On Tuesday the Delhi High Court granted bail to anti-CAA activist and Jamia Millia Islamia research scholar Safoora Zargar. The mainstream media – particularly Hindi newspapers – downplays the bail story. This is in sharp contrast to the wider coverage the media gave to other stories than her bail. For example, the media widely covered the stories when she was arrested and chargesheeted in connection with February’s Delhi riots that took the lives of forty-two lives and injured hundreds.
Twenty-seven-year old Safoora Zargar, belongs to Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir. In Jamia, she is enrolled at the department of sociology. During the anti-CAA protests, she was active as the Jamia Coordination Committee media coordinator. On April 10, she was arrested by the Delhi Police. The charges against her include blocking a road and obstructing traffic. Three days after her arrest, she was able to secure bail, but then the police re-arrested her under the draconian the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Later, she was accused of sparking violence during the Delhi riots.
The day after Safoora Zargar was released on a bail, Hindi daily Hindustan (New Delhi, June 24, p. 1) dumped her bail story inside the page. Interestingly, the daily gave first page coverage to the story of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) conducting raids on the houses of former Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Tahir Hussain in Delhi. For the daily, it seems that the raid on the house of a Muslim leader is a far bigger story than the release of a pregnant Muslim student.
On the page number three, the story about Safoora Zargar was published by Hindustan. “Safoora gets bail on humanitarian ground” (Safoora ko manaviy aadhar par zamanat) runs the headline of Hindustan. While the page-one story about Tahir Hussain reads “ED’s raid on six Tahir Hussain’s places” (Tahir Hussain ke thikanon par ED ki chhapemari).
Though Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar (New Delhi) covered Zargar’s bail on the first page, it was made a sub-story of Tahir Hussain’s. “ED’s raid on six locations of suspended AAP councillor Tahir Hussain” (AAP ke nilambit parshad Hussain ke 6 thikanon pr ED ke chhape) was the main story highlighted in bold font, while Zargar’s story was massively reduced in size. “Bail granted to Safoora but without permission she cannot go out of NRC” (Safoora ko zamanat, baghair manzoori ke NRC se bahar nhin ja sakengi).
Hindi daily Dainik Jagran (National), too, gave prominent coverage to the ED’s raid, while the issue of Zargar was underplayed. For example, the Hindi daily covered Tahir’s in four columns with a bold headline. “ED’s raid on six places of Tahir and six accused who are connected with him” (Tahir aur usse jude aaropiton ke chhah thikanon par ED kee chhapemari). While the story of Zargar’s bail is reduced to two columns. In other words, hers was treated as a minor story.
If one flips through the pages of Hindi newspapers on June 24, one gets the feeling that the Hindi dailies are more interested in covering the negative stories about Muslims. If a Muslim is arrested, chargesheeted, held in illegal activities, the newspapers take a lead in giving a wider coverage. While the stories about Muslims’ suffering, victimization, or those related to their socio-economic deprivations get often underreported.
It has been observed that the mainstream media – with a few exceptions – toed the police line. They kept publishing stories about how (Muslim) activists were involved in inciting the violence. When they were arrested, it became a big story. When they were chargesheeted, the news was widely covered. Contrary to them, when Zargar has got bail, the news is underreported. Similarly, the news of Tablighi Jamaat members spreading the coronavirus was widely reported. But when courts gave them bail or acquitted them, the news was ignored. Such attitudes of the media — particularly the Hindi newspapers — all contribute to the growing perception that the mainstream media are working with anti-Muslim mindset.
It is to be kept in mind that the arrest of pregnant Safoora Zargar, along with other anti-CAA activists such as Meeran Haider, Gulfisha Fatima, Khalid Saifi, Shifa-Ur-Rehman, Dr. Kafeel Khan, Asif Iqbal, and Sharjeel Imam, drew wider condemnation from several human rights organisations. For example, Maria Arena, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights, wrote a letter to Home Minister Amit Shah and said that it is a matter of great concern that the human rights activist in India is being harassed for speaking for the rights of the poor and underprivileged communities. The mainstream media, similarly, underreported the human rights concerns.
Unlike the Hindi dailies. the English newspapers gave better coverage to Zargar’s story. The Indian Express (New Delhi) ran the following headline on page one. “Delhi riots: HC grant bail to Safoora Zargar”. The English daily also carried Zargar’s picture along with the story. The Hindustan Times (Delhi), too, made a small story out of her bail on the first page. The Hindustan Times gave the following headline: “High Court grants bail to Safoora Zargar in Delhi riots case”.
However, Urdu dailies took a lead in covering Zargar’s issue from the perspective of the victim. Inquilab (Mumbai) had a lead front-page story with the following headline: “After three and half months Safoora Zargar finally gets bail with some conditions, expectation grows that she would be released soon, the family members jubilant” (Sadhe teen mah bad Safoora Zargar ko bilaakhir chand sharayat ke sath zamanat mil gayi, jald rihai kee umeed, Ahl-e-Khan men Khushi kee lahar). Another Urdu daily Etemaad (Hyderabad) published her story on the front-page story with the following headline “On the humanitarian condition bail granted to Safoora Zargar” (Safoora Zargar ko insani buniyadon par zamanat Manzoor). (Courtesy: Countercurrents.org)
(Abhay Kumar is a Ph.D. from JNU. He is broadly interested in Minority and Social Justice. Earlier, he held a Post-Graduate Diploma in English Journalism from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi and worked as a Delhi-based reporter with The Indian Express. You may write to him at [email protected])