Set the record straight

When we are fighting one of the deadliest viruses, nations must act responsibly. It’s time to scrutinise every Western media report that has run down India for its handling of the crisis

Novelist and activist Arundhati Roy told Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s public broadcaster, recently that the situation in India was “approaching genocidal.” The novelist claimed that Muslims were being stigmatised because of COVID-19 and that the Narendra Modi Government was exploiting the pandemic “to ramp up its suppression of Muslims.” Shockingly, she compared the Government’s tactics to the one used by the Nazis during the holocaust to use the outbreak of typhus to stigmatise the Jews. Finally, came this horrendous charge: “Indian mainstream media is genocidal — TV anchors are like single-member lynch mobs.” This is probably the most reprehensible statement made by anyone with regard to India, the biggest and the most vibrant democracy as also the most diverse nation in the world. No individual, who wishes to be taken seriously, would bandy the “G” word so recklessly.

Equally shocking is the decision of Germany’s public broadcaster to lend itself to such invidious propaganda against the world’s largest democracy. We all know that as a nation, Germany is well acquainted with the dreadful consequences of a genocide. This nation has struggled for 75 years to live down that terrible past and build a robust democracy. Likewise, senior editorial staff and news anchors in DW, who take editorial decisions, would certainly be acquainted with India’s glorious struggle for freedom and the secular, liberal and democratic Constitution that has been guiding its destiny since 1947. It is, therefore, inexplicable that Germany’s public broadcaster should take such liberties while talking about India. 

Needless to say that Roy’s allegations are baseless. The truth is that currently in India a Muslim organisation — the Tablighi Jamaat — is in the news for its act of irresponsibility last month. It flouted State Government orders and went ahead with a conference in the heart of the nation’s capital, which was attended by people from Malaysia and Indonesia among others. Hundreds of delegates have since got infected with COVID-19 and are being treated in hospitals across the country. They have fanned out to various States and become the super-spreaders of COVID-19. The Union Government and Governments in 28 States are working overtime to trace the unfortunate victims and treat them. Misled by some clerics and by individuals like Roy, many of these patients are attacking healthcare workers and resisting treatment, thus endangering themselves, their family members, the entire Indian population and humanity itself. Indian newspapers and television news channels are full of stories of the attacks on doctors and nurses by these patients and their relatives, many of whom have been hospitalised. And this, according to Roy is “genocide!” It is unfortunate that DW did not even make rudimentary checks before running an interview that was full of blatantly false assertions.  

We shall now turn to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). On April 14, it ran a story on how India was “underreporting” the Coronavirus outbreak. What was the basis for this report? Two faceless, anonymous doctors, who are too willing to air their views but lack the spine to identify themselves.

The BBC said “the reality is far more grim than what statistics show.” One doctor claimed that six patients with respiratory problems were brought in dead but they were not tested, implying that they were all probably COVID-19 victims. This is a serious allegation. The doctor must now identify himself and publicly make this claim so that the health authorities can verify and initiate suitable action. Otherwise, he will open himself to the charge of abetting the spread of the virus.

Ever since the epidemic hit India, television news channels back home have been talking to top doctors and heads of medical research in the country. These experts are just a phone call away and deem it their duty to keep the people informed but all that the BBC could find were two anonymous doctors. It claimed that one of the doctors, who works in Maharashtra, wanted anonymity because he feared “reprisal from the Government.” Which Government? 

One fact that is hidden from readers and viewers across Western media platforms, including DW and the BBC, is that India is a federation and a large number of political parties run the federal Government and the 28 States. It is indeed a political kaleidoscope, with over two dozen political parties engaged in governance at just these two levels. But this fact is hidden so that whenever there is an insinuation that democratic traditions are flouted, a finger can easily be pointed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as if he heads a nation ruled by a single party. 

The question one must pose to the BBC is: How responsible are you when you withhold such basic information about India’s democratic system? Also, all that you could get to further your unprofessional assumptions were two anonymous bytes in this nation of 1.3 billion people with top class experts in the field of medical science?

In the days ahead, one hopes the BBC will turn its special focus to the human tragedy that is unravelling in thousands of care homes in the UK in which hundreds of elderly citizens are dying every day of COVID-19 for want of adequate Government support.    

Then you have the New York Times, which is doing its best to paint India’s decision to go in for a complete lockdown in dark shades. Its correspondents in New Delhi are claiming that India’s “already fragile economy will collapse” because of the lockdown. Meanwhile, there have been two developments, which show how motivated and biased these assertions are. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international financial institutions are unanimously declaring that India will have the highest real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2020-21 among all the G-20 nations. India’s GDP is expected to grow at 1.9 per cent as against minus 5.9 of the US, minus 6.5 of the UK etc. Obviously, India is doing something right? Also, an Oxford University study has declared that India is one of those countries where the lockdown was the strictest. 

The time has come to scrutinise every report put out by these media corporations and to call out prejudice. Obviously, there is more to it than just irresponsible journalism. There is a deliberate attempt to run down the world’s largest democracy, which, despite under development, social and economic issues and political diversity of the kind that no other nation has experienced, has displayed phenomenal unity, confidence and discipline to tackle the pandemic. These reports constitute an affront to the 1.3 billion citizens of India.

In recent years, there have been incidents of violence against the immigrant Turks in Germany and the German Interior Ministry has reported that there are 26,000 radical Right-wing extremists in Germany, of whom 6,000 are neo-Nazis. The Islamic Human Rights Commission has said that the “British Government is responsible for the alarming rise of Islamophobia.”

But let us not say that the fascists are back in Germany, or that Britain, the cradle of modern democratic traditions, has forgotten all that has happened  since the days of the Magna Carta and is now seeking solace in its medieval practices. We must behave responsibly.

(The writer is an author specialising in democracy studies. Views expressed are personal.)

Source: The Pioneer

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