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Gujarat carnage and the media
By Mohd. Zeyaul Haque
The national media's role in highlighting Sangh mischief in Gujarat is widely appreciated, which leads some people to believe that media as a whole played a positive role in Gujarat. That, of course, is a case of hasty generalisation, as shown in an analysis earlier in this column.
Weighty issues: Former Prime Minister
Deve Gowda describes horrors of Gujarat
carnage as Kuldip Nayar and Dilip Padgaonkar
listen with rapt attention.
On August 10 nearly 200 journalists from all over India gathered in Bangalore to participate in a symposium "Gujarat carnage and media." Jointly organised by Karnataka NRI Forum and Delhi-based Institute of Objective Studies, the symposium provided a valuable platform for journalists, rights activists, NGOs and academics to compare notes and find ways to network for meeting such challenges in future.
Besides working journalists people from legal and other professions participated in the proceedings, giving it an inclusive character.
Former Prime Minister of India Deve Gowda in his inaugural address said that the Gujarat pogrom was an example of "state terrorism" orchestrated by a "fascist government" in Gujarat, backed by a similar dispensation at the Centre.
He described his visit to Gujarat's relief camps after the state government machinery derailed his visit programme twice. "The third time I went," saying whether the government allowed the visit or not, he had to be there.
What Gowda saw in camps was something so devastating "it cannot be described." People were deliberately left to rot and starve, bereft of even sanitation and water, and very little food. Much of the food came from NGOs. If India as we knew it had to survive, "this fascist Central government must go," he thundered.
In his brief remarks Dilip Padgaonkar of the Times of India observed that Gujarat was a turning point demanding a choice between two ideas of India — Gandhi's and Godse's. The choice, to him, was quite obvious — Gandhi's pluralistic India. He wanted India to be of youth, which constituted 75 percent of the population.
In his presidential address the former Chief Justice of India AM Ahmadi said what India had witnessed in Gujarat was an organised campaign of annihilation, not mere riot.
People's addresses were noted in advance by riot planners, and the worst fate was met by Muslims living in "mainstream" areas. That meant that it was no longer true that Muslims did not want to join "mainstream." The fact was that there were people who did not want Muslims in the mainstream, he asserted.
He said he knew this by personal experience as his uncle, who had been living in a mixed area was lucky to have left two months before the event. Nevertheless, the rioters came looking for him "because they had his address."
Justice Ahmadi said he called the then president of India KR Narayanan at the height of the riots, asking him to intervene. "He did act on it," the former CJ said, regretting that somehow his initiative was derailed.
He said the victims should not be left nursing a "brooding feeling of injustice." Justice must be done to restore a feeling of belonging.
He called India a tapestry of varying colours and patterns, which had to be preserved and nurtured. This harmony of cultures was vital for the society's plural character.
In his keynote address Dr M Manzoor Alam of IOS observed that by and large the national media's role in Gujarat was positive, but that could not be said so surely of much of the vernacular media. For instance, there were some Gujarati papers which poured oil on communal fire.
Dr Alam said the media should now concentrate on justice, rehabilitation and restitution. The issue of discrimination — in terms of equal protection of law etc — had to be highlighted by media. The nation had great hopes from media for a better future.
Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar observed that the media had done better than the judiciary in stopping fascism, to which Justice Ahmadi replied that the judiciary too had done its bit by delivering landmark judgements protecting people's rights against an errant state.
Doyen of the journalistic corps Ajit Bhattacharjee said what had happened in Gujarat was nothing but state-sponsored campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Teesta Setalvad of Communalism Combat pointed towards legal lacunae which made perpetrators of pogroms like Bal Thackeray get away easily.
In his concluding remarks Justice Ahmadi observed that government officials had to follow statute rather than waiting for ministers' orders. The dereliction of duty by officials in Gujarat was an offence which meant legal proceedings could be started against some of them. He said a precedent existed in which a district magistrate was prosecuted for similar dereliction of duty.
At the end the symposium adopted a "Bangalore Declaration" that emphasised the need for conscientious journalists to network more closely with each other and like-minded groups.