Dr Pankaj Narang’s murder became a showcase for our biases about the urban poor
Camp Number 4 of Jhuggi Jhopdi (JJ) Colony in West Delhi’s Vikaspuri has become notorious since the news of Doctor Pankaj Narang’s murder first broke on March 24. Nine of the accused who have been arrested belong to this camp, which has since attracted visits from the Delhi Police, journalists and activists of Hindu Right-wing organisations.
Those who live here are now visibly perturbed by outsiders. Some claim ignorance at the slightest mention of the night of March 23, when the doctor was beaten to death by a mob outside his house — “we weren’t there, how do we know what happened” — but no one hesitates to say that until now, Camp 4 never had to worry about which resident was Hindu and who was Muslim.
The other sentiment that unites them is contempt towards the media. Some were vocal in their anger and asked us to leave in a not-so-polite manner: “Bhaag jao yahan se. Kyun aaye ho yahan, newswaale?” (“Get lost from here. Why have you come here, media persons?)
“We are Indians, not Bangladeshis.”
Camp 4 was founded by migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, about 25 years ago. It is home to about 300 families of which about 150 families are Muslim. A conversation about Narang’s murder with anyone who lives in the camp’s crowded, one-room homes invariably ends with the jhuggi residents pointing out their secular Indian credentials. “Look, our neighbour is Hindu. Ask her if there has ever been a fight.” “See, we celebrate Holi, Diwali and Eid together. Why is this murder become a Hindu-Muslim issue?” “See our voter IDs, we are Indians not Bangladeshis.”
Unfortunately, the virtual world didn’t care about this ground reality. Rumours about those accused of Narang’s murder being Bangladeshi took on a sinister shape of their own. The responses in Narang’s case show how Twitter conversations can give birth to a real-world threat for those who have no connection to the virtual realm.
Camp Number 4 found itself at the receiving end of manufactured hate and suspicion when media interest in those accused of murdering Narang spiked. “Channels were here to report on the incident and the kind of things people from the press said about us in front of us,” said Mohamed Akbar Ansari, the pradhan, or head, of the camp. “We were called Bangladeshis when all of us are Indians. Close to 100 families – mainly Muslims from UP – have left the camp fearing a backlash.”
Ansari is from Bihar and says he won’t leave the camp no matter how insecure he and his family may feel. “100 number phone karenge agar kuch hua, par yahan se jaenge nahin,” he said. (“I will dial 100 in case something happens but won’t leave.”)
One of the main culprits of false reporting is Sudarshan News, according to the residents. Run by one Suresh Chavhanke, the channel was launched in 2007 and is available on cable TV. It is a mystery how Sudarshan News has managed to retain its licence as a news channel without attracting censure from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry for its hate-filled propaganda. (This at a time when the government’s Electronic Media Monitoring Centre has acted with alacrity in issuing show-cause notices to channels for simply reporting on YakubMemon’s hanging.)
Through Sunday, Sudarshan News aired its “reportage” on the Vikaspuri incident, stating that it would expose Bangladeshi encroachers.
Its anchor in the video below says, “Mardaangi ka shankh bajao. Bangladeshi bhagao, Hindustan bachao”. (“Sound a battle cry of virility. Throw out Bangladeshis. Save India.”) This was said while images of slums flash on the screen behind.
Slightly higher in the ranks of credibility, Zee TV in one of its shows had residents of the housing societies in Vikaspuri expressing their misgivings about the jhuggisbeing populated by criminal-minded Bangladeshis. At no point did the reporter check with the residents of Camp 4 and allow them to respond to these allegations.
The Zee TV reporter talks about how every “posh” colony is surrounded by “jhuggis” in Delhi, describing the latter as a menace. One resident (from the right side of the tracks) holds forth: “Inka background hi criminal hai. Inko ko kya hai har cheez free main mil rahi hai, hatiyaane ki aadat hai, bijli free, paani free.” (“Their background is criminal, they are used to freebies and snatching things, electricity free, water free.”)
Meanwhile, Sudhir Chaudhary’s show DNA dwelled on questions like, why people in Delhi were falling prey to “gusse waale pradushan [pollution of anger]”. Before the programme ended, Chaudhary took potshots at “secular” media, saying some journalists outrage on the basis of religion. If the headgear seen in the visual below is any indication, Chaudhary and Zee News seem to think anger is a faith-based issue.
Despite Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police Monika Bhardwaj making it clear that none of the accused were from Bangladesh, some channels continued to frame the initial rumours as a legitimate question. Aaj Tak titled its show: ‘Was Dr Narang Killed By Bangladeshi Muslims?’ Another show is titled, ‘Families Allege Killers Were Bangladeshi Muslims’, on its YouTube channel.
The communal hue given to the incident, however, was not the only problem. Contrast the coverage Dr Narang’s murder received to that of the alleged suicide of a 25-year-old woman who wrote in her last note that her husband “beat her like a devil”.
The only detail we receive about where the crime took place was that it happened in a flat in South Delhi’s Defence Colony, without any particulars (like which block, for instance). No questions are raised about “what kind of people” must live in Defence Colony, neither are questions raised about domestic violence in affluent neighbourhoods and gated colonies.
In Dr Narang’s case, crime reporting was reduced to a display of all sorts of unfounded biases that are harboured by some — they don’t work, they live on freebies, they are given to crimes, and so on. There is no attempt to question these statements or allow those being vilified to defend themselves. All of the underprivileged in general and Camp 4 in particular have been tarred with the same brush, without allowing any of the jhuggi residents, who have condemned the murder of Dr Narang’s death, have their say.
The truth about Camp 4
The fact is that the majority of Camp 4’s residents are not good for nothing as asserted in these programmes. Most are employed as battery-rickshaw operators,who ferry genteel residents from the Metro station to their destinations; or as tailors, musicians who play dhols at weddings and festivals. Some are meat and fish sellers. They’re often self-employed.
Kalpana Viswanath, researcher and activist on urban safety, elaborated on how the media’s focus has been flawed.“Who determines who is the citizen of a city?” she asked. “We tend to presume that only if you have property you are a citizen, everyone else is a squatter. Why is the discourse not about work? If you are contributing to the economy of the city then you should have a right to the city. People in the jhuggi are creating economic value for the city.”
Viswanath says the media must look beyond the incident and explore the causes of conflict and increasing violence in the city.
A young resident of Camp 4 studying in Standard 10, has a similar plea. “If you want to crackdown on something, then do so on alcohol and substance abuse among young boys here,” she suggested. “A few have committed the crime, why are we all being made to pay?http://www.newslaundry.com/2016/03/31/us-and-them-bangladeshis/