Terms of Reference
As Gujarat erupted on February 27, there were those who blamed the print and electronic media for aggravating tensions and inflaming passions by their graphic or sensational coverage. While some thought it fit to shoot the messenger, there were voices from the media alleging impediments, threats and attacks to thwart their independent and objective functioning. Responding to these very divergent points of view, the Editors Guild of India Executive, with its President, Mr Mammen Mathew, Editor of the Malayala Manorama, in the chair, decided to depute a fact-finding mission to Gujarat to report on the situation.
A three-member team was appointed consisting of Dileep Padgonkar, Executive Managing Editor of the Times of India, Aakar Patel, Editor of Mid-Day, Mumbai, and B.G.Verghese, columnist. The Team decided to and go to Gujarat after Holi and other up-coming festivals. The visit was actually undertaken between March 31 and April 6, 2002.
It visited Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Anand, Godhra and Vadodara and met the Chief Minister and his senior officials as well as district officials, both civil and police, and the Railway´s Station Superintendent at Godhra. We were able to obtain copies of official documents through the good offices of Information Department and other officials. We met a whole range of non-officials, jointly and severally, including media representatives, academics, writers and cultural workers, NGOs, social workers, judges, Gandhians, community leaders, ranking politicians, senior VHP officials, business representatives from the small scale and market sectors and the chamber of commerce, members of the minority community and dalits. Many offered moving personal narratives, representations and memoranda, much documentation and analysis of events, media monitoring reports, newspaper clippings, copies of pamphlets and handbills and other background material.
We were, however, unable to meet the Governor, the Gujarat DGP and the DC and Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad from whom we had sought separate appointments.
We are grateful to all those individuals and associations, named and unnamed, who took the time and trouble to meet us. In Delhi, Aruna Patel and Juhi Sharma kindly helped translate material from Gujarati and Hindi into English. Kusum Malik assisted with computer glitches and formatting. Other individuals and associations readily provided material at their disposal or assisted us in procuring various references. We owe them all thanks for their presentations, the valuable data they provided and unfailing support.
Alok Mehta and Sumit Chakravartty, Secretary-General and Treasurer of the Guild respectively, helped with logistical and other support. The Times of India, Ahmedabad and the Guild office in Delhi provided staff support. Our thanks to them.
Some critics felt or implied that Dileep Padgaonkar´s presence on the Fact-Finding Team was inhibiting as his paper, the Times of India Ahmedabad edition in particular, was also under scrutiny. Mr Padgaonkar, however, made it clear to all interlocutors that while he may have a personal point of view as Executive Managing Editor of his paper, this would in no wise colour his objectivity as a member of the Team. The members of the Team approached their task with an open mind, exercising the best professional judgement they could individually and collectively summon.
Gujarat burned and was convulsed with barbarous violence for over 40 days from February 27, 2002 when the Sabarmati Express, running from Faizabad to Ahmedabad, was attacked and torched at Godhra killing 58 passengers, many of them women and children. Whatever the provocation, as alleged by some, nothing extenuates the outrage. This utterly horrible crime calls for the swift pursuit and punishment of the perpetrators. Even as the Godhra tragedy was roundly condemned, the anticipated backlash took on the dimensions of a holocaust primarily aimed at the Muslim community. This soon engulfed central, north and northeastern Gujarat, including Ahmedabad, Vadodara and parts of the eastern tribal belt.
Nearly 800 persons were killed according to the official count; unofficial estimates are far higher. It was a slaughter of the innocents. The brutalities were unprecedented, especially against women. The targeting of Muslim homes, establishments and sources of livelihood was precise and bears evidence of premeditation. The term ethnic cleansing and genocide have been used to describe the horror. Later, there were retaliatory strikes on Hindus, albeit on a lesser scale.
The Editor of Sandesh was to tell us that Something happened. What ?
In the first week of April, some 120,000 victims of both communities were still to be found taking pitiable refuge in makeshift relief camps run by NGOs with some official assistance.
What remains is a miasma of fear, hatred, insecurity, guilt and grim foreboding. Gujarat and India have suffered a grievous moral and material loss from which it will take much time and effort to recover. A whole community was targeted for the alleged sins of its co-religionists at Godhra long prior to that event and far beyond Gujarat. Ancient wrongs, real and imagined, were sought to be collectively avenged by the savage violation of the rights of a living, demonised enemy. There has been an appalling emotional partitioning of minds into we and they among all too many across Gujarat and elsewhere in India. Millions in the country and throughout the civilised world have been appalled. Yet, in the midst of the carnage, there were innumerable stories, many yet to be written, of courageous and moving interventions by friends, neighbours and even strangers in defence of the helpless and endangered across this divide. That lends hope.
Overall, our finding is that the prompt and extensive portrayal by sections of the local press and national media of the untold horrors visited on innocent people in the wake of the Godhra carnage was a saving grace. The exposure of the supine if not complicit attitude of the State and manifest outpourings of communal hatred, stirred the conscience of the nation, compelled remedial action, howsoever defensively and belatedly, and activated the National Human Rights Commission, the Minorities Commission and other safety mechanisms. However, the role of sections of the Gujarati media, especially the Gujarat Samachar and more notably Sandesh, was provocative, irresponsible and blatantly violative of all accepted norms of media ethics. This cannot be lightly passed over.
There were certain inadequacies and lapses in general media coverage that we shall address; but the charge that the media was a major aggravating or even causative factor in the situation is specious and self-serving and must be dismissed.
The official information machinery of the State was clearly inadequate to the task and preferred to sing the praises of the Chief Minister rather than deliver timely and authentic information. Official attitudes encountered ranged from complacency to helplessness; but some officers were clearly uneasy at being disabled from doing their duty.
Gujarat was the first large scale television and cable riot covered in real time. This poses delicate issues and difficult choices that merit discussion. Finally, the role of digital communications, the mobile phone, SMS (smart mail service), email, web sites, autonomous computer generated handbills and posters, and the digital camera, was pervasive, insidious and oftentimes dubious, being prone to misuse. This new media has introduced an altogether new dimension of global and person-to-person communication that must be carefully assessed. Censorship is not the answer; sobriety, training, professionalism and codes of conduct are necessary.
Freedom and Responsibility
Freedom of the press is a derivative of the citizen´s fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It is, however, subject to reasonable restrictions under Art. 19(2). While the media enjoy the right to freedom and independence in the discharge of their duties, they are essentially trustees for the larger freedom of speech and expression. Through judicial pronouncements and international covenants to which India is a signatory, this includes the citizen´s right to inform and be informed. The right to know is a precious democratic right and is through this means that the citizen is ensured participation, transparency and accountability.
The Indian media is privileged to enjoy a wide measure of freedom By this very token, it must exercise this freedom with responsibility in matters relating to public order, decency and morality, defamation and incitement to an offence. It is incumbent on the media to strive for objectivity, fairness and balance, to avoid sensationalism or anything that is liable to inflame passions, especially during periods of stress and tension. It is also obligated to make corrections and afford injured parties the right of reply. In situations of communal strife, the Indian tradition has been to avoid naming the communities involved so as not to exacerbate tensions.
These conventions were evolved in the 1950s and 1960s when the media was far more limited in terms of reach and circulation. There was no TV and even radio was largely confined to more affluent homes (until the transistor revolution). News bulletins were few and by and large there was a 6 to 24-hour news cycle. No more. The information revolution and new technologies have created an instant, interconnected world intricately and extensively networked by large, small and inter-personal means of communication. The new media does not respect 24-hour deadlines. News is disseminated in real time. The 24-hour TV news channels enter homes and work places with immediate announcements and updates of breaking news. Email, the web and mobile phone are ubiquitous.
Despite the speed with which electronic news moves, rumour travels faster, like greased lightning. There are many voices, big and little, formal as well as personal carrying it here, there and everywhere. So truth and authenticated information are in constant competition with disinformation. To use the terminology of nuclear warfare, the legitimate media must therefore enjoy first-strike capability. Else it will trail behind disinformation, speculation and rumour, never quite catching up and merely reacting to the agenda set by master manipulators and vested interests. Technology has critically altered the rules of engagement between truth or objective news reportage and falsehood or concoction. Old norms therefore require careful review and revalidation or amendment.
This is obviously a complex and delicate issue that requires extensive debate and reflection so that appropriate norms are devised for the future.
It is in this context that modern media coverage and the reportage of Gujarat must be evaluated. It might be irresponsible not to portray the facts as they are with all dispatch. Like war, riots too begin in the minds of men and truth can be a defence against information terrorism, incitement and panic. Sensationalism, horror and excitement of passions can be moderated, if not averted, by the manner of presentation, the choice of words and commentary, the editing of footage and pictures, the headlines, positioning and general treatment. This is where professionalism, experienced gatekeepers like chief reporters, news editors and chief sub-editors or page editors and anchors can exercise discretion under overall top editorial control not merely during office hours but in anticipation of major deadlines around the clock.
The Godhra episode
The Sabarmati Express, running some hours behind schedule, was torched in Godhra just before 8 a.m. on February 27. Local reporters soon reached the spot and filed the news. Aaj Tak was probably the first news channel to flash the breaking news. Zee TV´s local cameraman in Godhra rushed his footage to Ahmedabad. This was aired soon after 2 p.m. Others, including Doordarshan, followed, deputing camera crew from Ahmedabad, Baroda and Delhi. An anonymous email message was widely circulated attributing what purported to be an eyewitness account obtained by two local correspondents, Anil and Neelam Soni, whose designations and telephone numbers were given. This spoke of an altercation at the station between karsevaks, who alighted from the train for tea and snacks, and local hawkers of the minority community. (See Annexure 1).
There is more than one version of what followed. The molestation and abduction of a girl is alleged. The train began moving out of the station when incensed hawkers pulled the alarm chain to stop it within a few hundred metres, beside the Godhra Railway outer signal cabin adjacent to the Ghanchi bustee to which the vendors belong. The train was mobbed and stoned and Coach No. S-6 was set on fire.
