Monday, December 1, 2008

Are Indian media and intellect really biased against Muslims?

We've a googlegroups for all the people who were involved in TMS (Technology Music Society), at IIT KGP. Very logically all our discussions over the past few days were centered around the recent Bombay terrorist attacks. I'd like to capture the highlight of the discussions here because I feel we did touch upon some very serious points.

Obviously the discussions started with bashing our Government of being soft towards the Mulsim in general just to keep them appeased for getting better vote-share. Subhashish started the discusison with this:
As I stand numbed and shocked out of our wits at the sheer ruthlessness of a handful of fundamentalist bastards whose hearts did not miss a beat while pumping bullets into a crowd of innocent men women and children, there is little one can do standing 14,000 miles away except wring our hands and shake our heads. But wait a minute , perhaps there is something we can do that may be the ultimate solution here - help a kid in Afghanistan , Pakistan or Bangladesh to go to a "real" school where they actually teach math , science and literature and not hatred against non-believers, help organizations that are working on building support structures for communities in these parts and weaning people away from despondency and in turn from the clutches of Madrasas which are fertile recruiting grounds for extremist outfits. While the Commandos go from one blood splattered room to the next and answer each bullet with more bullets the world needs to take a moment to think- why again ?

I responded saying
Well, we can do many things... but that requires guts and politicians to rise above the sole intention and motive of getting votes.... Even the main accused of Patliament attack can't be hung in India because he is a Musilm.... Cops can't kill terrorists in a Delhi locality because that's a Muslim area and voters won't like that.... What we need is just people rising above all these. There's no difference between a Hindu LTTE and a Mulsim Lashkar-e-Toiba. Both are criminals and should be killed.... But well, LTTEs have supporters here in Karunanidhi and the Muslims have support from most of the politicians... So there's not much can be done.

Anandaroop added the following to my comments:
However much I dislike George W Bush, I think we need to follow his example (after 9/11) at this point. Give 1 month notice to these bastards to surrender (and indirectly tell Pakistan to capture and hand them over) or go all out after that deadline. But that requires guts - which our politicians do not have. As Alu said - a guy comes and bombs our parliament but 7 years hence, we have still not been able to execute him. I would go on to add that according to a recent news report (which you need to take with a pinch of salt) the family members of the policemen who were killed in that parliament attack are living today in utter poverty.

Anandaroop's comments about George Bush's guts is something that I also heard in a program conducted by barkha Dutt in NDTV in Bombay. The panelists for the discussions were Bachi Kakaria - one the most prominent female voices of Bombay and a senior journalist at Times of India, Simi Grewal, Ness Wadia and many more. Simi Grewal also made the similar statement that even though George Bush has lost his presidency for his excesses in post 9/11 strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but still it ensured that there was no further terrorist attack on US soil. How much we condemn George Bush, I also feel the same - that he showed to the world that US can't be taken so easily by a bunch of criminals. Do we really that guts? Does our government has the guts to strike against the Muslim majority areas to fish out the terrorists?

At this Kanishka, brought out a very serious point:
One thing we seem to miss in the blame game is the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the media in India. Facts are twisted, statements distorted, relevant information is hidden or at times, controlled by the govt, events are dramatized, and in the end, the public is misinformed, crippling our chances of demanding policy changes that improve the quality of our administration. Mohd Afzal's case is a good example, of how the out of control media, baying for blood, made the nation believe the that Mohammad Afzal was the mastermind of the Parliament Attacks and that religious politics are preventing his execution. The truth is far more complex --- from what I have understood by "reading behind the media", the case against him is very flimsy, either because in truth, he is completely innocent, or at worst, a sympathizer or bystander, or, the investigation was botched, and did not uncover the type o evidence required to hang a man. The media turns a blind eye to events in a Srinagar hospital on Aug 11, when the Indian army stormed the place, burst grenades, and fired automatic weapons to instill a sense of fear, smashing windows and leaving behind injured nurses and bullet ridden holes. Reason: patients in the hospital were Anti govt demonstrators who had been injured earlier in the day at a rally that had been fired upon by the> army. In J&K, where the Indian state has been Terrorist #1 for the last 20 years, are we surprised that events like this occur? If we continue to be misinformed by the self-serving TV and print media, with what basis do we question policy makers?
Interesting article by celebrity historian William Dalrymple:
Site for all details about the Afzal Guru case:

