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Home Opinions India’s Functioning Systems Seen through Cracks in NYT Propagandist-in-Chief Basharat Peer’s narrative

India’s Functioning Systems Seen through Cracks in NYT Propagandist-in-Chief Basharat Peer’s narrative

Deeply moved by the great friendship of Amrit and Saiyub, Basharat Peer takes it onto himself to visit Devari and talk to Saiyub about the entire episode.

When the truth is sacrificed for propaganda, all we see is lopsided stories and victim narrative with a hidden political message. Basharat Peer, in his latest piece in New York Times, precisely tried that. But he probably didn’t realize the flaws in his own writing.

Peer picks up a tragic incident of two migrant friends Amrit and Saiyub who travelled from Surat to Devari in Uttar Pradesh due to lockdown. Amrit died en route unfortunately and Saiyub helped him all through. Doesn’t it sound like a perfect Hindu-Muslim harmony against a “Hindu nationalist” Narendra Modi? Well, we thought the article focuses on the sad death. But it turns out the article stoops low enough to use a tragic death as a political tool.

Peer Only Sees Politics Everywhere

Deeply moved by the great friendship of Amrit and Saiyub, Basharat Peer takes it onto himself to visit Devari and talk to Saiyub about the entire episode. Peer now reaches Ayodhya enroute to Devari. Of course, Ayodhya had to feature, right?

As the highway crossed a massive bridge over the Sarayu River and past the paddy-green fields and stacks of dried dung cakes, I could see the outlines of the temple town of Ayodhya, where in 1992 a Hindu mob destroyed a 16th-century mosque because they believed it had been built on the exact birthplace of Rama, the Hindu deity.”

No mention of the fact that there is clear evidence of a temple at the disputed site, based on which the Supreme Court decided the case. Obviously, if he mentioned that, India wouldn’t look ‘majoritarian’, would it?

On The Tragic Death

Basharat Peer now starts illustrating the story of the unfortunate death of Amrit. But while doing that, there are some things that balanced reader can easily glean. After the lockdown on 25th March, the workers in Surat including Amrit and Saiyub were told work won’t resume till lockdown lifts. It was a challenging situation. But what did the factory owners in Surat do?

“Saiyub’s boss gave everyone rice and lentils and about 1,500 rupees. Amrit’s boss offered his workers rice and lentils, but no cash.” 

In his address to the nation on 23rd March while announcing the lockdown, PM Modi had specifically asked employers to help their employees in this tough time.

Almost a month and a half after the lockdown was announced, Amrit and Saiyub decided to travel back to Devari in May 2020. Since railway tickets were overbooked, they finally managed a truck which would take them back to Devari. But when truck was in Kolaras in Madhya Pradesh, Amrit felt sick. He got cold and fever. This made other passengers fearful that Amrit had coronavirus and he would transmit it to others. They made both of them alight in the middle of the road.

A poor Muslim and a poor Dalit, stranded in the middle of a backward region. In the typical NYT liberal’s worldview, no help should have arrived at all. But here’s what happened. Peer’s own article ends up telling what actually happened:

  • As they were lying on the road “A politician arrived with a few cars and distributed food and water.” 
  • Saiyub requested for an ambulance for Amrit. “An ambulance arrived and drove them to a small hospital in Kolaras. A doctor found that Amrit had low blood sugar and a high temperature and feared he had suffered a heat stroke”
  • Amrit got primary treatment at the local hospital. “(doctor) tried oral rehydration therapy to revive Amrit, whose consciousness was fading. A few hours later, Amrit was transferred to a better-equipped hospital in Shivpuri, a town about 15 miles away, where doctors diagnosed severe dehydration and moved him into the intensive care unit.”

Kolaras and Shivpuri are backward regions. Still, an ambulance arrived and shifted them to a better hospital in Shivpuri which had ICU facilities. Amrit despite being in hospital was critical. Yet Peer himself tells us about the kind of treatment that was available in a backward region. “The doctors tested the two friends for coronavirus, sent their samples to a laboratory and put Amrit on a ventilator”.

