Published: 12 January 2017 Thursday, 05:04 AM
Since Direct Action Day on August 16, 1946, allegedly ordered at the behest of Pakistan’s father of nation Mohammad Ali Jinnah for putting pressure on the colonial masters for creation of separate nation for Muslims in south Asia; Kolkata (then Calcutta) and West Bengal had not seen many communal riots.
The Direct Action Day had led to the death of 4,000 people in Calcutta and subsequent riots in Noakhali in present-day Bangladesh and Bihar claimed more than 8,000 and 5,000 lives respectively and ultimately partition of India and Bengal.
Western part of the Bengal region learnt from its mistakes. It didn’t flare up even during the height of communal tensions during the demolition of Babri Mosque on December 6, 1992. Many political analysts concluded that the 34-long years of communist rule over the state had left a deep impact on the society, with Muslims, caste Hindus, Dalits coming together under one flag, the red flag.
However, the emerging opposition Trinamool Congress also tapped this rural base with a similar mixture. Hence, more than often it was found that Muslims, caste Hindus and Dalits were killing, burning and looting Muslims, caste Hindus and Dalits of a separate flag, a separate political ideology. That changed forever since 2011, more visible in 2016.
Along with the political violence that had become the hallmark of West Bengal, communal riots started to flare up in different industrial towns of the state, which have substantial proportions of Hindi and Urdu-speaking Hindus and Muslims from northern states.
While the growing Bharatiya Janata Party tapped into this north Indian Hindu base, already distanced from the Trinamool Congress due to policies that were denounced as ‘Muslim appeasement policies’, the Urdu-speaking north Indian Muslims came close to ruling Trinamool Congress.
West Bengal witnessed some major religious conflagrations in industrial towns of Hazinagar, Kharagpur, Chandannagar and most recently Dhulagarh in 2016. The year also saw massive growth of the BJP and it`s parent body the Hindu hardline parent body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), with the BJP replacing the Communist Party of India (Marxist) as the main opposition in several constituencies of the state and the RSS opening shakhas like never before.
The media in West Bengal, both Bengali and English, religiously believes that reporting on communal riots would result in escalation of the violence. Hence, prefers to keep mum. Its principle is not the same while reporting political violence. So, while minute details of political violence and traumas of people in politically restive Muslim belts such as Keshpur, Mangalkot or Bhangar would be made available, not one sentence would be written about Hindu-Muslim violence.
However, one Hindi media outlet from Delhi did a detailed story about Dhulagarh riots that took place on Milad-un-nabi (birthday of Prophet Mohammad PBUH). However, the report allegedly showed one community as the victim and the other perpetrator, which the exact reason why many journalists in West Bengal media say they prefer not to report communal violence.
“Reporting on communal violence can never be 100% unbiased. It will be tilted towards one community. Hence, it is an unwritten rule in West Bengal media not to report communal violence,” said an editor of a top Bengali daily.
So, the alleged tilt in the reportage by the Hindi media outlet led to pressing of non-bailable charges by the West Bengal government under Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on basis of religion, caste, creed, language or place of birth) of the Indian Penal Code against three journalists of the Hindi media group, including its editor.
The media in West Bengal talked in hushed voices, some saying “See, that’s why we don’t report”, while others taking small reports of the FIR but none coming out openly against the decision of the state government.
However, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, while returning from Delhi after speaking at joint press conferences with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi told mediapersons in Kolkata airport: “Nothing happened in Dhulagarh. You should be ashamed.”
That caused limited outrage to few sections of the English media, with some revisiting the affected industrial town of Dhulagarh and bringing out stories that were not reported earlier, leaving out the fear of being called ‘biased’. Bengali media preferred its silence.
Maybe reality of riot-free West Bengal has changed and the residents and media will soon grow up to it.
Meghdoot: Indian journalist and activist