When exactly this email message was actually sent is not clear. However, on being queried, the Sonis denied having filed the story. They disclaimed it as a fabrication. Nevertheless, others purportedly gave out somewhat similar versions, embellished by reports of earlier misbehaviour along the entire route as reported by a Faizabad newspaper, Jan Morcha. (See Annexure 1A). First official reports of the Godhra incident spoke of a terrorist plot with cross-border connivance. The Railway Police has conducted preliminary investigations and the one-man Commission of Inquiry appointed by the Gujarat Government is now seized of this matter and its fallout. The facts are yet to be established.
Two points need to be kept in mind about the Godhra incident. As some people were known to have escaped from the ill-fated S-6 coach, the number that had perished was officially assumed to be relatively moderate until quite some hours later when the charred remains of all those trapped inside were finally extricated. The first press release issued from Gandhinagar on February 27 quoted the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Gordhanbhai Zadaphia as stating that as per preliminary report, six people were killed, 38 injured and out of them 18 were discharged from the local hospital after necessary treatment. He said that the number of deaths could be on the higher side also. The Government Press Note is at Annexure 2.
The magnitude of the horror only unfolded several hours after the tragedy. The evening TV bulletins and the next day´s papers told the grim story. Even then, most national and possibly several regional channels remained fascinated by the presentation and analysis of the Union Budget through much of February 28. Crawlers at the bottom of TV screens and occasional news updates developed the Gujarat story.
The Fuse is Lit
Meanwhile, on February 27 itself, subsequent incidents of violence in Godhra town were brought under control but trouble erupted elsewhere in the district and other parts of the State. The torched carriage No. S-6 was detached and the Sabarmati Express continued its journey, disgorging trumatised passengers en route at Vadodara, Anand and Ahmedabad. Word spread. The return of badly charred bodies to grieving families stirred passions. The VHP sounded a call for a Gujarat bandh on February 28 which was endorsed by the ruling party. A ashti yatra was mooted but fortunately called off in time. However, Gujarat was already in flames.
There was little doubt that the Godhra carnage was likely to provoke a strong backlash in view of Gujarat´s sad record of periodic riots on a variety of issues. Preparations were according made to meet the situation. However, mob fury took over. The subsequent seeming justification of the brutal reaction by linking it to the original sin´ of Godhra lends credence to the widespread charge of official passivity if not connivance and a clear lack of political will within the ruling establishment. Innocent Muslims (Babar ke aulad) were deliberately and calculatedly targeted for dastardly crimes attributed to their co-religionists not merely in Godhra but earlier elsewhere. There can be absolutely no sanction for such transferred guilt´. Though Muslims defended themselves and did indeed retaliate in some cases, the reported breakdown of deaths, arrests, fatalities and casualties from police firing and refugees huddled in the relief camps tell their own story. The riots were clearly one-sided.
The national print and electronic media documented the holocaust and the meticulous targeting of Muslim homes, mohallas, shops and establishments, factories, hotels and eateries and other economic assets as well as dargahs, mosques, shrines and kabristans. Neighbouring Hindu properties were spared. Obviously these targets must have been marked out as even Muslim establishments with names like Tulsi Restaurant or Tasty Bakery largely catering to a Hindu clientele, were looted and fired.
Sheela Bhatt posted an interview with K.K.Shastri, the 96-year old President of the Gujarat unit of the VHP, on the rediff.com portal. This makes chilling reading. According to Mr Shastri, the list of Muslim-owned shops was prepared on the morning of February 28. It was done as we were terribly angry (over Godhra). Lust and anger are blind. Hindutva was attacked. This is
. a tremendous outburst that will be difficult to roll back. Further, we can´t condemn it because they are our boys. Shastri added, The VHP has formed a panel of 50 lawyers to help release the arrested people accused of rioting and looting. None of these lawyers will charge any fees because they believe in the RSS ideology.
Mr Shastri is said to have denied making these remarks. The two VHP Joint General Secretaries, Mr Jaydeep Patel and Dr Kaushik Mehta, whom we met at the VHP office in Ahmedabad, also contradicted the report, making out that Mr Shastri was old and hard of hearing. They rejected the theory that Muslim premises were targeted. Sheela Bhatt has the tape. The text of the rediff.com story as reproduced by Mainstream, Delhi, is at Annexure 3. The tenor of the April issue of Vishwa Hindu Samachar published by Rashtra Chetna Prakashan and edited by Mr K.K.Shastri lends credence to what he told rediff.com. A two-page article therein praises Chhote Sardar for his handling of Godhra and its aftermath.
Many media persons experienced the anger of Hindutva forces. So did the Guild team. One of its members was closeted with some print and TV journalists at Ahmedabad´s Circuit House on April 1, when there was a loud commotion. A group of six or eight VHP storm troopers burst into his room shouting and gesticulating, jostling those present, vehemently accusing them of hatching a dark conspiracy behind closed doors. A Gujarat Information Directorate official sought to intervene and said that discussions were in progress with a representative of the Editors Guild. The mob thereupon turned on the latter vociferously demanding to know whether he was Hindu or Muslim. He replied that that was irrelevant, said he was a Hindustani, gave his name and asked the intruders to introduce themselves and state their purpose. They refused to identify themselves, shouting hum Hindu hai, each insisting in turn that this was his name. It was explained that the Guild Team was in Gujarat to inquire into the media scene and wished to meet everybody and hear all sides of the story. It was going to Gandhinagar the following day to meet with ministers and officials. This evoked the derisive retort that they, the intruders, were the ministers we should hear. They were then invited to sit down coolly and relate their version of events.
The group slowly simmered down. Its spokesmen charged the English media and national TV channels, with defaming the majority community with one-sided and totally biased coverage. They only listen to Muslims and ignore Hindus. They do not focus on Muslim rioters and damage to Hindu property. Hindus who escaped from the Godhra inferno and admitted to hospital in Ahmedabad and Hindu refugees in the Prem Darwaza and other relief camps had not been interviewed. Aaj Tak invited the harshest rebuke, especially for its prompt coverage of the first few hours. The demand was that this channel should be shut down and its licence revoked. Aaj Tak was probably first on the air with live footage of the rioting. The Times of India and Indian Express, both of which have Ahmedabad editions, were also singled out for mention.
The VHP vigilantes left after about 30-40 minutes to cries of Jai Sri Ram and the two ringleaders did finally give their names and calling cards. They expressed regret for any offence caused but insisted we should meet the VHP leaders and provided the mobile telephone number of Mr Jayant Patel, Joint General Secretary, who was at that time travelling in Kutch. By now a small posse of policemen had arrived and as the Guild Team went to the Prem Darwaza and Shah Alam relief camps, a DCP awaited us with a message from the Police Commissioner seeking to know if we wished to lodge any complaint or sought police protection. We declined both offers.
Mr Jaydeep Patel was contacted that evening and the Team did meet him and Dr Kaushik Mehta, the other VHP Joint General Secretary, a couple of days later. On our narrating the incident, they said that the VHP was so popular that all sorts of people went about using its name. Earlier, in mentioning this same incident to the Chief Minister, we said this little episode had told us more than anything else about the mindset behind the riots. We expressed surprise that partners of his Government should behave in this manner. Mr Modi agitatedly denied such partnership.
Sandesh: Something happened
A starker revelation of the Hindutva mindset at work in Gujarat was soon to follow the encounter with the VHP when we visited the CMD and de facto Editor-in-Chief of Sandesh. If there is one thing that can be confidently said about Mr Falgun Patel, it is that he is honest to a fault. We met this press baron on one of the higher floors of his plush and gleaming new office in Ahmedabad, far above the dust and din of the city sprawled below. Let him tell the story, as prompted by our queries.
The English media, he said, had sided out and out with the minority community and the Gujarat papers were, by and large, pro-Hindu. He blamed the English media for throwing all restraint to the wind by citing the religious affiliation of various groups. Others therefore followed suit. Hindus were not temperamentally prone to starting riots. Gujarat had known worse disturbances, as for example in 1969. But this time Hindu anger irrespective of class was inflamed by the burning of innocent women and children at Godhra. Something happened. Even Hindu women felt theek hai, salon ko maro. Some English papers carried baseless stories that Godhra was not pre-planned and that karsewak misbehaviour at the railway station provoked the Muslims. When it was said that the Times of India ran its story on the basis of an on-the-record briefing by the IGP Railway Police (See Annexure 11, P 19), this was dismissed as bullshitting.
Mr Falgun Patel described the Godhra incident as unforgettable and the reaction to it as justified. Can a 20 per cent minority take the majority for a ride? There has to be a limit. Muslims had done nothing to throw out the Latifs in their community (a reference to a notorious Ahmedabad don who was killed in an encounter some years ago). Dariapur (a Muslim dominated section of the walled city) had a godfather and so the Muslims thought they could get away with anything. When the BJP government assumed office, a clear message went out to the Muslim mafia. Hence they were quiet. But asked by us why innocent persons should be targeted, Mr Falgun Patel said the idea was to pressurise ordinary Muslims to put pressure on Muslim goons to behave. After the way these Muslims had behaved, Hinduism ke naam per hum kuch bhi karenge.
Mr Patel complained that outsiders who had no feeling for Gujarat ran the local English papers. It was, however, pointed out to him that these papers hired talent, irrespective of community.
Asked of checks and balances in the production of Sandesh, Mr Patel remarked that all news obtained was balanced by our own version. The paper editorialises the news as the regular editorials and articles carried later are too late. He freely admitted in response to a query that the paper´s reporters did lose balance and were communalised all down the line, even today (April 2). This view was proffered as a general statement and further amplified by a subsequent remark to the effect that the Hindu reaction is so strong that we have to be cautious. I get 200 calls a day. Yet the paper did have a Muslim readership and was not anti-Muslim per se.
Mr Falgun Patel was down to earth in his perception of the Gujarat media scene. Running a newspaper is big business and Gujarat essentially has two newspapers, Sandesh and the Gujarat Samachar, both bitter rivals. The Gujarat Samachar has a circulation of around 8.10 lakhs and Sandesh about 7.05 lakhs. But because of its pro-Hindu stand, Sandesh´s circulation had increased by 150,000 copies since the riots began. This newspaper competition was not healthy and it was left to each newspaper to contradict inaccuracies in the other. There was no ethics or principles. Gujarat Samachar, he alleged, had a pro-Jain bias. Hindu protection is my duty.
