Claim the narrative, don’t let biased media define us
News has never been a completely objective account. Framing, a theory in journalism studies, states that news stories often emphasize one aspect of a given event, while ignoring others. This usually leads to an unbalanced account of the event. Framing then, points towards creation of a narrative around themes, especially contentious ones, in a society –migrants or refugees, rebels or terrorists, separatists or revolutionaries, pro-life vs. pro-choice/ or pro-life or anti-women etc.
Stories framed with a specific idea direct the readers/audience’s attention to that idea and form a narrative around it. Frames are ‘organizing principles that are socially shared and (remain) persistent over time, (that) work symbolically to meaningfully structure the social world’ (Reese, 2001). Other factors that matter and help in guiding the narrative are reputation and reach of media organization/platform that publishes the story; how often is a frame used, and how many stories are framed with the same idea.
While access through the internet has blurred some of these labels – media organizations, even today, do command a local, national or international audience. For example, vernacular newspapers/ channels are aware that their readers/audiences are limited to people who speak certain languages, both in India and abroad, while newspapers/sites with international audiences, such as The New York Times, BBC etc. can be sure that anything they print about India, can be accessed by the elite from India and abroad. English media news, especially an international organization i.e. BBC/NYT, about India, reaches the decision makers of the world, and consequently sets the narrative, without necessarily engaging in history and context of the issue, even when penned by native journalists.
Events are stringed together, to maintain the international narrative of ‘majority’ oppressive, ‘minority’ oppressed forgetting the fact that even today mosques, temples and churches function not only in the same town but on the same streets and have done so for centuries. There are still possibly more cases of Hindus and Muslims living in harmony than not. And that India, a Hindu majority nation, possibly has the longest history of this co-existence.
So, as social media and mainstream news buzzed with yet another horrendous case of rape and death of an innocent girl, who happens to be of a certain religion, people of one religion went into victim and blaming mode, and the other into somewhat defensive mode by bringing up past offences of a similar kind against them, highlighting that similar crimes have occurred in the last few months against the majority and yet no media outrage has shook the nation, let alone the international community.
As someone interested in the impact of tales that media spins, I wanted to conduct a quick study on what a researcher, or even a well-meaning journalist will find, if he/she puts in some search terms in ‘Google’, the most used search engine in the western world. So, I undertook a mini-on-the-spot research to demonstrate how narratives created remain online to be located by other researchers, then put into academic papers and books, without questioning much. Using permutations and combinations of a few words, to gauge how India and its social state is being represented in English speaking media, some results were generated. The research was conducted between April 12 & 13, 2018. Also, I recommend that readers, especially those who are skeptical, conduct their own research to examine what the world gets to read about India.
Following table was generated after examining the first five stories that appeared in the search for ‘mob lynching Muslim in India’.
Mob Lynching Muslim in India
|Title/Headline||News Orgs, Journalist & Audience||Opening Sentence asseen in Google search||Notes|
|Police in India Punish Muslim Victims in ‘Mob Lynching’ Case||The Diplomat By Avinash Giri Global||After a deadly 2017 case of cow vigilantism, the victims are the ones being charged.|
|What is behind India’s epidemic of ‘mob lynching?’||Al Jazeera By Apoorvanand Global||Is the spate of ‘mob lynchings in India really just a spontaneous expression of mob anger?||This article appears first in the search for ‘mob lynching a Hindu’ in India.’|
|The meaning of India’s Beef Lynchings||The Atlantic By Suriya Nayar Global||Lynching is an old crime here, often committed against those of so-called lower castes and marginalized tribes, in order to reinforce brutal social hierarchies. But dozens of news reports over the last two years indicate a dramatic rise in a specific kind of mob murder: the so-called “beef lynchings” of Muslims.||A large image of Narendra Modi accompanies this story with a caption: ‘The rise in anti-Muslim violence under Modi suggests that the demons of the country’s past are very much alive.’|
|India’s Modi Speaks Out Against Cow Vigilantes After ‘Beef Lynchings’ Spark Nationwide Protests||Time By Nikhil Kumar Global||People protest against the recent cases of mob lynching of Muslims who were accused of possessing beef, in New Delhi.||The same article appeared in search for mob lynching a Hindu in India|
|86% killed in cow-related violence since 2010 are Muslim, 97% attacks after Modi govt came to power||The Hindustan Times Delna Abraham & Ojaswi Rao English speaking elite in India and abroad.||As many as 124 people were also injured in the cow-related attacks and more than half (52%) of these attacks were based on rumours.||The very first sentence establishes two things, a. many have died in cow-related deaths– no mention that some incidents resulted after cattle were stolen from those whose livelihood depended on them–and
b. that most of these cases were written before complete details of the story were out. (while many other issues of conflict e.g. theft of cattle are obscured, thereby framing the event as being motivated by religion).
