In the petition by Jamia students which successfully got the Delhi High Court to stay the broadcast of Suresh Chavhanke’s show on ‘naukarshahi jihad’, they invoked ‘Radio Rwanda’ as an example of how the media can play a role in inciting hatred and even genocide.
Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza of private Rwandan radio station RTLM, along with Hassan Ngeze of the Kangura newspaper, were convicted by a UN tribunal of genocide, incitement to genocide, conspiracy, crimes against humanity, extermination and persecution for their role in the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.
While convicting Nahimana, the tribunal’s president Navanethem Pillay said:
“You were fully aware of the power of words, and you used the radio – the medium of communication with the widest public reach – to disseminate hatred and violence….Without a firearm, machete or any physical weapon, you caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians.”
These are words that one would hope Chavhanke will one day read and introspect over, given the kind of hate-mongering shows he regularly broadcasts on his TV channel, Sudarshan News. Unfortunately, one also suspects that if Chavhanke were to learn about Nahimana, he would perhaps see an example to be emulated, rather than avoided.
CROSSING THE RUBICON OF HATE SPEECH
How else do you explain the sheer venom that is Chavhanke’s promo for a new series of stories he was supposed to be releasing on his show Bindaas Bol from 28 August onwards?
In a post that is somehow still available on Twitter – a damning indictment of the social media platform’s hate speech moderation in India – Chavhanke said he is going to be talking about ‘naukarshahi jihad’, the ‘infiltration’ of India’s bureaucratic service by Muslims.
In the promo video, he says:
“How come suddenly the number of Muslims has increased in IAS and IPS? What is the secret of them getting the highest marks and ranks in one of the toughest exams?... Imagine if the ‘jihadis of Jamia’ will be your district collectors and secretaries in ministries, what will happen then? Watch our biggest expose on ‘Naukarshahi jihad’ (bureaucracy jihad) this Friday.”
Now you might ask yourself, what makes this so bad, why get so upset over this when we live in a country where ‘love jihad’ has been so normalised that it is even used by investigative agencies, and albeit without the exact usage of the term, has formed the basis of high court orders. Where another ‘journalist’ like Chavhanke once did a whole show talking to us about the different kinds of jihad, including ‘land jihad’.
Islamophobia is a part of everyday life in ‘Naya India’, so what sets this particular dash of hate apart from your now garden-variety bigotry?
The problem with Chavhanke’s new pet project, however, is that it appears to indicate that we’ve entered a new low in the demonisation and othering of the Muslim community.
Somehow, we have managed to sink even further than one might have thought possible after the Tablighi Jamaat nonsense, which was rightly called out by the Bombay High Court a few days ago.
This is because the concept of ‘bureaucratic jihad’ is predicated on the idea that Muslims do not have a place in the administration of India, in its public life, in its decision-making.
On the idea that Muslims are so inferior in intelligence and ability that it is unbelievable that they should be able to crack the civil services exams without some skulduggery and conspiracy being at play.
On the idea that every Muslim is just a jihadi, and if you ever see them occupying any office, you non-Muslims must be petrified.
DAMNED IF THEY DO, DAMNED IF THEY DON’T
Previously, the bigots have harped on how Muslims aren’t willing to integrate with the rest of society, aren’t willing to educate themselves, aren’t willing to put national service above religion. And so they are willing to become terrorists, to do terrible things to the nation.
Yet this new attack seeks to demonise even an attempt to do something that would answer those queries. It’s no longer that someone can be a 'model good Muslim' like late President Abdul Kalam, and therefore be approved of, now even the next potential Abdul Kalam has been 'pre-labelled' a terrorist. Why? Because he can’t be clever and he can’t possibly want to work for society and how dare he try and be more than a subject, because that’s all Muslims are fit for.
It is an attack that seeks to shut the door on Muslims even being able to aspire to become civil servants, the most aspirational of all Indian aspirations. Think of the message that is meant to send, think of what it means to exclude an entire community from one of the most emotive dreams that this country has to offer: that no matter where you come from, you can truly be somebody, that you can indeed play a role in the governance of this country, no matter how poor or powerless your background is.
Hate narratives have always been built on the idea that the targeted community has power and influence and will destroy you if you don’t destroy them first.
For all the bigots’ whining about all the various forms of jihad, however, the Muslim community lags miserably behind when it comes to any actual forms of power, whether in terms of political representation or wealth or land.
Which means that despite all the hatred, there’s always been one stumbling block for the bigots to painting the Muslim community as the ones with power, which is essential to take a hate narrative against them further forward.
Back in the days of Congress and other non-BJP governments, they could say that there was still appeasement, that the Muslims had power because the laws and administrations were skewed in their favour. That card cannot really be played in ‘Naya India’, with the BJP’s saffron flag billowing proudly across the land.
Only one of the BJP’s 303 MPs in the Lok Sabha is a Muslim, and thanks to their efforts, even Kashmir no longer has a Muslim Chief Minister.
So how do you further ratchet up your scaremongering about this community? How do you create conditions for a Hindu Rashtra, which Chavhanke openly admitted during his modified show on 28 August, is something he is willing to fight a long struggle for?
