Saturday, August 08, 2015

Communal agenda and Hindi press in a globalizing India

Religion, Politics and Media: German and Indian Perspectives, Edited by: Detlef Briesen, Sigrid Baringhorst & Arvind Das, published by Palm Leaf Publications, New Delhi (A chapter from the book written by Arvind Das).
Hindi press started its journey in May 1826 with the publication of a weekly called Oodunta Martand. In June 1854, the first Hindi daily, Samachar Sudhavarshan was published. Both publications were from Calcutta. In the North-Western provinces (modern day Uttar Pradesh), the first Hindi newspaper published was Banaras Akhbar (Banaras News) in 1845, under the guidance of Raja Shivprasad. Although these few journals and newspapers were first published in the period of 1826-60, Hindi press really gained momentum only after 1860.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was no watertight compartment between literary and political journals published in Hindi. However, while Kavi Vachan Sudha (1868), Harish Chandra Chandrika (1874, launched by Bhartendu Harsihchandra from Banaras), Bharat Mitra (1878), Sar Sudha Nidhi (1879), Uchit Wakta (1880), and Hindi Pradeep (1877), launched by Pandit Balakrishan Bhatt, voiced literary and social concerns,  Arya Darpan, Bharat Varsha, Brahaman, Hidusthan and Hidusthani were more political in their content and tone (Mishra 2004). Dr. Ramratan Bhatnagar, who has researched on the growth and rise of early Hindi journalism, has argued: “…the Hindi press was dominated by one primary motive-the propagation of some definite notion about religion, social reform, or the language to be adopted universally by the people of Hindi Pradesh (Bhatnagar 2003: Xiii). While the 19th century renaissance (in Hindi Navjagran) of Bengal and Maharashtra mainly focused on socio-religious reforms, renaissance in the North Western provinces had a distinct character. Veer Bharat Talwar (2002) in his research on the renaissance of 19th century North Western Provinces has noted that the main goal of the leaders of the movement was to establish the supremacy of Hindi/Nagari over Urdu rather than fight for socio-religious reforms. He has suggested, by studying Hindi writings in the 19th century, that it should be called Hindi movement instead of Hindi Navjagran (Hindi renaissance). He writes, The writers of Hindi renaissance had converted the constitutional question of political democracy into a religious communal question By the end of 19th century Hindi and Hindu word had become synonymous (Talwar 2002: 327). In this period the Hindu and the Musilm elites of the North West provinces vociferously contested the idea of syncretic culture and charted their separate path based on their perceived self-identities. The Hindi press of Banaras, the fulcrum of Hindi movement, immensely helped in politicization of the Hindu religion, and Hindi  writings were used as a tool to establish the Hindu identity. In the Journals edited by Bhartendu Harishchandra, politicization of Hinduness found vigorous expression (Dalmia 2005). In June 1880, Bal Krishna Bhat, another prominent writer of Bhatendu Harishchandra group, wrote in Hindi Pradeep: Afsos ki hum Hindu kehlate hain, aur Hindi ko nahi chahte, toh mujhe aise logon ke Hindu hone mein kuch daal mein kala jaan padta hai (It is sad that we are known as Hindu but dont love Hindi. I believe there is something seriously wrong in their Hinduness) (Talwar 2002: 327). The editorials and essays of many journals like Sar Sudha Nidhi and Bharat Jeevan openly espoused the communal hatred based on Hindis purity and Urdus foreignness and pollution.[i]
Similarly, in the first two decades of 20th century, Hindi Press mainly propagated nationalistic, linguistic and religious discourse. Periodicals like Abhyuday (1907), edited by Madan Mohan Malviya, Pratap (1913), edited by Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, and Aaj (1920) , edited by Baburao Vishnu Paradkar, were prominent among them. In particular, Aaj, published from Kanpur, UP, became a popular newspaper and expanded its reach to common public and thus widened the Hindi public sphere (Orsini 2009).  It should be noted here that the Hindi press played an equally important role during the Indian freedom movement fighting against colonial powers. Most of the journalists of pre-independence era, who were freedom fighters themselves, followed nationalist leader Mahatma Gandhis dictum: journalism should be a means to serve the country.  Mahatma Gandhi, a journalist par excellence, believed, Journalism to be useful and serviceable to the country will take its definite place only when it becomes unselfish and when it devotes its best for the service of the country, and whatever happens to the editors or to the journal itself, editors would express the views of the country irrespective of consequences (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 26: 370-371). He advocated and propagated use of Hindustani, a mix of Hindi and Urdu, to fight against the colonial power and unite the masses. In this period, Hindi journalism was perceived to be not merely a profession, but a mission.

