Hindus fare better than Muslims in Indian 'terrorism' coverage: activists

Hindus under investigation for terrorism offences are treated far more softly by India's media than Muslims in the same position, they say.

KOLKATA // Hindus under investigation for terrorism offences are treated far more softly by India's media than Muslims in the same position, say analysts and rights activists who have followed terror cases for more than a decade. A significant section of Indian television and newspapers brand Muslim suspects as "terrorists" long before they have faced a court trial, said Shabnam Hashmi, co-ordinator of Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, a New Delhi-based citizens group.

"In some cases, we find Muslim suspects being identified as terrorists in the media, even before police have finished their inquiry on them," said Ms Hashmi. "A large section of the media in a routine practice turn biased against the terror suspects when they are found to be Muslims. It's grossly unethical." Muslim community leaders have long complained about the way Muslim men are harassed by police during their investigations and claim that they are incorrectly identified as terrorists. There have also been accusations that false stories have been planted about Muslims during investigations. In a demonstration against the media yesterday, Aziz Mubarki, a Muslim community leader and South Asia Ulema Council national secretary, accused the media of "ganging up" with police to plant false stories about Muslim terror suspects. "At least 3,000 Muslim young men, who were arrested, falsely framed in terrorism cases and were portrayed in the media as terrorists were found innocent in courts of law in the past decade.

The media bias, activists say, has been exposed in the cases of bomb attacks on Muslim targets across the country in recent years, and when investigators have shifted blame for an attack from Islamists to radical Hindu groups. Ram Puniyani, an author and social activist, said stories on Muslim suspects were usually presented in a sensational style. "News about the involvement of Hindutva groups like Abhinav Bharat and Sanatan Sanstha, which are now being probed for their involvement in several terrorist attacks in the country in recent years, always found place as small stories in back-pages of most newspapers," he said.

"Such a biased stand by the media reinforces the propaganda about Islam and Muslims being terrorists," Mr Puniyani said. Rights activists and Muslim leaders said many Muslims, despite being proved innocent, have been ostracised on their release from the judicial system because the media had wrongly branded them terrorists while they were in custody. Mr Mubarki said: "In almost all such cases media have not bothered to publish or broadcast follow-up stories to let the people know how hundreds of Muslim [terror] suspects are honourable and have been acquitted in most cases in the court."

He referred to the case of Dr Abdul Mateen, who lost his jobs as a doctor and teacher at a medical science college in Mumbai and was forced to leave his home because many people in the community thought he was a terrorist. Dr Mateen was accused of masterminding a bomb attack on a Mumbai bus in 2002 that killed two. After two years in prison he was acquitted, in 2005. Nirmalngshu Mukherjee, a philosophy professor at Delhi University and a prominent human rights activist, said that a number of terrorist attacks - such as the bombing of the Samjhauta Express in 2007 that killed 68 people and the Mecca Masjid mosque in Hyderabad that killed 13 - were executed by Hindu terror groups. "Yet, scores of Muslims were immediately arrested after these attacks and the media reported the police versions faithfully. Even after the perspective has changed, there is no serious effort to revise the earlier anti-Muslim view."

@Email:foreign.desk@thenational.ae An earlier version of this story incorrectly initially identified Mr Ram Puniyani as a woman. We apologise for the error.