You find the one place where Muslims can still attain some sort of power, some sort of relevance in a governance context, the one place where they can rise to be more than just one among the ranks of passive citizens, and you insinuate that the Muslims who make it there are fifth columnists who are trying to destroy the country from within.
COULD CHAVHANKE ACTUALLY HAVE A POINT?
After the promo for his show generated the expected levels of disgust and outrage, Chavhanke actually doubled down on his claims, insisting on Twitter that he had proof for his story, and even invoked that magic spell for when you want to make your Islamophobia look respectable: Zakir Naik.
Once he did so, it became clear which way his claims – for which he supposedly has two rickshaw-loads of proof – are going to go: the Zakat Foundation of India and its civil services training for Muslims.
Chavhanke isn’t the first to beat this particular drum. On 26 August, Firstpost ran an article by Sam Westrop which claimed that one Jafer Hussain Qureshi, linked with a controversial international Islamic organisation Muslim Aid, and with previous connections to companies, charities and NGOs involving Zakir Naik, runs the Zakat Foundation of India.
This particular claim about running the ZFI is blatantly untrue. The link supposedly provided in the article to demonstrate this actually links to a page showing Qureshi to be on the advisory board of an entirely different organisation called Dikanz. If you look through the ZFI’s own website, Qureshi is not involved with it in any manner – though he appears to have been involved in securing funds for them in the UK/Europe till around 2017.
Qureshi is, however, on the board of directors of the Zakat Foundation of India (International), a company based in the UK, where Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood, the President of the ZFI, is also a director.
Other claims of supposed linkages between Zakir Naik and the Zakat Foundation can also be found in a Change.org petition shared by Madhu Kishwar on Twitter, which asks for an investigation into Zakat Foundation’s links to Naik, and for a recall, pending investigation, of all civil servants who have a link with the Zakat Foundation.
Does any of this make Chavhanke’s claims about ‘Naukarshahi Jihad’ reasonable?
Of course not!
The ZFI is a registered trust in India that has been operating in India since 1997, without incident or investigation. It runs an orphanage, charitable hospital and the reputed Sir Syed Coaching and Guidance Centre, which has an excellent track record at training students for the civil services exams, including 2010 UPSC topper Shah Faesal.
27 out of the 42 Muslim candidates recruited by the UPSC for its 2019 batch had studied at the ZFI coaching centre, as had 18 of the 28 who made it the year before.
Are we really going to say that the linkage of Zakir Naik to one person associated with the ZFI, a person who has not been investigated, charged or convicted of any terrorist offences in India or anywhere else in the world, is enough to paint all its students who go on to crack the UPSC exams as terrorists?
IT’S A TRAP!
Moreover, by getting into this particular debate, one is falling into a convenient trap that bigots like Chavhanke love to set.
In the trailer for his show, he doesn’t claim that he is going to show a link between the ZFI and Zakir Naik (which is the only accurate way to describe any of this), what he is claiming is that there is a conspiracy to ‘infiltrate’ the bureaucracy by Muslims as a community. To further inflame things, he also throws in that lovely term ‘jihadis of Jamia’, which again has no basis.
There is rather a world of difference between the two things.
In addition to this, he also argues that this is some sudden new development, which again is not true. Yes, the number of successful Muslim candidates went up from 28 (4 percent of the total recruits) to 42 (5 percent of the total recruits) over the last year, but in 2017 and 2016, 50 Muslim candidates were successful (around 5 percent of the total recruits).
From 2012-2015, the numbers were 30, 34, 38 and 36, so again, the current numbers are hardly outliers.
And lest we forget, Muslims account for around 15 percent of the population at present, so these numbers in fact demonstrate a woeful under-representation in the civil services.
While those of us trying to be fair about all of this will try and parse through the information and try to come up with carefully weighed and measured statements, Chavhanke’s choice of words already tells us that he doesn’t care about nuance or accuracy.
He wants to inflame and incite, and that’s exactly what he’s done – it will not matter if one week later his claims are shown to be bogus.
A HISTORY OF MISINFORMATION
Which is of course, what we see time and again with his and Sudarshan News’ track record: a long, intimate history with fake news and hate-mongering.
Take for example their claim that the burnt clothes, bags and undergarments of a girl were found at Tahir Hussain’s house during the Delhi riots in February this year, and the police found a girl’s body in a drain next to his house. Their report also insinuated that the girl had been raped. The claims and videos by Sudarshan news went viral, and were shared by BJP leaders like Kapil Mishra and Amit Malviya.
You will no doubt be surprised to learn that not only did the Delhi Police deny the claims about finding a girl’s body in the drain at the time, the charge sheets filed in the case make no mention of the burnt undergarments of any girl.
Newslaundry and AltNews have done detailed takedowns of fake claims by Chavhanke and Sudarshan News, including claims that AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi danced in celebration when he heard about the death of Kamlesh Tiwari, and that a mosque in UP had issued a statement to cut UP policemen to pieces.
