It was called hate-muslim-media-factory-case-study. The coverage included 8 plus two editorials and oped pieces. Phrases like anti-national negligence, and Virus ki jamaat were quite common. (https://countercurrents.org/2020/04/indias-hate-muslim-media-factory-case-study-of-hindi-daily-dainik-jagran)

Pakistan was also drawn into this, as usual for much of Indian media, blamed for “corona jihad”,  despite the fact that Pakistan itself had a similar and bigger event, was a bigger victim of Covid-19 and Tablighi backwardness. And blamed for the conspiracy.

The Pakistan government had requested the Tablighi Jamaat to cancel its event given the coronavirus outbreak. A federal minister, Fawad Chaudhary, had condemned the “stubbornness of the clergy” for allowing the Tablighi Jamaat event to continue.  

Another event, organised by the Pakistani Tablighi Jamaat, in Lahore between March 10 and 12, had been described as being a “super-spreader” of coronavirus. On Sunday, media outlets in Pakistan reported that about 20,000 people, who attended the Tablighi Jamaat event, had been quarantined and authorities were still searching for “tens of thousands more” participants. Pakistan’s Daily Times reported that “more than 100,000 people” attended the Tablighi Jamaat event in Lahore.

The confirmed coronavirus cases in India crossed 10,450 and the death toll mounted to 358 so far, as on April 14 early morning, according to the Worldometer as India awaits a final decision on likely extension of the nationwide lockdown beyond April 14. The much smaller Pakistan by now has 5500 cases and around 100 deaths. Nor is Indonesia, blamed as the epicentre and exporter of cases in India,  lagging behind, with 4839 cases and 459 deaths. 

Where and by whom is the conspiracy? Was it a  conspiracy that inflicted damage on themselves ?


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