As ‘Garba jihad’ becomes news TV’s latest bogey, News Nation champions vigilante violence

Amid reports of Hindutva violence against Muslim men accused of love jihad, a look at how TV news channels covered it.

ByAban Usmani
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As ‘Garba jihad’ becomes news TV’s latest bogey, News Nation champions vigilante violence
Shambhavi Thakur
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The hypermasculine Muslim is back as the scheming villain in the Hindu Rashtra programming of Indian news TV. But the script, at the risk of sounding repetitive, has moved far beyond the mob lynching years to cast itself around “garba jihad”. The anchors are at it again: almost championing vigilante violence through frames prioritising the Hindutva cause, ascribing motives to the minority community based on allegations against individual victim-suspects.

What has enabled this new vitriolic campaign is a series of attacks by Hindutva footsoldiers on Muslim men during Navratri festivities in Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Ahmedabad in Gujarat and Akola in Maharashtra. Accused of entering garba venues and leching at Hindu women to carry out “love jihad”, these Muslim men have been beaten up by Hindutva vigilantes – nearly all of them identified as Bajrang Dal or VHP cadres – and booked under various criminal provisions. Although garba venues have long been contested grounds for Hindutva groups, the recent violence comes on the heels of Madhya Pradesh’s cultural affairs minister Usha Thakur declaring that the garba pandal has become a medium of “love jihad” and the state’s BJP government telling garba organisers to verify the identities of the visitors. Her party colleagues have made similar statements.

Notably, there has reportedly been only one FIR against the Hindutva vigilantes so far, in Ahmedabad, but that evokes little interest for TV news anchors. Perhaps because the same actors have been participants in propagating the Hindutva conspiracy theory of “love jihad”, increasingly politicised and now legislated upon by the BJP.

So what exactly did the anchors say? Let’s take a look.

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Aaj Tak

On his show Black And White last week, anchor Sudhir Chaudhary asked why people from a faith that prohibits dance and music – he meant Muslims, if you were wondering – want to participate in Hindu religious festivities. The ticker said it was a “breaking analysis of love jihad” at garba pandals and asked “what’s the role of Muslims entering the garba of Hindus?”

With images of Muslims circumambulating the Kaaba in Mecca, the show had Asian Shoes, Macho Hint, Ebix Cash, Saraf Furniture and Pringle as sponsors. “Why do Muslim men want to change their identity and enter these pandals?” the anchor, formerly of Zee News, asked.

The Aaj Tak ground report to “crosscheck facts” had a plethora of quotes from Hindutva footsoldiers and purported Muslim clerics, but none from either the accused who were beaten up or their relatives. The anchor declared the “objectives” of the Muslim youngsters: to befriend Hindu girls and get close to them by taking advantage of the crowd. He claimed that several such instances had taken place since 2002.

Chaudhary also raked up his Shaheen Bagh visit, with ample visuals from the protests against the citizenship law, and demanded to know why such people should be allowed to enter garba venues when he was not allowed to exercise his “constitutional right” to be at the Shaheen Bagh protest. He also seemed to believe he was questioning the duplicity of “such elements” by asking why they should enter Hindu festival venues when many have reservations against the “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” slogan.

Chaudhary, however, did specify that he did not encourage vigilante violence and wasn’t against people from all communities celebrating festivals together.

News Nation

On the Rashtramev Jayate show, titled “Garbe mein bhaijaan ka kya kaam”, the anchor asked the viewers to take a look at how people, along with Bajrang Dal members, thrashed “bhaijaans” who had entered garba pandals allegedly under false identities.

The voiceover championed vigilante violence, almost lauding how Bajrang Dal members “punished” such “jihadis” with slogans of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and “Vande Mataram”. The ticker claimed that the controversy had arisen due to “infiltration” by Muslims. “Why are Muslims changing their identity,” they asked. It’s a big “prahaar”, or attack, on "garba jihadis" in Madhya Pradesh, declared the channel, alleging that the love jihadi gang has its eyes on Hindu families celebrating at pandals.

For all its claims about these “jihadis”, the show did not have any quote from the accused who were assaulted or their families.

The segment was sponsored by MDH and Patanjali.

News18 India

Anchor Aman Chopra seemed to be way ahead of his competitors, telecasting a segment on “love jihad” at garba pandals on his show Desh Nahin Jhukne Denge last Thursday. Like Sudhir Chaudhary, he was quick to compare this to the protests against the citizenship law.

He said while the production of identity proof was required to enter garba venues, there were those who opposed it saying “kaagaz nahin dikhaayenge”, a phrase all too synonymous with the protests against the CAA-NRC-NPR alphabet soup of 2019.

Kaagaz nahin dikhaayenge, garba mein aayenge?” asked the ticker.