Mr Patel complained that authentic and timely information was seldom available from the Home Department, Police or Information Department. The media had not been taken into confidence or fully briefed. The Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad had held his first press briefing only on the 34th day of rioting. The Chief Minister (who we were told personally conducted daily 4 p.m briefings for the first ten days) was, in Mr Patel´s view, fond of TV appearances and ignored the print media. The CM´s TV appearances were, however, inadequate as he would only respond to queries and kept repeating that everything that had happened was a reaction and that normalcy had been restored. Incidents and casualty figures could not be easily confirmed.
Mr Falgun Patel said that on February 28 itself Sandesh appealed for calm. It front- paged a story to the effect that Gujarat was still recovering from last year´s devastating earthquake and a subsequent cyclone disaster and should therefore keep cool despite Godhra. Positive stories of human interest and communal harmony were also run to send out a humanitarian message. Sandesh also praised the Bhavnagar SP for his firm and timely action (in preventing harm to a large number of children huddled in a madrassa in imminent danger of being attacked). Incidentally, soon thereafter, this officer was among those who were summarily transferred on what we were told by the CM was long-pending promotion.
The Guild Team questioned Mr Patel about some of its more sensational reports in screaming headlines, many of which were unsourced, speculative or without any basis. One of these was a dire warning about Hajis returning to Gujarat with arms and RDX to wreak vengeance. This caused considerable panic and was contradicted as baseless. Mr Patel´s plea was that the report had appeared in the Asian Age a day earlier and that Sandesh had followed it up and made its own inquiries with the Intelligence agencies and others. Thereafter the Chief Minister had been alerted but had taken the report rather casually. (The Team subsequently saw the Asian Age report and found its contents and alleged Intelligence background to be very different in purport and tenor. It in no way justified the Sandesh story). Mr Patel´s defence was that the Asian Age story had not been contradicted.
Mr Patel was also asked about the Sandesh banner headline about the breasts of two Hindu women having been chopped off by the mobsters at Godhra. He replied that the information came from the DSP Panchmahals. This was promptly contradicted and the contradiction appeared in the Gujarat Samachar. This, we were told, was a fall out of competition between the two rival papers. Sandesh´s own policy was not to carry corrections and clarifications.
Mr Patel countered by referring to the coverage of the destruction of the Wali Gujarati dargah by the Times of India. Was this right? he asked. (Wali Gujarati lived in the 17th century and was India´s first Urdu ghazalkar. This well known cultural landmark, dear to all communities, was razed to the ground on February 27 and a paved road built over it within days. Some 240 large and small Muslim dargahs, mosques, shrines and kabristans were similarly vandalised throughout Gujarat and Hulluria Hanuman (riotous Hanuman) murtis installed at some sites. In Vadodara, the tomb of the famous Baroda court musician, Ustad Fayyaz Khan was desecrated.
Asked about the killing of Ehsan Jafri, a former M.P and several others by fire in Gulberg colony despite desperate calls for help over several hours, Mr Patel said that Mr Jafri had a bad record. (Many others told us later that on the contrary Ehsan Jafri was a poet and much respected figure who worked for the masses and preferred to live in a cosmopolitan residential area rather than in a Muslim ghetto. Justice Akbar Divecha´s flat was vandalised in Ahmedabad and the residence of Prof J.S. Bandukwala, who teaches physics at M.S. Baroda University and is a votary of communal harmony, was similarly ravaged.
Finally, Mr Patel showed us a letter dated March 18 sent to him officially as owner and chief executive of Sandesh by the Chief Minister. In this, Mr Narendra Modi, personally expressed his high appreciation for the newspaper´s restrained coverage of the recent events in the best traditions of journalism. Mr Modi told us later that similar letters had gone out under his signature to a number of Gujarati language papers. Gujarat Samachar and 14 others were sent such letters according to a hurried listing by the Information Department. The text of the original letter in Gujarati and its English translation is at Annexure 4.
Before parting company, we mentioned that we were going to Gandhinagar to meet the Chief Minister and others. Mr Patel wryly remarked, The Government dances to our tune. We can get them to do anything. Others, later, made much the same comment - in reverse.
The Gujarat Samachar story
The owner-editors of the Gujarat Samachar, Mr Shreyans Shah and Mr Bahubali Shah were generally reticent but said their competition with Sandesh had in no way compromised journalistic standards. I never publish news keeping circulation in mind; the paper´s policy is to promote communal harmony, Mr Shreyans Shah asserted. However, there had been a rise in circulation of about 50,000 to 60,000 copies, though these things do not last.
An article in the Samachar had implied that Ehsan Jafri, who was brutally slain, got what he deserved. Queried on this, Mr Bahubali Shah said he stood by what the paper had written.
Both Shahs said there was inadequate official information during the first weeks of the riots.
Other Gujarati papers
There are a large number of Gujarati papers, 32 large and small vernacular publications in Ahmedabad alone. Fulchab, in Rajkot, was characteristically the first to take out a peace rally immediately after Godhra.
In Ahmedabad we met editors of three other dailies, Sambhav (four editions), Prabhat (Ahmedabad and Mehsana) and Gujarat Today (which has a Muslim ownership). All three are seen to have been moderate and balanced in approach.
Sambhav´s CMD, Mr Kiran Vadodaaria, avoided publishing pictures of corpses. The paper received an anonymous threat on April 1 because it had carried a column by M.J. Akbar, the Asian Age Editor. The Editor told us that though no curfew passes were distributed to his staff, they were able to move about quite freely with their formal press cards which were honoured.
Prabhat´s Director, Mr Ashish Kothari, spoke of swords and liquor being distributed on February 27. Its Editor felt that TV had played a very positive role by exposing the machinations of those behind the rioting mobs.
Mr Aziz Tankarvi is Editor of Gujarat Today, the only daily newspaper owned and run by Muslims in Gujarat. He told us that his paper had carried more editorials on the developments in Gujarat than any other published in the State. His endeavour, he said, was to cool tempers. Independent observers confirmed that Gujarat Today generally carried balanced reports an assessment that VHP officials whom we met strongly contested.
Like Prabhat, Gujarat Today too did not receive Mr Narendra Modi´s letter of commendation.
Senior administrative and police officers in Anand told the Guild team that local newspapers incited violence through irresponsible reporting. One paper, Madhyantrar, edited by Mr Jashwant Rawal, was specifically named. The paper´s April 3 edition, shown to us, alleged that a Muslim police officer was behind the local riots. An eight-column commentary on the front page was headlined: Muslims will have to prove that they are full Indians.
The Kutch Mitra ran a statement by a prominent Moulvi on its front page for several days condemning Godhra and expressing regret over what had happened. The Saurashtra Samachar, Bhavnagar, of March 2 carried a special supplement devoted to religious harmony.
Meeting with Narendra Modi
We had asked for separate meetings in Gandhinagar with the Chief Minister, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, the Information Minister, the Chief Secretary and the DG Police the better to serve focussed discussion. However, Mr Narendra Modi met us without his ministerial colleagues or the DGP but collectively in the presence of the Chief Secretary, the Home Secretary. a senior police official, the Revenue Secretary (who looks after relief and rehabilitation), the Director of Information and several others.
A large bust of Gandhiji is installed in front of the Sachivalaya and looks across the road at the adjacent Old Secretariat that houses various Government Directorates. The Old Secretariat is a protected area. Yet the Gujarat State Wakf Board, located just below the Directorate of Information, and the Gujarat Minorities Finance and Development Corporation housed in the Block opposite, both Government offices, were attacked and torched by a mob during office hours on February 28. Staff in all the Directorates ran for cover. The Old Secretariat was closed; later, curfew was imposed in Gandhinagar. No arrests had been made until April 2, the day of our visit. Records pertaining to dargahs, mosques, madrassas and kabristans were lost in the fire.
We told Mr Modi of our mission and asked for his assessment of the media´s role in the ongoing crisis in Gujarat. He was coy; it was too early for him to say anything about the media as CM, he said. But if Narendra Modi were asked that question, that would be a long story. Coaxed to say something more, he said the media, especially TV, was very powerful. None in the media had appealed for peace. Yes, maybe editorials had appeared, but ordinary people did not read editorials. He himself had gone on the air and repeatedly called for peace. (In his address over Doordarshan on February 28, Mr Modi referred to Godhra and went to state: Gujarat shall not tolerate any such incident. The culprits will get full punishment for their sins. Not only this, we will set an example that nobody, not even in his dreams thinks of committing a heinous crime like this. In a separate Doordarshan soundbyte he is reported as stating: If raising issues relating to justice or injustice adds fuel to the fire, we will have to observe restraint and invoke peace. Ambiguous words these. Annexure 4AA).
Responding to queries regarding various statements attributed to him by the media, Mr Modi denied citing Newton´s law. Nor had he spoken of action-reaction; he had wanted neither the action (at Godhra) nor the subsequent reaction. When we cited footage in Zee to the contrary (Annexure 4A), there was no reaction from Mr Modi The Chief Minister said he had merely only narrated the facts and justified nothing. He was pained by a Diary item about his feasting while Gujarat burned that the Times of India had carried the previous week. He had merely gone to his constituency in Rajkot to thank party workers after his recent by-election victory and had had a quick, Spartan meal before hurrying away to inspect some continuing earthquake relief works. The Indian Express too had had carried unkind references to him in its Modi-Meter column.
He had not said normalcy had been restored in 72 hours but only that the situation had been largely brought under control during that period, unlike on past occasions when rioting had continued for weeks. Firing had been ordered and a large number of arrests had been made. Scare stories in some papers, such as about returning Hajis and breast-cutting in Sandesh, had been officially denied but the contradictions had not been carried. This was because newspapers sought to sensationalise issues. Asked why the State did not prosecute offending newspapers under the law, Mr Modi said we prefer to move on.
The Chief Minister justified the presence of two Ministers in the Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad Police Control Rooms. This was standard practice in Gujarat, even during the earthquake last year; moreover, the control room was a convenient place from which to interact with the public. (Later we were to hear of reports of a Minister´s son sitting in the police control room in Godhra. When we queried this with official interlocutors, we were informed that no action could be taken unless an FIR was filed. None had dared do so).
