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How foreign media presents a distorted picture of India

How foreign media presents a distorted picture of India

Some foreign media organizations seem to relish maligning India. They can’t see anything good in our country; and the bad that they see they don’t just report but magnify it a zillion times. A recent report by BBC is exemplifies this tendency.

The title of the report, ‘India Coronavirus: Pregnant student Safoora Zargar at risk in jail’ (<a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52608589">https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52608589</a>) gives ample hints about the content. To begin with, can pregnancy be an immunity against investigation, criminal prosecution, and conviction?

The 27-year-old sociology student at the Jamia Milia Islamia University is not in jail because of some traffic offence; she is there because of serious charges against her, the charges of inciting riots and indulging in terror activities.

She got married 19 months ago. She discovered just weeks earlier that she was pregnant.

The Delhi Police officers took her to their office in central Delhi. “They said they wanted to ask her some questions about her involvement in protests against a controversial citizenship law that critics say is discriminatory towards Muslims,” the BBC report said.

So for a month now, she’s been lodged in Delhi’s overcrowded Tihar jail—“at a time when India is under a strict lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s own advisory says pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to infection.”

As if Zargar is lodged in the overcrowded jail because she is a Muslim and Hindu women prisoners, pregnant or otherwise, are put in some nice, salubrious prison!

The report is a typical mix of truths, half-truths, and lies. It talked about the February riots in which “Hindu mobs were seen attacking Muslim neighborhoods, armed with sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails, chanting Hindu religious slogans.” Unnamed commentators were quoted of having lamented about “an organized pogrom against Muslims.”

But it was a strange pogrom. Out of the 53 dead, a Leftwing website published the names of 51 persons. At least 15 of them were Hindus, one of them a cop and one an intelligence officer. Encyclopedia Britannica defines “pogrom” as “a mob attack, either approved or condoned by authorities, against the persons and property of a religious, racial, or national minority.” Did the authorities also approve the killing of their own security men?

The BBC report also bemoaned the online smear campaign against Zargar: “hundreds of Right-wing trolls on Twitter tried to slut-shame her, posting vulgar comments suggesting she was unmarried and raising questions over her pregnancy.”

Yes, trolling and foul language by online bullies are disturbing trends. Nobody has the right to defile and defame a woman—or a man, for that matter—in sexually colored terms, even if the target is a criminal. But, again, the vilification is not because she is a Muslim; it happens all the time against members of all religious communities.

It also needs to be mentioned here that non-Muslims too suffer at the hands of law-enforcement agencies, and also because of draconian laws.

Furthermore, Muslims also get justice. There have been cases in which courts came to the rescue of Muslims charged with terror and other heinous crimes.

Former Delhi University professor Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, for instance, was sentenced to death the 2001 Parliament attack case by a special court but was acquitted by the Supreme Court. There have been many other cases too in which the judiciary came to the rescue of Muslims facing criminal charges.

Then there are other institutions intended to protect the rights of citizens—and they are functional. The Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), for instance, directed the cyber cell of the Delhi Police to take action against the trolls who vilified Zargar.

India is not a perfect democracy, but it is not a dystopia either. Sometimes, the foreign media seems eager to show that India resembles the Third Reich, with the Muslims being the targets of persecution and extermination. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

<i>The author, formerly Senior Assistant Editor with </i>The Times Of India<i>, is an Assistant Professor, Gorakhpur University. The views are personal</i>.