Six people have died in the communal violence in Haryana so far, and our TV news brethren have been all over it. On primetime shows on News18 India, Times Now Navbharat, Republic Bharat and Aaj Tak, anchors grilled Nuh’s Meo Muslims, the police and the administration for the roles they played.
But in their line of questioning, most news anchors chose to bypass the part played by Hindutva organisations and the impact of a provocative speech made by a Bajrang Dal activist accused of murder. They also skipped local Muslims’ accounts of what happened.
We’ll focus on one news anchor in particular – Sudhir Chaudhary.
First, the facts.
On July 31, a religious yatra was organised by the Vishva Hindu Parishad and other groups through the Muslim-dominated area of Mewat in Nuh. Local Muslim residents tried to block its passage and pelted stones. The violence escalated, alongside reports of arson and vandalism.
As the news spread, violence broke out in Gurugram too. Muslim-owned shops were vandalised or set on fire, over 60 shops were burned down, and were forced to leave their homes. A mosque in Sector 57 was attacked and its imam was killed. Five others – including a Bajrang Dal member and two police personnel – too.
The police have lodged 15 FIRs in Gurugram and 26 in Nuh so far, and arrested over 116 people.
Over the past three days, as the communal divide widened in Haryana, Hindi news channel Aaj Tak tailored the most baffling coverage of all.
On August 1, on his primetime show Black and White, anchor Sudhir Chaudhary first called the violence “cyber danga”, or “cyber riot”, citing the role played by social media.
A cybercrime racket in Nuh had been . While Chaudhary briefly mentioned it, he spoke at length on how the initial violence this week – of locals reportedly pelting stones at the procession – had been premeditated and planned on social media. His evidence was a video, which carried a disclaimer that it was “unverified”, and posts by social media accounts with Muslim names.
“Security agencies” must take action against “such people”, Chaudhary said.
He then turned to the issue of Monu Manesar, a Bajrang Dal man and self-proclaimed cow vigilante accused of men in February. Rajasthan residents Junaid and Nasir were allegedly kidnapped and their charred bodies were found in Haryana’s Bhiwani.
Before the yatra took place, Manesar had put out a video saying he would participate in it, asking people to turn up at Nuh in large numbers. This is believed to be for local anger against the procession.
But Chaudhary turned Manesar into a cattle crusader, saying his speech had been innocuous.
“Ye yahan kisi se hinsa karne ke liye nahi keh raha hain, kisi se tod phod karne ke liye nahi keh raha hain. Ye, ye keh raha hain ki badi sankhya mein aiye, mandir ke paas aiye, shobha yatra mein shaamil hoiye, aur main bhi wahan rahunga… yahan log Monu Manesar se nafrat karte hain, usse Junaid-Nasir ka kaatil mante hain, aur Monu Manesar jo gau hatya ke khilaaf muheem chalata hain ya chala raha hain, uski wajah se yahan ke local log, Mewat ke, wo Monu Manesar se bahot nafrat karte hain aur usse sabak sikhana chahte hain… Monu Manesar ne social media pe ye baat keh di ki par dusri taraf ye tathya bhi hain ki usne kaha zaroor ki wo aega, lekin wo Mewat aaya nahi tha. Lekin social media ke zariye kuch logon ne ye fake khabar faila di ki wo Mewat aa chuka hain, aur fir Mewat hinsa ki aag mein jalne laga,” he said.
Loosely translated: “He isn’t asking people to resort to violence or destruction, he is only asking people to turn up in large numbers, come near the temple and be a part of the shobha yatra, and that he will also be there…The locals of Mewat hate Monu Manesar, accuse him of Junaid and Nasir’s murder and want to teach him a lesson because he is on a mission to save cows.”
Monu Manesar reportedly didn’t show up for the yatra, Chaudhary pointed out. “But some people spread fake news about him being at Mewat, and then Mewat burnt in the fire of violence.”
By August 2, speculation had grown over Manesar’s role in the Haryana violence. State police chief PK Agrawal said a special investigation team would probe what had happened.
Aaj Tak quickly rerouted its coverage, airing two standalone reports questioning Manesar with headlines like “?” and “!”. (“Is Monu the culprit of Mewat?” and “Bulldozer will wreck Monu Manesar’s house!”.)
