Peddlers of hate

How does a low-profile academician whose work focuses on the 12th century Vachana movement in Karnataka become a target for zealots? The answer may well be in the way he was portrayed by the media. In 2014, at a seminar in Bengaluru on the proposed anti-superstition Bill, M.M. Kalburgi quoted an anecdote from writer U.R. Ananthamurthy’s autobiography. A 10-year-old Ananthamurthy had urinated on an idol and was overcome by fear of divine retribution, which never came. Kalburgi’s recounting of Ananthamurthy’s anecdote was distorted by the local media, especially by a Kannada channel owned by a current BJP MP. The clips were edited in such a way as to show the scholar calling for “people to urinate on idols”. On August 30, 2015, Kalburgi was assassinated. One of the suspects told the police that it was this remark that cost Kalburgi his life.

The same suspects allegedly played a role in the assassination of editor-activist Gauri Lankesh. Unlike Kalburgi, Lankesh was an outspoken critic of Hindutva. But she too was a victim of media distortion. In 2012, a video of her talk on caste, colonialism and Hinduism was posted on platforms like YouTube as the “real face of secularism”. She was trolled relentlessly, say investigators, and became a target for members of an organisation, whose mission it was to target Hindus they deemed to be “anti-Hindutva”. The same organisation is also reportedly linked to the assassinations of Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar.

None of these personalities held sway on a national platform. So, on what basis was this hit list drawn up? They were “anti-Hindu,” the accused reportedly told investigators. What is the criteria for being “anti-Hindu”? The accused have not read any of the works of those targeted, believe investigators. Instead, the victims were simply chosen based on how the media covered their public statements. Right-wing handles on social media also influenced the accused.

Participating in the first-year commemoration of Lankesh’s murder, playwright Girish Karnad, also named on the hit list, carried a placard around his neck that read: “Me Too Urban Naxal”. A leading Kannada newspaper followed it up with a front-page campaign accusing him of being “anti-Constitution and anti-national”. Readers’ comments were vitriolic; police complaints followed. His family is worried.

Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid, who was shot at in New Delhi on August 13 by two men, said: “The real culprits are those spokespersons of the ruling party and the prime time anchors and TV channels who have spread canards about me, branded me anti-national based on lies and virtually incited a lynch-mob against me.” What the media publishes or broadcasts has huge consequences. At a time of fake news, especially, there can be no compromise on responsible, fact-based and verifiable reportage.

The writer is with The Hindu’s Bengaluru bureau

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2021 7:37:37 AM |

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