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The Malda Riots And The Shocking Silence Of The Liberal Media

03/02/2016 8:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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MANJUNATH KIRAN via Getty Images
Indian Muslims protest against alleged statements made by Kamlesh Tiwari, working president of the Hindu Mahasabha of Uttar Pradesh, said to have been defamatory against the Prophet Mohammad, in front of the Masjid-E-Khadria mosque prior to Friday evening prayers in Bangalore on December 11, 2015. AFP PHOTO/Manjunath KIRAN / AFP / MANJUNATH KIRAN (Photo credit should read MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Amidst the allegations of Hindu intolerance under the Modi government, one event in Mamata's Bengal went quite unnoticed by the left-liberal media stalwarts. No writers came out to return their awards and the journalists had other things to rant about. Had it not been for social media, we would not have known much about it. The event in question was the carnage and arson that followed an aggressive demonstration by thousands of Muslims in Malda demanding death for Kamlesh Tiwari, a small-time Hindu Mahasabha leader who questioned the sexual orientations of the Prophet (in response to Azam Khan's statement against the RSS, in which he called its cadres homosexuals). The mob turned violent and set fire to the police station, and burned 16 vehicles.

The larger question here is of the increasing Islamic extremism in Bengal during Mamata Banerjee's tenure as Chief Minister.

Tiwari has already been booked under NSA for his speech in a country which claims to be democratic and celebrates freedom of speech, and Hindu Mahasabha has already disowned him. But, the larger question here is of the increasing Islamic extremism in Bengal during Mamata Banerjee's tenure as Chief Minister. The said incident could easily be swept under the carpet as a routine occurrence in India, but the issue at stake is much deeper and much more serious. The very fact that the state government has played down the role of radical extremists like Jaimat and refused to recognise the incident as a case of communal violence indicates that they are turning a blind eye. There are also several other events that when looked at together portray a disturbing picture.

On March 30 2013, various Muslim groups including the All Bengal Minority Council, the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, the Madrassa Students Union, the Muslim Think Tank and the All Bengal Imam Muazzin Association, organised a massive rally in the support of Bangladesh war criminals of 1971. Further, the state government's steps like allowances for Muslims clerics, the images of Didi wearing a burqa and offering namaaz, and a slew of projects and schemes targetted at the minority Muslims have only enhanced the polarisation. As a result of increasing polarisation the number of communal incidents peaked to 106 in 2013 from between 12 and 40 until 2012. The leaders of Bangladeshi extremist group Jamaat-i-Islami were openly canvassing for Trinamool in the 2014 elections. The absence of any strong legal actions against such demonstrations by the law enforcement machinery raises some serious questions about the integrity of the political leadership of the state.

The media is expected to take a balanced and responsible stand on the all cases of extremism, irrespective of their religious or ideological origins.

It is alleged that the state government tried to stall the NIA investigations in the Burdwan blast. The NIA had pointed out that 500 recognised and 4000 unrecognised madrassas were engaged in indoctrination, recruitment, training and sheltering of jihadis. Further, the state government has initiated lots of populist schemes which include special allowances for imams and muezzins, giving recognition to unorganized madrasas, reservation in jobs and exclusive Islamic townships. Despite the negative police reports against the SIMI state leader Hasan Imran the ruling party got him elected as a Rajya Sabha MP from West Bengal. Further, in Trinamool's reign Islamic charities and NGOs have mushroomed and it is believed many are being heavily financed through money-laundering activities. According to the West Bengal Minority Affairs Department, over 400 all-Muslim NGOs are working in the state, while there are 597 madrasas recognised by the government.

Despite all these developments, the silence of the left-liberal media and intellectuals is disturbing. A prominent TV journalist said in a recent interview that if one does not criticise jihadi extremism, then one loses the right to criticise Hindu extremism and the Hindutva brigade latches on to the issue.

My answer is that that it is not the question of favouring the extremism of one religion over the other. It is a very faulty assumption that in a democracy there is only majority extremism. Extremism is a state of mind which comes with an irrational clinging to one's beliefs or an ideological world. A minority can also have its share of extremism.

In India, Hindu society has myriad faultiness along caste, sect, region, political ideologies and culture. These fault lines are more pronounced vis-à-vis the fault lines in the Muslim society. Many politicians pander to the Muslim community for electoral gains and that might involve turning a blind-eye to the threat of extremism to appease the orthodox clerics and leadership. It happens in all democracies, including the most advanced ones.

It is high time that central government took some serious action against the jihadi networks developing in West Bengal.

But the silence of the media over Islamic extremism, and blowing things out of proportion in the case Hindutva fundamentalism, is condemnable and dangerous for a democratic and multicultural society like India. The media went ballistic over beef bans and the Shiv Sena's "ink attack" on an intellectual, but remained suspiciously circumspect over incidents like Malda and the death fatwas against Tiwari. It smacks of crass opportunism, sheer hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty.

As journalists and intellectuals, they are expected to be honest and objective in reporting. Besides, the silence over jihadi extremism under the excuse of Hindu extremism could have grave consequences. The state could become home to dangerous terrorists. Therefore, the media is expected and requested to take a balanced and responsible stand on the all cases of extremism, irrespective of their religious or ideological origins.

To conclude, I would say that it is high time that central government took some serious action against the jihadi networks developing in West Bengal. In fact, I would go to the extent of investigating the role of the state government in sheltering extremist organisations.

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