Sunday, December 21, 2008

26/11 and Urdu press

Muslims kids participate in an anti-terror rally
Contrary to the popular myth that the Urdu press is a monolithic entity, it represents a diverse range of issues, opinions, points and counter-points. The tragedy of 26/11 proved to be a litmus test. On a careful analysis, it becomes abundantly clear that Urdu press accommodated views that could not find space even in the mainstream media. It is altogether a different debate whether the issues raised were right or wrong. It is in the intrinsic nature of good journalism to accommodate all kinds of views.

Urdu newspapers were the first to denounce the terrorists that struck Mumbai on the fateful night of November 26. The very next day, most Urdu newspapers carried front-page editorials. Leading Mumbai daily Inquilab carried a small piece titled, 'Who are these beasts? Let's defeat them together'. And, 'Who are these smiling faces that have deserted Mumbai' was the title of a front-page piece in Urdu Times. Delhi-based weekly Jadeed Markaz had a simple and self-evident headline: 'Pakistani terrorists attack India'.

Some newspapers demanded accountability from the government and politicians while others were against the political bashing. Inquilab came down heavily on politicians especially over "the politics of dead bodies". "It is time," it said, "that people question the establishment as to why our security is so weak. Why are we so helpless against terrorists? What is our policy against terrorists?" It blasted politicians for wagging their tongues. "For God's sake, hold your tongue," it warned, "We are not desperate to hear your statements but rather we want some concrete action." Rashtriya Sahara too criticised politicians. "In this tough battle our brave soldiers sacrificed their lives but yet the behaviour of political class has shamed us that even in worst times, politicians can't unite."

Jadeed Markaz said that the trend to abuse the present system is very dangerous. "It is not a good omen for the country's democratic system," it cautioned. "This environment against the politicians," it said, "has been created by people belonging to big corporate houses, those who frequent night clubs and expensive hotels, those who call themselves as 'elite'… There was no Preity Zinta to light candles at Cama hospital and CST because those died there obviously did not belong to the elite club."

The peace march at the Gateway of India and later at CST was given prominent coverage and like its English counterpart the Urdu press was overtly nationalist. Inquilab ran a front-page headline, 'Announcement of war against politicians and establishment'.

It beautifully captured the mood of the people by reproducing the slogans of the day.

Urdu Times had a similar headline. The peace march by Muslims was also highlighted particularly the placards which read, 'Pakistan be declared a terrorist state'.

Hemant Karkare was not only given a hero's farewell but his death has been widely speculated. A section of the Urdu press has advocated the theory floating on the net that he was killed by Sangh Parivar and Mossad for his exposé of the Malegaon bomb blast!

Rashtriya Sahara carried a series of pieces on the conspiracy theory. One read, "If the questions being raised, circumstances and incidents indicate that this is a cooked up story then the reader's decision will prevail." Jadeed Markaz is also sceptical. "It can't be said that attackers of Hemant Karkare belong to Sangh Parivar but it is quite possible that any mad man could have attacked him as a result of the recent provocations by Sangh leaders." Urdu Times ran articles by Amaresh Mishra, a known Sangh Parivar critic, who believes in RSS-Mossad conspiracy theory! "The alliance has gone out of control," he wrote.

Inquilab stayed away from these conspiracy theories but pointed out some loopholes in the official version. It carried a reference report which says the terrorists who killed Karkare were speaking Marathi. "These terrible events leave innumerable questions; out of which many questions will never be answered. The same thing happened with 9/11." The paper urges Muslims to act rather than be a "mute spectator". "It's time for action and to become part of the system. For how long we will stick to our glorious past? Saazish kay muqabley mein kavish hi kaam aa sakti hai. (Hard work and striving can be more fruitful than a conspiracy)." It severely criticised AR Antulay's observation that Karkare was not killed by the terrorists.

26/11 has evolved Urdu journalism: this was the first time that leading newspapers devoted many special pages to a tragedy. News was not just covered from the 'Muslim point of view' as is widely believed, but from the human angle as well. This can be gauged from the fact that none of them highlighted or sensationalised the fact that almost 40 per cent of the terror victims were Muslims.
Sunday DNA, December 21, 2008

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