The mainstream media – particularly Hindi newspapers – has downplayed the news about the release of a fact-finding report by Delhi Minorities Commission on February Delhi riots, 2020. Releasing its report on Thursday, the commission has faulted the role of top BJP leaders in giving hateful speeches and inciting the violence. It has also accused the police of inaction and complicity during the riots.

In contrast to the minority body’s report getting a lukewarm response from the media, the police chargesheet in Delhi riots 2020 earlier received a wider publicity. The newspapers kept publishing, rather speculating, stories about how the anti-CAA protestors were behind the riots. But when the minority panel has come out with its own ground report and findings, the media seems hesitant to give it a wider coverage. This lends weight to the growing perception that the media not only works with religious bias but also appears reluctant to question the establishment.

For example, the Hindi newspapers have largely ignored the story about the release of the report. Those who covered it, gave it a marginal space, effectively reducing the impact of the report. Also shocking was the fact that the story about the minority panel report could not be spotted in some Urdu dailies. Even one of the leading Urdu dailies published from Delhi, where the report was made public, blinked at the story.

Similarly, the Hindi news channels – which were earlier at the forefront to attack the anti-CAA protestors, accused in the police chargesheets – did not consider the report worth debate and discussion.

Note that Delhi Minorities Commission was set up as a statutory body by an act called Delhi Minorities Commission Act, 1999 for conducting studies, research, analysis and promoting the social and economic development of the minorities. The minority panel under the chairmanship of Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan has drawn applauds for its work. The minority panel constituted a fact-finding committee on March 9, almost a fortnight after the breaking out of riots in North-East Delhi that left 53 dead.

The fact-finding committee, headed by M R Shamshad, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, was given the mandate “to look into and come to conclusions and give recommendations”. In its 130-page report, the fact-finding committee has put the police, the government and the BJP leaders in the dock.

Commenting on the role of the police, the report says, “The Police has not registered many complaints of Muslim victims, including the most glaring example of the Mohan Nursing Home Shooting and hence no investigation has taken place on it and other such grave issues and incidents. In most cases, chargesheets have been filed by Police first against Muslim accused and the entire narrative has been changed to one of violence on both sides rather than a pogrom that was in fact carried out”.

Moreover, the committee has also underscored “partisanship” and “bias” on the part of the police and government: “Partisanship and bias on the part of the Police and Government have led to the abject failure of duty and of the law and order machinery in the Capital of India. Investigations have purposefully been misdirected to change the narrative of the cause of the violence that erupted in the North-East district of Delhi”.

Accusing the top BJP leaders of “incitement for violence”, the fact-finding report notes that “several elected leaders of the BJP, including those holding Cabinet positions such as the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Minister of Animal Husbandry Giriraj Singh, Former MLA of Karawal Nagar and BJP leader Kapil Mishra, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath among many others, made provocative, threatening speeches against the protestors. BJP leaders raised the pitch to the extent of calling the Chief Minister of Delhi a “terrorist”. The Election Commission of India banned BJP MP Parvesh Verma from campaigning for 24 hours for using this term to describe the Chief Minister. The violence which broke out in North East Delhi was clearly preceded by a number of speeches by BJP leaders openly maligning anti-CAA protestors and questioning their motives with no basis, making derogatory remarks laden with communal undertones and open threats of violence, and to cast the Shaheen Bagh protests, particularly, in a negative light to build an “anti-Shaheen Bagh” narrative. It must be noted that none of these political leaders had ever visited the anti-NRC protest sites and thereby had no first-hand information of the kind of speeches and messages being promoted at these sites”.

The fact-finding report has highlighted a deep sense of alienation among the Muslim community, which perceives a culture of “religious bias” against itself: “Most victims of the religious minority have stated stories and put forth illustrations reflecting religious bias against them, inasmuch as being treated as a separate and distinct ‘community’ rather than citizens of the country”.

Among the Hindi newspapers that have covered the fact-finding report include JansattaRashtriya Sahara, and Dainik Bhaskar (all New Delhi editions). Jansatta has carried the story on page three with the following headline: “Delhi riots were planned” (Suniyojit the Dilli ke dange: report). While the report has received a very little space, the heading appears vague. ‘Delhi riots were planned’ does not reveal much at the first glance. The words allotted to the story are around 150! Contrary to this story, the routine statement of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was covered in bold letters, with a picture, to draw readers’ attention to it. The layout of the page has been made in such a way that the news about the fact-finding report gets lost. Rashtriya Sahara, similarly, has published the fact-finding report on page three and has assigned it to a marginal space. Interestingly, the news about the income tax officers raiding the relatives of Ashok Gehlot, Congress chief minister of Rajasthan, has been prominently covered.

Unlike Hindi dailies, several Urdu dailies covered the fact-finding report prominently.  Etemaad, published from Hyderabad, has made it a lead story on page one with the following headline: “BJP leaders are responsible for Delhi riots” (Delhi fasadat ke liye BJP qayideen zimmedar). Etemaad has also underscored the main findings of the report in subheadings. The summary is as follows: During the Delhi assembly elections, speeches were made by the BJP leaders to incite people, the police were complicit in the riots, the riots broke out after BJP leader Kapil Mishra gave provocative speeches, the armed rioters, while raising slogans, attacked Muslims. Aag (Lucknow) and Rashtriya Sahara (New Delhi) also published the news about the fact-finding report on page one.

Several English dallies – including The Indian ExpressThe Times of India, The Hindustan, The Economic Times – did not cover this story on the front page. On page three, The Indian Express has published the story with the following headline: “Delhi minority panel report: ‘NE riots preceded by calls for violence during poll season’”. Note that the headline has been published within a single quote. By such an act, the newspaper tries to disassociate itself from the finding of the minority panel. The report has also carried statements from the Delhi police spokesperson, former Delhi BJP president, and MP Manoj Tiwari. Taking such measures — i.e. newspaper disassociating itself with a particular contention by using an inverted comma, covering statements of different stakeholders in a story– are signs of healthy journalism. But these measures are often not taken when the police or a security agency makes its claims.

A day later (July 18), The Indian Express came out with an editorial and advocated that “the fact-finding report into communal violence in Delhi in February underlines the need for a free and fair probe. It argues that “the DMC report records several acts of omission and commission of the Delhi Police, lending weight to criticism that the police force has not been impartial, while the violence raged and then in investigating it later. Speeches by BJP leaders during the Delhi assembly election campaign, the report says, may have incited violence against anti-CAA protesters… The DMC report is yet another reminder of the need for justice to be done, and to be seen to be done, in the case of the Delhi violence earlier this year. For that to happen, all steps must be taken to ensure a free and fair investigation”.

(Abhay Kumar is a Ph.D. from JNU. He is broadly interested in Minority and Social Justice. Earlier, he held a Post-Graduate Diploma in English Journalism from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi and worked as a Delhi-based reporter with The Indian Express. You may write to him at debatingissues@gmail.com)


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