Melodrama and moralising: How Telugu news channels reported on the murder of B Nagaraju

Language was often hyperbolic, questions were insensitive, and there was a lot of talk about how youth culture today is ‘polluted’.

ByVidheesha Kuntamalla
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Melodrama and moralising: How Telugu news channels reported on the murder of B Nagaraju
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On May 4, Billipuram Nagaraju was beaten and stabbed to death in full public view in Hyderabad’s Saroornagar.

Nagaraju was a Dalit. In January this year, he married Syed Ashrin Sultana. Sultana’s brother and another relative are among those accused for Nagaraju’s murder; the family reportedly did not approve of the relationship.

The murder – described as an “honour killing” in sections of the media – has sparked an outcry in Telengana. The Bharatiya Janata Party has attacked the governing Telangana Rashtra Samithi for its silence and its purported complicity.

AIMIM president Assauddin Owaisi also condemned the murder, saying: “The woman had married willingly and her brother had no right to kill her husband. It is a criminal act as per the constitution and also a worst crime as per Islam.”

The murder was also the focus of multiple primetime shows and debates. The media’s approach can be summarised by what happened on May 4 when Sultana was surrounded by TV news journalists at the police station. She had only just found out about her husband’s murder and was in a state of shock. Despite this, a journalist shouted out, “You have to speak! If you don’t, you won’t get justice.”

We looked at some of the coverage of the incident by leading Telugu news channels. Here’s what we found.

NTV, for instance, discussed the murder on the show Be Alert on May 6. Anchor Sowjanya Simhadri added her own twist to the story, saying: “The sister’s brother, in cold blood, had been waiting for the opportunity to kill her husband.” She added that the brother “lost sleep and appetite” over it.

In Telugu, she said, “They hit him until their egos were satisfied. His blood flowed on the streets of Hyderabad.” In a separate bulletin, NTV reiterated that in Hyderabad, “couples are being targeted and killed on the basis of their caste”.

NTV also interviewed Nagaraju’s wife on the same day. “My father liked Nagaraju but my brother was always abusive and against our relationship,” Sultana said.

Towards the end of the interview, BJP corporator Srivani Anjan, who was with Sultana, chimed in: “How dare they kill someone in public view? Is it because no one will question them for killing a Hindu? Just because the boy belongs to SC caste, the government is not paying attention.”

Over on V6 News Telugu, anchor Padma was particularly taken by Owaisi’s comment that “no matter which caste or religion one belongs to, murder is wrong”.

“Caste and religion don’t matter is what they say,” she said on the show Teenmaar Varthalu. “But they do matter, especially when it comes to love and marriages.” The programme included footage of BJP’s Vivek Venkataswamy and Vijay Sampla, who is also chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, visiting Nagaraju’s family.

ETV Telangana focused on the BJP’s protest against the killing on May 5. The protest, which was held in front of Saroornagar police station, saw BJP workers chanting, “Jihadiyon khabardar.” Beware of jihadists.

ETV also broadcast a press conference by BJP state president Bandi Sanjay Kumar on the same day. Calling Nagaraju’s death a “communal terror”, Kumar said, “Why is everyone quiet now that a Hindu boy is killed, where are all these people who raise their voices when Muslims are killed?”

On May 5 on ETV Telangana’s show Prathidhwani, anchor Swapna Priya hosted a discussion on the incident with psychologist Yamuna Pathak and CH Pramila, state convenor of the All India Mahila Samskrutika Sangham. The ticker said “Paga...Sega” – heated revenge.

While the discussion began with honour killings, it soon devolved into a counselling session, with the anchor asking questions like, “Nowadays, between married couples, both in love and arranged marriages, there is a lot of anger and aggression that is driving them to kill each other. Why do you think so?”

Pramila replied, “Earlier, such cases never used to happen. These murders, himsa and these extreme steps are against our samskruthi. Nowadays, such polluted culture has increased.”

Pathak added, “Divorce rates are increasing these days because today’s generation has become materialistic, they have no faith, no trust and no respect for each other. They take relations for granted.”

Towards the end of the show, the anchor asked, “How do children communicate to their parents about marrying the person they love? And what steps should the government take to ensure such incidents won't happen again?”

Pramila said, “Today’s youth is exposed to violent content. Things like sex, videogames, pornography, agressive literature and movies should be banned. These days youngsters, all they do is hang out with their friends. But they should educate themselves by reading classics and consuming good content.”

Okay then.

News channel IDream Telugu News held a discussion on Nagaraju’s murder on the show To The Point on May 5, anchored by Swapna Sundari. The ticker said “Premiste champesaru” – they loved, and they got killed.

The panel comprised Progressive Organisation of Women president V Sandhya, Jana Vigyana Vedika member SN Ramesh, and Maredu Mohan, who was introduced as a Dalit activist.

Mohan claimed Indians are “becoming more extremist” with every passing day, while the anchor nodded in agreement. He also said this wasn’t an honour killing but a religious murder.

“These Muslims intentionally change their names to trap Hindu women and force them to convert after marriage,” he said, offering up the age-old conspiracy theory of love jhad. “When Hindu men marry muslim women, it’s the Hindu that suffers and when Hindu women marry Muslim men, it’s still the Hindu that suffers. Only Hindus are suffering and this is religious targeting.”

Sandhya disagreed, saying this was a gender issue. “Only when women cross the line and do what they please, such extreme incidents happen,” she said.

TV9 Telugu News decided to add a Mother’s Day angle to its coverage on May 8, with the anchor saying, “As the entire world celebrates Mother’s Day today, look at this mother dying in pain from the loss of her son.” The channel also used breaking news headlines like “TRS-MIM together murdered the boy, said BJP to governor”. The BJP has alleged that of the accused who are not in custody yet, one is a TRS member and the other a member of Owaisi’s AIMIM.

The channel also interviewed Sultana’s mother, and decided to show the interview to Sultana to get her reaction on air. The interviewer asked Sultana questions like, “How did you feel when the person you loved the most was dying in front of you? Did he know at that moment that he was being attacked by your brother. What will you do if you see your brother right now?”

Back in the studio, the anchor said, “How we all wish that her father was alive today. He would have never let something like this happen.”

On the same day, TV9 Telugu also hosted a discussion on the murder; anchor Satya Yalla was joined by Sultana, Progressive Organisation of Women president V Sandhya, social activist Mohammad Burhan, advocate Prasanna, activist Saravath, ex police officer Reddy Anna, and psychologist Virendra.

The debate took a turn when Prasanna said, “It is understandable why these extremities happen. When a girl child whom the parents protected all their lives leaves the house, the parents go into panic mode. And especially when it is a matter of religion and honour, it becomes unbearable.”

Burhan added, “The core cause of these atrocities is about class. These lower middle class people have a very small thinking, all they care about is what the society thinks of them as compared to high class society people, they have no problems with inter-caste marriages.’

But the debate really plunged to new lows when the anchor noticed that Sultana appeared to be fainting on air. But he continued to pepper her with questions. There was no Dalit representation on the panel.

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