and hypocrisy are two basic ingredients of religion and religious establishments.
Historically many people have been killed under the name of god and
religion. The most violent abuses have been carried out by men of god.
still in this day religion continues to kill, maim, abuse and terrorise.
But the media is mainly concerned with presenting a game of holy and
What is it
about religion that makes it untouchable? Even when gruesome scandals are
revealed, such as child abuse by the Catholic Church both in Ireland and the
USA, the state and the mainstream media tend not to concern themselves as they
should. We heard much more about the child abuse case against Michael Jackson, a
case which was disproved in the court of law, than the Catholic Church with a
few hundred cases of child abuse against the whole establishment which cost the
church millions of dollars. Why is the media so reluctant to expose the
religious hierarchy? Why do men of God get a free ride?
The public is
becoming increasingly disenchanted with religion and religious establishments in
the West. The media does not reflect this important fact. Atheists are becoming
more outspoken but this, too, is ignored by the mainstream media.
the media continues to aid the mystification of religion as an untouchable
institution. The most banal and backward teachings are treated as the
absolute truth, a given fact, hardly questioned and rarely criticised.
The media is an important instrument in upholding the myth of God.
and the media - Narendra Nayak
In India the
print media is mostly owned by large business houses with a variety of trade and
commercial interests, and they are keen to propitiate Hindu religious interests.
As a reaction to the propagation of the majority viewpoint, and many times out
of their own vested interests, smaller non-Hindu sections of the media promote
their own religious lobbies. In an atmosphere which is vitiated by such
propaganda it is very difficult for the ordinary citizen to sift fact from
fiction. When there are inter-religious disturbances, the media go to town with
their distorted version of the happenings, depending on whichever vested
interest they represent, so adding fuel to the fire of communal passions. This
naturally increases the intensity of the conflict, thereby promoting their
agenda and sometimes their self fulfilling prophecies. Usually, after a few days
of mayhem order does return.
average citizen of India is mostly a peace-loving person, the media stokes the
fires of communal passions proactively. They are kept burning with a low key
program of soft communal agenda and promotion of various types of superstition.
This article will deal with the manner in which the print media uses religion.
every newspaper has a column on religious propaganda – even the most
so-called progressive ones. There are some exceptions to these like
those published by some of the left front parties. The largest selling
newspaper in India, The Times of India, carries regularly on its editorial
page, columns like the ‘Speaking Tree’ which is a vehicle for the
“thoughts” of reactionary elements of Hindu leanings while on certain
days like Christmas or Eid token write ups are carried authored by those
professing other religions. As the author has experienced, there is
nothing pertaining to the scientific temper, Humanism of any
type or rational thinking ever printed in this column. If one were to
send reactions to the drivel published therein they would never be published.
so-called progressive newspaper The Hindu (it has supposedly nothing
to with eponymous religion) originally started from the southern town
of Madras (now renamed Chennai). It carries a regular column called
‘Religion’ which has write-ups like ‘God’s graciousness’ (loving
devotion to God is an end to itself as a devotee who has reached such
heights of devotion transcends all duality and exists only for His sake).
Another one, ‘Karma – a binding force’ quotes Swami Paramarthananda
law of Karma is a binding factor on all human beings. This manifests itself as
the joys and sorrows one experiences in life as a consequence of one’s past
deeds, good and bad. What is the solution for these? …the Karma Kanda section of
the Vedas suggests ritualistic solutions for the varieties of problems the
mankind faces while also offering methods and skills for diagnosing them.”
If this is the
sort of thing published in a newspaper with a ‘progressive’ outlook one can
imagine what the others do.
to the newspapers published in Indian languages, the biases are even more
blatant and their role in the spread of superstitions and communal hatred is
In the state of Gujarat the
newspapers belonging to a certain section incited passions and actively
assisted in the Muslim genocide of 2002.
dominated areas like the city of Hyderabad in southern India the Urdu
press (Urdu is a language identified with the Muslim community) has
incited riots, communal hatred and intolerance. In his hometown of Mangalore
in the southern state of Karnataka, the author can vouch for the role
of the local and state level newspapers in pursuing a hidden communal
agenda with a view to making it as communally polarised as the state
of Gujarat. The largest circulating newspaper of the region called Vijaya
Karnataka was first owned by a transport baron who later on joined the
right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (which was instrumental in opening
up communal tensions in 1992 with the destruction of the Babri Mosque in North
India, a structure owned by both Hindus and Muslims to be communally sensitive,
thus unleashing communal riots in the entire country), got elected as a Member
of Parliament on their ticket, resigned from that and started his own party.
