India’s Descent into Darkness

by Syeda Tahreem Bukhari

India, which was once called the largest secular democratic state, has embarked on a journey of darkness under the government of the BJP. Indian state institutions are paralyzed, whether it is the media, the police department or the judiciary, all are working on BJP ideology. NDTV, bought by the richest man Gautam Adani, has strong ties to Narendra Modi; this is a huge blow to independent media. Media, as the fourth pillar of the state, plays an important role in perception building. The magic bullet theory by Harold Lasswell explained the impact of the media and how its message is like a bullet fired into the viewer’s head. This platform is used throughout history to achieve national goals and interests. The example of Madam Noor Jahan is apt, for her service in the 1965 war when her songs created a spirit of courage and resilience for the Pakistan Army and the public. The same entertainment industry, however, can have devastating impacts contributing towards misperceptions, propaganda, and information warfare.

The Indian media industry has contributed more towards propaganda, radicalization, and extremism. The report of the World Press Freedom Index 2022 highlights how India’s ranking has fallen to 150 out of 180 countries. Their media is not allowed to raise objections to the radical policies of the government. Their corruption is also not highlighted in the media such as in the Rafale fighter jet deal. The media maintained a cautious silence over the Rafael controversy to cover up Modi Sarkar for his mega corruption. They are focused on targeting minorities, particularly Muslims, building their negative perceptions, excluding and marginalizing them and, hence, contributing towards islamophobia. The Indian media narrative powered by the visceral demonization of Muslims is tarnishing the former’s image internationally.

There is the case of the recent controversy sparked over the move, ‘Kashmir Files’, after comments made by the head of the international jury Nadav Lapid, an Israeli filmmaker, at the International Film Festival of India. The ‘Kashmir Files’ is also a chain of agenda. The Bhartiya Janata Party endorsed the movie by saying all should watch it, and this highlights how the media industry is working on the framework of the BJP ideology. The RSS also came out in support of the movie, calling it a ‘historical reality’ which must be presented to newer generations as fact. The movie is based on the mass exodus of Hindu pandits from Kashmir in the 1990s. It is filled with factual inaccuracies, propaganda, and is frightening in its relentless targeting of every Muslim represented on screen. There is an exaggeration of every incident. The movie claimed that 5 to 7 lac Kashmiri pandits were residing in the Kashmir Valley, when their estimated population was actually 170,000.  The Kashmir Files claimed that this number of 5 to 7 lac left the valley in 1990s, while, as per the response of the Region’s Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner, 135,426 Kashmiri pandits left the valley. Furthermore, the movie claimed that almost 4,000 Kashmiri pandits were killed while the region’s police department put it at 89. The events of brutalities highlighted in the movie are also fabricated to instigate hatred toward Muslims.

Nadiv Lapid claimed that the ‘Kashmir Files’ was propaganda, a vulgar movie with fascist features. He considered the movie to be inappropriate for artistic competitive section. Moreover, the movie was included in the International Film Festival of India due to political pressure. The movie is crude and violent, and can be compared to the movies of Leni Reifenstahl, a Nazi propagandist. Lapid further added that he did not know everything about the Kashmir conflict but he can still recognize propaganda when he sees the movie. The mixed response came from the public after watching the movie; some called it completely fake and even a Hindu woman called it an attempt to instigate a Hindu-Muslim fight. The critics of the movie were openly called terrorists by the movie’s director, Vivek Agnihotri. The audience was worst affected, and expressed their anguish and hatred towards Muslims, which was the real purpose of the movie. A Hindu man in the cinema, after watching the movie, shouted, ‘You have all seen what happened to the Kashmiri Hindus’ and that Hindus must protect themselves against the treachery of Muslims and prepare to take up arms. From the audience again, another Hindu man agitated by the movie, began urging others to marry Muslim girls to preserve their religion. They have criminalized the very presence of Muslims through opposition to public prayer and hijab bans. The film has been accused of inciting communal hate.

The Indian media attempts to justify the brazen Hindu extremism of the present and Indian policy in Kashmir. Kashmiri journalists quit after they are named on the militant traitor list, an attempt to suppress the independent voices of Kashmir. India has lost the secular image which it has somehow maintained in the past. From the largest secular democratic state, India is turned into an autocratic state. Indian media is the depiction of India’s further descent into bigotry, working on BJP ideology. The jury head of the film festival in question has received hundreds and thousands of threat messages. Intolerance is rising in society due to the radicalized policies of the state. On the rule of law index, India is 77th. Occurrences like the government sanctioned release of eleven convicts who were charged with the gang rape of Bilquis Bano and the murder of her family in the Gujarat riots of 2002, conveys clearly that Muslim women are unsafe in India. There is another incident in Kalyanpur, India where the policeman threw the articles of a Muslim vendor on a railway track and he lost both his legs while trying to get them back. This is the way police are treating the minorities from whom Muslims can expect to be the provider of their security in India. The social fabric of India under the BJP government is shrinking on minorities, particularly Muslims. India has left secularism far behind and has embarked on a rapid descent into the darkness filled with radicalization, fanaticism, extremism, intolerance, and bigotry.

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