“One…two…three,” Aman Chopra began, exhorting the viewers of his primetime TV news show, Desh Nahi Jhukne Denge, on Tuesday evening to count with him. “Giniye aap,” he urged them. The News 18 anchor was counting the public beatings that policemen had administered to 10 reportedly Muslim men in Kheda, Gujarat.
Chopra repeatedly described the public caning of the men as the policemen playing “dandiya”, like it was a fun activity. If the visuals of the policemen hitting the men tied to a utility pole weren’t disturbing enough, Chopra directed his crew to amp up the volume and show these visuals with “full ambiance”.
The video of the public beatings that Chopra played shows a crowd of presumably Hindu residents cheering and sloganeering as the 10 men are tied to the pole one after the other and hit with sticks. Chopra asked his viewers to carefully watch Gujarat police’s “dandiya”. “They were pelting stones on the garba, but the police played dandiya with them,” he said.
The men were accused by the police of seeking to stop a garba function in an open space adjacent to a mosque and a temple on Monday night and pelting stones. They were detained and taken to Undhela village in Matar taluka the next day, and caned one after the other before a crowd of the villagers, who the Print , had been gathered by the local police.
After the video went viral online and sparked outrage, the Gujarat police an inquiry.
Having run through his gleeful monologue about the public thrashing of fellow citizens, Chopra launched a panel “discussion”. On his panel were “political analyst” Shivam Tyagi, Muslim cleric , “political analyst and debtor” Rizvan Ahmed, VHP spokesman Vinod Bansal, lawyer Subuhi Khan, self-described "Islamic studies researcher” Atiq ur Rehman, and Juna Akhada mahamandaleshwar Umakant Saraswati.
It was less a discussion and more a general inquisition of Muslims. Why do Muslims want to attend garba events, Chopra demanded? What is it about garba that makes you forget all of Islam’s teachings? Why is every Hindu festival targeted? If Muslims simply want to attend garba, why are they hiding their identities and pelting stones? What business do you have in our garba? Humaray garba main tumhara kya kaam?
At one point, Chopra told Atiq ur Rehman to say “Jai Ma Durga”, Hail Mother Durga. A while later, as Vinod Bansal was shouting at Rashidi, Chopra repeatedly demanded the cleric say “Jai Shree Ram” since he was “feeling so much respect” for the Hindu deity Ram. Subuhi Khan and Vinod Bansal joined in, like a mob, to reiterate Chopra’s demand.
Rashidi replied that one didn’t become Hindu by shouting “Jai Shree Ram” or “Vande Mataram”.
At another point during the show, as Chopra demanded to know why the men publicly caned by the police in Gujarat had allegedly pelted stones on the garba, Rashidi, asked why the TV anchor was questioning him as if the Muslim community as a whole had decided to pelt stones, allegedly, at Undhela village. Ask the accused men if you have to, Rashidi said.
In the hour-long debate, Chopra barely even stopped to ponder the legality and morality of the police publicly caning fellow citizens. At the start of the show, he asked if what the police had done was right since they didn't have the right to take the law into their own hands either. But he quickly moved on saying that was a separate debate. “Sab logon ko beech mein bithakar, police ne yeh karawai ki hai. Ab yeh karwaai galat hai, sahi hai, ispe alag se debate ho sakti hai, kyunki kanoon haath mein lene ka adhikaar police ko bhi nahi hai. Toh yeh galat hua, sahi hua, ispar alag debate hai.”
That’s a journalist saying it’s a matter of debate whether policemen publicly canning citizens is right or wrong.
Towards the end, when Tyagi said that whoever did what the men in Kheda had allegedly done would be treated in similar manner, Chopra asked, “Is this the treatment you are asking for?” When Tygai mentioned an alleged stabbing of a Hindu man by suspected Muslim youths in Rajasthan over an alleged case of sexual harassment, Chopra asked, “So, decision on the spot? Sticks on the road?”
This episode of bigotry on Indian TV was sponsored by Rakesh Spices, Goldiee Masale, Patanjali, Unacademy, Meesho, Hawkins Cookers, Kubota, Nerolac, Amul, Activa, Jovees Herbal, Ocko, Bajaj Pulsar, Forevermark, Cycle.in Agarbatti, Tata Sampann, and Vectus.
Newslaundry contacted Rahul Joshi, group editor of Network 18, the parent company of News 18, and Kishore Ajwani, managing editor of the Hindi news channel, to ask whether the TV network endorsed their anchor’s view of what happened in Kheda and whether the news organisation supported public flogging and police brutality.
A Network 18 spokesperson replied with a lengthy statement: “The questions from Newslaundry betray either ignorance or bias. Either way, they stand out for their predisposition to willfully distort facts. The anchor, Mr Aman Chopra, clearly stated that he does not support the incident and asked several times during the show if such action by the police was justified. Despite that, Newslaundry has cherry-picked only what it wants to see and asked us a set of loaded questions. It is clear that your intention here is ignoble. This is also borne out by the fact that one of the editors of Newslaundry had already passed judgement on the anchor on social media earlier today. There was not even a pretence of neutrality. Newslaundry must introspect about its own accountability.”