Crime Against Humanity
Volume 2 An inquiry into the carnage in Gujarat -- Findings And Recommendations by Concerned Citizens Tribunal -Gujarat 2002
Role of the Media
1.1. The Tribunal recommends that all the recommendations made by the Editors’ Guild in its report on the Gujarat carnage be implemented. (See Detailed Annexures, Volume III)
1.2. The role of the mass media — audio, visual and print — is critical in times of internal conflict. Unbiased coverage, the urge to investigate and report the truth, and to expose injustices are the positive aspects of media coverage. On the negative side, provocative headlines and non-factual reporting can reinforce stereotypes, fuel rumours, fan the flames of hatred and justify or instigate violence against the targeted community. In the latter case, the media abandons what is expected of a free press — fair reporting, analysis and comment – and, instead, acts as a partisan in the conflict.
1.3. Following Shri Modi’s diktat, the bodies of the passengers burnt to death in a compartment of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra, were taken by road in a cavalcade to the Sola Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad. ‘Rambhakts’ in the cavalcade resorted to provocative sloganeering, expressing their rage and threatening revenge. The state- controlled media was used to broadcast this message and the local Akashvani radio station even announced the cavalcade’s scheduled time of arrival in Ahmedabad. By the time the dead bodies reached the civil hospital, a highly charged crowd had al- ready assembled there, shouting incendiary slogans like, “Khoon ka badla khoon se lenge” (“We will avenge blood with blood”).
1.4. It was during the 7.30 p.m. broadcast on Akashvani radio that Shri Modi, for the first time, alleged that the “ISI or a foreign hand was behind the Godhra tragedy.” This, then, became his government and party’s official version; and for his Sangh Parivar fraternity, the justification for the ‘reaction’. The tragedy was that the state executive touted the ‘foreign hand’ version without any investigative proof and that large sec- tions of the media published it uncritically, without asking Shri Modi the basis on which he had so quickly arrived at such a conclusion.
1.5. Even English language newspapers, which, to their credit, played a non-parti- san role after the outbreak of violence post-Godhra, faltered somewhat on the ques- tion of the ISI link in the Godhra crime. For example, based on information provided by officials investigating the Godhra tragedy, The Times of India carried a report in the last week of March, debunking the ‘pre-planned theory’. But weeks earlier, the same news- paper had uncritically reported statements made by Gujarat ministers, baselessly asserting that the ‘Godhra attack could not have been spontaneous.’ Later, after extensive investiga- tion, the Ahmedabad based Forensic Science Laboratory concluded that the inflammable material that set coach S-6 aflame could not possibly have been poured in from outside.
1.6. Aaj Tak was the first TV news channel to flash the news of the Godhra deaths. Thereafter, Zee TV´s local cameraman in Godhra rushed his footage to Ahmedabad. This was aired soon after 2 p.m. Others, including Doordarshan, followed, deputing camera crew from Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Delhi. The magnitude of the horror only unfolded several hours after the tragedy, as the evening TV news bulletins re- peatedly telecast gruesome pictures of the burnt train and the corpses. The telecast of such pictures raises ethical issues that the visual media should deliberate upon.
1.7. On February 28, the two largest circulation, multiple-edition Gujarati newspapers, Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar, which are fairly dependent on the state government’s lar- gesse, played up the unsubstantiated official version of there being a ‘foreign hand’ behind the Godhra tragedy. It was only 3-4 weeks later that reports rubbishing this theory began to appear in newspapers. But by that time, the damage had already been done.
1.8. Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar have been playing a blatantly communal role since the BJP returned to power in Gujarat in 1998. The BJP government’s patronage of these dailies needs to be looked into carefully, so that they do not continue to act as mere government agents. In the recent carnage, too, the role of Sandesh was par- ticularly mischievous, while some smaller circulation newspapers like Gujarat Today, Sadhbhav and Gujarat Mitra acted responsibly.
1.9. On February 28, the day after the Godhra tragedy, Sandesh published photo- graphs of the burning coach of the Sabarmati Express with the headline, ‘Fifty Hin- dus burnt alive’ above the masthead. Besides, it also had a gruesome colour spread of photographs of the Godhra corpses. This was the first major breach of media ethics and law in the context of the Gujarat carnage. Witnesses told the Tribunal that copies of this issue of Sandesh were widely photocopied and flaunted by cadres of the RSS/ VHP and BD in rural areas, to provoke anger and prompt the participation of ordi nary people in the carnage that followed.
1.10. In the same issue, another front page headline that read, ‘From among those abducted from the Sabarmati Express, two dead bodies of Hindu girls found near Kalol in mutilated state’ had the following report: “Vadodara, Thursday: News about the dead bodies of two girls, abducted from the bogies during the attack on the Sabarmati Express yesterday, found in a mutilated and terribly disfigured form near a pond in Kalol, has added fuel to the already volatile situation of tension, not only in Panchmahal, but in the whole state. In an act of inhumanity that would make even a devil weep, both girls had their breasts cut off. It is evident from the dead bodies that the victims had been repeatedly raped. There is speculation that the girls might have died because of gross sexual abuse.” After investigations, the police found the report to be entirely baseless.
1.11. The police, too, stands indicted in this case by choosing to remain silent and doing nothing to expose the newspaper and initiate action against it for publishing a totally baseless but highly inflammatory story. Meanwhile, Sandesh continued, un- checked, to paint Muslims as murderers and traitors. On March 1, a report titled, ‘Call from the mosque: Slay the non-believers — Islam is in trouble’ told its readers: “On February 27, at 11.30 a.m., a mosque located along the railway tracks incited a crowd with the call: ‘Slay the non-believers… Islam is in danger.’ Responding to the call, the crowd attacked the surviving Ram sevaks from the torched train compartments, who were sitting by the railway tracks.” This, too, was a story without any basis.
