Intellectuals concerned over rapid communalization of Malayalam media

By Mumtaz Alam Falahi,,

New Delhi: A group of concerned citizens yesterday expressed deep concern over rapid communalization of the mainstream Malayalam media in the recent time, citing news reports on Soofiya Madani, “Love Jihad,” Beemapally police firing and “Dalit terrorism.” They urged them to fulfill their role to check excesses by the state, and not to work as agent of communal forces.

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Addressing a press conference at Indian Women’s Press Corps in New Delhi yesterday, the intellectuals expressed concern over the mainstream Malayalam media reportage of the anticipatory bail hearing of Soofiya Madani in the Kerala High Court in connection with her alleged involvement in a conspiracy that led to the burning of a Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation bus at Kalamassery, Kochi in September 2005. “Many of these reports bordered on pronouncing her guilt with complete disregard for judicial processes and the rule of the law.”

This kind of reportage can be understood only in the backdrop of a disturbing new trend in the Kerala media and civil society vis-à-vis representation of issues and concerns affecting religious and caste minorities, they said.

Dr John Dayal, Christian leader and Member, National Integration Council, noted Malayalam poet K Sachidanand, Professor Ramakrishnan of Jawahalal Nehru University and human rights activist Bobby Kunhu were addressing the press.

L-R: Prof Ramakrishnan, K Sachidanand, Dr John Dayal, Bobby Kunhu

“Apart from vitiating the communal harmony of the state, this trend also encroaches upon the fundamental rights of people to fair trial, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of association, freedom to practice and preach a religion and right to equality regardless of caste and religion along with other fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India,” they said in a statement.

They also expressed concern on media report on “Love Jihad,” Beemapally police firing and “Dalit terrorism.”

On “Love Jihad” they said: It was two cases of inter-religious love affairs that the media took up and blew out of proportion to create the bogey of “Love Jihad.” In both these cases, what was involved was love and attraction between Hindu women and Muslim men, which led to marriage and the conversion of the Hindu women into Islam. Following this the mainstream media in Kerala went on a rampage, claiming that thousands of women were being lured into converting to Islam by Muslim boys who were doing this as part of “Love Jihad.” This led to Justice K T Sankaran’s remarks on “Love Jihad” and directions to the police to conduct investigations on it.

“This campaign not only vilifies women as being incapable of decision-making, but also portrays young men of the Muslim community as members of “Love Jihad” without any proper investigation or proof for doing the same. This regressive campaign was not stopped even after the Kerala police clarified that such a phenomenon does not exist. It has come to a temporary end only after another judge of the Kerala High Court put a stop to all investigations on the issue, saying that one could not target any particular community and that “inter-religious marriages are common in our society and cannot be seen as a crime.”

The local media had earlier showed its biased attitude in Beemapally police firing case.

On May 17, 2009 six Muslim men from a fishing community were killed and 47 others injured (27 of them had bullet injuries) in a police firing in Beemapally. “But most of the Malayalam media observed silence on the incident while rights groups brought out the fact that it was extremely unjust and criminalized violence by the police and government suspended some police officers.”

Likewise the Kerala media created a bogey of “Dalit terrorism” after a murder in Varkala.

The Malayalam media coined the term of “Dalit terrorism” following the murder of a middle-aged man in Varkala regardless of the identities of the victim and the offender. They said the offenders were activists of a dalit organization then they published unsubstantiated reports about the existence of a dalit terror network. “This legitimized large scale prosecution of the organization’s activists and violent attacks on them by members of Shiv Sena.”

“All this shows the impunity with which the Malayalam media is treating issues related to caste and religious minorities. It easily communalizes every issue related to the Muslim community and works to spread hate and suspicion about them. Similarly, it also misrepresents caste issues and works to reiterate existing prejudices,” the intellectuals said.

Interacting with pressmen, Dr John Dayal said: Malayalam media resisted the might of Emergency in 1970s but today it has slipped into communalization. Minority communities are getting negative coverage in Malayalam media. He condemned media propaganda on “Love Jihad.” “Allegation that youth of a particular community are luring girls of another community defies known logic,” Dr Dayal said.

K Sachidanand, famour Malayalam poet and writer, termed communalization of the local media as crisis of faith. “Malayalam media is facing crisis of faith in secular ethics and principles. The Malayalam community is traditionally secular and believes in communal harmony but the media today is vitiating that atmosphere,” he said. He expressed concern on sudden rise in sensationalization and communal reporting in Malayalam media. “Bearing Muslim name has become a problem in the country. By branding an individual or community a terrorist, authorities are taking away all their human rights,” he said warning that “deliberate attempts to distort facts in communal news reports will destroy communal harmony.”

Prof. Ramakrishnan of JNU said: By such reporting they are creating a situation wherein Muslim youth can’t talk to Hindu/Christian girls. This will destroy communal harmony.