He went on to deny reports of his comparing his term of office to a one-day cricket match. What he had said when he took office was that there were 12,000 hours to go before the next Assembly elections. Just as in a one-day cricket, achieving a given run-rate is critical, he had appealed for a better work-rate to fulfil the Government´s promises to the people. This remark had been twisted.
He said he had visited both Muslim and Hindu relief camps and had spoken to all camp organisers. He would not like to comment on the National Human Rights Commission´s report but the media had omitted many positive references made by the Commission about the Government´s performance. The NHRC had also called for a media code and self-policing under the terms of Article I9 (2) of the Constitution.
The Chief Minister had little to say about the killing of Ehsan Jafri and the attack on the two Justices of the Gujarat High Court, apart from pleading an inadequacy of forces to control large mobs roving across far flung areas of the city. He denied saying that private firing by Jafri had enraged the mob. Words had been put in his mouth as he had merely referred to a newspaper report that said this is what had happened. He also denied any pre-planned targeting of Muslim establishments and said that local people knew the who and the what of these things as they lived in the same community.
Mr Modi had no explanation for the widespread destruction of Muslim dargahs and shrines and how it was that in at least one case the rubble had been cleared and a tarred road built over the site. The Team pointed out that the usual complaint was that damaged rods and pavements were never repaired for months on end and that tarring a road is a major operation that calls for organisation, mechanical equipment and efforts beyond the capability of stray hoodlums. The CM pleaded lack of knowledge but did say that he had ordered the removal of makeshift Hindu shrines and idols installed in some of them. He then went on to ask if it was helpful for TV to have shown a decapitated Hanuman idol at a desecrated Hindu shrine at Anjar in Kutch that very morning (April 2).
The CM defended the recent transfer of several police officials, including some who had dome commendable work in controlling riots. He felt these long-pending promotions would act as an incentive. He said there could be two views opinions on this count but agreed with the suggestion that perhaps promotions might have been announced but the actual movement of the officers deferred until after the law and order situation had stabilised.
He also accepted that he would have done well to call local editors for a frank briefing. This would have enabled him to explain the Government´s concerns and solicit their cooperation.
Mr Narendra Modi, like certain other official spokesmen in Delhi, also drew a comparison between media coverage of the Gujarat riots and the restrained and responsible role of the American media after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Towers in New York. Dead bodies were not shown on television or in press photographs. The fact is that on September 11 and for some days thereafter none other than firemen could approach, let alone enter, the WTC and very few bodies were recovered until much later. People were shown jumping off higher floors and clinging to windows. The two episodes are very different and there was no arson, rape, loot and rioting in New York of the kind witnessed in Gujarat.
Before we left, the conversation turned to how confidence and mutual trust might be restored. The Team said that commissions of inquiry in India had lost credibility because of delays and obstructions in their working and inaction on their findings. In the circumstances, the Gujarat Government could not do better than to enable the K.G.Shah Commission to complete its task expeditiously and thereafter take immediate action on its findings. Mr Modi thought this a good idea.
However, on visiting the shell of the burnt out carriage No. S-6 at Godhra station (with a Railway escort) on April 3, we were surprised to see this prime exhibit standing in the yard unguarded and stray people entering it at will. Anyone could remove or plant anything in the carriage, tampering with whatever evidence it has to offer with none being any the wiser. Furthermore, it was only on April 1 that Justice K. G. Shah, heading the one-man Commission of Inquiry, reportedly visited his office, having been provided with some staff and other wherewithal with which to commence his labour. Interviewed over TV he is reported to have said that his inquiry could quite take time. As of April 6, when the last of us left Gujarat, none seemed aware of any notification having been issued by or on behalf of the Commission calling on people to come forward with relevant evidence or announcing any programme of work or schedule of visits. (See Annexure 5 for K.G. Shah Commission´s terms of reference).
The Story as told through Gujarat Government Press Notes
Even before leaving for Gujarat, we had requested the State Information Department for a set of relevant press notes and other official documents, statements and appeals that would enable us to understand the situation from the official perspective. We were provided a set hurriedly put together Press Notes in English. These are briefly analysed below. All citations are in the actual language used in the official releases.
The phraseology most often used for the Godhra incident was inhuman genocide, inhuman carnage or massacre while the subsequent riots were invariably described as disturbances, and occasionally as violent disturbances/incidents. The Chief Minister visited Godhra on the evening of February 27 itself and the Press Note issued thereafter described the torching of the Sabarmati Express as a pre-planned inhuman collective violent act of terrorism.
Several releases refer to the situation having been brought under control within 72 hours. An official release on March 5 carried twin headings: The State Government has taken stringent action to stem riots and violence: Narendra Modi; and Chief Minister´s Appeal to Trade and Industry, Religion Heads and Intellectuals for the Revival and Restoration of Economic Activities has evoked Encouraging Response. The occasion was a Citizens´ meet organised by the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry in response to an appeal by the CM to revive and restore economic activity. The release notes that Modi said it was the duty of the state government to provide security to the citizens even by taking drastic actions. Referring to the keen interest shown by the people around the globe in the Resurgent Gujarat´ after devastating earthquake, he said that entire world was looking at the progressive and fast developing Gujarat.
After again referring to the pre-planned collective terrorism against Gujarat, Pakistan´s proxy war and its clandestine role
behind the Godhra genocide, Modi asserted that at this critical juncture, interest of Gujarat was maintain peace and said that the Government had discharged its duty to stop violence. Further, he said, the elements wanting to perpetuate violence and destabilise Gujarat were disappointed. Making a reference to Shabana Azmi´s demand to file a case of mass murder against the Chief Minister, Modi said that he would not have any regret to be hanged at the Bhadra Fort if restoration of peace within three days was considered an offence.
Another press release dated March 9 was headed We will not surrender to the elements out to malign Gujarat says the Chief Minister. The occasion was another address to leading business men and the merchant community under the auspices of the Maskati new Cloth Market Mahajan. He said Mahatma Gandhi had taught Gujarat to fight against injustice. Health Minister Ashok Bhatt who also spoke was cheered when he said that the trading community hails the Chief Minister as the Sardar opposed to terrorism´, because he restored peace to Ahmedabad in only 72 hours. The press release concluded with the observation that businessmen, traders and the owners of process houses were full of praise for the strong will power of the Chief Minister and described him as Chhote Sardar´.
A March 4 press release from Ahmedabad on the occasion of Mr L.K. Advani´s visit to Gujarat stated that Home Minister L.K.Advani today said that the Godhra genocide had given a setback to the four year of peaceful Bharatiya Janata party Rule in Gujarat. The comment was reflected in the heading.
There were a couple of press notes on community amity. A release dated March 2 quoted the Chief Minister as denying newspaper reports of people having been burnt alive in Pandarwada village in Panchmahal. We were later to learn that this was one of the worst instances of rural violence. (This has been documented by Communalism Combat, Mumbai and figures in its Report Genocide, Gujarat 2002, March-April issue, No. 77-78).
We were not given any releases issued by the Police Department or by the Ahmedabad Police. So we do not know to what extent, if any, they filled the gaping holes in the narrative offered by the Press Notes issued through the Information Department. It is quite possible that the latter file given to us was incomplete and consisted of no more than a representative sample. Be that as it may, the media and, through it, the people of Gujarat were not kept properly or fully informed through the official information channels. What was put out was a travesty of the horrific events that engulfed the State. Much of it was one-sided and self-serving, eulogising the Chief Minister and focussing on a particular section of the trading community while Gujarat burned.
The file of official Press Notes given to the Guild is at Annexure 6.
The Directorate of Information also gave us a file contained 11 clarifications issued by it in respect of certain statements and views attributed to the Chief Minister in various news reports, editorials and articles by columnists. The Chief Minister himself referred to certain of these comments when the Guild Team met him. The file of Clarifications is at Annexure 7.
Criticism of the Secular Media
The vocabulary of discourse, like much else in Gujarat, has come to reflect the deep emotions and divisions aroused by events in the State. Thus, the term secular media, is used pejoratively to describe those papers and channels which are only critical of violence against the minority community.
One critic wrote to the Guild as follows after its Fact-Finding Mission was announced: Till date, only politicians were coddling and flattering this (Muslim) community under the cover of secularism for their selfish motive of securing votes. But now, media people, especially Xavierites and convent-ites having recently entered this field, have also joined their bandwagon and have given completely biased and one-sided coverage
Not a single educated and forward Muslim like Shabana Azmi or Dilipkumar have defamed their fanatic and downtrodden member in very clear and true words (sic). While our own journalists have played pivotal role in depicting VHP members as hardliners and fanatics causing great harm to the prestige of our community and of our nation
. Try to understand one thing If you are defaming your family member, you are undermining your own interest
Sections of the media have been criticised for directly or indirectly linking the Godhra incident to Ayodhya. Vir Sanghvi, Editor of the Hindustan Times had this to say: The sub-text to all secular commentary is the same: the kar sevaks had it coming to them. Basically, they condemn the crime; but blame the victims. (Annexure 8) Others, like Jaya Jaitley, the Samanta leader, argued in the Indian Express that there is a whole mass of feelings out there that these people (Opposition/intellectuals) are missing and will continue to miss if they remain comfortably secluded in their make-believe worlds. Her conclusion: If Godhra had been adequately condemned, perhaps the retaliation would have been more easily contained. If the intellectuals and the so-called secular Opposition leave it to the fundamentalists, violence is all we will get. Whether we like it or not, they were the only ones who reflected the anger against Godhra, when both secular media and politicians had failed. (Annexure 9).
Not only is the logic flawed, but Godhra was roundly condemned by all. Leaders of 11 prominent national Muslim organisations denounced the barbaric and brutal violence in Godhra on February 28. (Muslim India, April 2002). The Prime Minister and Leaders of the Opposition were signatories to a joint appeal to maintain peace and communal harmony the following day. Sandhya Jain, writing in the Pioneer of April 23, 2002 under the heading Perceived fair play will cool Hindu rage, opines that majority bashing has assumed such alarming proportions that there is growing concern among analysts that the proverbial Hindu patience may be reaching breaking point. Serious commentators are of the view that political parties and the media should understand the Godhra-Gujarat conflagration from this point of view, and resist the temptation to fish in troubled waters.