1.12. From the news clippings perused and the testimonies collected by the Tribu- nal, it appears that the deliberate labelling of the miscreants responsible for the Godhra tragedy as ‘anti-national Pakistanis’ was the brainwave of Gujarat’s home minister, Shri Gordhan Zadaphiya, who is also a senior VHP leader. “The bogie-burning is a terrorist act similar to the attack on the American Centre in Kolkata. The culprits in both cases are the same,” Shri Zadaphiya claimed, and issued a dire threat: “We will teach a lesson to those who have done this. No one will be spared and we will make sure that the forces behind this act will never dare to repeat it.”
1.13. On March 7, Sandesh carried a report with a damaging headline, suggesting that Indian Muslims returning from the Haj pilgrimage could be a potential ‘terrorist’ threat to Hindus. Titled, ‘Hindus in danger! Possibility of attack with terrorists’ sup- port! Frightening scheme of attack by returning Hajis!’, the report stated: “Various government agencies have received frightening information that, after the Godhra incident, the fear of terrorist attacks is looming. The terrorists will use RDX pur- chased with foreign funds, attack with bombs or hijack planes. Investigating agencies have confirmed that the ISI is responsible for the attack on kar sevaks in Godhra. The anti-social elements have gone underground for the present and are waiting for an op- portunity to attack. It is possible that the attack will take place after the international pilgrims return from Saudi Arabia after Haj. The attack was postponed so that the pil- grims can return safely. According to the SP of the intelligence bureau, Shri Sanjeev Bhatt, the bombings will be as serious as those that took place in Mumbai, in 1993. As if in support of this, the chief minister, Shri Modi, told the trading community that the Godhra incident was not communal. It was well-planned and according to the facts being revealed, it indicates that we have to be more alert. Only Pakistan benefits from all this... That there are internal disturbances in India, and the citizens are harassed, appears to be in the interest of the perpetrators. The chief minister stated that the government is determined to get to the roots of the Godhra incident and destroy the elements that harmed the common man... Similarly, the former chief minister, Shri Chhabildas Mehta said that the government and the people should take adequate steps to ensure that Pakistan’s secret service cannot do whatever it likes wherever it likes.”
1.14. ‘When Muslim leaders shouted slogans like ‘Hindustan Zindabad!’, read a Sandesh headline on March 8. The report said that the Circuit House witnessed ‘an unprec- edented event’, when Muslim leaders of the city came together to shout slogans like the one mentioned above, and appeal for peace. The implication was clear: that Mus- lims are inherently anti-national and violent, whose raising of patriotic slogans and appealing for peace was ‘unprecedented’.
1.15. Typically, the opening lines of most reports concerning the post-Godhra vio- lence began with, “In the continuing spiral of communal rioting that broke out as a reaction to the demonic (or barbaric) Godhra incident...” The denunciatory words used liberally to describe the Godhra incident were strikingly absent when reporting the sub- sequent genocide. Clearly, like the Gujarat government, Sandesh, too, continued to jus tify the carnage in the rest of Gujarat as a ‘reaction’ to the heinous arson in Godhra.
1.16. There were several instances of misreporting that helped fuel rumours. The report, on March 16, of an incident that took place in Machchipith, Vadodara, where four Muslim youths in a Tata Sumo had been picked up for carrying arms, was com- pletely misleading. If one read the Sandesh report, it appeared as though the youths had a whole cache of arms in the vehicle. The truth was that one of the occupants was carrying a firearm for which he had a license. Similarly, there were misleading reports about Tandalja in Vadodara, which has a large Muslim population. It also housed the largest relief camp, giving shelter to more than 5,000 people from the city and nearby areas. Sandesh’s reports on Tandalja were instrumental in fuelling rumours and spreading false information. In fact, on March 18, members of Shanti Abhiyan, an NGO, forced Sandesh to publish a refutation of an article it had earlier published, which reported that there was tension in Tandalja.
1.17. Inflammatory tactics were used consistently by Sandesh. Reports on gruesome acts, like the burning alive of people, were published in bold letters, under banner headlines. Photographs of burnt, mangled bodies were a regular feature on the front page, or the last page reserved for important local news. In the first week of violence in the state, Sandesh published colour photographs of scenes of the carnage, superim- posed with a ‘burst’ giving readers the latest figure of casualties. Photographs of trishul-wielding ‘Ram sevaks’ were splashed on the front pages in the first week. The photographs served to instill terror amongst Muslims and to provoke intense passions and mutual hostility between the two communities.
1.18. Sandesh did worse than ignore the journalistic code of conduct that prohibits naming the communities involved in violent conflagrations. It published reports like: ‘a mob of religious fanatics’ (read Muslims) who were abducting tribal women, hav ing to face the wrath of the people; or: ‘religious fanatics’ about to attack a temple causing tension in certain areas in Vadodara city, bringing ‘devotees’ (read Hindus) out on the street to protect their place of worship.
1.19. Throughout the violence, Sandesh cynically propagated the idea of Muslims being anti-national and pro-Pakistan. Areas in the city or the state with a sizeable Muslim population were described as ‘mini-Pakistan’. On March 7, a report claimed to have discovered Godhra’s ‘Karachi connection’: an entire area in Karachi named Godhra. On March 1, the headline of a news item claimed that a ‘mini-Pakistan’ was in existence in the Navayard area of the city. The article went on to say that such ‘pockets’ were being created in the city, and asked the police to take note of the ‘crimi- nal’ UP migrant labourers who lived in this area. That Muslims in such bastis were living in complete terror at the time, was a trivial detail the Sandesh reports had no use for.