During his ownership, the newspaper was promoting his ideology. The
newspaper was taken over by The Times of India group, arguably the largest media
group in the country but the editorial policy did not change. The newspaper
caters to all sorts of superstitions and carries columns one of which called all
Muslims ‘terrorists’ and had to face their ire.
thing in common to all of the columnists is the hatred towards the forces
of reason, rational and Humanist thought.
area where I reside, the largest circulated newspaper
called the Udayavani is unique in having
no editorial section. This lack does not mean that it has no agenda
– in that department this rag is very strong. It promotes the communal
interests of one community and the upper castes in particular. It goes
to great lengths to glean pearls of communal wisdom and stories of so-called
miracles from everywhere. As is the usual practice, reactions to these
are never carried and even if carried are heavily edited and the debate
distorted to make it appear as if the forces of rational thought have
to these, minor incidents like a Muslim vendor pricking a girl with
a needle have been projected as Hindus being infected with AIDS, minor
quarrels between communities projected as major riots (the resulting
reactions fulfilling their own prophecies). In another case a tableau
depicting a Muslim bowing before a Hindu goddess (which was a part of
a local legend in which there is a temple built for that goddess by
a Muslim and named after him) resulted in communal riots. These resulted
in almost three days of round the clock curfew in certain areas and
the loss of several dozen innocent lives. All this because the media
had projected such a minor incident as a great affront to the faith
of some. This has been going on for a long time and has resulted in
benefit to the Hindu right who have gained a lot of political advantage.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has won several seats to the legislative
question why voices of reason are not raised against these. The unpalatable
truth is that the media is in the hands of a few powerful barons who claim to
mould public opinion.
age guru Ravi Shankar who attaches two ‘Sris’ before his name (it
is like being addressed as Mr.,Mr.!) and titles like Guruji Maharaj
(Lord and Mentor Supreme) is promoted by the media as a saviour of mankind.
He promotes something called art of living, probably implying that those
do not undergo his course are dead, which is a mishmash of yoga and
some Hindu superstitions. All his fame has been due to the support of
a section of the media and unreserved acceptance by others. Then there
is one Ram Kishen Yadav, who calls himself Baba Ramdev (Father Ramdev),
who claims to be a yoga expert and promises health for all and cures
for every possible disease through his untested, unproved concoctions.
He is almost solely a product of media hype. The success of these godmen
is probably due to their publicity on TV channels, but the print media
has also played a large role in promoting them.
other hand, rational forces within the media can find themselves harassed
by the law under various obscure sections of the Indian Penal Code.
When B.V.Seetaram, columnist of the Kannada newspaper Karavali Ale,
questioned the propriety of Jain ascetics going around stark naked and
why that did not attract the provisions of the Indian Penal Code on
nudity, he was arrested and paraded around in chains like a criminal.
On the personal front, when the writer of this article, who is the president
of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations was queried at
a public meeting about the efficacy of cow’s urine as a panacea, he
replied that urine of all animals whether a cow or a dog was an excretory
product. This was highlighted in a newspaper famous for its reactionary
views. It was followed by a campaign orchestrated by statement and the
person who made it with threats to prosecute him under any possible
sections of the Indian Penal Code. The campaign came to an end only
after a legal luminary suggested that no legal action could be taken
as the author was a Hindu (despite his claims to the contrary) and that
every Hindu had the right to criticise and try for the reform of his
to understand the role of the media in the Indian context to know its
effect and efforts to promote religion and related superstitions. Though
most of my analysis had been of the Hindu right and its efforts in promoting
the Hindutva (radical Hindu) agenda, one cannot discount the role of
the followers of the other proselytizing religions like Islam and Christianity.
But due to the smaller number of the followers and their realisation
that it would better for them to be in the good books of the secular
non-believers, they have toned down their attacks against most of us.
Of course Taslima Nasrin and Salman Rushdie who have chosen to launch
direct attacks on their prophet are exceptions to this! The Christian
dominated media is at the very fringes in most of India and they have
not succeeded anywhere except in the southern state of Kerala (which
has a large Christian population), where they own a newspaper chain.
Their utilisation of the media has been mainly through the power of
money and claims to empathy from Sonia Gandhi, leader of the ruling
Congress Party, whose Roman Catholic origins have made the party faithful
obsequious to followers of their leader’s faith. Under these circumstances
it is very difficult for Humanists to make our voices heard. We are
provided a platform by a very small section of the media sympathetic
to us to express our point of view, and sometimes heavily edited versions
of our side are also published to make a show of fair play.
Nayak is President, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations