The mainstream media – particularly Hindi newspapers – has reproduced the police version while covering the news related to the naming of opposition leaders, activists, scholars in a supplementary chargesheet in the February 2020 Delhi riots.
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Swaraj Abhiyan leader and scholar Yogendra Yadav, JNU economist Jayati Ghosh, Delhi University professor and social activist Apoorvanand and documentary filmmaker Rahul Roy have been named by the Delhi police, following “disclosure” statements made by an accused under the custody.
Hindi daily Dainik Jagran (National, August 13, 2020, p. 1) published the story on its first page with the following headline: Yechury and Yogendra Yadav were involved too in Delhi riots conspiracy: police” (Delhi dange ki sazish men Yechury aur Yogendra Yadav bhi: Police). The large share of the news story went to give minute details about the charges made by the police. The statements of the persons named in the case have been given a little space on the next page, that is, the second page. In short, the police version is prominently highlighted while the versions of the victims have been suppressed.
In its news story, Hindustan (New Delhi, August 13, 2020, p. 1) hasn’t included the statements of the persons named in the supplementary chargesheet. It has uncritically reproduced what the police has said. In addition to this, the Hindi daily has produced a separate story (p. 4) on the same day about the confessional statement of the accused of being involved in the Delhi riots. The statement of the accused was also published in which she had allegedly said that professors Gosh, Apoorvanand, filmmaker Roy had worked as her “patrons”. In a news story titled “JNU girl students confessed to their involvement” (JNU chhatraon ne sanliptta swikari), Hindustan wrote that “Delhi Police, in its chargesheet, have claimed that JNU students Devangana and Natasha have confessed to being involved in the Delhi riots. In addition to that, they have named Jayati Ghosh, Apoorvanand and Roy as their patrons (sangrakshak). Ghosh, Apoorvanand allegedly told them to go to any extent in opposing CAA”.
Similarly, Navbharat Times (New Delhi, August 13, 2020, p.2) just reproduced the statements of the police in its story without critically analysing them and incorporating them. In its news report, it peddled the police narrative in the following words: “It has been accused that these people [Yechury, Yadav, Apoorvanand, Ghosh et al.] have egged the anti-CAA protestors to go to any extent. They called CAA-NRC as anti-Muslim and raised the discontent of the [Muslim] community. They also made the protests to happen to malign the image of the Government of India”.
As is evident so far, the Hindi newspapers have failed to follow the ethics of journalism. A journalist is supposed to incorporate views and counterviews in her/his story. She/he should also be aware of the fact that the statements given under police custody are often made under duress and such statements cannot be uncritically accepted. Moreover, it is often seen that the people in power misuse it to harass their opponents (opposition leaders). Unfortunately, most of the Hindi newspapers haven’t gone beyond the police version.
Compared to Hindi media, the Urdu media was not so plaint. Inquilab (New Delhi, September 13, 2020, p.1) ran the following headline. “Delhi police drag opposition leaders and intellectuals in the Delhi riots cases” (Delhi police ne opposition rahnuma aur danishwaron ko bhi Delhi fasadat muaamla men ghasita). The term “dragging” is aptly used by Inquilab, which points to how the Delhi police have been working under political pressure. The Urdu daily also carried in its sub-heading a statement by CPM leader Yechury in which he has said that the BJP political leadership is scared and it should desist from such activity.
Published from Hyderabad, Siasat (September 13, 2020) an opinion-piece article by Delhi University professor Apoorvanand with the following title: “The services of TV editors to the nation” (Mulk ke liye TV editors ki khidmaat). In his article, Apoorvanand argues that the TV editors should go for self-introspection about if they are carrying out their responsibility as a journalist.
Unlike Hindi newspapers, English newspapers were open to incorporating different versions. For example, Hindustan Times (New Delhi, September 13, 2020) also gave space to those voices which contested the police version. Mahmood Pracha — the advocate of Gulfisha Khatoon who has been arrested by the Delhi police in the February riots case – said that “Political masters in the Home Ministry are misusing police to remove me from the scene either by physically eliminating me or falsely implicating me in these cases. I have thoroughly exposed them by the process of law.” Note that the statement, cited by the police to name Yechury and others in the supplementary chargesheet, is said to have been made by Gulfisha Khatoon. The police claimed that she had named the persons who “fuelled the feeling of discontent among protesters by calling CAA and NRC anti-Muslim…”
Yechury’s statement has also been incorporated in the news story by The Hindustan Times. Yechury has said that “56 people died in the riots. There are videos of people delivering inflammatory speeches but police are not taking any action against them. They have clear orders to suppress the oppression. There will be protests against this”. Similarly, Apoorvanand was quoted as saying that the situation is “disappointing because the actual violence is not a concern for the Delhi police…Delhi had suffered violence in February and we want to know the truth. Instead, Delhi police is deploying its energy, talent, and time in weaving a fiction of a crime they know does not exist. To criminalise a legitimate act of protest against an act of the government is an ideological exercise and professional body like the Delhi police is not expected to be a part of it”.
The Indian Express (New Delhi, September 13, 2020, p. 1) also gave first-page coverage to the opposition leaders’ statements with the following headline: “On eve of session, opposition hits back, bid to muzzle voices critical of government”. Yechury said, “We fought the Emergency, restored democracy and we will fight this also”. Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury contended that “This is strongly condemnable. The Delhi Police is doing this at the behest of the ruling dispensation only to malign those personalities. They may be Left-oriented but their credentials and integrity are unquestionable and are recognised across the country. What is this? To say that demonstrations were organised to malign the image of the government of India is to silence the Opposition voices. This is simply politics of vendetta, this is simply driven by their own fear.”
In conclusion, Hindi newspapers, unlike Urdu newspapers and English newspapers, chose to silence the opposition voices and followed the establishment’s position. They also deliberately ignored the fact that Delhi police have been accused of working under the political pressure to frame the peaceful anti-CAA protestors in the Delhi riots and shield those who gave inflammatory speeches and incited violence. For example, Delhi Minorities Commission released a fact-finding report that shows “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. This is a serious issue of changing public perception by attributing the riots to CAA protestors in general and Muslims in particular. This reflects injustice and partisan bias in the system which is neither good for a democratic system nor for our nation as whole”.
Former Mumbai Police Commissioner, DGP of Gujarat, and Punjab IPS Julio Ribeiro has also expressed deep concern about the framing of innocent people in the Delhi riots and protecting those who have abetted them. In a letter written to Delhi Police Commissioner S N Shrivastava, he has said “I write to you with a heavy heart. As a true patriot and a former proud member of the Indian Police Service, I appeal to you to ensure a fair probe into the 753 FIRs registered against peaceful protesters who rightly apprehend injustices born from bias and hate against a minority community. The Delhi Police has taken action against peaceful protesters but deliberately failed to register cognizable offences against those who made hate speeches which triggered the riots in Northeast Delhi. It troubles sane and apolitical persons, like me, why Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma have not been arraigned before the courts of law while deeply hurt Muslim women, peacefully protesting against discriminations based on religion, were lodged for months together in jail”.
Unfortunately, these concerns have not been taken up by Hindi media. Instead, they are at the forefront to give the establishment’s position its seal of approval.
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org)