header
Communalism

'Silence Not an Option': Journalists Appeal to Constitutional Bodies to Curb Anti-Muslim Hatred

'The political executive – both at the level of the Union and in several states – appears unwilling to discharge its constitutional obligation to act,' the statement reads.

Listen to this article:

New Delhi: Twenty eight senior journalists and media persons issued a statement on Wednesday, March 23, appealing to all Indian constitutional bodies to “uphold their constitutional mandate” and take action against the increasingly frequent attacks against minorities, especially Muslims, in the country.

The appeal, titled, ‘In the Face of Orchestrated Hatred, Silence Is Not an Option’, begins by highlighting that the country, in recent years, has seen a “concerted amplification of hatred” as well as an “attendant advocacy of violence”.

The signatories are prominent journalists and include The Wire‘s three founding editors.

“These calls for violence… have been met with a cold and calculated silence from the country’s top leaders,” the appeal continues, highlighting one such instance: the demonisation of Muslims during the early days of the pandemic citing the Tablighi Jamaat meet in Delhi’s Nizammudin area.

Some sections of the media had coined and amplified the term ‘corona jihad’ to spread hatred against the Muslim community. Legislators even began to call for a socio-economic boycott of Muslims.

The appeal also noted that the police either failed to act against those inciting anti-minority violence or booked those guilty under “disproportionately mild sections (of legislation)”. This, according to the appeal, strengthened the “perception that such offenders are above the law”.

Also read: Tablighi Jamaat: A Year on, Some Attendees Still Await Trial, Others Struggle To Return Home

Against this backdrop, the undersigned called for constitutionally provisioned and statutory bodies, such as the offices of the President of India, the Chief Justices and Justices of the Supreme Court and the country’s high courts, the Election Commission of India (ECI), and others “to ensure that these calls for violence do not translate into something unimaginably worse”.

Moreover, given that sections of the media, too, allowed themselves to become “conduits of hate speech”, the statement calls for journalist and media bodies, such as the Press Council of India and the National Broadcasters and Digital Association to “respond urgently to the crisis at hand”.

The statement then comes to the Haridwar Dharma Sansad, which took place in December last year and which featured “well-synchronised calls for the annihilation of Muslims”. This Dharma Sansad (literally, Religious parliament), was a three-day event where Hindutva hardliners made open calls for genocide against Muslims. What’s more, some members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had attended the event. 

The statement goes on to highlight how social media and online platforms are being used to systematically target Muslim women, providing the example of the ‘Bulli Bai’ app

The app (using the derogatory term ‘Bulli’ to refer to Muslim women) staged ‘auctions’ for Muslim women and used doctored photographs of them without their consent.

Further, the statement refers to the recent controversy over Muslim girls being barred from wearing hijabs to school, an issue that arose out of Karnataka and spread across the country.

On March 15, the high court upheld the state government’s decision, ruling that “wearing of Hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith.”

Also read: While Upholding Hijab Ban, Karnataka HC Misconstrued Several Constitutional Principles

The statement goes on to highlight the use of communal rhetoric in the recent assembly elections in five states, which began in February and ended on March 10 this year. 

The statement highlighted the targeting of Muslims by ‘star’ campaigners from the ruling party, pulling up the ECI for not showing required autonomy.

Finally, the statement comes to the recent debacle over Vivek Agnihotri’s controversial film, The Kashmir Files, which it describes as “a film that cynically exploits the suffering and tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits by using their plight as a pretext for the promotion of hatred against Muslims”.

Also read: As a Film, ‘The Kashmir Files’ Is Both Laughable and Frightening in Its Relentless Communalism

The statement then says that when all these events are considered  together, it becomes clear that a ”dangerous hysteria is being built up countrywide to push the idea that ‘Hinduism is in danger’ and to portray Muslim Indians as a threat to Hindu Indians and to India itself”. 

As such, the statement calls for the aforementioned constitutional bodies to discharge their mandates under the constitution and appeals to the media to fulfil its duty to the Indian citizens by “asserting their independence and speaking truth to power.”

The full text of the note is as follows.

In the Face of Orchestrated Hatred, Silence Is Not an Option

An Appeal to India’s Constitutional Institutions

As journalists and media persons from all over India, we make this Appeal to all Indian institutions to step in and uphold their constitutional mandate in the wake of open calls from various quarters for attacks on India’s religious minorities, especially Muslims.

The concerted amplification of hatred has been growing over the past years and months, as has the attendant advocacy of violence. Sometimes, the occasion is an election, at other times it is a political gathering, a so-called ‘dharam sansad’, or a controversy over clothing. or even the screening of a movie. These calls for violence – which have been widely reported in the media – have been met with a cold and calculated silence from the country’s top leaders. Months before, we saw systematic hate being propagated against Muslims under the pretext of Covid-19, including calls by legislators for their socio- economic boycott.