The Guild Team received a letter from Bhopal labelling marked portions of Outlook (March 18, 2002) a gross misuse of the right to freedom of expression. The impugned reports included several reports and columns by the Editor, Vinod Mehta, Prem Shankar Jha and Priyanka Kakodkar (reporting from Godhra). Vinod Mehta wrote:
.Are we equating state terrorism with an act of terrorism committed by a group of crazy, bigoted individuals?
When law-abiding citizens are being burnt alive by mobs, objective journalism needs to be jettisoned; the media has no option but to tell the story from the side of the victims so that the country can see the grisly events. Others are sore because the media did not se through the sinister plot underlying Godhra, namely to bring about the economic destabilisation of India, beginning with Gujarat. At the same time, some critics are of the view that the media has carried exaggerated accounts of the economic loss suffered by trade and industry in Gujarat. A letter to the Times of India calls for balance. It reads: Please refer the Sunday Times, March 10, P 1. Razed dargahs pave roads to mystery: it is a title biased against Hindus. The report under the title states that Hanuman Mandir was also razed. So the correct title is Razed dargahs and Hanuman Mandir pave roads to mystery.
Hotline, a Gujarati weekly published from Surat, carried a long piece in its edition of April 6 by its editor, Vikram Vakil, under the heading English media exposed. He cites and comments on 10 examples of indulgence in gossip citing the Times of India, Indian Express, Outlook and Star TV. Particular mention is made of reports on the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra on February 27 and on a Times story (March 19) of 150 persons being burnt alive and thrown into a disused well. Hotline says this was just a rumour and was denied by the police. (See summary translation at Annexure 10). This is precisely what the Times had said too. (See Annexure 11, P 13).
The Gujarat Janhati Rakshak Samiti of Vadodara led by Ajay Dave represented to the Guild Team against the pro-minority mind-set of the English media. It noted their failure to cover and analyse the reasons for adivasi anger against Muslims in rural Vadodara and spoke of provocation such as the azan being called 40 times a day in a single village (eight mosques each calling the faithful to prayer five times). The Hindus were oppressed and suppressed. White collar indignation over Godhra had spilled on to the streets, taking the form of looting instead of killing ! The topiwalas were at the root of all wrongdoing and thought they had license to crime. The backlash being witnessed was a natural reaction to Godhra.
The Samiti presented a memorandum, with a number of newspaper clippings appended, excoriating the nasty role of certain English and minority language newspapers and TV channels. They were charged with one-sided coverage. Their aim was to defame Gujarat and bring it down to the level of Bihar so that industrial investment in Gujarat is inhibited and its economic prosperity suffers a setback. (See Annexure 11).
A Muslim liberal in Ahmedabad complained, more in sorrow than in anger, that many contemporary and contextual articles he had sent in recent times to the local English newspapers were never used. He pleaded that the media, especially the English language press with its national reach, should find space for local liberal, modern Muslim voices and enable them to network. Muslim Indians must know that there is an alternative discourse to what they hear from traditional sources or radical forces. Likewise, it is imperative to rebuild inter-community links and bridges that have been destroyed. The point, made with feeling and eloquence, is well taken.
The Other Side of the Fence
A number of civic and human rights groups and NGOs in Ahmedabad and Vadodara have been monitoring the media and shared their perceptions and findings with the Guild Team. Among these, the People´s Union for Civil Liberties and Shanti Abhiyan in Vadodara and a number of other community groups in Gujarat have meticulously tracked media trends in Gujarat.
The attitude of Sandesh has been noted earlier. Gujarat Samachar (Vadodara edition) is again shown as using provocative, instigative headlines for unsourced, unverified, exaggerated or even fictitious stories. (See Annexure 11A). A lack of objectivity and balance is evident in much of the coverage, though some positive stories were also published. The Muslim-owned Gujarat Today is seen to be more restrained and balanced and mindful of carrying stories of communal harmony despite the violence. The Times of India and Indian Express are commended on the whole. But some matters could have been more adequately covered such as combing operations, atrocities against women, conditions in relief camps and the involvement of persons named by local people in various areas. The Express is cited for some of its investigative stories but there is criticism of headlines such as Dial M for Modi, Murder´ and Modimeter´, the latter being a daily tally of casualties.
The overall conclusion of PUCL-Shanti Abhiyan is that When Muslims were at fault, names were taken, perpetrators were clearly identified. When Muslims were the victims of murderers, arsonists, looters, etc, then it has not been clearly stated who attacked whom. No sources have been quoted for headlines, even when they have simply been lifted from speeches by VHP leaders (like Khoon ka badla Khoon). Headlines are also misleading and often followed up by reports that do not substantiate headlines
. The anti-minority stand is obvious in the slant in news reporting. Editorials and news items are often written in a way that implicitly and explicitly justifies carnage after the Godhra incident. (Annexure 12).
The Memorandum presented by the Anjuman-e-Imdad-e-Bahami, Vadodara, is revealing. The mendacious reportage of Sandesh is exposed. Yet the representation concludes with a reaffirmation of the secular ethos of the average citizens of Gujarat. (Annexure 13).
Another Memorandum presented by the Shahpur Seva Samaj, Ahmedabad, on Provocation and Instigation of Violence
. contains a detailed analysis of the Gujarati press. It lists a number of fabrications prominently published and subsequently not corrected when officially denied. (Annexure 14).
Still another Memorandum against Sandesh in particular was submitted by K.R.Kazi of Vadodara together with copies of offending stories along with a gist of offensive passages/inferences given in English. (Annexure 15).
A representation by residents of Tandalja, a Muslim majority area in Vadodara, speaks of a media campaign in Gujarat Mitra and Sandesh to have the locality declared a disturbed area" as it is a mini-Pakistan. (See Annexure 16). Sandesh
(Bhavnagar edition, March 1, 2002) is cited as inciting Hindus to avenge Godhra. An unsourced report reads: Hindus were burnt alive in Godhra and leaders in Bhavnagar did not even throw a stone in the name of bandh. Ahmedabd, Vadodara and Rajkot partly avenged the killing of Hindus in Godhra. In the case of Bhavnagar, the gutless leaders are hiding their faces under the guise of non-violence. (Annexure 17).
Today was found to be generally balanced and moderate in tone. The visuals it published were sober. The paper sought to promote communal harmony and carried editorial page articles by liberal Hindus and Muslims including translations of columns from the mainline English press.
TV and Radio networks
Aaj Tak and ETV (Eenadu) operate Gujarati channels in addition to Doordarshan. There were few critics of ETV and its coverage was described as balanced. Aaj Tak in particular received a lot of flak for its candid coverage. It had earned praise during the earthquake for going off the beaten track and picking up special nuances. This same approach possibly proved an embarrassment to some on this occasion. Like the other networks it used mobile OB vans that allowed quicker and more exhaustive coverage.
(NDTV) carried some graphic footage and interviews in the thick of the riots in Ahmedabad and along the Vadodara-Godhra highway where a number of industrial establishments and trucks were burnt. There were strong critics of its coverage, including what was termed as the arrogant and hectoring tone of its correspondent while interviewing a tired Ahmedabad police commissioner at the end of a long day and its insistence that the Army´s deployment was unduly delayed. Rajdeep Sardesai, NDTV´s Political Editor, responded to this criticism in a subsequent newspaper article. Star also carried an extremely moving interview with Professor J.S Bandukwala in Vadodara, a man whose secular ethos continues to burn bright even after going through a terrible ordeal.
There is little doubt that some of the television coverage unmasked the State Government. It hit back by banning Star on March 2 for several hours. In an interview to Outlook (March 18, 2002), Mr Narendra Modi was asked why he had sought to muzzle the press. His response was that There was no ban on the media. I blacked out just one channel because of the provocative reporting methods used. Traditionally the print media has used its own methods of self-censorship, taking care not to mention the names of communities while reporting riots. If every half an hour names of communities are going to be mentioned, without any substantiation or any attribution, it inflames the situation instead of allaying it. It is not difficult to see what impact it will have. I must also tell you that since then the channel has tendered an apology and made amends. Asked about this, Star News commented that it met Mr Modi at a press conference and requested him to lift what it termed an unfair ban. The Chief Minister complied. It must also be added that Mr Modi was given opportunity on the channel to air his point of view on events in Gujarat by prior arrangement before the ban.
The coverage by Doordarshan and AIR´s Ahmedabad kendras was staid. There were viewers and listeners who said that they appreciated this though others expressed dissatisfaction. One of our interlocutors said that while AIR reported the facts, Doordarshan siad the situation was under control. The Chief Minister´s peace appeal was replayed several times by Doordarshan. Peace rallies in different parts of the State and programmes emphasising communal harmony were aired. These included sound bytes in Gandhiji´s voice, culled from archival material, and stories of Hindus sheltering Muslims. Efforts were made to counter rumours and scenes of joint Holi celebrations were screened.
According to a report in the Indian Express (March 8, 2002), AIR, Delhi was quizzed by somebody in the Prime Minister´s Office regarding an English discussion that was critical of the manner in which the Gujarat riots had been officially handled. This is said to have resulted in an inquiry and the transfer of the concerned Programme Officer. The discussants, Bhishma Narain Singh, a former Governor, Prof. Imtiaz Ahmed of JNU and Amulya Ganguli of the Hindustan Times were admittedly critical. However, if the issue was an alleged lack of balance in the programme, the answer is that Prasar Bharati cannot be totally anodyne about stark events and hope to enjoy any credibility; nor is balance always possible in a single programme and may often only be achieved over a series of broadcasts that allow all legitimate points of view a fair airing.
Local Electronic/Cable Networks
Many cities in Gujarat have local cable-television channels that broadcast several hours a day. Gujarat Samachar has such a channel in Ahmedabad. There is another in Anand known as the Charotar Area Network Link or CAN-Link which is a 24-hour channel and also publishes a local newspaper, Naya Padkar. What subscribers wanted from their local media was positive stories of community living and hard information about incident-prone areas, curfew hours, safe routes for commuting and so forth. This was not forthcoming and such information as was provided was sometimes confusing.
