The charade of the church attacks – Abhijit Majumder

“The meltdown of the great church attack story was reported in trickles — a single-column story here and there, a passing byte. No channel had a debate on it or stood corrected. Nobody asked who jumped the gun, who tarred the nation’s image, or who created the communal discourse in the first place. International media, too, seemed to be a part of this collusion of silence. Apart from creating baseless fear among minorities, what the media and intelligentsia have achieved is to further erode their own credibility. Social media has time and again shown the mirror to the mainstream in the last couple of years on matters of biased reportage and poor fact-checking.” – Abhijit Majumder

St Sebastian's Church, DelhiThe fire that started at the St Sebastian Church in Delhi’s Dilshad Garden on December 1, 2014, had caught on to national media by January and was raging internationally by February. 

The narrative was the same: Minorities are under siege in India, churches are being attacked, nuns raped. 

Narendra Modi’s critics asserted on social media that their dark clairvoyance had come true: With him heading the government, the violent Hindu right wing fringe had become the mainstream. 

“Church leaders have speculated that the Hindu far right might also be behind the church attacks,” the New York Times wrote. 

US President Barack Obama too swiftly took to the pulpit: “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith.” 

Ex-cop Julio Ribeiro to boxer Mary Kom to former Navy chief Sushil Kumar spoke about growing fear and insecurity among Indian Christians. 

And then, it all started unraveling. 

Sushil Kumar IsaacWhile a special investigative team is looking into the Dilshad garden church fire, pesky children were found behind the Jasola church stone-throwing, short circuit behind Rohini crib burning, a drunken dare behind Vikaspuri vandalising, and a burglary at Vasant Kunj church. 

A church which was attacked in Hisar was an illegal construction. However, it was perhaps the only communal one among recent church attacks, with the accused planting a Lord Hanuman idol inside it and blaming the priest of dodgy conversion attempts. 

The Navi Mumbai church attack grabbed headlines till it was found to be the handiwork of gamblers exacting revenge for church authorities setting the police after them. 

In West Bengal, mainstream and social media suspected Hindu fundamentalists behind the rape of a 72-year-old nun till the accused, Bangladeshi Muslims, were tracked down and arrested. 

Former IPS officer Julio Francis RibeiroAnd now, a jilted Muslim lover has been arrested for the attack on an Agra church, belying earlier claims that it was a communal incident. 

Disbelievingly, almost disappointedly, those who strung together a neat narrative of intolerant India watched each bead of untruth explode. Ribeiro even admitted to exaggerating the threat to Christians. 

But the mainstream media, which so enthusiastically spotted and reported a trend, did not report a fraction as comprehensively how it was never a trend in the first place. 

The meltdown of the great church attack story was reported in trickles — a single-column story here and there, a passing byte. No channel had a debate on it or stood corrected. 

Nobody asked who jumped the gun, who tarred the nation’s image, or who created the communal discourse in the first place

Mary KomInternational media, too, seemed to be a part of this collusion of silence. Apart from creating baseless fear among minorities, what the media and intelligentsia have achieved is to further erode their own credibility. 

Social media has time and again shown the mirror to the mainstream in the last couple of years on matters of biased reportage and poor fact-checking

One can’t shrug it all off as trolling. But here is the real danger: If a communal attack actually takes place (we know what happened to Graham Staines or Arul Das), mainstream media reports could be taken with extreme scepticism. 

The truth could get buried in the ashes of past lies. The bigger danger to the minorities is not from their perceived enemies but their irresponsible champions. 

Bias and lies breed anger, and often harden the stance of otherwise liberal, tolerant people. And it is never wise to keep announcing the arrival of the wolf. – Daily Mail, 25 April 2015

» Abhijit Majumder is a journalist and the Managing editor of Mail Today.

Fr. Dominic Emmanuel SVDCardinal Archbishop  Baselios Cleemis

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