Kandhamal : Fourth Pillar dance with Sangha Parivar
Prof. Ashis Nandi wrote in Times of India (January, 2008) on Gujurat context, “the urban middle class has found in militant religious nationalism a new self-respect and a new virtual identity as a martial community. ….The middle class controls the media and education, which have become hate factories in recent times.” I saw approximately same in case of Orissa. Suddenly, after the killing of Laxmananda, leading media factories started spreading venom against Christian minority as if they were waiting for it. All started believing that Laxmananda was killed by ‘Christian fundamentalists’ or henchmen of them like Maoists who have taken money to kill him. What the role of media is, atleast to enquire into the incident and give a fact, did not happen in case of leading Oriya dallies. Had it been the communal hatred would not have spreaded so much.
The Samaj, the leading daily Oriya newspaper, having highest circulation in rural Orissa, wrote its editorial on 26th august, 2008 just after the killing of Laxmananda, “even if we be suspicious towards Maoists for the killing, some one must have used them in exchange of huge money. Those are spending lump some money in proselytizing tribal, it is natural that they could come under suspect.” Going one step ahead another leading Oriya news paper Dharitri wrote its editorial on 25th August “it is easy to blame Maoists for the killing of swamiji….. It is true that Graham Stain was killed for conversion where as Laxmananda was killed for checking conversion. It is sorry that people would forget Laxmananda’s contribution just after a bandh or a day.” Initially, just after the killing when some of government agencies were blaming Maoists (police DG and Home Secretary first blamed Maoists for the killing but later Naveen Patnaik, suppressing the fact, said some “miscreants” have done it) these media gave a saffron color of the incident and made the story that not the Maoists rather Christians have killed Laxmananda. This added more fuel to the fire and violence got spreaded into various parts of Orissa.
Whether any reader read the editorial or not but the correspondents and stringers of respective newspapers definitely read it to know what their respective editor wants on specific issue. Besides this, personal biasness of local media person matters a lot and they are not free from upper caste middle class biasness at least in Orissa. During this communal violence minimum constitutional rights are not respected by them. The local correspondents as a ‘martial community’ of religious nationalist forces went on reporting that Christian youths have killed Laxmananda. Later ‘Christian fundamentalists’ a category was floated ( Swamiji was in hit list of Christian fundamentalists and Maoists- Sambad, 26th August, 2008) to target the innocents. These media persons did not ask real existence of such a group.
The entire media turned a blind eye towards the plight of Christian victims. Rabindra Pradhan, whose paralysis brother was burnt alive near Chakapada ashram, could able to tell his story when he reached Bhubaneswar after a week of his brothers’ killing. He reached with his all other villagers after spending three nights in forest. Similarly, Puspanjali Panda whose husband was killed by the miscreants during the attack could able to say it after three weeks of his death. These were not the only incidents reported properly. Also Rajani Majhi, a Hindu girl who was burnt alive in Baragarh district was not reported by some of above newspapers when it was found that she was Hindu. Even infamous nun rape case got highlighted after a month of her reporting when an outside journalist came and reported it in national daily. It could have been brought by local media much earlier.
In no case the edit desk as well as local stringer showed any enthusiasm of reporting the grievous incident of communal attack and sufferings of Christian victims. They had a general reporting and were reporting how ‘communal tension spreaded into new areas’, ‘people burnt so many houses and vehicles out of anger’, ‘many people are leaving their houses and are coming to relief camps’, ‘Kandhamal violence in several districts’, ‘Kandhamal out of control’ etc as if media space was available to show the mardangi of the ‘Hindu miscreants’.
Often the state government announced sitting in Bhubaneswar “shoot-at-sight has been ordered”, “curfew has been imposed”, “law will takes its own course and no one will be spared” etc. But in reality these instructions at the village level were hardly carried out. The media did not say even after so much instructions and directions why the government agencies are failing. They did not report it that even if the violence is continuing then who are the perpetrators, how are they perpetrating, what are the slogans they are giving, how they are doing it when curfew and shoot-at-sight have been ordered etc. Rather, time and again media was trying to pinch the readers through out the violence , “violence due to killing of Laxmananda spreading”, “andolankari are moving towards villages” etc.
It never mentioned how “conversion” is taking place in name of “reconversion” in a terror state during those violence time in Kandhamal rather wrote “adivasis are coming back to Hindu religion” as if those Hindu miscreants were not doing any illegal work. The constitutional rights of a citizen was not respected.
In those tense hours several Hindu and tribal youths came in front to protect the Christian minority. Some of them were also attacked by the miscreants and some also succeeded in protecting the victim. Had it been covered by the media it would have checked the attack as well as blamed the role of miscreants involved.
Before the national minority commission comes the media was totally silent about the wretched condition in relief camps. We, as part of human rights organisations found during our visit, ‘people are forced to sit on the water logged ground. We found pigs and other animals roaming around the place where food was being cooked.’ We also warned through media that ‘there is every likelihood of infections breaking out any day’. But it was not properly covered by the media.
Where as the local media had never forgot to give front page coverage in reporting the version of Pravin Togadia, Ashok Singhal (President of VHP), Puri Hindu Maharaja and Puri Sankarachary attacking Christian minority. The media was covering it as if a mouth piece of Sangha Parivar. The local Oriya media were reporting each and every programe of RSS and Bajarang Dal condemning the killing of Laxmananda including the programe of “Laxmananda Sradhanjali committee”. But the fact finding visit report and condemnation of such attack by the secular forces were not given proper space (or a small space in a corner of any inside page) during those hours. National Human Rights commission chairman came after a month of initial attack and gave statement condemning the role of the government and its failure in checking the violence. This was covered by the media at the front page. So one can imagine well how these local media in those hours were affected by ‘militant religious nationalism’ and for a new ‘self-respect’ were bringing such story which could strengthen the hindutwa forces.
In conclusion, these prominent dailies kept on publishing reports and articles subscribing the views that (a) Maoists couldn’t have killed Laxmanananda; (b) Conversion to Christianity is at the root of Kandhamal problem; (c) Laxmananda was savior of tribal and he was involved with upliftment of tribal in truesense; (d) adivasis are Hindus and Christians are polluters in tribal land; (e) Panos (Christians) are outsiders and have taken away land from the tribal; (f) the Christians have fraudulently pocketed the benefits that are due to the tribal; (g) the tribal have become a minority in the district due to an overwhelming increase in Christian population; (g) the Christian leaders are out to give bad publicity to the State in Europe and America exaggerating the violence and even the allegation of rape of a nun is completely fabricated (g) Christian missionaries are taking lot of money from outside agencies and are engaged with proselytizing (h) ‘reconversion’ or ‘gharwapasi’ (how far it is ‘reconversion’ or conversion of Christian into Hindu religion with use of force) is essential. The media’s feeling that all Christians enemy. This was justifying the role of attackers more as if the innocent Christians in the district as well as in other parts were the master mind behind of the killing and should be punished severely.
(All these analysis are based on three Oriya news paper like Samaj, Sambad and Dharitri and their Bhubaneswar edition during August- September 2008.)