Vadodara has four cable channels. While they did carry some official peace messages, it is alleged that they were politically exploited and some of their coverage amounted to incitement. PUCL and Shanti Abhiyan were particularly critical of the JTV and Deep channels. (See Annexure 12 P 27). The Police Commissioner Vadodara felt the cable networks had played havoc and warned them. The licenses of two operators were suspended on March 17 after they showed live footage of rioting in the sensitive Macchipith area on March 15, when the VHP celebrated news of the performance of shilinyas at Ayodhya. This same live footage was repeated the following day. The licenses were restored after 48 hours. FIRs were, however, registered against News Plus and the VNM Channel respectively and the operators released on bail.
On the other hand, some observers told us that the cable coverage exposed violation of Section 144 or curfew by large crowds and instances of police inaction. However, even these sources admitted that the live coverage did arouse passions.
Networks are subject to rules framed under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. Operators have to seek registration by an authorised officer who may be a district magistrate, sub-divisional magistrate or police commissioner within his/her area of jurisdiction. The Rules prescribe a code for programmes and advertisements. No programme may be carried which offends good taste or decency, attacks religious communities, incites violence, contains false and suggestive innuendoes and half-truths, or is unsuitable for unrestricted public exhibition. Any authorised officer may prohibit certain transmissions infringing the code or otherwise if expedient to do so in the public interest. Penalties include fines and seizure of equipment.
The Guild Team was informed that during long periods of curfew between March 1 and 15, some cable channels made it a point to screen patriotic or nationalist films such as Gadar, Border, and Ma Tujhe Salaam.
Pamphlets and Handbills
The new media was actively used for positive and negative ends through the Gujarat riots. Computer generated or more crudely and clandestinely printed pamphlets and handbills, without any imprint line, were brought out and widely circulated. Some of earlier vintage were recirculated. Among those we met, some testified to seeing handbills being openly distributed in large numbers at street corners and traffic intersections. The dissemination of such material was reported in the press. Their authenticity is difficult to establish and it is entirely possible that some are products of disinformation wilfully distributed with diabolical intent. Others appear more plausible in view of circumstantial evidence from other quarters. Either way, this is a most dangerous development, even if not altogether new, as means of instant and widespread dissemination are now technologically available.
A pernicious piece of hate propaganda, officially disseminated by the VHP, calls for the economic boycott of Muslims. This was admitted to the Indian Express by Mr Chinubhai Patel, the Parishad´s Gujarat treasurer. (See Annexure 18). A more recent four page pamphlet circulating in Ahmedabad by this same organisation carries an appeal for funds to provide security for Hindus. It reads: Your life is in danger, you can be murdered any time
We are collecting funds for securing the interests of the Hindus..
there are thousands of more Godhra carnages being planned. Mr Chinubhai Patel has confirmed that these pamphlets are in circulation. (Times of India, April 26, 2002).
PUCL/Shanti Abhiyan has summarised the content of several other pamphlets (See Annexure 12, P 30-31). The most damaging of these is an alleged secret RSS circular listing ways of killing or debilitating minorities. The economic boycott theme figures again and was found to be circulating by chain distribution in Sadhari, Pali district, Rajasthan. The Express, March 24 (Delhi edition) reports the police seizure of a pamphlet urging Hindus to create a jagrut Hindu rashtra, allegedly circulated by the Bajrang Dal president, Hastimal, who is said to have been arrested. The theme: Don´t purchase anything from Muslim shops, don´t travel in their vehicles or visit their garages; don´t watch films which feature Muslim stars. In this way we can break their financial backbone. The same news item says that the police seized a pamphlet in tribal-dominated Banswara, exhorting Hindus to hang a saffron flag outside their homes to help identification during Moharram.
A bunch of vicious handbills was handed over to us in Ahmedabad by one of the groups we met. These call for economic boycott of Muslims and warn Hindus against Christian schools and praying at dargahs. Others appeal to the police and Army and salute Narendra Modi. One handbill has a message for Muslim youth and instructs them on how to deal with kafirs. This is attributed to a Dr K.M.Farukh but carries no address or other identification. All the other handbills are unsourced. (Annexure 19).
A Hindi leaflet attributed to the Bharat Bachao Sangh, Allahabad and said to have been found in Coach No S-6 of the Sabarmati Express was also given to us. (Annexure 20).
Gruesome coloured photographs depicting the charred and mutilated remains of Sabarmati Express victims are reportedly being circulated at meetings, accompanied by fiery speeches. (Hindustan Times, April 9). The Guild Team was officially given a set of such photographs with provocative captions at the VHP office. This evoked extreme horror and disgust.
In Ahmedabad we were told of the seizure a booklet titled In Defence of Hindus purporting to be a riot manual from Nagpur containing a list of do-it-yourself brutalities.
Corresponding reports have appeared of pamphlets allegedly circulated by Muslims. One of these, titled Give Challenge to Open Terrorism by Covert Terrorism, is said to have been distributed at the Shah Alam refugee camp in Ahmedabad, a charge denied by organisers of the camp. It is said to be attributed by intelligence sources to an unknown organisation called Lashkar-e-Khelendeen and calls for guerilla strikes to destroy the Narendra Modi terrorist organisation. (HT, April 9).
In Ahmedabad, the National Medicos Organisation on April 2 gave the Guild Team a provocative Hindi leaflet ending with the slogan Pakistan Zindabad. The same medico representation was strongly critical of the English press and spoke of a
series of events like Kargil, hijacking of Indian Airline plane, attack on J&K Assembly and Indian Parliament, capture of RDX and other weapons at various places and series of bomb blasts. It said we need to break this pattern in order to protect security and integrity of this country and national self-respect.
To counter these sinister campaigns, Shanti Abhiyan and the Baroda Chamber have sought to disseminate positive messages. But the day the Guild Team left Vadodara, the papers reported that large billboards sponsored by a citizen´s group with messages of communal harmony had been defaced. The advertising agency contracted for the job was also threatened. (Times of India, Ahmedabad, April 6).
Equally significant is a widely distributed publication entitled Godhra and After produced by the Vishva Samvad Kendra, Gujarat, and given to us at the VHP office in Ahmedabad. It lists facts that give several reasons to believe that this (Godhra carnage) was a pre-planned conspiracy. Travellers of a particular religion were asked to get down at the previous station, namely, Dahod; patients of a particular community were discharged from the Godhra civil hospital a day before February 27 and not a single case from that same community was registered that day; and no student or teacher of a particular community was present in Godhra´s schools on February 27. From this it is surmised that not only was the torching of S-6 a pre-planned attack but there was forewarning of something untoward likely to happen that fateful day.
The Guild Team checked these facts with district officials, the Railway authorities and local journalists. There was no corroboration whatsoever.
The Gujarat riots probably mark the first occasion when digital media has been so extensively used, if at all. Rioters and middle class looters were directed by mobile phone. Accordingly to some who monitored it, the Gujarat State web site had little reference to the riots, barring information about forthcoming examinations. SMS messages were reportedly sent to some people warning them that milk supplies had been poisoned. Others received telephone calls about a threatened rocket attack, setting off alarm and pancic. Chain messages were sent by email.
A liberal Muslim, M.H. Jowher of Manfin Infotech Ltd, started a web site www.riotinfo.com on March 7 following the eruption of mass violence. He preaches communal harmony and writes of the law and the Constitution. Here is someone trying to build fraternity anew amidst the smouldering ruins of hate and despair. He advertised for support on April 12 and received a dozen positive responses from Hindus interspersed with some threatening calls. He has sought to put out correct and authenticated information about the riots and specific events in order to counter mischievous propaganda. He has done this in part by mailing assumed addresses. Many have bounced back but others have scored hits.
Mr Narendra Modi too is something of an internet buff and has a personal web site www.narendramodi.org. This has posted ardent fan mail with some messages hailing him as a god and asli mard for protecting Hindus. (See Annexure 12, P 28-29). It is conceivable that a hacker may have broken into Mr Modi´s domain to post material calculated to cause him embarrassment. Even so, it would appear incumbent on someone in his position to have a web manager to monitor the site and remove any offending material rather than assume legal and moral ownership by letting it remain on his site.
We were told of a number of e-mail boards such as E-fore from Ahmedabad and Vadodara which carries an account of Gujarat developments with daily updates. This was started at the time of the Kutch earthquake in 2001 and is said currently to network about 1000 persons. Teesta Setalvad´s Communalism Combat from Mumbai operates a portal known as www.sabrang.com. Help Asia is the name of another e-group; ekta.online.com is said to be run by an NRI group based in California.
Film too has come to play a role in Gujarat. An NGO, Concerned Citizen´s Initiative, has 22 hours of video footage on Gujarat compiled from various sources. An edited version of this has been screened in Delhi and is available with Sahmat. Such scenes captured by amateur filmmakers can offer candid and revealing information, unobtrusively obtained. (See Annexure 21).
The Police too have also now started employing videography more intensively than before. This has enabled them to film rioting and crime and garner material evidence for identifying criminals, making arrests and launching prosecutions.
Email, like the telephone, has been used to threaten, intimidate and send hate mail. Hindus sheltering their Muslim neighbours received threatening calls which had a chilling effect. Two serving Muslim Judges of the Gujarat High Court, Mr Qadri and Mr Akbar Divecha were threatened and had to flee their homes. The residence of one was attacked and burnt. A Hindu brother judge who offered him a safe haven in his own home was reportedly the recipient of threatening calls. The greatly respected Dr J.S Bandukwala of M.S. Baroda University, who has devoted his life to communal harmony, was similarly threatened. Ehsan Jafri frantically phoned for assistance repeatedly, but in vain. He was cruelly tortured and burnt alive with others in the Gulberg Society colony in Ahmedabad.
Nothing flies as fast as rumour, now given wing by electronic technology. Reference had already been made to rumours of milk supplies being poisoned and a possible rocket attack on Ahmedabad. According to Ahmedabad´s Police Commissioner, vested interests spread rumours which created tension and in certain cases became a self-fulfilling prophecy. What is worse, he says, educated people have repeatedly been disobeying curfew restrictions and moving out of their houses just to participate in rumour-mongering. He felt that many incidents in Juhapura and Gomtipur were initiated by rumours. (See Annexure 22). Rioting is becoming an instrument of information war.
Such mischievous tendencies are best countered by timely and authenticated information.
