The leading Hindi daily spared no effort to demonise the student leader and her family.
After the demolition of the house belonging to student activist Afreen Fatima’s family in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, several sections of the media appeared to be in a hurry to declare their crime and hail the “thunder” of bulldozers.
In the wake of protests against Islamophobic remarks by former BJP spokespersons, the Adityanath government bulldozed houses in many towns across Uttar Pradesh. This included Afreen’s house in Prayagraj. The police have alleged that her father Javed Mohammad – a trader, activist and Welfare Party of India leader – is the “mastermind” behind violent protests in the city.
But here is the catch: authorities have denied that the demolition is linked to the demonstration and said a showcause notice for “illegal” construction was issued against the property’s owner days before the protests took place.
Nevertheless, the media found it convenient to find a crime, execute a conviction and announce justice. Consider the example of Uttar Pradesh’s most read Hindi daily Dainik Jagran, which covered the incident on its front page as well as in the form of detailed reports on the inside pages, without any byline.
The paper ostensibly made no effort to reach out to Afreen or her family while the student activist, in appeals on social media as well as in interviews to the media, repeatedly called it a “lie” that the house was “illegal”. She also said the family was detained in the middle of the night without any warrant or notice and called the entire action a vendetta by the BJP government. She also denied any involvement of her family in violent protests.
In a video report on June 2, Newslaundry explained the perils of such reportage and how Dainik Jagran repeatedly indulged in it.
In the Lucknow edition on Monday, Dainik Jagran covered the demolition as a six-column lead on page one, with the headline “Prayagraj violence conspirator’s home razed down”. The strap pointed out that the house worth Rs 5 crore was demolished after “three bulldozers thundered”.
The lead package carried four reports, including one headlined “Afreen’s Shaheen Bagh connection”, which claimed that she had spoken in favour of Afzal Guru, who was hanged for his alleged role in the 2001 Parliament attack, besides being part of protests against the citizenship law. The paper also said Afreen was close to jailed activist Sharjeel Imam.
The main report, meanwhile, pointed to two pistols, bullets and “significant documents” recovered from the property. These included “objectionable” commentary on the judiciary, Welfare Party of India flags, and posters that read “Muslim lives matter”.
Titled “violent protests”, page 8 was dedicated to more reports on the issue. The lead report was about Afreen’s Shaheen Bagh link, with the strap highlighting that she had expressed support for Afzal Guru. The lead photograph showed police officers with a poster that read “when injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes duty”. It did not care to specify how this was incriminating.
Meanwhile, the second lead on the page was about Jamaat Ulama-e-Hind blaming the AIMIM and all prominent Muslim outfits such as the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind and All India Muslim Personal Law Board for violent protests over the Islamophobic remarks by BJP leaders. The headline read “Fatwa will be issued against Owaisi, Madani: Jamaat”. However, it did not care to mention that this jamaat was launched in 2005 and is led by a BJP leader whose Twitter profile is replete with promotional content about the party. The chief, Suhaib Qasmi, had announced support for Narendra Modi ahead of his 2014 election campaign.
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