1.20. On March 1, a report claimed that the entire Sabarmati Express would have been put to flames had it not been delayed. The headline claimed, ‘A mob of 7-8,000 was waiting for the Sabarmati Express to arrive at Godhra.’ The mob, Sandesh re- minded its readers, was made up of ‘religious fanatics’.
1.21. Gujarat Samachar, the other leading Gujarati paper, also played a role in in- flaming passions, though not as consistently as Sandesh. Reportage on the Godhra incident, in particular, was inflammatory and irresponsible. But it also carried reports highlighting the need for communal harmony.
1.22. On February 28, the lead story on page 1 carried the headline, ‘3-4 young girls kidnapped.’ The source of this information was not mentioned. On page 10, a report quoted VHP leader, Shri Kaushik Patel, who claimed that 10 girls had been kid- napped. The reporter, evidently, had not cross-checked the concocted claims, either with the IGP or the railway police. The report did not mention the names of any of the girls or any other details about the alleged kidnapping. Yet another report, on page 2, carried the account, ostensibly, of an eyewitness, Sushri Hetalben, after the train reached Vadodara. She was quoted as saying, “Young girls from Ashraiwadi, who were travelling with us, are lost.”
1.23. On March 6, the Gujarat Samachar carried a report on the last page with the headline, ‘The Plan was to torch the whole train, not just one bogie.’ A box item on the last page stated that, ‘a mob was ready for the second attack.’ Again, the source of information was not mentioned; the tone and tenor of the reports, however, sug- gested they were reports based on careful investigation.
1.24. On March 7, Gujarat Samachar carried a box item on the last page, claiming that, “ISI is creating trouble in Gujarat; Kalota and his colleagues are important link; the deputy commander of ‘Huji’, arrested in Kolkata, has confessed to the conspiracy.” The report uses the term ‘Rambhakt’ several times for the travellers on the Sabarmati Express on that fateful day. On March 6, the headline of a report read ‘Torching of the train at Godhra was pre-planned. Kalota was tipped off by a railway officer on how to cut open the vacuum pipes.’ The source of information was not mentioned.
1. 25. On March 16, a page 1 story titled, ‘Indiscriminate firing from Fatehganj Mosque,’ was a complete fabrication.
1.26. On March 18, a photograph on page 1 showing bombs recovered by police during combing operations in the Danilimda area of Ahmedabad, had a caption that said: “People talking of secularism should be asked if protecting criminals is secularism.”
1.27. There were many other stories that contributed actively to the belief that Muslims were mobilising on a large scale to attack Hindus. It is evident from the communal pogroms and conflicts in recent years, that a section of the mass media is being increasingly used to peddle the familiar communal tactic of depicting the vic- tim as the aggressor and vice versa. On March 24, a heading on page 1 of Gujarat Samachar read, ‘Sat Kaival temple receives threat; Sarsa temple and pathshala under threat of being blown up using remote control.’ And a heading on page 2 in the same issue read, ‘Possibility of attack with deadly weapons; Secret agencies receive infor- mation; Religious and educational institutions will be targeted. All DSPs alerted.’ On March 26, Gujarat Samachar had a story on the last page, ‘Sabarmati Express incident was nothing but a pre-planned incident; many youths ready to commit crimes on just one signal from Bilal.’ There was absolutely no basis to any of these reports.
1.28. However, unlike Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar also carried some positive stories. Here are some examples:
- Muslims saved a Hindu shopkeeper’s shop in Halol. (March 2, p.5)
- Residents of Ram-Rahim tekra in Ahmedabad are an example of communal harmony. (March 5, p.1)
- Hindus saved the life of a Muslim woman in Halol. (March 5, p.5)
- No one wants riots. Rare scenes of communal harmony in sensitive areas of the city. (March 6, last page)
- Elol village near Himmatnagar is an example of communal harmony. (March 6, p.5)
- A Muslim woman offered shelter to a Hindu family. (March 7, p.3)
- At Bhoj village in Padra taluka, Muslims were given shelter in a temple. (March 7, p.8)
- “Oh! He is our Rahim Chacha… our guruji…” and they saved him. (March 10, p.11 -An article by Bhaven Kachchhi in Sunday supplement.)
- At Lilapir Dargah of Talaja, devotees include all — Hindus and Muslims. (March 11, p.5)
- An old Muslim woman saved from a mob by a Hindu youth. (March 22, p.2)
- A pregnant lady taken to hospital by a Muslim youth risking his life. (March 28)
1. 29. Gujarat Today is an 11-year-old Gujarati daily with a claimed circulation of 70,000. It is published by the Lokhit Prakashan Trust, Ahmedabad. The paper was started by Mus-lim liberals, and is probably the only Gujarati daily with a large Muslim readership. The paper carries news from villages and district towns that are not generally covered by the main-stream media. Given that Muslims constitute the vast majority of the readers of Gujarat Today, the role it played during the carnage is particularly noteworthy and significant
1.30. In its report on the Godhra incident on February 28, the paper reported that kar sevaks caught hold of some Muslim tea-vendors at Godhra station and forced them to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’, which sparked off the incident. This is also highlighted in a box on another page. In contrast to the more temperate language used in later re-ports, the reportage on February 28 was distasteful in parts. When the Sabarmati Express arrived at Vadodara station, “the saffron mob of the Bajrang Dal and VHP ran like dogs, attacking people with swords... kar sevaks got down from the train shouting slogans like ‘Har Har Mahadev!’ ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai!’ ‘Kill Muslims, chop up Mus- lims’...” The paper also carried a report and a photograph of a Hindu youth, Shri Arun Paswan, who was also attacked at Vadodara railway station.
