In the days running up to the Bihar elections, we saw a new narrative being played out by the media. From the earlier failed narrative of “Christians Under Attack”, we were told that in Modi’s India, Dalits were under attack. One such story was about a Dalit family who had allegedly been stripped by the cops in Uttar Pradesh. Eventually it was known that in fact, the family had stripped themselves as a sign of protest, and that Sunil Gautam, a member of the family was commonly found doing such antics.
Soon another story emerged about a 90-yr-old Dalit man being burnt alive for trying to enter temple in UP. This too was later revealed to be a non-caste related incident. It was revealed that the dalit man was going to the temple, when he was asked for money by a drunkard. When he refused, the drunkard hit him with an axe, and later burnt his body.
Now in 2016, we have election season on our hands again, as multiple states go to polls, and again, the narrative of Dalits under attack has been brought up by some in the media.
It started with this Times of India story, titled: “3 Dalit teens stripped, beaten for stealing bike in Chittor”. According to the report, the boys stole a bike of an Upper caste man, and later a mob thrashed them:
They were accused of lifting a motorcycle of an upper caste man in Bassi town. The mob tied them to a tree, thrashed them and later paraded them for an hour in full public view.
Firstly, although media was pontificating in the Dr Narang murder case, that religion etc shouldn’t be brought in matters of crime, in this instance, the report deliberately tried to make this about Dalit boys being beaten. It is a very unfortunate incidident no doubt, and mob justice has no place in civilised world, but sadly, such incidents are often seen happening.
Less than 2 months ago, 2 boys suspected of mobile theft were stripped and beaten with belts in Mumbai. A few days before this, a man carrying a trident was gruesomely beaten to death in Jharkhand on the allegation that he was a goat thief. In Surat too, in January, a man was beaten to death for stealing a mobile phone. All these incidents are reprehensible and none of them is a justification for the incident in Chittor. The only reason to highlight these are although they were similar incidents, media did not bring in the caste or religion of the victims. Was it because the victims were not from an oppressed caste? Or was it because the stories were not close enough to the election cycle?
Coming back to the Times of India report on Chittor, nowhere did it cast any aspersions as to the constituents of the mob, whether they were all from an upper caste or not. Yet, what we saw play out on social media was completely opposite. It started with a Times of India journalist tweeting that the Dalit boys were beaten by upper caste people (the tweet was later deleted):
Once this tweet made the rounds, the floodgates opened. Fuelling further caste hatred, Newslaundry co-founder Prashant Sareen, who has earlier also been found spreading fake videos, jumped in:
The Times of India journalist’s tweet was further used by many, including Barkha Dutt, who had earlier been caught spreading hysteria during the Christians under attack routine. Zee News also made a report on this, followed by AAP leaning blog, Janata Ka Reporter. The founder of Janata ka Reporter, Rifat Jawaid, who had earlier asked for “cases against those who spread poisonous lies” was also seen spreading caste hatred. Controversial journlaist Anna Vetticad also played her part. When journalists have shown the way, how could political people stay behind? Gaurav Pandhi, Delhi Congress Digital Communications in charge also joined in:
Note the timestamp on the above tweets. Most of the above tweets were sent after 1.30 pm on 5th April, with the exception of Barkha’s and Zee News’s tweet. The reason the time is important is that by 1.36pm on 5 April 2016, a journalist from the Indian Express had already revealed the truth on Twitter:
He claimed that among the people arrested for beating the boys, 4 were dalits! Even as media persons were lying through their teeth that Upper caste men had beaten the dalit boys! By 2.10 pm, The Hindustan Times had published an entire report on the arrests. The report said:
Chittorgarh’s Superintendent of Police Prasanna Khamesara says that the police identified and arrested the six suspects on Tuesday morning. “We are trying to identify the others,” he added. The arrested suspects belong to Meena (ST) and Dhakad (OBC) communities.
The assaulted teenagers are from Dudh Talai, 30 km from Laxmipura village. They belong to the nomadic tribe Kanjar, which usually lives on the outskirts of villages. The police say that these three have been involved in criminal activities in the past and are charge-sheeted in two cases of theft.
Later in the evening, a PTI report in the DNA also quoted SP, Chittorgarh, Prasan Kumar Khamsera as saying:
It was not a caste-related issue and the boys, aged between 15 and 18 years, were beaten by the villagers because they caught them with a stolen bike.
And today, The Indian Express also reported something similar:
The police also said it was not a “caste crime”, since most of the 13 accused belong to either SC or ST categories.
The narrative is clear. Boys, who according to the police are repeat offenders, were caught and beaten by a mob on the accusation of a theft. The first Times of India report though chose deliberately to play up the caste of the boys and pitted them against an upper caste bike owner. The distortion reached the next stage when the Times of India journalist claimed that the boys were beaten by Upper castes. The next stage was eminent media persons and some media houses reporting what was originally a case of thieves being beaten by a mob, as a dalits beaten by upper caste matter.