Moreover, with the rise of Indian National Congress (1885), All India Muslim League (1906) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS, 1925) the sound of Hindi, Hindu and Hindusthan, a slogan given by the leading Hindi writer of Bhartendu group, Pratap Narayan Mishra (1856-1884), reverberated in the Hindi Public sphere. The founder of RSS, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, was an admirer of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar from whom the organization got its ideological inspiration and strength. Savarkar coined the term Hindutva (Hinduness) in his book Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? (1923). He emphasized on Hindu, Hindusthan and Hindi and underlined that the Hindu culture and religion only and truly represented the Indian national identity. Christhophe Jaffrelot writes, In Savarkars views the religious minorities are requested to pay allegiance to this dominant identity and to hold back the manifestations of their faith within private sphere (2007: 1). Savarkar was actively involved with the Hindu Mahasabha since its inception in 1915 and took over as its president in 1937. Hindu Mahasabha (Hindu Assembly) was established to protect the interests of Hindu and counter the Musilm League. Hindi language press in North India grew in this political milieu and mirrored the communal biases of the leading nationalist leaders and political parties. Krishna Kumar notes, In northern India, revivalist efforts succeeded in projecting Hindi as the symbol of a liberated self-identity. The Hindi movement became a major resource for the creation of a community purged of foreign influences. The manner in which collective self-identity came to be defined in the Hindi belt from the 1920s onwards was a new and uniquely northern development. Language and education became the means to evolve a Hindu identity in which the rejection of English was but one layer sitting above a painstakingly assembled mass of anti-Muslim consciousness (2006:19). In the pre-independence era, a large part of Hindi and Urdu language press was appropriated by nationalist leaders. Even after independence was gained in 1947, for a long time, Hindi press failed to create a liberal public sphere where rational-critical discourse could be possible. It was only in the late 20th century that Hindi press got an identity of its own and reinvented its public sphere (Jeffrey 2001; Ninan 2007; Das 2013).
Religious Diversity and Hinduisation of press

In todays world the media is the prime factor for the representation of self and other. The question is how does the Hindi press represent the majority and minority community in India?  Is the press biased towards the minority? And in times of communal conflict, does the Hindi press report the truth? India is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual society. According to the 2001 census, of the total population of India 80.5 percent are Hindus while Muslims account for 13.4 percent, Christians 2.3 percent, and Sikhs 1.9 percent. The proportion of Buddhists, Jains and other religions are 0.8, 0.4 and 0.6 percent respectively. (It should be noted that religion data of the 2011 census is yet to be released).  

Communalism, like secularism, has a complex connotation and character in the Indian context. It is a modern phenomenon, which has roots in colonial history and the nationalist movement. In common parlance, it means hostility between different religious communities (Pandey 1990). Even though at the time of independence there was blood and gore all around due to partition of the country, after Independence India became a secular republic. However, religion, caste and linguistic identities still play a major role in defining Indian politics.