1.31. There was no editorial on the Godhra carnage on February 28, to condemn the heinous crime of torching a train compartment, whatever the provocation. Principles apart, the daily, it would seem, was even oblivious to the enormous communal conse- quences of what had happened.
1.32. However, thereafter, the extensive coverage of the incidents, helplines and information about the police and the administration was factual.
1.33. Details of relief camps in Ahmedabad — their location, the kinds of facilities available (and what was necessary) in the camps — as well as appeals for assistance were published.
1.34. The paper carried detailed investigative reports of the violence. Some of these were:
- Details on the conditions of people in the relief camps, including issues of legal assistance, marriages organised and the delivery of babies in the camps. (March 6)
- Investigation into the Naroda Patiya incident, with details relating to the procurement of petrol, diesel and gas cylinders used for burning.
- Use of the inflammable chemical ‘Lakgel’ for burning. (March 8) This has not been reported in any other paper.
1.35. The daily also made a consistent effort to report on instances of communal harmony, and to project the view of Hindu liberals and progressives who were critical of the Hindutva project in Gujarat. Some examples are reports on: how the lives and properties of 175 Muslims of Naroda in Ahmedabad were protected by local shep- herds; how Hindu doctors in Bhavnagar saved properties from burning and made efforts to treat the injured; relief in the form of foodgrain and clothes provided by Hindus to victims in Jhagadia; a group marriage of Hindu and Muslim youths in Mangrol.
1.36. Also reported was news from Prantij, where a woman sarpanch successfully stopped riots occurring in her village. The March 8 edition carried news items about peace committees in Vagra, Palej, Dholka and Bharuch. On March 10, the paper had a report on how Hindu families saved the lives of 15 Muslims in Kavitha village near Borsad. While there were reports from Juhapura, of how Muslims saved Hindus, there was also a report on how looting of both Hindus and Muslims took place.
1.37. The March 12 issue carried news of a Hindu family in Dehgam, which shel- tered 20 Muslims in their house, and a boxed item about a relief camp in Bhalej village, Kheda district, run by Hindus and Muslims. The March 15 issue had a report of how Muslim women saved the lives of Hindus. News of unity among the Hindus and Muslims of Lambadia and Sami was reported in other issues of the paper.
1.38. The Gujarat government, the Tribunal notes, was selective about action against TV channels and publications. While it banned some local TV channels, and also a national channel — Star News — on March 2, because it had exposed the government’s inaction, it took no action against newspapers like Sandesh. The ban was lifted on the assurance that the CM would be given a chance to air his views on the channel.
1.39. The English language newspapers, with their local editions in Gujarat, did a commendable job through most of that period. Although the over-emphasis on urban reportage meant that the villages and rural districts affected by the carnage received exposure much later (even though the violence took place in the same 72 hours after Godhra), the abiding impression gained by the Tribunal, on perusing the English media, was its commitment to secular values even in the face of intimidation. The Ahmedabad and Vadodara ‘Newsline’ supplements of The Indian Express and The Times of India’s local edition, did a fine job in exposing the truth, doing follow-up stories etc. The Ahmedabad- edition of The Asian Age, too, reflected this urgency and sense of purpose. Many of the stories exposed the government’s complicity and the police buckling under political pressure.The Indian Express especially went out of it’s way on the issue. The resident editor of the newspaper, Shri Virendra Kumar had to face threats and intimidation from both the government and leaders of the accused organisations but he did not buckle down.
1.40. The Tribunal would like to record its appreciation of the Updates on the Gujarat Carnage put out on the website sabrang.com, which were, in a sense, the first insightful accounts and analyses of the horrors of the Gujarat carnage. The conditions at the relief camps, the abdication of state responsibility in giving succour, and the sheer scale of the deaths, were recorded accurately by this and other efforts of this organisation. Journalist Teesta Setalvad’s tracking of the Gujarat carnage, in the re- port brought out by Communalism Combat and in earlier publications, also deserves favourable mention.
1.41. Through a statement issued on April 3, the chairman of the Press Council, Justice K Jayachandra Reddy, warned the errant media of action under section 295-A of the IPC and allied provisions. (Section 295-A deals with “Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”)
1.42. The national print and electronic media documented the holocaust and the systematic targeting of Muslim homes, mohallas, shops and establishments, factories, hotels and eateries and other economic assets as well as dargahs, mosques, shrines and kabristans (graveyards).
1.43. The rediff.com portal posted an interview that journalist Sushri Sheela Bhatt conducted with Shri KK Shastri, the 96-year-old president of the Gujarat unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which makes for chilling reading. According to Shri Shastri, the list of Muslim-owned shops to be targeted was prepared on the morning of February 28. This because, “We were terribly angry (over Godhra)… Lust and an- ger are blind”... “Hindutva was attacked… This is a tremendous outburst that will be difficult to roll back”… “We can´t condemn it because they are our boys.” Shri Shastri added, “The VHP has formed a panel of 50 lawyers to help release the arrested people accused of rioting and looting. None of these lawyers will charge any fees because they believe in the RSS ideology.” Shri Shastri is said to have denied making these remarks. The two VHP joint general secretaries from Gujarat, Dr. Jaideep Patel and Dr Kaushik Mehta, whom the Editors’ Guild met at the VHP office in Ahmedabad, also contradicted the report, making out that Shri Shastri was old and hard of hearing. They rejected the theory that Muslim premises were tar- geted. But Sushri Sheela Bhatt has the tape. (See section on Annexures, Volume I). The tenor of the April issue of Vishwa Hindu Samachar, published by Rashtra Chetna Prakashan and edited by none other than Shri Shastri himself, lends credence to what he told rediff.com. A two-page article therein praises the ‘Chhote Sardar’ (CM Shri Narendra Modi) for his handling of Godhra and its aftermath.
1.44. The Tribunal recorded the evidence, in detail, of representatives from the print and electronic media. There are a large number of Gujarati newspapers, there being 32 large and small vernacular publications, in Ahmedabad alone. Fulchab, in Rajkot, was, characteristically, the first to take out a peace rally immediately after Godhra. Sambhav (with 4 editions in Gujarat), Prabhat (published from Ahmedabad and Mehsana) and Gujarat Today (which has a Muslim ownership, and is published in Ahmedabad) are seen to have been moderate and balanced in their reportage and editorial approach. The CMD of Sambhav, Shri Kiran Vadodaaria, avoided publishing pictures of corpses. The paper received an anonymous threat on April 1, because it had carried a column by Shri MJ Akbar, the editor-in-chief of The Asian Age. Though curfew passes were denied to the editorial staff of Sambhav, they were able to move about quite freely with their normal press cards. Prabhat´s director, Shri Ashish Kothari, has testified before the Editors’ Guild about swords and liquor being distributed on February 27. The Kutch Mitra ran a statement by a prominent moulavi on its front page for several days, condemning Godhra and expressing regret over what had happened while the March 2 issue of Saurashtra Samachar, Bhavnagar, carried a special supplement devoted to religious harmony. Evidence before the Tribunal also indicates that smaller Gujarati papers like Madhyantar, edited by Shri Jashwant Rawal, incited violence through provoca- tive reporting. The publication’s April 3 edition, produced before the Tribunal al- leged that a Muslim police officer was behind the local riots in Anand district. An eight-column commentary on the front page was headlined, ‘Muslims will have to prove that they are full Indians.’
1.45. The widely reported statements of Sri Modi and former union law minister, Shri Arun Jaitley, about the media’s role in ‘provoking violence’ generated a lot of discussion and debate. “...I would also appeal to the media to do their bit. The media is supposed to give subdued coverage to such volatile situations.... If you show dead bodies and then identify which community the bodies belong to, then, instead of playing the role of reducing tensions you are actually provoking people.” — Arun Jaitley. (Telephonic interview on the programme, ‘Is Waqt’, Zee News, March 1).
1.46. The Tribunal finds these statements farcical, since these top-level govern- ment functionaries did nothing to control obvious efforts by the VHP/RSS/BJP lead- ership to fuel rage and instigate ‘revenge’ post-Godhra. When the free press did its job, highlighting the crimes committed and the government’s complicity in it, they chose to lay the blame at the doors of the ‘messengers’ from the media.
1.47. Journalists covering communal riots in the country experience a sea change over the last decade and a half, in the conditions of work and the risks they now face. Prior to 1992, when communal violence did not involve the mobilisation of large mobs/cadres, a reporter or a press photographer could move around more or less freely, secure that, in the performance of journalistic duty, they themselves would not become potential targets. But after December 6, 1992, this can no longer be taken for granted. The violence and vandalism accompanying the Ayodhya movement changed all that. As the demolition of the Babri Masjid was in progress on December 6, 1992, several reporters, correspondents and media persons were brutally attacked. A significant development, negatively in this regard has been the physical danger experienced by women and men journalists from the targeted Muslim community covering the carnage. The Tribunal met at least three such who had identity cards with assumed names, supported by their respective publications and managements to ensure safe passage in their work.
1.48. Media persons were targeted during the Gujarat carnage as well. Shri Modi himself made repeated and veiled threats about the television coverage by national channels like Star News and Aaj Tak. He even attempted a ban on the former news channel, which did not quite work.
1.49. On February 28, Shri Bhargava Parikh of Zee TV and his cameraman were at- tacked because the attackers thought that they were documenting evidence of individuals leading the mobs. Shri Dibang from Aaj Tak was attacked near the Kabadi Market on March 2. Shri Rajdeep Sardesai of Star News was threatened. ANS staff was also attacked. Two correspondents of NDTV, Shri Sanjay Singh and Shri Sanjay Rokhade were detained at Bhavnagar for five hours. They were terrorised and traumatised by a band of Bajrang Dalis who taunted them repeatedly, asking, should we kill you, should we not?
1.50. On April 3, the crime reporter of The Asian Age in Ahmedabad, Sushri Sonal Kellogg, and the reporter of a Surat-based daily were beaten up by the police in the Mariam Bibi Ni Chawli area in Gomtipur. When she complained to the deputy com- missioner of police [Zone V], Shri RJ Savani, whom she knew quite well, all he said was that “it might have been a mistake.” When she protested to the police commis- sioner, Shri PC Pandey, in his office, he was dismissive, “Don’t bother me…I don’t have time…file a complaint if you want.” As the journalist herself puts it, “If police- men can be so brutal towards journalists on duty, their behaviour with ordinary citi- zens could be so much more atrocious. It is a pity that the police in Gujarat is either a mute spectator or it harasses and tortures innocent people.”
