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The Hierarchy of suffering
By M. Zeyaul Haque

Some people’s pain is more important than other people’s pain. This in short, is media philosophy

M. Zeyaul HaqueOn the night of July 23-24 untold horror, death, dishonour and destruction visited upon a small, sleepy hamlet of poor people in Moradabad district. Within minutes their women were pounced upon, paraded naked, raped and murdered. Men were hacked to death, children injured grievously, old folk beaten to pulp. Even after a fortnight, the dazed victims don’t know why were they treated thus. "May be because we are Muslims", is the refrain.

Only Urdu newspapers reported the event in some detail, and with some consistency. Most of the English press ignored the event all together. For the television networks it did not happen at all, although the enormity of the event and the place of occurrence being so close to the national capital demanded that it be the lead story for a couple of days and remain part of the news bulletins for several days, though not as lead or second lead.

Interestingly, some of the "national" English newspapers began to talk about the episode in an oblique manner, like reporting some policeman’s brainwave that the massacre could be the handiwork of the criminal tribe of Bawarias. However, the culprits did not take away even a single paisa or a single ornament. Maulana Asrarul Haque of Milli Council who visited the place soon after the incident with a relief delegation reported a woman victim telling him that when she offered her jewellery to the criminals, asking them to take it and spare their lives, they said they had not come to take jewellery and money. After that they started the orgy of rape and murder.

Several days later, respectable paper of the capital referred rather shyly to the incident in a small report, saying that some Congress leaders had condemned the killing of "members of a minority community" in a village in Moradabad. It did not say which minority community. On the other hand, the same national media came up with lead stories on August 5 with headlines like "15 Hindus killed in Doda". They did not resort to masking techniques to hide the religious identity of the victims as in the other case.

The question is: why does the national media ignore the sufferings of Muslims, other minorities and Dalits? Also, why is it concerned about the sufferings of only one kind of people? Is there, then, a hierarchy of suffering in which the pain of one class of people is more worthy of notice and redressal than that of the others. This certainly seems to be the case with the media.

On at least two occasions the Milli Gazette has highlighted this attitude of the media –– once when the "national" media chose to ignore the martyrdom of a young Muslim army officer from Delhi, and at another time when the media went to town with a story about the nabbing of a madrasa student on charges of being an alleged ISI agent. The student was beaten up in police custody for days and was partially crippled. However, when a court dismissed the police case as being baseless and acquitted the student honourably, no English or Hindi newspaper wrote about it, nor did any TV channel bother to look at him. The media was willing to tar his reputation as an ISI agent, but it was totally unwilling to undo the wrong and restore his honour so maliciously harmed. Why? Again because he was a Muslim, whose suffering is no suffering.

The suffering of people of any religion or race anywhere should merit media attention. But what we have been witnessing, sadly, looks like a conspiracy of silence. This baffles us endlessly. Underprivileged groups all over the world wonder why the media should be so callous to disregard their suffering. This is so even in the best of Western democracies: only the privileged have a voice and access to media. This has reduced the stature of professional journalists in public perceptions to arrogant charlatans, irresponsible and morally deficient.

This hierarchy of suffering seems to be a basic assumption in day-to-day functioning of many organizations all over the world. The August issue of Impact International (London) has published an interesting account of how a member of Canada’s York region race relations committee –– Abu Zahra –– is being hounded out for circulating a book review of Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry. Zahra had tried to argue that Finkelstein, a Jew, is right in opposing the tendency to encash Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.

Zahra says that the inclusion of the Holocaust in Canadian textbooks tends to force the sufferings of other people like the Blacks, Red Indians and today’s Palestinians out of discourse as the only suffering worthy of a mention is declared to be the Jewish suffering. For that Abu Zahra is being hounded. But the question still remains unanswered: Why is it that some people’s suffering matters while that of others does not?

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