By Monica Verma
Kanhaiya Lal, Umesh Kolhe, Munish Bhardwaj, Ankit Jha, Shanu Pandey, and Nishank Rathore.
All these are names of people who were attacked in the past few weeks for supporting Nupur Sharma’s freedom of speech. Most of them are dead today. Udaipur’s Kanhaiya Lal was butchered with a cleaver. Nishank Rathore’s body was found on a railway track with a cryptic message sent to his father reading, “Gustakh-E-Nabi ki ek hi saza” [only one punishment for those who insult the Prophet].
Ankit Jha was, however, lucky that he survived the six knife stabs given by the assailants, but his parents are alleging that Bihar Police didn’t register an FIR until Nupur Sharma’s reference was removed. Six men across India were attacked brutally for freedom of speech and supporting Nupur Sharma, but not a single coverage of how radical Islamists are targeting India anywhere in the international press.
Contrast this with the outpour that Zubair’s arrest has generated. Almost all international media outlets have covered his arrest with headlines, stressing his identity as a Muslim and a journalist. The frame of reference chosen in their coverage is that of a journalist belonging to a minority community persecuted by a majoritarian state. For them, India is a fascist state that puts journalists behind bars for speaking the truth to power. It is a country where minorities are being suppressed by the current regime. But all this sounds like well-crafted work of fiction when on the ground, multiple men are losing their lives to the “Sar Tan Se Juda” mobs [beheading].
What explains this international silence on murders committed over blasphemy in India? The Western media hasn’t been this silent over Islamist mobs baying for the blood of those who committed alleged blasphemy in other cases though. Remember the international support that Asiya Bibi received when she was sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan?
The assassination of Salman Taseer, then governor of Punjab province in Pakistan, over blasphemy was also widely condemned internationally. And no one needs to be reminded of the “Je Suis Charlie” protests that evoked massive support from freedom of speech warriors across the world after a deadly shooting at French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s office.
Six people have been attacked in India even as multiple others are getting threats on a daily basis. The person at the centre of it all, Nupur Sharma herself has been forced to stay away from public life owing to grave danger to her well-being. All of this is due to the fear of Islamists but not an iota of protest internationally. The only reason for this silence is the need to project India as “unsafe” for minorities. In the daily hit jobs targeting India over the treatment of Muslims, such violent incidents of Hindu men being killed don’t fit their narrative.
India must also stop expecting any international condemnation of these events. Remember, when China was rising? There was a spate of articles questioning China’s human rights record, its authoritarian governance, treatment of ethnic minorities, etc. Today India is in the same shoes. It is already the third largest economy by purchasing power parity and is all set to become the third largest economy nominally as well by 2030.
India’s influence and geopolitical weight are on an ascending trajectory. Its soft power needs to be undercut. It is possible only when India is put on a back-foot by inventing a narrative that “minorities are under attack in India”. It is here that the incidents of violence over blasphemy by Islamist mobs become inconvenient. Hence the hard-walling of this narrative by the international media.
This same media has the space and will to cover fake incidents of lynchings by Hindu mobs over beef without any authentic fact-check but when it comes to events such as these which are backed by evidence, it prefers to lie low and stay silent. In the case of China, these media organisations still had to rely on home-grown experts to produce anti-China commentary. But in the case of India, the job has become easier because many so-called Indian “journalists” have become ready entrepreneurs in writing for these outlets by utilising their own prejudice against the current government to the hilt.
India indeed is in a precarious situation. On one hand, there is a constant narrative demonising the majority community over the treatment of minorities. There are conferences being organised in university departments the world over painting a doomsday scenario for India due to the tyranny of the ruling party. On the other hand, there is a credible threat from radical Islam to the country. Just a few days ago, a module of the Popular Front of India (PFI), a radical Islamist organisation was busted in Patna, Bihar.
In the documents recovered from this raid, the most alarming was a “Vision 2047” document that disclosed plans to turn India into an Islamic State by 2047. The documents that generated a furore domestically were hardly even noticed by the international media. Any action by India against radical Islam will increasingly call for even more scrutiny and condemnation by the global press. That’s the challenge that India must face. Even innocent people belonging to the so-called majority Hindu community keep losing their lives.
Contributing Author: Monica Verma is a PhD in International Relations from the Department of International Relations, South Asian University. Her research focuses on the political economy of South Asia and regional integration.
This article was first published on www.news18.com. We have republished it with kind permission.
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