Disturbingly, the term ‘corona jihad’ was fabricated and amplified by sections of the media establishment.

Calls for violence or the socio-economic boycott of a community clearly do not enjoy the constitutional protection of free speech. And yet, the political executive – both at the level of the Union and in several States – appears unwilling to discharge its constitutional obligation to act. The police either take no cognisance of those inciting anti-minority violence or register cases under disproportionately mild sections, which strengthens the perception that such offenders are above the law.

Against this backdrop, the President of India, the Chief Justices and other Judges of the Supreme Court of India and the various High Courts, the Election Commission of India, and other constitutionally provisioned and statutory bodies are constitutionally obliged to ensure that these calls for violence do not translate into something unimaginably worse. Since sections of the media have also allowed themselves to become conduits for hate speech, the Press Council of India, the News Broadcasters & Digital Association, unions and associations of working journalists, and all media-related bodies need to respond urgently to the crisis
at hand.

Since December 2021, well-synchronised calls for the annihilation of Muslims have been made, beginning with a religious meet in Haridwar that month. Muslim women and girls have been systematically targeted in 2021 and 2022 through social media platforms, including the pernicious Bulli Bai App. The ugly controversy over the hijab in Karnataka has resulted in Muslim women in different parts of India being harassed and humiliated.

During the election campaign of February and March 2022, we saw the repeated appeal to divisive hatred and the stigmatising of Muslims and other minorities, with ‘star’ campaigners from the ruling party unashamedly breaking the law to seek votes in the name of religion. The Election Commission of India, which is statutorily bound to ensure that such practices do not corrode the integrity of elections, has not shown the required autonomy and independence from the political executive to act.

Most recently, the screening of ‘The Kashmir Files’ – a film that cynically exploits the suffering and tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits by using their plight as a pretext for the promotion of hatred against Muslims – has seen orchestrated attempts inside and outside movie halls to incite anti-Muslim sentiment. Attempts have been made from the highest levels of government to stifle fully justified criticism of the film and of the violent reaction it is generating by claiming there is a “conspiracy” afoot to “discredit” it.

When all these events are taken together, it is clear that a dangerous hysteria is being built up countrywide to push the idea that “Hinduism is in danger” and to portray Muslim Indians as a threat to Hindu Indians and to India itself. Only prompt and effective action by our constitutional, statutory, and democratic institutions can challenge, contain, and stop this disturbing trend.

India today stands at a dangerous place, with the founding values of our secular, democratic, and republican Constitution coming under flagrant assault from prejudiced ideas, acts of prejudice, discrimination, and violent incidents, all planned and orchestrated as part of an anti-constitutional political project. That we have seen elected officials and others who have sworn an oath under the Constitution amplifying some of these multiple and connected instances of orchestrated hate through acts of commission and omission, with sections of the media assisting this project, makes the situation even more urgent.

That is why it is both urgent and crucial that India’s constitutional institutions, and especially the President, the higher judiciary, and the Election Commission, discharge their mandate under our Constitution and that the media perform their responsibility to the people of India by asserting their independence and speaking truth to power.

Below is a full list of signatories of the statement.

N. Ram, former Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu & Director, The Hindu Publishing Group

Mrinal Pande, Senior Journalist and Writer

R. Rajagopal, Editor, The Telegraph

Vinod Jose, Executive Editor, Caravan

R Vijayasankar, Editor, Frontline

Q. W. Naqvi, Chairman & MD, Satya Hindi 

Ashutosh, Editorial Director, Satya Hindi

Siddharth Vardarajan, Founder Editor, The Wire 

Sidharth Bhatia, Founder Editor, The Wire 

M.K. Venu, Founder Editor, The Wire 

Aziz Tankarvi, Publisher, Gujarat Today

Ravindra Ambekar, Director, MaxMaharashtra

R.K. Radhakrishnan, Senior Journalist

Deepal Trivedi, Founder Editor: Vibes of India, Gujarat

Hasan Kamal, Senior Journalist & Columnist, Inquilab

Teesta Setalvad, Co-Editor, Sabrangindia

Javed Anand, Co-Editor, Sabrangindia

Pradip Phanjoubam, Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics 

Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor, Kashmir Times 

Kalpana Sharma, Independent Journalist

Aunindyo Chakravarty, Independent journalist

Saba Naqvi, Independent Journalist

Dhanya Rajendran, Editor in Chief, The News Minute

Shabir Ahmed, Senior News Editor, The News Minute

Anirban Roy, Editor, Northeast Now, Guwahati

Dhiren A. Sadokpam, Editor-in-Chief,The Frontier, Manipur 

Tongam Rina, Journalist, Arunachal Pradesh

Monalisa Changkija, Editor, Nagaland Page