We heard many accounts, possibly apocryphal, and saw some handbills of quiet districts being marked out for action and local politicians and activists being sent bangles to stigmatize their pusillanimity. This evoking of the macho spirit must be linked to the feats of manhood exhibited by mass rape and bestiality towards women.
Attacks on the Media
Reporting can be a hazardous occupation in situations of tension and conflict. Its intrusive reporting of what some possibly thought would have better been allowed to remain a quiet vendetta, invited trouble.
Print and TV journalists told the Guild team of the harassment they faced from VHP and other activists. In Vapi, activists snatched the camera from an ETV crew but returned it later. In another incident an ETV cameraman, a Muslim filming a shop being burnt in Dakor, a pilgrim town, was taken away by activists but later let off. ETV received threatening calls for showing the severed hand of a Muslim man. This portrayal was deemed partisan. A Zee TV crew, filming a restaurant being burnt, was similarly attacked. On February 28, Muslim miscreants in Behrampura burnt an ANI camera and car and confined the crew in a State Transport bus for over four hours. An office of Gujarat Today in Ahmedabad was attacked and damaged. A member of the Guild Team had to deal with an excited VHP mob in the Ahmedabad Circuit House on April 1.
Ms Medha Patkar, the NBA activist leader is a red rag to the bull to many in Gujarat for her opposition to the Sardar Sarovar project. That, however, was no reason for her to be attacked by an unruly Congress-VHP crowd at Sabarmati Ashram on April 8 while attending a Gujarat peace meeting. The Police rescued her and was leading her to safety but then suddenly lathi-charged the newsmen covering the scene. The Chief Minister expressed his regret over the incident and appointed a one-man judicial inquiry under retired Justice S.D.Dave of the Gujarat High Court. He was to report by the end of April.
Barkha Dutt of NDTV reported of vigilantes armed with swords surrounding her car on a Gujarat highway screaming what´s your religion? Hindu, she replied, privately cringing for my cameraperson, Ajmal Jami. (Outlook, March 25).
Indian Express photographers were targeted and its chief reporter, Janlyala Srinivas, threatened. Its Rajkot man, Parish Joshi was mobbed and his camera damaged while photographing a shop being set on fire. In Ahmedabad, its photographer´s flash-gun was damaged though this could have been by accident when the police was trying to control crowds. In Surat, the Express cameraman along with a colleague from Sandesh and another media person were attacked by a Muslim mob. Kerosene had been poured on them but a passing RPF posse was fortunately able to rescue them in time.
Bhargav Parikh, the news coordinator of Zee News and Tejas Gondalia, his cameraman were beaten up and had their camera smashed in Ahmedabad. The Times of India´s Sudhir Vyas was beaten by the police in Rajkot. NDTV crew had to cry Jai Sri Ram before their vehicles were allowed to move.
Sonal Kellog of Asian Age and a local reporter of another paper were barred from entering part of Surat´s walled city where they had gone to interview a woman who had been attacked. They were themselves beaten and were unable to file a complaint with the police. (Hindu, April 9, 2002).
The Resident Editor of the Indian Express, Mr Virendra Kumar told us that the office van used for dropping night staff home was routinely and repeatedly searched by prowling mobs armed with swords and pipes looking for Muslims. Identity papers had to be shown. All this during curfew hours. A Muslim member of the staff sometimes slept at the office. Another, finding his house surrounded by a mob, phoned the office which in turn alerted the police. Mr Kumar himself received a stream of hate mail accusing the Express of being anti-Hindu. The tenor of what seemed like an orchestrated campaign was, You have no right to live in India and write like this.
Textbooks and warped mindsets
Over and beyond the dreadful killings and bestiality in Gujarat and a lowering threshold of tolerance and restraint, what is deeply worrying is the purveying of hatred and divisive prejudice by narrowly sectarian groups. If wars begin in the minds of men, so do riots. Children, in particular, need to be taught to be good citizens and imbued with values conforming to the high ideals of the Constitution. Textbooks and history must therefore be written and prescribed with due care.
One of the basic values of the Constitution is Fraternity. Yet one finds some of the books published and prescribed by the Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks of poor quality in terms of content, context and style. (It would be good to look at other states´ textbooks too). Take for example the Social Studies textbook for Class 9. Chapter 9 is on Problems of the Country and their Solution. The very first section (problem?) is minority community (P 93). Children are told that apart from the Muslims, even the Christians, Parsees and other foreigners are also recognised as the minority communities. In most of the states the Hindus are in a minority and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are a majority in these respective states. So the Class 9 child is told that Muslims and Christians are foreigners and that Hindus are in a minority in most states.
Reform measures are suggested for the minority community alongside their economic progress. But things can go wrong and lead to communal violence. Therefore a special riot police force should be raised to tackle such explosive situations and victims of communal violence also should be properly compensated
. Here, children are being suggestively told of the perils of communal violence almost as part of everyday life. Barkha Dutt, quoted above, saw a boy of 10 clutching a bottle of petrol at one of the barricades she encountered on a Gujarat highway when she was asked her religion. What was he going to do with it, she asked. It´s for self-defence against them, he said.
Then we come to Problems of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (P 94). What ails them ? They have not been suitably placed in our social order, therefore, even after independence they are still backward and poor. Of course, their ignorance, illiteracy and blind faith are to be blamed for lack of progress because they still fail to realise importance of education in life. The message: the Scheduled Castes and Tribes have only themselves to blame for their sorry plight. (See Annexure 23). The sections on Women and Anti-Social Activities are not more inspiring.
Class 12 students sitting for their Board examinations in Gujarat on April 22, 2002 were put to a grammar test. The English paper asked them to remove the word if and rewrite the sentence, If you don´t like people, kill them. This was followed by another question asking students to rewrite a short passage as a single sentence. The passage read: There are two solutions. One of them is the Nazi solution. If you don´t like people, kill them, segregate them. Then strut up and down. Proclaim that you are the salt of the earth. The consternation this singularly insensitive question understandably aroused was sought to be assuaged by an official explanation that the passage was culled from E.M.Forster´s Tolerance, a prescribed text and that the question paper was set last September by a minority teacher.
A horrified father was reported as saying his son had come home agitated and asked whether he should disown all his Muslim friends. We are at a loss for words to explain things to him, the distraught parent said. (Asian Age, April 23, 2002).
The framing of school curricula has become a subject of controversy of late. Gujarat is planning to revamp its curriculum, which is by no means objectionable in itself. But again the spirit that animates it is important. On January 26, 2002, the first anniversary of the great earthquake that devastated parts of Gujarat last year, the State Education Department issued a circular to schools to observe Dharti Puja, enclosing a list of shlokas by which to propitiate the Mother Goddess. This as India enters the 21st millenium and needs to move fast forward rather than backwards. (See Annexure 12, P 32-35).
There have even been reports of betting over the riots. Bookies have been placing bets on who would start riots and where and whether the Gujarat riots would spread to Rajasthan. There has been betting on the death toll. (Times of India, April 10). So now we have rioting as a blood sport.
Media Codes and Ethics
The media has long been subject to formal and informal media codes. Foremost among these are constitutional and statutory injunctions. Article 19(2) permits imposition of reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression in relation to the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
On the onset of the latest communal outbreak in Gujarat, the Chairman of the Press Council, Justice K. Jayachandra Reddy issued an appeal calling upon the media to mould public opinion on correct lines in regard to the need of friendly and harmonious relations between various communities and religious groups and thus promote national solidarity
On April 3 Mr Reddy noted with deep anguish that a large number of newspapers and news channels in the country and, in particular, a large section of the print and electronic media in Gujarat has, instead of alleviating communal unrest, played an ignoble role in inciting communal passions leading to large scale rioting, arson and pillage in the State concerned. He called once more on the media to observe proper norms and standards
and not to distort or exaggerate (and) not to employ intemperate, inciting and unrestrained language. The local papers were particularly enjoined to strict adherence of this norm.
The Press Council Chairman asked the media to be peace makers and not abettors, to be trouble shooters and not trouble makers in the present situation. He concluded by reminding the media that contravention of ethical norms in reporting or commenting on matters pertaining to communal harmony is likely to invite penal action under provisions of Section 295-A of the Indian penal Code and allied provisions. Section 295-A is akin to Section 153 and relates to speech and writings which wilfully injure religious sentiments and maliciously incite communal hatred.
In its Report to the National Human Rights Commission, the Gujarat Government insisted that the major acts of violence were contained within 72 hours. It asserts, however, that on account of widespread reporting both in the visual as well as the electronic media, incidents of violence on a large scale started occurring in Ahmedabad (and) Baroda cities and some towns of Panchmahals, Sabarkantha, Mehsana, etc. The NHRC was not greatly impressed. It referred to Articles 19(1)(a) and I9(2) and went on to express itself clearly in favour of a courageous and investigative role for the media. At the same time, it added, the Commission is of the view that there is need for all concerned to reflect on possible guidelines that the media should adopt, on a self-policing´ basis, to govern its conduct in volatile situations, including those of inter-communal violence, with a view to ensuring that passions are not inflamed and further violence perpetrated.
Mr L.K.Advani, Home Minister, urged the media to practice responsible journalism when he addressed the National Union of Journalists at Tirupati on April 6. He deplored the general decline in media values he sensed in the coverage of the December 13 terrorist attack on Parliament and the more recent events in Gujarat. The age-old convention of not mentioning the names of communities involved had been abandoned by a section of the media.
The question of naming the religious identity of riot victims was the subject of considerable deliberation in the Second Press Commission, the National Integration Council and the Press Council. The Editors Guild is seized of the matter. The issue is undoubtedly highly sensitive and complex. Technology has introduced a new dimension to the debate, though this by itself cannot be a reason to ignore content. A balance has to be struck and where it is struck will vary with circumstances. Barkha Dutt puts it pithily: Naming the community under siege in Gujarat was moot to the story. In fact it was the story. Rajdeep Sardesai adds: It was the mob that was determining the pace of events, and not the channels who were merely reporting what was happening on the ground.
No iron law can be laid down. This would be undesirable and even counter-productive. The present instance of Gujarat itself amply demonstrates the danger of an information vacuum both in time and content as this is likely to be filled by rumours or deliberate disinformation, both of which pose dangers.