Kanishka's points are valid. There's no doubt that Afzal was indeed not the 'main person' behind the attack. But then there's also no doubt that he is a sympathesizer and also indirectly involved in planning and/or helping the attack. Isn't that enough to hang him when Apte was also hung for being a planner for killing Mahatma Gandhi? If that's the reason then why are we still keeping the facilitator of the killers of Rajiv Gandhi injail? She should be also released, right? It took the India Government just less than a year to hang Nathuram Godse and Apte and it has taken more than 8 yeears to kill Afzal!! I have full faith on our Supreme Court because they have shown their guts in the recent past in passing important verdicts against the elite class. When the Supreme Court has passed theverdict against Afzal I don't have any complaints against the highest judicial body of our country. When the verdict has been passed we should just accept it. Everyone knows why he is not being hung!! Police can't even go for encounter in Mulsim dominated areas. One of the bestcops have been killed in an encounter in Delhi and the local people are claiming that was a fake encounter to kill Mulslims. C'mon, give me abreak, what was the civilian doing with guns when the police attacked him? And now the govt. is even trying to investigate if at all the encounter was required. If this is the scene, then what message are we passing?
I'm not against any religion. I'm even dead against Karunanidhi for his sympathies for the Tamil speaking civilians being killed in Sri Lanka. At the end of the day they all are sympathesizers of the most sophisticated terrorist organization ofthe world - the LTTE, which happens to be a Hindu group - I have absolutely no sympaty for them. A terrorist and a sympathiser for a terrorist are equally criminal. It doesn't matter what LTTEs are fighting against. They are just criminals, the same way the Muslim radical outfits are. I've no sympathy for Nathuram, absolutely no sympathy for the LTTEs being killed in Sri Lanka and I'm equally against any Muslim who supports terrorism directly or indirectly. When we can hang Nathuram, the Sikh killer of Indira Gandhi, the hindu LTTE killers of Rajiv Gandhi, why can'twe hang a Muslim against whom the Supreme Court has already passed the death sentence?
The discussions doesn't end here. The media or the intellect are not above emotions and personal prejudices. But still there's no doubt that the government has to be more firm in handling terrorism and rise above petty vote-bank politics!!


kanishka said...

Here are some thoughts I put down after the exchange over Arundhati Roy.

Why Do We Hate Arundhati Roy?

(By Kanishka Lahiri, a Bangalore-based professional in the semiconductor industry. To provide feedback about this piece, please email him directly at

In middle-class educated circles, it has become unfashionable, in fact, often downright ludicrous to quote Arundhati Roy. In a recent email exchange with contemporaries (with whom I shared the experience of attending one of India's elite engineering schools, yes, you guessed, one of the highly trumpeted Indian Institutes of Technology) she was described as "worse than a cockroach that infests the sewer systems in our country", and the "greatest con act of an activist anywhere in the world", an anti-national who "could be convicted for treason".

I believe many people in similiar echelons of Indian society share this view, but don't necessarily articulate them as clearly. The majority just simply refuses to read her essays based on a reasoning that goes something like - "she's just out of control, she's anti-national, there are no facts in her writing, how can educated people even consider reading her". This exchange set me thinking as to why a lot of people, including some people who's opinions I respect on other matters, dismiss this person with such venom. What provokes deeply emotional responses from people, responses that suggest that Roy has somehow insulted them at a personal level? Perhaps the hatred is not really directed towards Roy the person, or Roy the essayist. Maybe it's really directed at the idea of Arundhati Roy; the idea that such a person could actually exist.

At the end of this piece, I am dead sure many of it's readers are going label me as an "Arundhati Roy sympathizer", as if she's some sort of terrorist. Those that do, will serve as perfect illustrations of the point I am trying to make. I don't believe Roy's writing is flawless, or readers should necessarily agree with her opinions, but a refusal to even listen to her line of argument, and separate her facts from her personal opinion seems to represent a strange intent to blindfold oneself to the realities which surround us. That is downright strange, since if anything, the urban middle class rightfully prides itself on being well informed. So what's really going on with the public vs Ms Roy?

Interestingly, most of the hysterical rhetoric flung at Roy that I have come across comes from male quarters, ranging from celebrity historian Ramachandra Guha to my IIT buddies. Could it just be that Indian men feel slighted that she can provoke the highest establishments of the land, like the Supreme Court, which have always been traditional male bastions, being a woman? Saba Naqvi in an article published some months ago in Outlook suggests the resentment may even have something to do with her sartorial taste and hair-do, which hypocritcal Indians might find more acceptable if she was say, part of the intellectual diaspora living in New York City. In the grassroot Indian context, which is Roy's habitat, to many, her physical appearance and shrill voice seems out of place in a society where where female Bollywood leads are expected to retire after they get married. The question is, if Arundhati Roy was a man, or if she tied her hair in a bun and wore a bindi, would we have aimed our collective automatic weapons at her with such deadly precision?

I'm not trying to defend the factual accuracy of her writings, or praise her prose. The point is, so what if she's guilty of less than civil writing? So what if she's got a few facts wrong? If we the public were as effective in scrutinizing and passing judgment on the administration as we are on Ms Roy's writing, India would be a different country. It seems pretty clear that the anti-Roy rhetoric has got more to do with the fact that she raises uncomfortable topics which makes for extremely unpopular drawing room conversation in middle-class English speaking households. If these "readers" (the skepticism is rooted in an observation that several of my acquaintances are eager to dismiss her writings without even having read them) are so contemptuous of what she writes, if they think she has all her facts wrong, if she's really just an average essayist looking for attention, then why do they get roiled up at all? Perhaps it really is to do with the threat Arundhati Roy poses to the "shining" Indian middle-class and it's beloved diaspora. Maybe folks fear that she actually is a capable and knowledegable person, wielding a mighty pen and power brandishing inconvenient truths about the Indian state. Maybe deep down, the upper-middle-class Hindu knows that the train to utopia they are riding could very well be derailed, or delayed by this puny writer from Kerala. A utopia in which big dams supply water and electricity to the cities while decimating rural populations and destroying the environment, where Muslim youths are shot on sight on the flimsiest suspicions; where India's nuclear arsenal is large enough to annihilate a subcontinent that is home to a quarter of the world's population; where power is absolute and autocratic, as long as it serves the interests of the urban elite.

