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Representation of Religious and Caste Minorities in Malayalam Media

December 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Press Release

Concerned Citizens Group

Representation of Religious and Caste Minorities in Malayalam Media

Indian Womens Press Corps

Raisina Road, New Delhi

23rd December, 2009

Some of us concerned citizens had issued a statement on 18th December, 2009, appalled

by the mainstream media reportage of the anticipatory bail hearing of Soofiya Madani in the

Kerala High Court in connection with her alleged involvement in a conspiracy that led to the

burning of a Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation bus at Kalamassery, Kochi in

September 2005. Many of these reports bordered on pronouncing her guilt with complete

disregard for Judicial processes and the Rule of the Law. This kind of reportage can be

understood only in the backdrop of a disturbing new trend in the Kerala media and civil

society vis-a-vis representation of issues and concerns affecting religious and caste

minorities. This press conference has been convened to present some of our concerns

regarding this and to appeal to the media and civil society actors to be more sensitive and

balanced in their coverage of various events.

Apart from vitiating the communal harmony of the state, this trend also encroaches upon

the fundamental rights of people to fair trial, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of

association, freedom to practice and preach a religion and right to equality regardless of

caste and religion; along with other fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of

India. In this context, we would like to enumerate a few of these media campaigns and the

obvious religious and caste bias present in them.

Love Jihad

It was 2 cases of inter-religious love affairs that the media took up and blew out of

proportion to create the bogey of “Love Jihad.” In both these cases, what was involved was

love and attraction between Hindu women and Muslim men, which led to marriage and the

conversion of the Hindu women into Islam. Following this the mainstream media in Kerala

went on a rampage, claiming that thousands of women were being lured into converting to

Islam by Muslim boys who were doing this as part of “Love Jihad.” This led to Justice K T

Sankaran’s remarks on “Love Jihad” and directions to the police to conduct investigations on

it.

This campaign not only vilifies women as being incapable of decision-making, but also

portrays young men of the Muslim community as members of “Love Jihad,” without any

proper investigation or proof for doing the same. This regressive campaign was not stopped

even after the Kerala Police clarified that such a phenomenon does not exist. It has come to

a temporary end only after another judge of the Kerala High Court put a stop to all

investigations on the issue, saying that saying that one could not target any particular

community and that “inter-religious marriages are common in our society and cannot be

seen as a crime.” .

Dalit Terrorism

Following the murder of a middle-aged man in Varkala, the media in Kerala came out with

a new term called “Dalit Terrorism.” Regardless of the identities of the Victim and the

offender, media reportage on this case very often appeared to have been written in the

police station. The press bought into the police story that it was activists of one dalit

organization who had committed the murder. They joined hands with the police in

reproducing unsubstantiated reports of the existence of a “Dalit terror network”. This

legitimized the large scale persecution of the organization’s activists by the police and also

led to violent attacks on them by members of the local Shiv Sena. The media in Kerala is

party to these atrocities as it had stood with the police in accusing the organization and its

activists, failing to control the excesses of the police and reinforcing the existing prejudices

against a historically marginalised community.

Beemapally

On May 17, 2009 6 Muslim men from a fishing community were killed and 47 others injured

(27 of them had bullet injuries) in a police firing in Beemapally. Later studies by Human

Rights organizations brought out “the extremely unjust and criminalized violence”

committed by the police in Beemapally (NCHRO, Kerala Chapter). The government also

suspended some police officers as a token measure. However, when the incident happened,

most of the Malayalam media observed silence on this issue. A few others reported the

police version of the firing, branding it as “communal tension”. They promoted the

assumption that it was the provocation by a communally charged mob that had made the

police resort to firing, and it was wise to keep silence. There was no analysis or even proper

investigation of the whole incident. In this way, one of the worst incidents of state violence

in Kerala against Muslim fish workers virtually went unnoticed in the mainstream media.

All this shows the impunity with which the Malayalam media is treating issues related to

caste and religious minorities. It easily communalizes every issue related to the Muslim

community and works to spread hate and suspicion about them. Similarly, it also

misrepresents caste issues and works to reiterate existing prejudices.

Here, we would like to reiterate that we do not hold a brief for any individual or organisation

and would like to see the Law take its own course and we would urge proper investigation,

trial and conviction of any person mentioned above, provided that the procedure established

by law and Constitutional guarantees are upheld and they are not singled out by virtue of

their religious or caste identities. We call upon the media to fulfil its role and check excesses

committed by the State, its agencies or other formations that is likely to infringe upon the

quality of our democratic polity and uphold values of plurality enshrined in the Constitution

of India.

by

*John Dayal, Member, National Integration Council*
*K. Satchidanandan, Poet &*
*A. K. Ramakrishnan, Professor, JNU*