The mainstream media — particularly Hindi newspapers — has again concealed, underreported and suppressed the Bombay High Court ruling. In its Friday judgment, the High Court has said that Tablighi Jamaat was made “scapegoat” during the corona pandemic. It has also quashed the FIR against 29 foreigners and 7 Indian nationals who are associated with the twentieth century Muslim reformist organization Tablighi Jamaat.
Hindi Daily Dainik Jagran (National, August 23, 2020, p. 6) not only published the Bombay High court’s ruling on the inside page but also gave a very little space to it than it deserves. Even the headline of the story was made in such a way as to dilute the whole matter. On the same page, the stories of less significance were made the bigger ones than this judgment. For example, Yogi’s remarks that “Those who used to utter ‘Rome Rome’ are now chanting ‘Rama Rama’” was covered prominently with his picture. Another story prominently published on the front page was one Yusuf who has been charged with allegedly planning an attack on Ayodhya after Delhi. More importantly, the headline of Dainik Jagran — “FIR quashed against foreigner national Tablighi members” (Videshi Jamaatiyon ke khilaf darj FIR kharij) — does not express the spirit of the Bombay High Court ruling.
In brief, Dainik Jagran does not erase the story of Bombay’s High Court ruling; but it has done everything to kill its impact. The story was given a small place on the inside page. It was dominated by other stories, which are far less significant. In this way, the impact and visibility of the story of the Bombay High Court ruling were largely reduced. The editor has put all kinds of journalistic impediments to the path of the readers to access the High Court ruling.
Hindustan (New Delhi, August 23, 2020) similarly diluted the impact of the Bombay High court’s ruling. Firstly, it published the story on the inside page (15); secondly, the story was squeezed; and thirdly, the term “scapegoat” used categorically by the court was maliciously replaced by the phrase “vicious propaganda” (dushprachar) in the headline.
Unlike them, Amar Ujala (New Delhi, August 23, 2020) published the story on the front page but gave it an appropriate heading: “Jamaat members were made scapegoat: High Court” (Jamaatiyon ko bali ka bakra banaya gaya: High Court). However, the stories which dominated its front page were the arrest of an alleged terrorist and the alleged acceptance of Pakistan that Dawood Ibrahim was in Pakistan, etc.
Note that the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court on Friday not only quashed the FIR filed against the Tablighi members but also underscored a deliberate political attempt to demonize them and make them scapegoat during the corona pandemic. Giving its ruling, the Divisional Bench of Justices T.V. Nalawade and M.G. Sewlikar said, “A political government tries to find a scapegoat when there is a pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there is a probability that these foreigners were chosen to make them a scapegoat”.
The news of the Bombay High Court ruling on Tablighi Jamaat was not found in several other Hindi newspapers. Their pages were filled up with the stories related to the arrest of an alleged terrorist, whose attempt to carry out a suicide attack in the crowded place has been foiled. Another big story in the Hindi newspapers was how Pakistan has accepted that Dawood Ibrahim is in Karachi.
Unlike the Hindi daily, the several Urdu newspapers prominently published the Bombay High court ruling. Etemaad (Hyderabad, August 23, 2020, p. 1) made it a lead story with the following heading: “‘Foreigner members of Tablighi Jamaat were made scapegoat’” (Tablighi Jamaat ke ghair mulki arkan ko qurbani ke bakre banaya gaya). Similarly, Rashtriya Sahara (Mumbai, August 23, 2020) published it as the front page lead story. “Tabligh Jamaat members were made a scapegoat” (Tablighi Jamaat ko banaya gya tha ‘bali ka bakra’). Inquilab (New Delhi, August 23, 2020) gave the Bombay High Court’s ruling a front-page coverage; but it failed to mention the “scapegoat” in its headline.
There were also some Urdu newspapers that either published the High Court ruling as a small story on the first page or pushed it onto the inside pages. Roznama Aag (New Delhi, August 23, 2020) published the arrest of an alleged terrorist as its lead story, while the Bombay High Court ruling was made a smaller story. Munsif (Hyderabad, August 23, 2020) published the Dawood story as a lead one on its front page and sent the Bombay High Court ruling to page three.
Among the English dailies, The Telegraph (Kolkata, August 23, 2020, p.1) took the matter head-on. Its headline attacked the establishment’s communal narrative and reported the matter almost in its true spirit. Look at its front-page lead story’s headline: “‘Smell of malice’ in action taken against the foreigners: Bombay High Court: Tablighi participants were made scapegoats”.
The opening lines of The Telegraph’s story deserves to be quoted: “Bombay High Court has said the government made scapegoats of the foreign nationals who attended the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi in March by accusing them of spreading Covid-19, and that there was a “smell of malice” in the action taken against them”.
On the contrary, The Times of India (New Delhi, August 23, 2020) published the same story in a single column on page number one; whereas it has made the Dawood story as the lead one. The Hindustan Times (New Delhi, August 23, 2020) gave a slightly bigger coverage to the Bombay High court’s ruling on page one than the one published by The Times of India. On the first page, The Indian Express (New Delhi, August 23, 2020) published the Bombay High Court’s ruling but it made “23 Congress leaders writing to Sonia Gandhi for sweeping change” as its lead story.
Ever since the raid on the Tablighi Jamaat’s Markaz office in Delhi was done, the anti-Muslim feelings have swept the country. The Tablighi Jamaat members have been blamed for being “carriers” of the deadly coronavirus. The national media, particularly Hindi news channels and newspapers, have been at the forefront of selling the establishment’s agenda of putting all blame on this organization (read Muslims) for the spread of coronavirus.
For example, the Tablighi Jamaat members have been blamed for holding an illegal religious gathering. Jehalat (ignorance), “suicide bomb”, “anti-national” and “terrorists” were some of the abusive terms hurled at the Tablighi Muslims. However, the same media have consistently and intently either concealed or downplayed the stories when Tablighi Jamaat members were given bail, released or acquitted.
Several media organizations have also carried the fake news regarding the Tablighi Jamaat. The Tablighi Jamaat members have alleged that the Tablighi Jamaat members were spitting, urinating, and misbehaving with the medical staff in the hospital and refusing to eat food. They were accused mockingly of insisting on eating the “spicy biryani”.
As a result of such propaganda, attacks on Muslims suddenly went up. They were abused and economically boycotted. There were incidents where the poor Muslim vegetable-vendors were not allowed to enter the so-called Hindu areas. In Gujarat, separate wards for corona positives were created in hospitals on religious lines.
Moreover, a separate category for Tablighi Jamaat members, who were tested Covid-19 positive patients was introduced in the national capital. It was only removed after the Delhi Minorities Commission raised objection to the Delhi Health Department. Zafarul Islam Khan, then chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission, sent a letter to the Director/Secretary, Delhi Health Department, and asked the Department to “to drop any mention of religious undertones in its daily bulletins on coronavirus cases in Delhi”.
(Abhay Kumar is a Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is broadly interested in Minority Rights 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 reporter with The Indian Express. You may write to him at email@example.com)