Indian Media’s Selective Silence on Durga Desecration

Does the Indian media have an unwritten code not to report atrocities on minorities in…

Does the Indian media have an unwritten code not to report atrocities on minorities in India’s neighbouhood?

It appears that taking after the Narendra Modi government, Delhi media needs a “Look East” policy. What else explains the deafening silence on the violence against Hindu minorities and the desecration of Durga idols in Hooghly district in West Bengal, as also in Bangladesh, yet again this year?

Tapan Ghosh

The incident of the desecration of Durga idols was reported in mid-October on social media by Tapan Ghosh, an active twitterati and founder of Hindu Samahati, an NGO which monitors and reports atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh and West Bengal.

On 16 October, the website of the NGO carried news of Durga idols having been desecrated in the Hooghly district in West Bengal.

While this incident is yet to receive any mention in the Indian English mainstream media, DNA and Outlook, on 18 October covered incidents of desecration of Durga idols in Bangladesh. However, there is pin-drop silence on the Hooghly district incident as reported in Hindu Samahati’s website.

Last year, around the same time, Garga Chatterjee wrote a piece captioned ‘The annual Durga Desecration Festival of Bangladesh’ in the DNA website. In it he complained that “so widespread is this pre-Puja idol desecration phenomenon that one Puja organizer said in sad resignation that instead of hitting arbitrarily, idol-destroyers should pre-specify each year which puja mandaps will be targeted”.

One cannot help but contrast this with how news of attacks on Christian institutions were reported recently in the same mainstream print and TV media, and conclusions reached on primetime debates complete with half a dozen panelists even before the police had a chance to investigate. It was of course found later that of the six incidents, five were of burglary, drunken behaviour, electrical short circuiting, kids playing outside, etc. In short, anything but an attack by the media’s favourite punching bags—Hindu outfits.

Even last year there were reports of Durga idols being broken and just as this year, the Bangladeshi English newspaper The Daily Star did not fail to report the same. The exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen tweeted a few days ago that the desecration of Durga idols in Bangladesh is “nothing new”.

The Bengali intellectual Nirad C. Chaudhary relates in his autobiography (‘The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian’), published in 1951, an incident which occurred in his native West Bengal. I quote from page 245 of the paperback edition:

Nirad C. Chaudhuri

Late in the spring of 1907, at the time of the Hindu festival of Vasanti Puja, the image of the Goddess Durga was desecrated; intact broken to pieces by a Muslim mob at Jamalpur, one of the subdivisional headquarters of Mymensingh district” .The author goes onto note the beginnings of an overtly expressed religious identity among both Bengali Muslims and Hindus around 1906 (an year after Bengal was partitioned).

It is clear that both Bangladesh and West Bengal have a history of the desecration of Durga idols as Durga puja celebrations near, year after year, and the “annual festival” goes back a hundred years. Yet, outside Bengal and with the exception of some daring Bangladeshi media such as The Daily Star and others, apart from two online articles, one in DNA and the other in Outlook, there is nary a mention in Indian media either this year, or in the past.

The incident in Hooghly has received not a single mention in the Indian media. Perhaps because the same wasn’t covered by The Daily Star. The Bangladeshi media also reports that such incidents are not without violence.

It is common practice in several English newspapers to keep close tabs of happenings in the neighbourhood through primarily the English media in these countries, and routinely stories and carried from these foreign media and newspapers are cited.

Yet despite wide coverage in Bangladeshi media of the incidents of atrocities on minorities and their places of worship, year after year, the English media in India has failed to carry these stories in either print or TV. Emulating the fundamentalists in Bangladesh, often these incidents have occurred within West Bengal itself, and still the media has failed the report these incidents, this year or in the past.

Recently in a TV debate, the historian and ICHR member Dr. Saradindu Mukherji said that when in the past he wrote few pieces in English media highlighting atrocities committed on minorities in Bangladesh and Pakistan he was told that he cannot continue to write on this topic. Mukherji complains that the policy around news coverage has remained more or less the same since 1996.

Lastly and as an aside, it is interesting to note that while Bankim Chandra inspired an entire generation of freedom fighters from Bipin Chandra Pal to Aurobindo when he called Mother India as Durga herself, the patron deity of Jawaharlal University, the den of our liberal and progressive brethren, is Mahishasura, the demon whom Durga slaughtered.