New Delhi: A group of senior journalists from all over India issued a collective appeal to constitutional institutions Wednesday to step in and discharge their mandate in the wake of “attacks” on India’s religious minorities, especially Muslims.
In the appeal, 28 senior journalists and media persons expressed concern over “hysteria” being built up nationwide that “Hinduism is in danger” and portrayal of Muslims as a “threat”.
The appeal referred to the recent attempts to incite anti-Muslim sentiment at the screening of the film “The Kashmir Files”; the controversy over the hijab in Karnataka, targeting of Muslim women on social media platforms including the Bulli Bai app and other incidents and called for intervention of the president, judges of the Supreme Court and various high courts, the Election Commission of India and other constitutionally provisioned and statutory bodies.
“When all these events are taken together, it is clear that a dangerous hysteria is being built up countrywide to push the idea that ‘Hinduism is in danger’ and to portray Muslim Indians as a threat to Hindu Indians and to India itself. Only prompt and effective action by our constitutional, statutory, and democratic institutions can challenge, contain, and stop this disturbing trend.
“As journalists and media persons from all over India, we make this appeal to all Indian institutions to step in and uphold their constitutional mandate in the wake of open calls from various quarters for attacks on India’s religious minorities, especially Muslims,” the appeal said.
Signatories of the appeal include N Ram, former editor-in-chief of The Hindu and director of The Hindu Publishing Group; Mrinal Pande; editor of The Telegraph R Rajagopal; founder editor of The Wire Siddharth Vardarajan; and executive editor of Caravan Vinod Jose.
“It is both urgent and crucial that India’s constitutional institutions, and especially the President, the higher judiciary, and the Election Commission, discharge their mandate under our Constitution and that the media perform their responsibility to the people of India by asserting their independence and speaking truth to power,” they said.
The appeal said that since December 2021, well-synchronised calls for the annihilation of Muslims have been made, beginning with a religious meet in Haridwar that month.
“Muslim women and girls have been systematically targeted in 2021 and 2022 through social media platforms, including the pernicious Bulli Bai app. The ugly controversy over the hijab in Karnataka has resulted in Muslim women in different parts of India being harassed and humiliated.
“During the election campaign of February and March 2022, we saw the repeated appeal to divisive hatred and the stigmatising of Muslims and other minorities, with ‘star’ campaigners from the ruling party unashamedly breaking the law to seek votes in the name of religion,” it said.
The journalists alleged that the Election Commission, which is statutorily bound to ensure that such practices do not corrode the integrity of elections, “has not shown the required autonomy and independence from the political executive to act”.
“Most recently, the screening of ‘The Kashmir Files’ – a film that cynically exploits the suffering and tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits by using their plight as a pretext for the promotion of hatred against Muslims – has seen orchestrated attempts inside and outside movie halls to incite anti-Muslim sentiment.
“Attempts have been made from the highest levels of government to stifle fully justified criticism of the film and of the violent reaction it is generating by claiming there is a ‘conspiracy’ afoot to ‘discredit’ it,” the appeal said.
It asserted that the concerted amplification of hatred has been growing over the past years and months, as has the attendant advocacy of violence.
“Sometimes, the occasion is an election, at other times it is a political gathering, a so-called ‘dharam sansad’, or a controversy over clothing or even the screening of a movie.
“These calls for violence – which have been widely reported in the media – have been met with a cold and calculated silence from the country’s top leaders. Months before, we saw systematic hate being propagated against Muslims under the pretext of COVID-19, including calls by legislators for their socio-economic boycott. Disturbingly, the term ‘corona jihad’ was fabricated and amplified by sections of the media establishment,” the appeal said.
Expressing displeasure, the journalists said in their appeal that political executive – both at the level of the Union and in several states – appears unwilling to discharge its constitutional obligation to act.
The journalists also called for an urgent response of the Press Council of India, the News Broadcasters and Digital Association, unions and associations of working journalists, and all media-related bodies, alleging that some sections of the media have allowed themselves to become “conduits for hate speech”.