It is interesting to note how much changed or did not change when the word Muslim and Hindu were switched. While the search for ‘mob lynching a Hindu in India generated 142000 results, the number of results for ‘mob lynching a Muslim in India’ was 273 000. The stories however overlapped, meaning many stories that emerged in ‘mob lynching a Muslim’, with Hindus as perpetrators also appeared in ‘mob lynching a Hindu’, which means that the top stories (this research looked only at the first page of the search) in both cases were Muslims as victims.
The following table was created to look at the first ten stories for the search, ‘mob lynching Hindu in India’. The reason for examining first 10 instead of 5 stories like in the earlier case was that the first two stories in the search over lapped with the results for violence against Muslims, and none of first 5 stories was about oppression against Hindus. The search was extended to 10 stories to see if providing some latitude would result in stories about Hindus as victims.
Mob Lynching Hindu in India
|Title/Headline||News Organization & Journalist & Audience||Opening Sentence,
as seen in google search
|What is behind India’s epidemic of ‘mob lynching?’||Al Jazeera By Apoorvanand Global||Is the spate of ‘mob lynchings in India really just a spontaneous expression of mob anger?
This article was the second from top in ‘mob lynching Muslim in India’
|A story of two lynchings, and the silence of Hindu India:||Scroll By Samar Halarnkar English speaking. India and abroad||On the day Junaid died in his brother’s arms, there was another lynching to the north, and this time the Right wing Hindu reaction was strong – a Muslim police officer was stripped and beaten to death by a Muslim mob outside a Srinagar mosque.|
|After a Hindu mob lynches a Muslim teenager in India, his family asks, ‘Why are they allergic to us?’||LA Times Sheshank Bengali Global||The fight that led to Junaid’s death, his brothers said, began as a dispute over a seat.|
|Is lynching the new normal in India?||The Conversation Aftab Alam Global||Hindu “cow vigilantism” against Indian Muslims, is now threatening the social fabric of this multicultural, secular nation.|
|Is India descending into mob rule?||BBC News By Soutik Biswas
|Muslim men have been lynched by Hindu mobs, mostly in BJP-ruled states, for allegedly storing beef and, in one case, for helping a mixed-faith couple elope. Many are wondering whether India is hurtling towards a “mobocracy” under Mr Modi’s watch.|
|The Pathology of Lynching||The Hindu By Tabish Khair English speaking, India and abroad||You can see the connections to the kind of murders of Muslims that have taken place recently in North India — violence that, actually, also connects to a longer history of the murder of Dalits and aborigines by mobs of casteist Hindus.|
|It’s time to enact an anti-lynching law||The Hindu G Sampath English speaking, India and abroad||This marks a 75% increase over 2016, which had been the worst year for mob lynchings since 2010. … The NCAML’s draft Protection from Lynching Act, 2017 defines, for the first time in Indian legal history, the terms ‘lynching‘, ‘mob‘ and ‘ victim’ of mob lynching.|
|The organizing principle of lynch mobs||The Hindu By Neera Chandhok English speaking, India and abroad||According to this interpretation, the recent spate of attacks on Indian citizens, the lynchings and slaughter, can be rightfully construed as ‘wanton’ assaults on personal liberty and the right to life.|
|Indians Protest Attacks on Muslims by Hindu Vigilantes||Time By Nikhil Kumar Global||People protest against the recent cases of mob lynching of Muslims who were accused of possessing beef, in New Delhi|
|Politics of lynching, the new normal in India||India Today By Vivek Surendran English speaking, India & abroad||One of the first cases of lynching was reported in 2006, when four people were lynched over a land dispute at Kherlanji in Maharashtra’s Bhandara district.|
Both Hindus and Muslims have certainly been on the receiving end of violence-so why is there not a single story of violence against Hindus in the first ten results, even though the search words were ‘mob lynching a Hindu in India?
For mob lynching a Muslim, the number of results not only doubles but actually talk about Muslims being oppressed in India. In the results, where almost all the first ten stories, regardless of who the ‘mob’ was ‘lynching’ depicted Hindus as aggressors, 12 out of 15 were written by journalists with Hindu names. We cannot be sure of political orientation, but the names seem Hindu, which provides another kind of legitimacy. The picture drawn is that only Muslims are victims, and there is no violence against the Hindus. So much so, that even ‘sane’ Hindus are speaking up.
