By Mahmad Sidat
June 7, 2014
With the rise of the right wing politics in India, there has been spurt of communal violence against Muslims in various Indian cities though most of it has gone unreported in mainstream media or found very little space. The case in example is recent violence in Pune. After morphed picture and derogatory remark about Shivaji appeared in social media, Shiv Sena and various other Hindu groups went on rampage in various cities of Maharashtra, damaging more than 180 buses.
Any state where elections are due and BJP is putting significant emphasis to snatch the state from the opponents, there emerges the pattern of riots followed by communal polarisation as we can see now in Maharashtra. It has now become too obvious to have any surprise elements in it. If Muslims continue to tolerate this, they will end up becoming the punching bags.
Stones were pelted on mosques to provoke the Muslim for retaliation. Thankfully Muslims took it on their chin and demonstrated remarkable resilience. This all happened when it was not even established that this mischief was carried out by some fringe Muslim youth. However, there was deafening silence from mainstream media about this vandalism, till a Muslim IT professional was killed by the mob. The same media had criticised Mumbai Police Chief heavily during the Azad Maidan protest for showing restraint and not firing on unruly Muslim protestors.
There was similarly no outrage or panel debate on mainstream TV channel for the innocent killed in Hyderabad police firing, biased role of police in these riots or acquittal of 6 accused in the Akshardham case by Supreme Court after spending over 10 years in Jail. Damming statement by the acquitted accused that “they were asked to choose between Godhra, Akshardham or Pandya murder” invoked little horror either on mainstream media or social media.
There are lessons to be learnt for the Muslims from this apathy. Majority of the Indian Muslims have been strong believers in the secular tradition of India and rightly so. They have believed, more than anyone else, its majority Hindu of this country who would speak up for them should government of the day changes the track. And there are reasons for this. It’s always prominent Hindus who have taken up the cause of Muslim. No one has hounded BJP for 2002 riots more than the likes of late Mukul Sinha or Teesta Setalvad. However, India has been secular does not mean it will always remain so. Muslims pathetic inaction or passivity can cost them dearly.
Muslims cannot rely solely on mainstream Media to speak up for them anymore. The word “Secularism” has been abused by right wingers to no end. The prominent journalists who once espoused the cause of secularism have either softened their tone or have been purged out from their respective organisations. So what Muslims can do or needs to do?
Ideally it would have been great to have liberal left to centre main stream news channels to balance and counter the propaganda continuously run by right wing crowded TV channels. I am still wondering why some Muslim businessman with fat purse has not thought of setting up some channel, perhaps Indian version of Al Jazeera.
While such a channel is still a distant dream, there is still hope. If we analyse the way media has picked up some stories in past year or so, we can see that lot of them have been influenced by social media. Some of the stories which were initially ignored by media had to be covered after intensively mounted pressure on social media. The way specific topics are trended on Twitter or specific issues are highlighted and massively shared in Facebook, it’s evident that there are organised groups out there with specific agenda. This is where Muslims need to get organised and make effective use of social media to mount pressure on mainstream media to cover the stories that matters. Alternate online news portals too have proved instrumental in highlighting such issues.
Make no illusion though social media is effective but not enough to counter this bigotry that is effectively being entrenched in mainstream media. There must be sincere and open debate among Muslims to come up with effective means to counter this bigoted onslaught by them.
Mahmad Sidat works in an Australian Insurance Company.