The Quint has also reported on some of their blatant falsehoods over the years, including their bogus claim that the killing of police inspector Subodh Kumar in Bulandshahr in December 2018 was connected with unrest at a Tablighi Ijtema that took place in Bulandshahr around that time. The Bulandshahr Police replied to Chavhanke’s tweets making this false claiming rebutting them.
As with all the other instances where he has been found to be lying, Chavhanke has not taken down his false and misleading statements.
In case you’re inclined to think that maybe he isn’t up to his usual tricks with this new expose, don’t worry – the one aspect of his investigation that he did mention during his show on 28 August was that Asaduddin Owaisi had boasted of all the civil services that Muslims were now getting into.
He also played a clip of this supposedly incriminating piece of evidence – in which, however, Owaisi was actually asking the government to put forward data to show how many members of minorities had been selected for government, including the CISF, CRPF and public sector ban
THIS IS NOT AN OVER-REACTION
It is tempting to dismiss Chavhanke’s antics on two basic grounds. First, that no matter how bigoted his comments, he has not incited violence and so, not yet strayed into the realm of hate speech. Secondly, that he’s part of the loony right fringe whose hyper-ventilations are best left ignored.
Both these arguments, however, would be naive at best, and woefully negligent at worst.
Remember Julius Streicher
Though Chavhanke takes a certain amount of care not to openly incite violence against the targets of his vitriol, this doesn’t mean he wants everyone to hold hands and sing kumbaya. His actions may not yet fall within the framework of criminal law provisions like Sections 153A or 505 of the IPC, but they are still part of a pattern of demonising and othering a community – which are an essential prequel to communal violence itself.
This approach of spewing hatred but just stopping short of inciting violence can be compared perhaps to the original strategy of the last journalist to be convicted by an international war crimes tribunal before Ferdinand Nahimana – a certain Julius Streicher.
Streicher’s newspaper Der Sturmer existed long before the Nazis came to power in Germany, but the poison it spread was found to be essential to creating the conditions for the virulent anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany to become a reality. While Streicher lost several libel suits, he was able to survive charges of incitement to violence because it was felt that his words were not direct calls to violence. Streicher also utilised the strategy of including a fig-leaf of fact, in even the most massive of his lies.
In the Nuremberg Trials, while his conviction was tied to the incitement to murder and violence during World War II itself, the tribunal also noted that:
“... For his 25 years of speaking, writing, and preaching hatred of the Jews, Streicher was widely known as ‘Jew-Baiter Number One.’ In his speeches and articles, week after week, month after month, he infected the German mind with the virus of anti-Semitism, and incited the German people to active persecution ...”
A Very Well-Connected Fringe
While Chavhanke may not have the popularity of an Arnab Goswami, and Sudarshan News isn’t in the top 5 Hindi news channels, it would be unwise to view the Chavhanke phenomenon as some fringe random.
Chavhanke and his channel have over 300,000 followers on Twitter, and Sudarshan News’ YouTube channel has nearly a million subscribers.
More importantly, Chavhanke can also claim to be reasonably close to the ruling BJP.
In his tweet sharing the highly objectionable trailer for his now suspended show, he felt confident enough to tag Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Newslaundry’s Manisha Pande has previously noted that he was invited for the swearing-in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his re-election last year, interacts with BJP leaders and even the Vice-President of India, and was on the guest-list for a Diwali party last year organised by Minister for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar.
Union Minister Piyush Goyal even congratulated him and his channel on their ‘special place in the world of journalism’ on 12 August 2019.
Even as he conducted a modified show on 28 August to comply with the Delhi High Court’s injunction, BJP leader Kapil Mishra was tweeting in his support, alleging that the high court order had been obtained by fraud, as the Supreme Court had already declined to issue a stay on the broadcast.
While it is true that the apex court had passed such an order, it was in a different case, where neither the petitioners in the high court nor the government were present, and the order was only published at 7:28 pm, long after the high court made its decision.
SO WHAT NOW?
While it may feel like the solution to the hate speech from people like Chavhanke is to file criminal cases against them, this may actually be counter-productive. There will no doubt be times when their words clearly fall foul of the criminal law, and any incitements to violence must be dealt with strictly.
However, criminal law is not all that there is to deal with this kind of venom. The Jamia students’ petition in the Delhi High Court rightly pointed out that the broadcast of this show violated the programme code that all TV channels are required to follow by law and could hence be prohibited on that basis.
While the Supreme Court did not grant a pre-broadcast injunction, noting it had only been given an unverified transcript of the trailer/promo (unlike the high court, which was shown the whole video), it did recognise that a balancing act was going to have to be done between the right to freedom of speech and the violation of other fundamental rights that this kind of show could lead to.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and KM Joseph will be taking up the matter from 15 September onwards, which may yet yield a strong mechanism for dealing with bigots like Chavhanke without chilling free speech.
In the meanwhile, it is worth concluding with the words of Judge Pillay from the Rwandan war crimes tribunal, which we must try to ensure reach all those who run our media houses in India:
“The power of the media to create and destroy fundamental human values comes with great responsibility. Those who control such media are accountable for its consequences.”
Julius Streicher and Ferdinand Nahimana thought they would never be held accountable. History proved otherwise, and Chavhanke and his ilk would do well to remember that.