These stories are accessible to all English speakers who have access to a computer and internet—anywhere in the world. I will leave for those who understand algorithms and logics of digital searches to explain how this functions and how it is an indication of the material present online. However, as an academic I am concerned that a collective of these articles can be put together, backed by some news on riots in the last century to establish that there is a large Hindu-Muslim divide and that there is no reconciliation and may be, that India should prepare for more violence until there is a breakup like 1947.
In short, generating atrocity literature to support either an outside intervention or division as a solution. Ongoing Hindu exodus from Jammu & Kashmir, for the last three decades does not surface in these searches. For example, for a search on ‘Hindu exodus from Kashmir’ the first three entries were from Wiki, and the first international media organization, BBC, appeared at sixth number.
A few stories down was one from Al Jazeera, with a headline that asks a question of a very different kind, ‘Kashmiri Pandits: Why we never fled Kashmir’. The article (2011) penned by Azad Essa has the following direct quote by a Kashmiri pandit:
‘On the one hand, he says, the community did experience intimidation and violence, which culminated in four massacres in the past 20 years. But, on the other, he says, there was no genocide or mass murder as suggested by Pandit communities based outside Kashmir.’ And ‘On the subject of how many Pandits fled Kashmir, Mridu Rai, a lecturer in Indian Studies at Trinity College, Dublin writes in Until My Freedom Has Come that the figure of 700,000 put forward by Panun Kashmir (Our own Kashmir), a group advocating a homeland for Kashmiri Pandits, “refers to a much larger collection of Pandits who had departed [from Kashmir] at different times over the centuries”.
Rai adds that the language used by Pandits who left the valley – ‘exodus’ or ‘in exile’ – serves as “an indictment of the Indian state for not protecting them within their homeland and then for neglecting them outside it”. These terms also, Rai contends, create a single narrative of victimhood, when, in fact, it is difficult to ascertain why individual Pandits left Kashmir.
Picks up an issue not given much attention–Kashmiri exodus, and by the last paragraph dismisses it as a matter that does not need public sympathy let alone international outrage.
¨He rejects the figures presented by the KPSS and says most of the killings took place after the mass migration¨.
The story also features a short video, where the head of KPSS shares his preference for an independent Kashmir and emphasizes that his identity is connected to Kashmir and not to the other states of India.
That is how narratives are generated, over time, slowly, building up a story, eliminating some others—Framing an issue. No mention of families who lost lives, no mention of how they are still struggling to form homes in their own country, no mention of the terror that was created that led to this ‘exodus’ (dare we use that word). Combine that with which media is publishing these stories, and it is not difficult to figure out how a narrative is generated or lost.
News on digital media poses a specific challenge, since contrary to what people believe, ‘all of life, all of literature, and all of the stories’ never make it to this market place where writers, readers and uploaders have their own motivations. Yet, much research today uses internet and hashtags to indicate public opinion or a true picture of a situation.
For example, what story emerges when we enter incidents that made Hindus refugees in their own country? A search for Kashmiri pandits generated 51 000 results, but the words ‘Rohingya crisis’ generated many times more– about 347 000. While the world knows about Rohingya crisis, not many have heard about Kashmiri exodus, outside of India, while ‘Hindu terror’ has been popularized, there has been a concerted effort to talk about Islam as a religion of peace, and even being nature friendly.
The following table provides some more examples.
|Muslims oppressing Hindus= About 1010000||Hindus oppressing Muslims=About 1790000|
|Muslims oppressed around the world=About 2010000||Hindus oppressed around the world=About 681000|
|Muslims in danger =1880000||Hindus in danger= 519000|
|Muslim terror = 1380000||Hindu terror: 3370000|
|Hindu Muslim unity=About 2340000||Hindu Muslim divide=About 1560000|
|Hindu Muslim fight=About 11300000|
|Islam as religion of peace=About 7180000||Hinduism as a religion of peace=About 2140000|
For ‘Hinduism as a religion of peace’ one of the first five stories included a story from BBC titled, ‘Like most religions Hinduism includes teachings that condemn violence and war, teachings that promote it as a moral duty.’ Hindus simply cannot be allowed to win!! The fact that they are probably the only major religion that allows people to worship the way they want is never mentioned.
Although on occasion a story or two from Swarajya and Daily O showed up as an indication that may be work done by the Indic ecosystem is ‘midlly’ visible. However, when we take into the account that in the search for ‘discrimination against Muslims’ stalwarts of opinion making like Amnesty International, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Time, BBC and the Guardian, among others, show up with titles such as ‘Modi’s party stokes anti-Muslim violence in India’, we know where the narrative is tilted.