With visuals from Akola, Ahmedabad and Indore, Chopra’s pace was hurried, as if he was breaking news of these incidents live. “What is this trend, Shehzaad,” he asked, moving on to a panel discussion.

The episode did not have any quote from the Muslim accused who were assaulted or their families.

The segment was sponsored by Patanjali and MDH.

Republic Bharat

On Paanch Ka Prahaar, anchor Himani Naithani detailed the five reasons for why Muslims go to garba venues in a segment titled, “Gair Hindu naam, garba pandal mein kya kaam?” Except, the reasons were mostly questions. Such as “why fake an identity?”, “is there a “conspiracy”, “is there saazish jihad” or new “fasaad”, “who wants to spoil the garba spirit?”, are Hindu women being “targeted under the pretext of garba”.

This show, like the others, attempted to explain the attacks on Muslims accused without speaking with either them or their families. In a panel discussion, a reporter for the channel said such incidents and attempted entry of non-Hindus to garba venues was evidence of “garba jihad”. The reporter alleged that there was a “force” behind such elements as such incidents continued to rise despite action by Hindus.

The anchor asked why there is opposition to curbs on entry to religious festivals by the same people, meaning Muslims, who protest against the “imposition” of slogans such as “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”. The panel discussion, predictably, was little more than a slugfest of communal slurs, with no version from the accused who were assaulted or their families.

The segment was sponsored by DGPC, Rakesh Spices, Dollar Big Boss, Nissan Magnite, Bank of Baroda, Parker Pen, Ebix Cash and Nissan.

Times Now Navbharat

In a show headlined “Garba bahaana, Hindu betiyaan nishaana?”, Navika Kumar on Sawaal Public Ka asked if Hindu girls could no longer celebrate garba and Navratri. The anchor said she understood the issue as a mother and this was not a political but a social issue.

The anchor claimed there have been several incidents over the years of Muslim youth faking their identities to enter garba venues, before asking if there was reason to verify people’s identities before letting them in – if that question was not answered already through the frame that was set. She said she was amazed that Muslim leaders were objecting to the criminalisation of namaaz in public spaces when there were no such complaints against garba, saying a comparison could not be made since garba always requires permission.

In the panel discussion, she hit back over accusations against those protecting their “sisters and daughters”. Towards the end, she noted that all incidents were now viewed through a communal lens, such as the ban on the Popular Front of India. This episode too did not have any quote from the accused who were assaulted or their families.

Zee News

On a Taal Thok Ke episode headlined “Mere garbe mein tumhara kya kaam hai”, Aditi Tyagi claimed to present two sides of the issue but both sounded similar. While on one side, she questioned the checking of identities at garba venues due to “Saleem entering as Suresh”, she also asked if the controversy has erupted because of “dance ka junoon” or “mazhabi zid”.

As a disclaimer, Tyagi initially said she did not see garba as a religious festival, but a few minutes into the debate, she affirmed the religious sentiments associated with garba, coincidentally while trying to call out a panellist. “Ek taraf to kisi Navratri mein Muslim ka murti puja karna manzur nahin hai, dusri taraf garba pandal mein bhi jana hai, dance bhi karna hai. Yeh double standard nahi hai to phir aur kya hai,” she asked the panellist. “On one hand, a Muslim does not agree to participate in idol worship during Navratri, but on the other, he wants to enter a garba pandal and dance. What is this if not a double standard?”

Tyagi got particularly angry when former army soldier Mohammad Ali Shah mentioned the secularism of the armed forces and criticised the media for communalising each incident. The army can’t be brought into the debate, she thundered, adding that the media was only airing visuals of incidents that are taking place. She affirmed that it was not the media that made people enter a spot by faking identity.

The show did not bother to accommodate the version of the accused in the recent cases or their families.

There were several other segments on the controversy on the channel.

Coming a long way from Dadri

Such programming is not new to Indian news TV. In the aftermath of cow vigilante violence, anchors have given significant precedence to the allegations of cow slaughter as compared to the victims of such violence and the judicial process.

In the Mohammad Akhlaq lynching case in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, Newslaundry earlier reported how many of the news stories on the preliminary report from December 2015 stated that the meat was recovered from Akhlaq’s house. IBN Times, The Times of India, The Indian Express, Zee News and The Telegraph all talk about the meat sample recovered from Akhlaq’s house or fridge. It was unclear how news reports concluded that the meat sample – now declared beef – was from Akhlaq’s house when the forensic report does not say so.

Seven years since the lynching, only one of the 25 witnesses have testified even as the trial has reached evidence stage. A report by Newsclick last week pointed out how the accused have been reportedly pressuring the victim’s family, saying they would withdraw their case of cow slaughter if the case against them was dropped.

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