Media & Secularism of Indian Public

More than two decades have passed since the demolition of the Babari Masjid at Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. During the demolition-phase of Babari Masjid, it had seemed that secularism of Indian society was passing through an extremely difficult phase. There prevailed the increasing risk of lives and property of Indians falling victim to the dangerous fire of communal frenzy that had affected most parts of the country. Ironically, during that period the Indian media’s role was totally different from the one that it has begun playing in the present phase. Ethically, then the media refrained from indulging in excessive coverage of communal riots occurring in the country. There prevailed the risk of even a small report inciting communal frenzy in other parts of the country. Thus, print media as well as radio and television tended to draw a line on what kind of coverage must be given to communal events.

During that period, it may be recalled, the media, particularly television and radio, was primarily government-controlled and confined to the Doordarshan channel. Viewers did not have much to choose from regarding the television services as they have in the present era. Unlike the present phase when viewers can keep changing channels to see the programme of their choice, then they had only one choice: view what was being telecast or choose not to view it. Thus, when movies or film songs were telecast, roads tended to wear a deserted look, with most people preferring to view these programmes. Television played a great role in influencing the living style of most common people, who tended to be almost addicted to it. This impact was perhaps most strongly evident in the effect that telecast of the serial Ramayana had during the late 1980s.

The serial, telecast on Sunday mornings, was extremely popular among masses. It was the first such serial based on a Hindu religious epic that was telecast on Doordarshan. The serial made the Hindu masses, particularly in the Hindi belt, extremely religiously-oriented towards the epic Ramayana and its religious figures. There have been reports of certain viewers even worshipping the TV sets because of this serial. The media, thus through this serial, played a major part in influencing the religious attitudes of the Hindu masses in the Hindi belt. It is possible that the influence of this serial prompted the BJP leaders to try and win the support of Hindu masses by playing on their religious sentiments. It cannot be ignored that BJP stalwarts of that period played on the Ayodhya-issue, by organising the Ram rath yatra from the early 1990s. The timing of the serial’s impact and the initiation of the BJP’s politico-religious drive, by playing on Ram-frenzy, cannot be de-linked.

The influence of media and subsequently that of certain politicians in exciting people’s religious frenzy stands out temporally. The major difference is that the serial contributed only to making sections of Hindu masses extremely religious towards the television set, the serial itself and even its actors. The political exploitation of these religious sentiments led to the same being given an extremely communal colour. It may be noted, media did not have a negative impact on people’s attitude. The negative impact was the result of the attempt made by certain politicians to communally exploit the religious sentiments of the people.

Fortunately, the revolutionary strides made by communication during the last two decades have had an extremely positive impact on the attitude of people towards television programmes, political attempt made by politicians to excite their communal frenzy and communalism itself. This was partly reflected when Gujarat pogrom (2002) occurred. Despite the carnage receiving extensive media coverage, the communal frenzy was not repeated in any other part of the country. It may be noted, earlier media refrained from giving extensive coverage to such communal news out of fear of negatively exciting people in other parts of the country. During the phase of Gujarat pogrom, this fear did not materialise. On the small screen, they witnessed what was happening in Gujarat. Rather than taking part in a similar communal frenzy, they chose not to be lured into such activities.

This change in people’s attitude has led certain extremist, right-winged elements linked with the saffron brigade to try and indulge in other activities to rouse anti-Muslim communal fervour. These include their conspiracy related to ghar-wapsi programme, the Dadri incident and other such communally-oriented moves. All these incidents have received extensive media coverage as well as substantial criticism of those conspiring to excite communal frenzy against Muslims. The masses’ awareness of these incidents has also contributed to their taking strong electoral decisions against political elements favouring the same. This was reflected by the results of the recently held Bihar and earlier Delhi assembly elections.

Over the past two decades, the revolutionary change in the media has had an equally revolutionary impact on the socio-political attitude of the Indian public. Earlier, there prevailed a trend of them being convinced by what was projected to them through media and politically. That is now history. Thanks to Indian secularism, this has prevailed over communalism!   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 December 2015 on page no. 11

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