What this mini-study conducted in a few hours reveals is that oppression of Hindus is actually not as visible as oppression of Muslims, in the English media outlets. Works of sites like Swarajya, OpIndia, and IndiaFacts are not making the same mark. Maybe we are preaching to the choir, maybe it’s a losing battle, maybe we have lost already.
I am aware that the search might generate a slightly different result depending on the day, country and previous searches made on the computer. However, there is clearly a larger support for the Muslim cause. Whether it is because international media is more sympathetic (or is paid by-) or that there are many more Muslim countries in the world, the fact is that narrative is against the Hindus, who have had to fight with their blood to maintain their way of life, while similar (pagan) ways of life have been eliminated wherever Christianity and Islam have spread.
Framing is studied with a thorough contextual analysis, but here, a mere cursory analysis of headlines and media organizations is enough to tell us that something is amiss. India, other than Nepal, which recently chose to move away from being called a Hindu Nation, is the only Hindu majority nation in the world. Work done by Swarajya, IndiaFacts, OpIndia, etc., though very good and needed just does not match up to the moneyed media houses that are not interested in providing a balanced image or understanding that Hindus have only one country to call home. Without Hindus in India, Hindus abroad do not matter and face a certain death, just like the Parsis. So, this discrimination cuts right at the support of Hinduism, at the land and people who sustain the faith, proudly wear their identity and needn’t perform their rituals in secret.
This is not to highlight one as being more peaceful than the other, but that English media, both at home and abroad is biased and frames all stories of conflict in India as driven by religion, while upholding majority vs. minority argument, without engaging in other variables that question that pre-determined narrative. And news media’s online presence gives such angles more visibility.
So let us see where does ‘framing effect’ lead to? Examining Google Scholar for academic articles on ‘26/11 Islam’ vs. ‘9/11 Islam’, shows how ‘26/11’ has not been a buzz in academia as the first ten articles on ‘26/11 Islam’ in the search are not even about Mumbai attacks, when terrorists killed many civilians based on their religion.
|(For this search, a time-period was restricted to 2008-2018) 9/11 Islam = 63000||26/11 Islam = 9, 050 results|
Just to give an idea, the very first article that emerges in Google Scholar for ‘26/11 Islam’ is titled, ‘Risk factors for ischaemic and intracerebral haemorrhagic stroke in 22 countries (the INTERSTROKE study): a case-control study’ only because one of the author’s last name is Islam. The article also appears in search for ‘9/11 Islam’. However, the very first article for ‘9/11 Islam’ is titled ‘Framing Islam: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of Terrorism Since 9/11’, and establishes that domestic terror attacks are underplayed, in comparison to international terrorist attacks in the US media.
The ultimate framing effect is distrust between communities, the community presented as aggressors receiving less sympathy over a period of time, to the point that violence against them is taken lightly or considered a way to right the apparent wrongs done by them.
What can be done to counter this? With my limited knowledge of politics, and some understanding of media’s influence, I would like to suggest that there is a need for government support, to allow Hindus to present their stories, as we move from being passive to active users on the internet. Indian state, regardless of who is in power needs to have organizations that are committed to unbiased research and ask relevant questions, and are transparent about their research methodology and data collection. As Shri Rajiv Malhotra has suggested, there needs to be a few media outlets that challenge international narrative with research and engage them in open debates. Grants and fellowships should be awarded for a formal study of India’s image in international media, and counter it with proper data supported research. Conversely, the same institutions should study treatment of various Indian communities in other countries, to gather data on how Indians are treated abroad. There should be media literacy workshops for teachers and students alike so that an average citizen can be trained to study and understand the impact of media.
There is a need to present a proper, well-researched image of the country –that builds trusts between communities and provides a closer to truth picture of India to the world. Surely, there are problems, heinous crimes whether or not driven by religion, caste and other differences should be highlighted, but selective outrage as scholars like Vamsee Juluri have written about earlier only creates distrust among public and media and worse, between communities.
The author would like to thank Prof. Vamsee Juluri and a Yugaparivartan.com for providing valuable feedback.
Reese, S. D. (2001). Framing public life: A bridging model for media research. In S. D. Reese, O. H. J. Gandy, & A. E. Grant (Eds.), Framing public life (pp. 7–31). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Juluri, V. Media Wants Riots: Why Indians are Protesting Bias and Sensationalism in Media. Huffington Post https://www.huffingtonpost.com/vamsee-juluri/media-wants-riots-why-ind_b_8247866.html
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