The golden rule in all but the most exceptional cases would probably be to portray the facts honestly and completely while avoiding sensation, gory pictures and details, strong adjectives and provocative display. Narratives must be placed in context and balanced over time with other available material. Observance of such a code will clearly be more onerous for television, especially with regard to on-the-spot coverage with little or virtually no time for editing. Yet we do know that the national channels did hold back what they considered might be inappropriate footage.
Pictures can excite emotions and inflame passions. Repeated replay of footage of the burning train and the charred remains of the victims or other scenes of arson and violence is one of the problems of 24-hour news channels which may have to be differently addressed. At the same time, photographs can capture the essence of a tragedy and evoke far more compassion than words. Perhaps the most poignant image from Gujarat was not of the many dead, but of one living Indian, his face contorted with fear. It shamed and shocked ordinary people and, hopefully spurred many of them to think and act positively.
The Editors Guild has initiated debate on existing codes and practices with a view to reviewing these and attempting to develop a new framework for guidance in the future. Other bodies like the Press Institute of India have been engaged in a similar exercise. Television, especially in relation to 24-hour news channels, is still a relatively young medium led by young professionals. Pressures are tremendous and instant decisions have to be taken. Aaj Tak´s Uday Shankar is right in saying that in covering events live, the news story is built up incrementally as it happens and gets pieced together, filled in, backgrounded and analysed as events unfold. He told a recent workshop that the channel withheld or heavily edited particularly lurid footage, war cries and the destruction of places of worship.
Disagreements about facts and interpretation are best addressed by the right of reply, with appropriate expressions of regret, corrections and clarifications where necessary. The Express, for example, carried a story on April 9 about the distribution of swords and trishuls under the heading VHP hand in Gujarat´s weapons of violence. The VHP Joint General Secretaries, Dr Kaushik Mehta and Mr Jaideep Patel sent a denial. This was published by the paper together with a rebuttal by the Express correspondent who basically stood by his story. (IE, April 24, 2002).
As the dust settles, the media, jointly and severally, need to review what happened and what lessons there are for the future. Such introspection should be followed by consultations with political leaders, both government and opposition, administrators, police and security officials, and civic and community leaders. Such interaction would be most useful at both national and state levels. Consideration needs to be given alongside to developing norms for live coverage of riots by television and cable networks, naming of communities and such other matters by appropriate media associations. The Editors Guild of India could take an initiative in the matter.
Many so-called leaders of destructive movements and even known criminals have been built-up, even glorified, by the media howsoever inadvertently. There is need for collective reflection on this issue as publicity and image-building makes megalomaniacs and crackpots, often puny figures, appear larger than life and twice as important. Greater circumspection is required in interviewing them and inviting them to chat shows and panel discussions.
The mischievous role certain Gujarati newspapers cannot be glossed over. Some of them have been named for irresponsible and unethical journalism in the past but have regrettably learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Wilful incitement to offence, propagation of hate and fuelling disorder are criminal offences. We accordingly suggest that a high judicial officer be appointed by the Government to examine the writings of those sections of the media that are prima facie in flagrant violation of the law and recommend what action, if any, should be taken against them. It is learnt that the Police Commissioner, Vadodara, did in fact seek penal action against a leading Gujarati daily; but his superiors did nothing.
We further suggest that a similar inquiry be made into the handbills, pamphlets and other offensive material put into circulation, not always by unknown persons. The authorship of some of these has not merely been alleged but admitted.
We concur with the NHRC´s recommendation that provocative statements made by persons to the electronic or print media should be examined and acted upon, and the burden of proof shifted to such persons to explain or contradict their statements. Charlatans of every brand must know that they cannot misuse the media with impunity and get away with it.
None of these matters falls within the purview of the K.P.Shah Commission of Inquiry. They call for separate scrutiny.
Official information systems, certainly in Gujarat, need immediate overhaul. Sycophancy and propaganda do not constitute information. They destroy credibility. There is an obligation on the part of the State to enable the media to play its true role. It is in its own highest interest to do so. The media has a constructively adversarial role vis-a-vis the State; but in this information age it is in a sense part of the larger universe of governance.
According to the Indian Express (April 28), the Ministry of External Affair´s portal meadev.nic.in too has indulged in something of a fantasy that does the country little credit. (See Annexure 24).
Our broad conclusion is that the national media and sections of the Gujarati media, barring some notable offenders, played an exemplary role in their coverage of Gujarat, despite certain lapses, many of them inadvertent or minor. There were, however, some notable offenders, especially Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar and certain local cable channels. Technology has introduced a new learning curve and there are lessons to be learnt, internalised and developed into codes of best practice. But the notion that the media should shy away from telling the country how it really is must be firmly rejected. The freedom of the media derives from the citizen´s inherent right to expression and information. This freedom carries with it an equally great responsibility that must be honestly and honourably discharged.
It is not for nothing that the nation´s motto is Satyameve Jayate, Truth Shall Triumph.
Two major negatives
Much has been said one way or the other about the media´s role in Gujarat. This Report, among others, addresses these issues. However, two glaring negatives stand out.
Ever since Independence, whenever there has been a national disaster or emergency, natural or manmade, there has always been an appeal for funds from the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, Governors, chambers of commerce and industry, Rotarians, NGOs and, above all, the newspapers. Such an appeal serves two purposes. It helps raise sorely needed money for relief and rehabilitation or to meet the emergency in question. More than that, it provides opportunity for thousands and millions of other citizens to reach out to the victims or those in distress in a gesture of fraternal solidarity and sympathy and to mobilise support. Newspapers have often vied with one another to lead the field.
This time there was not a single appeal from any quarter, anywhere in or for Gujarat, some small local groups excepted. The silence was deafening. On being queried about their strange reticence on this occasion, newspaper editors and others gave the same reply. On further consideration it was felt that few contributions might be forthcoming and if this did indeed happen, that would send out a wrong message.
Not all will agree. The relief camps in Gujarat, all basically privately run with no more than rations being supplied by the government, need funds. The media has covered the distress but has unfortunately found itself unable or unwilling to help reach out.
We recommend that that the Guild issues an appeal for a Fund for Gujarat through its members.
Some in high authority have chastised the Indian media for its role in Gujarat, contrasting this with the manner in which the American media covered the events of September 11. Then two situations are not comparable and the reasoning underlying the homily is specious. What was notable about September 11 was the alacrity with which the US national and state leadership, led by the President and New York Mayor, used the media immediately and repeatedly to offer words of comfort and reassurance and make known their steadfast resolve to deal resolutely with the crisis. Attacks on some individuals by bigots were immediately condemned and prosecuted.
In India, the Prime Minister did not consider it fit to broadcast to the nation, though he was advised to do so; nor did any senior Government leader. Neither did the Governor of Gujarat. The Chief Minister did certainly broadcast one or more peace appeals and met the press for routine briefings. But none of these functionaries reached out to the bloodied, fearful, tortured people of Gujarat to give them solace and a solemn assurance that all criminal elements and their mentors would be put down with a stern and even hand and the guilty brought to book.
Two most potent means of rising above the storm, binding India, healing the wounds and rallying the nation to live by the cherished ideals of the Constitution were pointedly ignored. In this, the leadership failed the media and the media failed the people.
The Prime Minister did, however, speak at a public meeting in Goa on the occasion of a BJP conclave. It was said his remarks were not fully reported and misinterpreted by the media. A clarification followed. The full text of his remarks are with us. It is true that Mr Vajpayee did indeed refer to two facets of Islam, the compassionate and the militant jehadi. But he too spoke of cause (the Godhraconspiracy) and consequence (the subsequent tragedy). The latter was no doubt condemnable but, he asked, who lit the fire? How did the fire spread?
At other points, the Prime Minister spoke of we and they. He said, India was secular even when Muslims hadn´t come here and Christians hadn´t set foot on this soil. They came with their own modes of worship and they too were given a place of honour and respect. No one thought of converting them with force, because this is not practised in our religion; and in our culture there is no use for it. (Annexure 25).
This is not the language of a prime minister and certainly not the language one is accustomed to hearing from Mr Vajpayee, who spoke with genuine anguish at the Shah Alam camp in Ahmedabad some days earlier. The words were possibly inadvertent, but the occasion and the context were certainly misplaced.
The BJP President spoke of the provoked and the provoker, later that same evening when Mr Narendra Modi´s handling of the situation in Gujarat was proudly acclaimed by the ruling Party. He appeared to justify medieval vendetta, placing it above the Rule of Law.
Happenstance perhaps, but on April 23, the Pioneer carried an article by Prafull Goradia, a BJP notable, suggesting what he thought would be a neat solution that Indian Muslims migrate to Pakistan. (Annexure 26).
Competition for ratings and circulation can sometimes be negative media drivers with trivia, with titillation and sensation crowding out more studied reportage and analysis. The need for political and economic reform in India has been amply debated, even if action on the ground has been disappointing; but can the same be said of social reform and analysis of deeper societal changes?
Gujarat has suffered a terrible tragedy. India too. The dead are gone; ravaged homes and work places will be restored even if rehabilitation takes time. What next ? Can one dare accept the partitioning of minds into we and they and the growing ghettoisation of Gujarat´s cities within fortified borders following every one of its periodic bloody riots? With Government and governance losing relevance, are fearful communities (Hindus included) now left with no option than to enthrone new and more ruthless Godfathers?
How is it that Gujarat´s famed entrepreneurship has spawned upwardly mobile classes so devoid of anything other than gross consumerist values that they turn to loot and acquiesce in arson to create real estate? This despite vocalised recognition of the economic interdependence of the two major communities. Where are the liberal voices? The Gandhians have been marginalised. The trade unions have been emasculated with the decline of the textile industry and new cohorts of white collar workers on the take. Religious leaders have been largely silent or afraid, though religiosity is rampant and evident in city skylines. The intellectual and cultural community is isolated. The adivasis are being stirred up by interested groups. Where is the political leadership? This is a portrait of a depraved and intolerant society that has displaced Gandhi and Sardar Patel´s Gujarat. Yet there are many striving to restore lost values. All is not lost.
The media will and must continue to turn the searchlight on Gujarat. But there is that underlying story waiting to be probed and told -if Gujarat and India are not to burn again.