1.51. On April 8, the Ahmedabad police, who had failed to control mob violence over the past 33 days, severely assaulted about two dozen reporters and photogra- phers at the historic Gandhi Ashram. The journalists, who had assembled to cover two peace meetings, including one attended by Medha Patkar, were beaten up ruth- lessly. Leading his men was deputy commissioner of police, Shri VM Parghi. Three media persons, The Indian Express photographer Shri Harsh Shah, NDTV cameraman Shri Pranav Joshi and ETV reporter Shri Harshal Pandya were seriously injured, and Shri Pranav Joshi had to be admitted to the ICU at a private hospital. Aaj Tak corre- spondent Shri Dhimant Purohit, who suffered a fracture in his hand, NDTV reporter Shri Sanjeev Singh, Jansatta photographer Shri Amit Dave, Gujarat Samachar reporter Shri Ketan Trivedi, a photographer of the same newspaper Shri Gautam Mehta and reporter Shri Ashish Amin were amongst the other victims.
1.52. The Editors’ Guild team also faced the wrath of Hindutva forces. On April 1, one of its members was closeted with some print and TV journalists at the Circuit House in Ahmedabad, when there was a big commotion. A group of 6-8 VHP storm- troopers burst into his room, shouting and gesticulating, jostling those present and vehemently accusing them of hatching a dark conspiracy behind closed doors. A Gujarat Information Directorate official sought to intervene and said that discussions were in progress with a representative of the Editors’ Guild. The mob turned on the latter demanding to know whether he was Hindu or Muslim. He replied saying that this was irrelevant, and that he was a ‘Hindustani’ (Indian). Giving them his name, he asked the intruders to identify themselves and state their purpose. They refused to identify them- selves, shouting ‘Hum Hindu hain’ (‘We are Hindus’), each insisting in turn that this was his name. Only gradually did the group cool down. Its spokesmen accused the English media and national TV channels of defaming the majority community with ‘one-sided’ and ‘totally biased’ coverage. “They only listen to Muslims and ignore Hindus. They do not focus on Muslim rioters and on damage to Hindu property. Hin- dus who escaped from the Godhra inferno and have been admitted to hospital in Ahmedabad and Hindu refugees in the Prem Darwaza and other relief camps have not been interviewed.” Aaj Tak invited the harshest rebuke, especially for its cover- age of the violence in the first few hours of February 28. The group demanded that this channel should be shut down and its ‘licence’ revoked. Aaj Tak was probably the first on air with live footage of the rioting. The Times of India and The Indian Express, both of which have Ahmedabad editions, were also singled out for mention.
1.53. The Editors’ Guild report comments extensively on the language used in the press notes of the Gujarat government. Some of these deserve mention here: “The phraseology most often used for the Godhra incident was, “inhuman genocide”, “in- human carnage” or “massacre”, while the subsequent incidents of violence were in- variably described as “disturbances”, and occasionally, as “violent disturbances/inci- dents.” The chief minister visited Godhra on the afternoon of February 27 itself, and the press note issued thereafter described the torching of the Sabarmati Express as a “pre-planned, inhuman, collective, violent act of terrorism.”
1.53.1. “Several press releases of the government refer to the situation having been brought under control within 72 hours. An official release on March 5 carried twin headings, ‘The state government has taken stringent action to stem riots and vio- lence: Narendra Modi’ and ‘Chief minister’s appeal to trade and industry, religious heads and intellectuals for the revival and restoration of economic activities has evoked encouraging response.’ The occasion was a Citizens’ meet organised by the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in response to an appeal by the CM “to revive and restore economic activity.” The release notes: “Modi said it was the duty of the state government to provide security to the citizens even by taking drastic actions. Referring to the keen interest shown by the people around the globe in the ‘Resurgent Gujarat’ after devastating earthquake, he said that entire world was looking at the progressive and fast developing Gujarat.”
1.53.2. “After again referring to “the pre-planned, collective terrorism against Gujarat”, “Pakistan’s proxy war” and its “clandestine role…behind the Godhra genocide”, “Modi asserted that at this critical juncture, interest of Gujarat was to maintain peace and said that the Government had discharged its duty to stop violence.” Further, he said, “the elements wanting to perpetuate violence and destabilise Gujarat were disappointed.” Making a reference to Shabana Azmi’s demand to file a case of mass murder against the chief minister, Modi said that he would not have any regret to be hanged at the Bhadra Fort if restoration of peace within three days was considered an offence.
1.53.3. “Another press release dated March 9 was headed, ‘We will not surrender to the elements out to malign Gujarat says the chief minister.’ The occasion was another address to “leading business men and the merchant community” under the auspices of the Maskati New Cloth Market Mahajan. Shri Modi said Mahatma Gandhi had taught Gujarat to fight against injustice. Health minister Shri Ashok Bhatt who also spoke, “was cheered when he said that the trading community hails the chief minister as “the Sardar opposed to terrorism”, because he restored peace to Ahmedabad in only 72 hours.” The press release concluded with the observation that “businessmen, traders and the owners of process houses were full of praise for the strong will power of the chief minister and described him as ‘Chhote Sardar’”
1.53.4. “A March 4 press release from Ahmedabad on the occasion of Shri LK Advani´s visit to Gujarat stated, “Home minister LK Advani today said that the Godhra genocide had given a setback to the four years of peaceful Bharatiya Janata party rule in Gujarat.” This comment was reflected in the heading.
1.53.5. “There were a few press notes on communal amity. A release dated March 2 quoted the chief minister as denying newspaper reports of people having been burnt alive in Pandharwada village in the Panchmahal district. It turned out to be one of the worst instances of rural violence. (This incident was first reported by the monthly Communalism Combat in its special issue, ‘Genocide, Gujarat 2002’, March- April issue, No. 77-78.)”
1.54. Among the television networks, in addition to Doordarshan, Aaj Tak and ETV (Eenadu) operate Gujarati channels. There were few critics of ETV, and its coverage was described as balanced. But Aaj Tak, in particular, received a lot of flak for its candid coverage. A year ago, during the earthquake in 2001, it had been praised for going off the beaten track and picking up special nuances on the ground. It is possible that a similar approach proved an embarrassment to the powers that be on this occa- sion. Like the other networks, it used mobile OB vans that allowed for quicker and more exhaustive coverage.
1.55. Star News telecast some graphic footage and interviews in the thick of the riots in Ahmedabad, and along the Vadodara-Godhra highway, where a number of industrial establishments and trucks were burnt. It also carried an extremely moving interview with professor JS Bandukwala in Vadodara, a man whose secular convic- tions continue to burn bright, even after going through a terrible ordeal.
1.56. There is little doubt that some of the television coverage exposed the state govern- ment. It hit back by banning Star News on March 2 for several hours. In an interview to Outlook (March 18), Shri Modi was asked why he had sought to muzzle the press. His re- sponse was, “There is no ban on the media. I blacked out just one channel because of the provocative reporting methods used. Traditionally, the print media has used its own methods of self-censorship, taking care not to mention the names of communities while reporting riots. If every half an hour, names of communities are going to be mentioned, without any substantiation or any attribution, it inflames the situation instead of allaying it. It is not difficult to see what impact it will have. I must also tell you that since then, the channel has tendered an apology and made amends.” Asked about this, Star News sources commented that they met Shri Modi at a press conference and requested him to lift, what they termed, an unfair ban. The chief minister did so. It must also be added that Shri Modi was given an opportunity to air his point of view on events in Gujarat on the channel, by prior arrangement before the ban was lifted.
1.57. The coverage by Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR’s) Ahmedabad stations was restrained. Many viewers and listeners who appeared as witnesses before the Tribu- nal said that they appreciated this, although others expressed dissatisfaction, comment- ing on the fact that while AIR reported the facts, Doordarshan kept saying that the situation was ‘under control.’ The chief minister´s appeal for peace was telecast repeat- edly by Doordarshan. Peace rallies in different parts of the state and programmes emphasising communal harmony were aired. These included sound bytes in Gandhiji’s voice, culled from archival material, and stories of Hindus sheltering Muslims. Efforts were made to counter rumours and scenes of joint Holi celebrations were screened.
1.58. According to a report in The Indian Express (March 8), AIR, Delhi was quizzed by somebody in the Prime Minister´s Office, regarding an English discussion that was critical of the manner in which the Gujarat riots had been handled. This is said to have resulted in an inquiry and the transfer of the concerned programme officer.
1.59. Many cities in Gujarat have local cable-television channels that telecast news and programmes several hours a day. Gujarat Samachar has one such channel in Ahmedabad. There is another, a 24-hour channel in Anand, known as Charotar Area Network Link or CAN-Link. The group also publishes a local newspaper, Naya Padkar. What subscribers wanted from their local media was positive stories of community living and hard information about violence-affected areas, curfew hours, safe routes for commuting, and so forth. This was not forthcoming and such information, when it was provided, was sometimes confusing.
Vadodara has 4 cable channels. While they did carry some official peace messages, it is alleged that they were politically exploited and that some of their coverage amounted to incitement. In the evidence placed before the Tribunal, members of the civil liberties’ group, PUCL, as well as Shanti Abhiyan were particularly critical of the JTV and Deep channels. The police commissioner of Vadodara felt that the cable networks had “played havoc” and issued them a warning. The licences of two opera- tors were suspended on March 17, after they showed live footage of rioting in the sensitive Machchipith area on March 15, when the VHP celebrated news of the per- formance of shilanyas at Ayodhya. This same footage was telecast again the following day. The licences were restored after 48 hours. FIRs were, however, registered against News Plus and the VNM Channel respectively and the operators were released on bail. Political leaders used the local electronic media in the most despicable manner. The intentions of a number of leaders belonging to the ruling party and its affiliates be- come very clear, if one examines their speeches on local TV channels such as JTV, Deep and VNM. The speeches of leaders like Shri Ajay Dave (BJP), Shri Nalin Bhatt (BJP), Shri Deepak Kharchikar (Shiv Sena), Shri Neeraj Jain (VHP), Sushri Bhartiben Vyas (Mayor of Vadodara) and Shri Jitendra Sukhadia BJP), were particularly pro- vocative, obviously intended to incite crowds to violence. If these were the speeches made on TV, one can well imagine the role of these people during the violence on the streets. (For example, on March 18, Sushri Bhartiben Vyas convened a ‘Shanti Samiti’ meeting which was attended by the police commissioner and the collector, as well as leading political figures of various parties. She made appropriate pacifist remarks at this meeting but later that day, she made inflammatory remarks against the minority community in the Vadodara Municipal Council.)
1.60. The Tribunal also recorded evidence that shows the misuse of the media by channels like Citicable and Narmada, which influenced public perceptions for the worse in Bharuch-Ankleshwar.
