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DAWOOD IBRAHIM’S CRONIES
By Mohd. Zeyaul Haque

In early 1993, soon after the Mumbai blasts, mafiosi Dawood Ibrahim had become a household name. At that time this writer was assisting Saiyid Hamid as executive editor of Nation and the World. One fine morning an old man ambled into the Nation office, tired from the effort of climbing a flight of stairs. (The office was on the first floor in a grand building in Nizamuddin West.)

The man wanted to buy a year’s subscription. The circulation clerk took the money and gave him a receipt, as usual. By then I had seen what was going on. The man was my former boss, Girilal Jain, who had retired as the editor of The Times of India a few years ago.

I asked him about his health and the purpose of his visit. He said he wanted to buy a year’s subscription and had already paid and got a receipt. I introduced the august Mr Jain to the young fellows around and asked the circulation people to return his money and send him complimentary copies for a year, which they promptly did. (Saiyid Hamid believed that public persons and opinion leaders did not necessarily have to pay to get their copy of Nation.) After that he sat for a while to chat briefly. ‘When did Nation start?’ ‘When did you join?’ Then it was my turn.

‘Where do you stay, sir?’ 
‘See, Zeya, we are working class people. I have got a small flat in …’ (I don’t remember the place.) Then he looked around the massive office hall and its exquisite architecture, adding ruefully, ‘Besides, we don’t have Dawood Ibrahim’s support.’

This was the first, and thankfully, the last, sour note in a pleasant encounter. After that he got up to leave, and I escorted him to his car waiting outside. This is a rather long background to state the simple fact that a large section of the media entertains distressingly inaccurate ideas about Indian Muslims. And that includes some of the stalwarts.

The late Girilal Jain was a disciple of MN Roy, one of the brightest and most open-minded Indians that ever lived. Sadly, however, he ended up as an enthusiastic advocate of the Sangh’s position vis-à-vis Muslims. That was a time when the Indian state and a sizeable section of the Indian media believed that any Muslim who had a good house, a decent car, or a medium-sized business must be a Dawood Ibrahim crony.

Incidentally, Mr Siraj Qureishi, the owner of the palatial mansion, in a part of which the Nation office was (and is) situated, made his fortune supplying mutton to the Indian army, a patriotic deed in a way. The owner’s patriotic credentials apart, it still provoked the worst fears in a media person of such a great standing as the Late Mr Jain.

On a closer scrutiny of the working of the media’s collective mind and its common assumptions, one finds amusing (and worrisome) things. Not long after the above-mentioned episode, this writer met one of the small number of senior Muslim journalists in Delhi’s English dailies. ‘My boys write ‘Muslim-infested’, instead of ‘Muslim-inhabited’ in their stories. I have told them the difference, but they don’t seem to care much’, he confided.

Even an ordinary reader of English knows that ‘infested’ is not the same thing as ‘inhabited’. For instance, we say ‘a dacoit-infested jungle,’ or ‘a worm-infested wound,’ or ‘a spy-infested outfit’. Calling a Muslim-inhabited area (or a Muslim majority locality) ‘Muslim infested’, betrays a deep-seated prejudice. The problem in such cases is not lexical but psychological, and it is quite rampant in the media.

The malaise runs much deeper. Even small, innocuous incidents, involving Muslims provoke hidden fears and impart a sinister quality to them. Around the Babri Masjid demolition time when communal temperatures ran high, UP newspapers carried a big report on their front pages announcing, ‘20,000 bombs hauled from house in Lucknow Chowk.’ Chowk in Lucknow happens to be a Muslim area. The report created quite a sensation, giving the impression that Muslims were preparing for a civil war.

A couple of days later the administration clarified that those ‘bombs’ were in fact crackers, and the ‘bomb maker’ was only a cracker seller. The press turned the crackers into bombs just because the area of the haul was a Muslim area, a ‘dangerous’ area where bombs looked more natural than crackers. Again, this shows the silent consensus in the media regarding Muslims. As I said earlier, it is not merely a matter of faulty choice of words or inadequate grasp of language, but one of mind-set. Next week in this column I would try to explain how this mind-set influences the drift, emphasis and ‘play’ of a news story and how a set of perfectly innocent people are made to look like a bunch of villains, or worse – Dawood Ibrahim’s cronies.
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