India doesn't need an Arundhati Roy. We need a few thousand. From the collective screaming, there are higher chances that truth will emerge, and minor errors made by individuals such as Roy will get drowned by the availability of a quality of information that we are denied today by a media stifled by politics and profit. In the tradition of the argumentative Indian, I invite people to
counter Roy through intellectual debate, rather than calling her names.

Sudipto Das said...


Very thought-provoking discussions going on. I think everyone is entitled to his/her views and a healthy discussion should always be encouraged.

1. I agree with Kanishka about our media and the crap they show for most of the time. For one, I believe they should never have telecasted the live proceedings from Taj or Trident or Nariman House. However, amidst the laods of crap, there was one programme by Prannoy Roy that was really worth watching. It was an appeal to the common people not to repeat the aftermath of 1993 blasts. With tensions flying so high, it is very easy to instigate people on religious grounds. But the last thing we want now are communal riots. Our countrymen, for once, stand united today in thier anger/hatred towards politicians. Let us try our best not to lose foucs.

2. I have read a fair bit on Afzal's involvement in the Parliament attack and have convinced myself that he needs to be executed. I am not willing to accept that he is innocent. By hanging him, we need to send out the right mesaage. And better do it soon. Let's not forget the Kandahar episode where because of the delays in our judicial system, we had to release 3 dreaded terrorists. One of them was Omar Sheikh - the guy who later funded the 9/11 terrorists, killed (beheaded) Daniel Pearl and masterminded many more dastardly acts. We cannot afford to repeat these mistakes.

3. The war is not against Muslims. To associate every Muslim with these terrorists will be unfair. Personally, I am against it. Since we are all music lovers, let us remember that it was one Sahir Ludhianvi who wrote "Man tarapat hai darshan ko aaj", a Bade Ghulam Ali Khan who wrote, composed and sang "Hari Om Tatsat", of course not to forget my most favourite singer Mohd. Rafi. The war is against terrorist outfits and if any state condones them, our war is against them as well (Pakistan). I still strongly feel that our PM should be strong enough to tell Pakistan to hunt down these extremists in the next 1 month and hand them over, failing which India will go out and attack these outfits in their country. It's time to send out some tough messages.

Best regards,

- Goopi

Sudipto Das said...


I agree to you. There's need of stringent acts like POTA or TADA where people can be just arrested and executed without the intervention of Human Rights or laws. I know there will be misuse of this. But statistically even if it works 1 in 100 then also it serves the purpose right? Just imagine the 4 terrorists released in Kandahar episode landed up killing more than 3000 people, including all those killed in 9/11 attacks and all killed else where by Jaish-e-Muhammed. But I'm sure the acts won't be misused to largely. Once in a while misuse would happen for sure but that shouldn't refrain us from enacting the law.

And one more thing. The Human Rights people have to be constrained a lot. Taking lives is always a Human Rights Violation. Even capital punishment is also a Human Right Violation. But we can't help. Just think about it - the only two armed revolution tackled in India till date are the Punjab insurgency and the Bengal Naxal movement and both were tackled with utter violation of Human Rights. There are million cases of "Hazar Churasir Ma". Most colleges didn't have batches between 1971-1973 because majority of the students were just killed. Even the 1972 batch of IIT KGP is missing. Didn't that help in the long run? Does any one now even say of those killings. People have totally forgotten because a greater mishap was avoided in doing so. Ditto in the case of Punjab problem. You can't talk of Human Rights when tackling terrorism. So history tells me what works and what not. People may argue that doing such things will create many more terrorists. But have you heard of any Bengali terrorist coming out of the ashes of the Naxal killings? Have you ever heard of any Sikh militant after 1985? No. Because such fear was instilled into the minds of Bengalis and Punjabis that even for generations people won't forget that. Every para in Calcutta still bears the burnt of those killings and atrocities. One of our neighbors has been crippled for ever while traying to escape a police killing spree. I've seeing that Kaku like that ever since. Every other family has a "Hazar Churasir Maa". Does anyone blame those police actions now? No, because people learnt the hard way that was the only way to tackle the problem at that time.

So if that worked twice in the past, why shouldn't it work now? Well, everyone knows the reason - they were Hindu and Sikhs and now we're talking about Muslim. C'mon, let's not be hypocrites. I've heard K P S Gill saying innumerable times that he would take just a few months to fix the terrorism for ever if he is given his way. If he was allowed to act in Punjab why won't he be allowed now?

Thanks & Regards,
Sudipto Das