Independent India has seen many minor communal conflicts and major riots and pogroms. In most instances, these conflicts and riots have political contexts. Paul R. Brass writes: In many parts of India where Hindu-Muslim riots are endemic, especially in the northern and western states, institutionalized systems of riot production have been created in the years since independence, which are activated during periods of political mobilization or at the time of elections (2006: 65). In pre-independence era Hindi press had a greater role in inciting hatred and setting communal agenda but there is not much research available to show what kind of role it played in times of communal clashes or riots. However, after independence, in the 1980s, Hinduisation of the Hindi press had started vigorously, which went on to flare up in the 1990s with the rise of Hindutva forces on the political firmament. In the 1980s, during the Khalistan movement in Punjab, the Sikhs as a minority community were demonized in Hindi newspapers. During Operation Bluestar in 1984 (when the Indian army entered Punjab to fight Sikh separatists), the language of Hindi press predominately became the language of the state and subsumed its ideology. On 2nd June 1984, the Indian Army entered the holy site of the Sikhs, the Golden temple in Amritsar , to arrest their leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers. The editor of the Nav Bharat Times, a prominent Hindi daily, Rajendra Mathur wrote: Murderers, mad and bank robbers can only oppose this action.  In fact, Rajendra Mathur, hailed it as a historic day while its sister publication, the English daily The Times of India termed it as historys saddest day! [ii] Similarly, his contemporary, the editor of Jansatta, Prabhash Joshi, in his editorials was fulsome in praise of the Indira Gandhi government and the Indian army. Especially before and after Operation Bluestar, and in the run up to the Delhi massacre after assassination of Indira Gandhi by her two bodyguards, the role of Hindi print media took on a communal element. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed on 31st October 1984, a leading Hindi daily, Dainik Jagran, provocatively screamed Two Sikh bodyguards killed Indira. By  underlining the religious identity of the bodyguards in this way, Dainik Jagran was scapegoating the entire Sikh community, and flaring up communal tensions on the streets of Delhi that ultimately claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent people.

In the same period, Hindutva ideology propagated by the Sangh Parivar, by its political wing the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP, formerly Jan Sangh), and by its allied Hindu organizations, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), were gaining a foothold in the Hindi heartland. Hindi newspapers helped them promote Hindu Nationalism, which led to communal frenzy during the campaign to build Ram temple in Ayodhya that ultimately culminated in the demolition of the centuries old Babari mosque in December 1992.  It is now well-researched and archived that part of the mass-circulated Hindi press-turned Kar Sevak (foot soldiers) in response to the crisis.  Charu and Mukul Sharma have documented in detail how various Hindi newspapers disseminated misinformation, stereotyped the Muslims and became the voice of the majority Hindu community during Ramjanmbhoomi-Babari Masjid movement (1990). They note: The Ramjanambhoomi-Bari Masjid controversy and its coverage is the blackest of the black chapter in the history of print media (p 4). In October 1990, During Ayodhya movement, a leading Hindi daily, Aaj, in its banner headlines published: Suraksha balon ki goli se char mare, Ashok Singhal ke sar mein goli lagi, Baba Ramchandra Paramhans bhi ghayal, Ayodhya mein kar sewa shuroo, sena ka goli chalane se inkar (Four killed in the firing by security forces, bullet hits Ashok Singhal in the head, Baba Ramchandra Paramhans also wounded, kar sewa begins in Ayodhya, the army refuses to open fire). Similarly, another Hindi daily, Nav Bharat Times wrote: "Lakhon kar sewakon ne suraksha balon ki lathi aur goli ki parwah kiye bagair vivadit Babari Masjid ko lagbhag dhwast kar diya (Lakhs of kar sewaks defied the lathis and bullets of security forces and nearly demolished the disputed Babari Masjid). This kind of provocative reporting fanned communal tension in several cities of UP and Bihar.   Here it would be interesting to note that the state controlled news channel Doordarshan in 1987-88 serialized the Hindu religious epic Ramayan, which chronicled the life of Hindu lord Ram. It has further enhanced an already surcharged atmosphere, and has helped Hindutava forces mobilize majority community on the communal lines. The Press Council of India conducted an investigation of the role Hindi press during the 1990 communal crisis. Its resolution states:
There is little doubt that some influential sections of the Hindi press in UP and Bihar were guilty of gross responsibility and impropriety, offending the canons of journalistic ethics in promoting mass hysteria on the basis of rumours and speculation, through exaggeration and distortion, all of this proclaimed under screaming, banner headlines. They were guilty, in a few instances, of doctoring pictures (such as drawing prison bars on the photograph of an arrested Mahant), fabricating casualty figures (for example, adding 1 before 15 to make 115 deaths), and incitement of violence and spreading disaffection among members of the armed forces and police, engendering communal hatred (Ludden: 109).
Globalization, religion and Hindi Press: A Case Study of Nav Bharat Times, New Delhi

Global technologies came to India during colonialism, but English being the language of the ruling class, most of the technological benefits of Indian state went to English press. Furthermore, most of the government advertisements were largely accrued to English press and Hindi remained a poor cousin of English in independent India. Although Hindi was given official language status by the Indian Constituent Assembly in 1950, Indias Hindi press was lacking in confidence, vigour and quality in the decades to follow.