The reports featured accounts and observations from the police, politicians, the local Hindu community and Manesar himself. But they did not include anyone from Nuh’s Muslim community. They mentioned the imam’s murder but skipped the targeted attack on Muslims in Gurugram.
As Chaudhary said on Black and White on August 1: “First a temple is attacked and then a mosque is attacked...All those who died are humans...More than 100 cars have been set on fire.”
He also offered a “suggestion” that Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar “take lessons” from his Uttar Pradesh counterpart Yogi Adityanath. This was accompanied by a video clip of Adityanath claiming his state has seen no riots in the past six years.
Is it because of “bulldozer justice or encounters”, Chaudhary wondered, but whatever it was, the Khattar government “should also implement Yogi Adityanath’s formula”.
It should be noted that Aaj Tak did have some solid reporting on the violence otherwise; it just might not have made it to Chaudhary’s primetime.
The anti-national argument
On his primetime show on August 2, Chaudhary’s cannon was doubly-charged.
One of the police’s 26 FIRs in Nuh that a mob – “800-900 men” – chanted “Allah hu Akbar” and “Pakistan zindabad” as they marched to the Nalhar Shiv temple in Nuh with “intent to kill”. said “hundreds” of yatra participants sheltered in the temple and waited to be rescued.
The temple’s priest told that there were “4,000 people on the temple premises” and “nothing happened inside the temple, things were happening about 1-1.5 km away”.
Alleging “attack” on temple, Chaudhary showed viewers a ground report from the temple with the reporter explaining what had happened in the police’s version of events. There were no eyewitness accounts corroborating the FIR’s allegations. The report also did not include the comments from the temple’s priest.
Relying solely on the contents of the FIR, Chaudhary used this as an opportunity to link India’s Muslims to their “love” of Pakistan.
“Today’s big concern is why a specific community residing in India has started to love Pakistan so much while fighting the fight for their religion,” he said. “...The ‘Pakistan zindabad’ slogan is heard around every incident and idea that aims to break India.”
In Hindi: “Aaj bada mudda ye hain ki apni dharm ki ladayi ladte ladte, bharat mein rehne wala ye khaas warg Pakistan se itna prem kyun karne laga hain… aur Bharat ke tukde karne wali har soch ke aas paas, har ghatna ke aas paas Pakistan zindabad ka naara kyun sunayi deta hain.”
Chaudhary also said reports on violence occurring during the yatra were a “superficial truth” – the actual truth was purportedly that those involved in the violence “were filled with hatred towards India”. The same people “grieved” Atiq Ahmed’s death, aided terrorists, and talked about separating Kashmir.
If you’re wondering how the “primetime news” made it to your screens, its sponsors included NBC Bearings by CK Birla Group, Livguard, Sharda University and Aisshpra. Of these, NBC Bearings and Livguard are the primetime show’s regular sponsors.
Notably, these primetime shows came during a week which saw a Railway protection force constable seek out and gun down three Muslim passengers, linking them to Pakistan. The incident occurred inside a moving Jaipur Express near Palghar railway station on the outskirts of Mumbai on Monday.
In a video of the incident, the accused could be heard saying, “…Pakistan se operate hue ye, aur media yahi coverage dikha rahi hai, unko sab pata chal raha hai ye kya kar rahe hain… Agar vote dena hai, agar Hindustan mein rehna hai to mai kehta hun Modi aur Yogi, ye do hain, aur aapke Thackeray.”
Loosely translated: “…they operate from Pakistan, and media coverage shows this, they know everything about what are these people up to… If you want to vote, live in India, then I am saying it is Modi and Yogi, these two, and your Thackeray.”
Data journalism to strengthen argument
Finally, during his August 2 show, Chaudhary turned to data journalism as the ultimate argument to establish Hindu victimhood. He showed viewers a chart of 15 districts in Haryana where Muslims made up over 75 percent of the population as per the 2011 census.
Citing unnamed reports, Chaudhary claimed the Muslim population in Nuh district had increased from 79.2 percent in 2011 to 82 percent today, while the Hindu population had dipped by two percent.
For the firebrand anchor, the “more astonishing fact” was that the district has not reported communal violence in the past. “Why?” he asked, before answering the question himself: “Because in Muslim-majority areas, people of the other communities do not contest Muslims...They live like minorities, in silence and in the shadow of fear.”
Amazingly, he’s not wrong. Yes, minorities in India live “in silence and in the shadow of fear”. Even a stopped clock gets it right twice a day.