Tragically, Amrit died, despite the efforts that were put into treating him as Peer’s own piece says. His coronavirus test was negative. He died due to dehydration. The fact is that had it not been government hospitals and the help, Amrit would have been even more critical lying on the highway. Peer doesn’t feel it necessary to highlight that.

Government Help during Lockdown

Now started the daunting task of taking Amrit’s body back to Devari from Shivpuri. Basharat Peer says, “He (Saiyub) received several calls from officials who administered Shivpuri, the district where the hospital was located.” How can this show government apathy when officials contacted Saiyub? Isn’t it an indication of the dynamic nature of handling of the pandemic?

“In the evening, after a few hours of paperwork, Saiyub was allowed to return home with Amrit’s body. An ambulance was ready”, says Basharat Peer. In the middle of a lockdown, an ambulance was readied to take Amrit’s body home for last respects.

Impact of Economic Relief Package Seen

Peer finally reaches Devari where he meets Saiyub and the family of Amrit. He hears how Amrit was buried and how Amrit’s family was devastated by his death. Saiyub and many others were jobless in their village.

Talking to Amrit’s father, Peer gets to know that “Since the pandemic began, (Amrit’s poor father) has found three days of work overseeing laborers cleaning an irrigation canal in the village, making 202 rupees, or about $2.70, a day” 

Peer probably doesn’t realize he is talking of MGNREGA. In the declaration of PM Garib Kalyan Package and the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Package, the government laid focus on MGNREGA as a provider of employment in rural areas for migrants who went back. It increased the daily wage from Rs 182 to Rs 202.

Talking to Saiyub, Peer asks him about his job in Surat. “The factory owner in Surat had called the day before. Some of the workers were already back. He wanted Saiyub to return”  Unlock 1 and 2 were at work as economic activity resumed and factory owners are keen on having workers back.

Peer, aiming at misery tourism, ends up portraying how government programmes are reaching intended beneficiaries and things are slowly creeping back to normal.

Political Rants In, Facts Out

Peer starts his rant by first invoking the caste and religious identities. Identifying Amrit as a Dalit and Saiyub as a Muslim, Peer tries to convince the reader how Dalit-Muslim unity is great, only to hide the fact that Dalits have suffered the worst of Islamist violence.

Not stopping there, Peer feels the need to tell the reader who the Dalits are. “…Dalit, a term for those once known as “untouchables,” people who have suffered the greatest violence and discrimination under the centuries-old Hindu caste system.”

What Peer does not mention is that India has taken steps like reservation and Atrocities Act to make efforts to substantially reduce the injustice against Dalits. Of course, not everything is perfect, but shouldn’t these be mentioned?

Drifting away from the main issue of death of the worker, Peer forced in Ayodhya and now also forces in a biased portrayal of Gujarat. After all, Saiyub used to work in Surat with his friend Amrit, how can Peer stop from writing a word or two about Gujarat?

On his arrival in Surat, Saiyub had some apprehensions about being Muslim and working in Gujarat, Mr. Modi’s home state and the strongest bastion of Hindu nationalism.” 

But Peer’s propaganda flops when he hears the reply of Saiyub. “Nobody bothered me,” he said. “I did my job. I got paid.” What does this tell us about the ‘strongest bastion of Hindu nationalism’?

While speaking about India’s healthcare, Peer claims “Treatment costs because of an illness push more than 63 million Indians into poverty every year.” He even claims health treatment is linked to domicile of the individual. And what is the source of this information? Peer uses Draft National Health Policy of 2015! Perhaps Peer forgets that in 2018, India launched Ayushman Bharat, world’s largest healthcare program progressively looking to cover about 50 crore people, mostly poor and vulnerable. It has enabled free healthcare for India’s poor, stopping their lapse into abject poverty.

But who cares about facts when propaganda reigns? The New York Times has been famous for such hateful coverage of India. It is the same newspaper that mocked India’s space achievements with the infamously racist ‘cow cartoon’. However, even the concerted propaganda of Peer and NYT fall flat as, through the cracks of their story, the India that Peer and NYT seek to hide is seen.

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Ashutosh Kulkarni
Ashutosh Kulkarni is a New Delhi based public policy analyst. He tweets @PrachinVaani.

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