1.61. Networks are subject to rules framed under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. Operators have to seek registration by an authorised officer, who may be a district magistrate, sub-divisional magistrate or police commissioner within his/her area of jurisdiction. The rules prescribe a code for programmes and advertisements. No programme may be carried, which offends good taste or decency, attacks religious communities, incites violence, contains false and suggestive innuen- does and half-truths, or is unsuitable for unrestricted public exhibition. Any authorised officer may prohibit certain transmissions infringing the code or otherwise, if expedi- ent to do so in the public interest. Penalties include fines and seizure of equipment.
1.62. The Editors’ Guild was informed that during long periods of curfew between March 1 and 15, some cable channels made it a point to screen ‘patriotic’ or ‘nation- alist’ films such as Gadar, Border and Ma Tujhe Salaam.
1.63. The Gujarat carnage was probably the first of its kind, where mobile phones and cellular services were actively used. They were used by the leaders of large mobs to coordinate and launch attacks. Equally, they were used by victims, survivors, rights activists etc. to contact authorities or to make frantic appeals for peace, which, unfor- tunately, were not always heeded.
1.64. The long history of communal violence in India is replete with instances where rumours have been a prominent part of the modus operandi adopted to stoke hatred and violence. But it works differently now. Earlier phases of inter-community violence, riots started over small and freak incidents and often spread due to the residual mistrust and suspicion between communities. Since the early eighties, the pattern of communal violence has increasingly assumed the characteristics of po- groms and genocidal killings, and has made the generation of hate speech and rumour an exercise put into force by the elements who lead and mastermind the killings. Hate speech, pamphlets and propaganda are conspicuously used to these ends, and even mainstream newspapers put into use for the purpose.
1.65. The rumours that were spread during the Gujarat carnage followed familiar lines: Impending attacks from Muslims, threat of retaliation from the relief camps, Muslim youths being armed, decapitated bodies found in a temple, etc. Rumours such as these, which were doing the rounds, were not adequately countered by the authori- ties; regrettably, the mass media, too, did not pay heed to this. In what might appear paradoxical, and reminiscent of the 1992-1993 anti-Muslim pogrom in Mumbai, while the minorities were the victims, it was the majority that experienced the threat per- ception most acutely. This was so because the fear psychosis was deliberately cre- ated, in Mumbai earlier and in Gujarat this time, so as to justify the carnage and killings as ‘defensive’ acts by ‘protectors of Hindus’. In response to this, sections of the minority formed vigilante squads to defend themselves in majority dominated areas of Ahmedabad and Vadodara.
1.66. Hate speech and hate writing, rumour-mongering and factual reportage have now become critical issues that need to be addressed by the police, the government and the media, to maintain internal peace and security.
1.67. The Tribunal would like to put on record that an anonymous e-mail message was widely circulated in early March, the gist of which was that the trigger for the tragedy at Godhra was provided by riotous kar sevaks, who, among other things, mo- lested a young Muslim girl on the railway platform and dragged her with them into the compartment. It was this misdemeanour which enraged the Muslim stall-owners try- ing to rescue the girl, the e-mail claimed. It added that two local correspondents, Shri Anil and Sushri Neelam Soni, were eyewitness to all this but that their report was suppressed. To make the information appear authentic, the designations and tele- phone numbers of the correspondents were given.
The e-mail message said that the girl was “molested” and “abducted”. Further, as the train began moving out of the station, incensed hawkers pulled the alarm chain to stop it within a few hundred metres of the station, near the outer signal cabin adja- cent to the Ghanchi neighbourhood, to which the vendors belong. The train was mobbed and stoned and coach No. S-6 was set on fire.
When, exactly, this e-mail message was actually sent, is not clear. However, on being questioned by the Editors’ Guild, the Sonis denied having filed the story and disclaimed it as a fabrication. Nevertheless, others also put out somewhat similar versions, supplementing their account with a news report published by the Faizabad- based Jan Morcha on February 25, narrating accounts of the misbehaviour of kar sevaks on their way to Ayodhya. travelling by the same Sabarmati Express.
That the kar sevaks attempted to drag a Muslim girl standing on the platform to their compartment is a fact. But rumour had it that she was actually pulled into the train. A senior journalist who deposed before the Tribunal, clarified that she had spo- ken to the family concerned, who said that an attempt was made to pull the girl into the train, but Muslim vendors intervened at once and rescued her.
1.68. The Tribunal records from the evidence placed before it that four young men from Ahmedabad – Shri Memon Mohammed Samir B and Shri Memon Ayub Abubakar from Juhapura and Shri Memon Gulam Mustafa J and Shri Mansuri Makbul I, both from Sarkhej Road — have filed an FIR under sections 153(A), 155, 295, 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code against Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar. The complaint, faxed to the commissioner of police, Ahmedabad, Shri PC Pandey, and dated March 10 states, “After the incident of February 27, these two publications, instead of reporting news fairly, made baseless accusations against Muslims and printed fallacious news and also spread the news in a provocative manner, which is detrimental to the interest of the nation and as such, caused provocation resulting in large-scale destruction… Due to the articles carried by the publication on February 28, which were inflammatory, not only was the integrity of the Muslim community questioned, but unspeakable atrocities were also inflicted on it… By such provocative news articles, the accused displayed support to particular right-wing extremist organisations like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, which has not only ruined the prestige of the state but brought national shame to India in the eyes of the international community… The rift caused between citizens on the grounds of religion and communal disharmony is becoming irrevocable and as such the accused, large circulating newspapers, have committed a heinous crime, as contem- plated by the sections above. They can also be booked under the POTO ordinance.” The Tribunal notes with regret that no action has been initiated against the newspapers. (See Detailed Annexures: PUCL Report on Media, Volume III).