However, liberalization and privatization of the Indian economy in the late 1980s, that were to be the start of the globalization process in India, resulting in technological and economic changes that transformed the Hindi newspaper business. With the steady increase in literacy and the expanding purchasing power of people accompanied by volatile political ambience in the Hindi belt during this period, the rise in circulation of Hindi newspapers and its influence among ruling elites also increased. This is evident from the fact that out of ten most read dailies (Indian Readership Survey 2013) five are in Hindi language - Dainik Jagran,  Dainik Bhaskar, Amar Ujala, Hindustan and Rajasthan Patrika. Other positions are occupied by Malyalam, Tamil and Marathi publications all regional language newspapers. The Times of India is the only English newspaper, which features in this top ten list. Robin Jeffrey has termed this a language newspaper revolution.  Global technologies, which came with globalization, have opened up new vistas for Hindi journalism to flourish in the liberalized economy of India. Facsimile transmission via Satellite makes  it possible for newspapers to get published from various regional centres simultaneously. Dainik Bhaskar, Daink Jagran, Amar Ujala, Hindustan and others made inroads into the remote areas of Hindi heartland thanks to this new found technology. Around ten to fifteen multiple editions of these newspapers are now published simultaneously, which was unthinkable before globalization. Futher, this language newspaper revolution has expanded and reinvented the existing public sphere at district levels (Ninan 2007). But the question is, has there been a corresponding qualitative transformation in the Hindi press as far as religion and communal depiction and representation is concerned?

Since the beginning of time, religion has played a pivotal role in bringing people together across the globe. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism have successfully travelled around the world and their adherents have preached the religion across time and space. In the last few decades the Hindu religion has also expanded its reach and has become a transnational entity. Hindu religious organization like Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Society) have successfully forged a global network.

In the late 1980s and afterwards, in the many parts of the world, there has been a resurgence of militant politics in the name of religion. As David Ludden has argued, In the United States, India, Algeria, Poland, Iran, Israel, and elsewhere, religion entered politics with a new force in the 1980 (2008: 3) How have the globalization of religion and the resurgence of Hindutva ideology been depicted in the Hindi press? How in the 1980s was the news relating to religion and religious diversity represented? And how is it different from representation in the globalizing India? Has Hindi press helped Hindutva forces in polarizing society, sowing seeds of communal mistrust and stoking religious conflicts?  By focusing on a prominent national Hindi daily, Nav Bharat Times, published from New Delhi, this essay has tried to find the answer to these questions. Using a random sampling technique, the study analyzed 56 editions of Nav Bharat Times published in 1986 and 2005.

In 1986, in the sample period, 12 news items related to religion appeared in the newspaper. Six news items were published on the front page; out of these, two news items were published as lead stories while remaining four were given one column space. Importantly, five news items were related to the Jain religion and the others related to Hinduism. One open-editorial under the heading: Indian needs another kind of secularism was published.

It must be noted here that Nav Bharat Times is published under Bennett and Colemen or Times Group and their owners are the followers of the Jain religion. Any activities pertaining to the Jain religion taking place in Delhi would thus be likely to feature in Nav Bharat Times.  Most of the news items concerning Jain religion were the edicts of Jain religion emphasizing on the role of peace and compassion in human life.  While the frequency of these reports was lower in 2005, still there were multiple news items related to Jainism published in the newspaper.

In India religion has its cultural moorings. Holi, Diwali, Dussehra and so on for Hindus, Eid for Muslims, and Christmas for Christians are religious as well as cultural festivals. In 1986 as well as in 2005 we find news items related to these festivals getting routinely published. In 1986, one open-editorial in Nav Bharat Times was written dealing with Ram temple and Babari mosque dispute. It said: the dark cloud of old memories is hanging on the Rams auspicious birth place. For some, it is equally a sacred mosque. But there are many people who dont want to be reminded of the centuries old haunting dispute.

The globalization has created a huge market of various Hindu gods in India. Now Hindi newspapers are readily taking part in promoting Hindu religious festivals. In festive seasons, Nav Bharat Times would publish Hindu religious icons at its masthead, without giving a thought to the sentiments of other religions that might be opposed to the idol worship! With growing market and burgeoning middle class a nexus of religion and market has emerged and Hindi newspapers are producing religious news to its consumers! In 2005, we find Nav Bharat Times participating proactively in promoting Hindu festivals during Kali pooja, Ganesha pooja, Mahasivratri, Ramnavmi and Janamstami.  During these festivals Hindi newspapers invariably publish advertorials (advertisements written as news/feature stories) related to Hindu gods and goddesses. During the Navratri festival, newspapers publish news items relating explicitly to the festival. On 8th April 2005 and on 16th April 2005 Nav Bharat Times published two news reports titled Vibheen mandiron mein chal rahi hai navratri ki taiyariyan (Preparations are going on in many temples for Navratri and Satve din ki gayi maa kalratri ki pooja" (on seventh day Maa Kalratri was worshiped).

Similarly, in times of Janamastavi and Ramnavmi festivals, special coverage in newspapers are seen accompanied by advertisements offering sale on goods and services. Newspapers compete against each other to get their share of the advertisement pie.  On 22nd August 2005 Nav Bharat Times published two news items related to Janmashtami.  One news item discusses about  the preparation of Janamastami in temples in Delhi, while another discusses how Janamstami is being celebrated for two days to maximize profit. Titled Do din janamastami! Akhir mamla do crore ka hai, that explains how market commercializes religion. 

In addition to this, Nav Bharat Times publishes on six days of the week a column titled Wisdom tree under which religion, culture and ethics are discussed. In this column, the newspaper tries to maintain the Indian state principle of sarva dharma sambhava (equality of all religions).  In 2008, it started a page dedicated to religion and festivals under the rubric Utsav' (Celebration). And on 19th May 2008 it wrote: We all are fun loving people. Our country is full of celebrations. Here every day is a festival and each stone is a God. Read about this society full of life and its belief each Monday on Utsav page. While analysing this page it was found that religious dogmatism and obscurantism is propagated via press without the slight hint of scientific temperament. And the main focus of these stories were Hindu religion and its practices. Most Hindi newspapers today have a page devoted to religion or culture.

During the Hindi movement of the 19th and early 20th century, Hindi press was used for political mobilisation besides promoting Hindi language. In a globalizing India, political parties are once again using Hindi press quite successfully for political mobilization, which helps them in setting communal agenda. According to annual report of Indian Registrar of newspapers (2013-14), Hindi had 3,213 dailies claiming a circulation of over 126 million. While attempting to make a generalization about the Hindi press is a difficult path to tread, it is safe to conclude that in times of communal conflict in modern India, Hindi press had failed to perform its professional duties; rather, it has been complicit more often than not. As far as representation of journalists from minority communities are concerned, there is no overt discrimination in the recruitment process; however, it must be noted that there are no journalists from minority communities in any influential decision making position, either in various bureaus or in the main offices of the newspapers. As a result of the proliferation of the language media outside of metropoles, the small towns and have emerged as new power centres. However with the exponential growth in Hindi press there has been less spending on human resources and training and more on circulation and marketing of newspapers. In a globalizing India, the Hindi public sphere (Habermans: 1989) where a rational-liberal discourse is possible is still in the making.


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[i] See Sohan Prasad Murdis book, Hindu Aur Urdu ki Ladai, 1884
[ii] For more see ‘Hindi Patrakarita ya Hindu Patrakarita?’, Anand Swaroop Varma, 17-23 June 1984, Shan-e-Sahara and Hans magazine, New Delhi, September 1987. 

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