First Person | A Truth Too Many

Lies and illogic have to be countered openly and publicly

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

At one of the institutes in Delhi which runs a media familiarisation programme for serving military personnel in the rank of colonels and brigadiers, I was accosted by a colonel during the tea break. He told me that he has been reading my articles. Presuming this to be praise, I thanked him. A bit too soon though, because his next sentence put me in my place. “You always write against the army,” he said. “You write about human rights violations by the army, but you never write about human rights violations by the terrorists.”

Since he seemed quite rattled, I thought it was better to let him vent his fury instead of offering an explanation. But he demanded one. “No, you tell me why you don’t write about human rights violations by the terrorists?” he said in a voice which was no longer conversational.

I resorted to wit. “You have said it yourself,” I said jovially. “Because they are terrorists, and you are soldiers. We do not hold them to the same moral, ethical standards as soldiers. You guys are honourable, uniformed professionals; hence expectations from you are higher.”

“This is a lame excuse. Even a terrorist is a human being. He also has family, parents, wife, children… Same humanitarian standards should apply to him,” he said even as my eyes widened with incredulity.

Is he humanising the terrorist as an armed opponent? Then why doesn’t the army accord the terroristthe same courtesy due to a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention?

“No, no, he is not a soldier. He is a terrorist alright because he is terrorising the people,” he insisted.

But aren’t those acts of ‘terror’ reported in the media?

“No, but you don’t write about human rights violations, you only write about terrorism.”

Isn’t terrorism a human rights violation?

“No, incidents like rape, or when a terrorist kills a person because he disobeys him.”

Surely, these would be getting reported. If there is a police complaint, the local reporter would pick the story.

“Nobody complains,” he said. “That is the problem. People don’t complain either out of fear or because they support the terrorist.”

By this time my eyes had rolled-up into my head. I was beyond disbelief about the conversation I was having. For days after that I kept wondering why that colonel couldn’t see the incongruency of his arguments.

In the last week of October, I felt the same sense of helpless frustration watching a prime time show anchored by journalist Ravish Kumar. And I sensed that perhaps he felt the same way. Discussing the growing intolerance in the country, one of the panellists, a folk singer of some repute, pulled out the age old chestnut about media being selective in its reportage. She said that while Mohammed Akhlaq’s death by lynching has been given undue publicity, other deaths, some even more gruesome, have been ignored.

When Ravish Kumar asked her which deaths she was referring to, she said killing of innocent people by the Maoists. She was probably hinting that the media has Left-wing leanings, therefore it glosses over the activities of the Maoists, who are supposedly ultra-Leftist. One, she was factually incorrect, killings by Maoists always makes news. Two, Maoists are an organised group of extremists who are openly waging a declared war against the State. There is nothing unexpected about them or their killings.

But Ravish didn’t say any of this. Looking weary, he told her that it was a subject for another discussion and wound up the show.

More recently I came across an interview by film actor Anupam Kher, where he also accused the media of selective outrage by likening Mohammed Akhlaq’s death with the murder of a Bajrang Dal activist in Bengaluru,Prashanth Poojary.Prashanth was apparently killed by Muslim boys who were angry with his campaign against illegal abattoirs in the city. Sure, death is an equaliser and of course, all murders must be investigated and murderers punished, butoutrage is caused by the manner and circumstances of the act.

It is difficult to believe that all these people, apparently intelligent, well-read and well-travelled, do not understand this; that the template of one incident cannot be put on another. Yet, they do so, especially in a public forum. What could be the reason for this? I think they do it deliberately, because they think that people at large are foolish and gullible. Such is the nature of average citizenry that even the most ridiculous statement can find audience, which repeats it to others. And with the social media, a contrarian narrative, howsoever fallacious,is build. Once repeated ad nauseam, even the source or the circumstances of the lie are lost.

So, I have a friend now who justifies blatant atmosphere of communal bullying by explaining to me that it is a fact that all terrorists are Muslims, hence the majority community in India is reacting to that. Or that Muslims in India are better off than Hindus in Pakistan.

It is understandable when politicians do this; nobody expects any better from them in any case.But when popular icons resort to such subterfuge it is both sad and alarming. Then, instead of letting such comments pass with weary frustration, they must be countered, openly and publicly.


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