Why aren’t you in Basirhat, you bloody xxxx Muslim supporter, an anonymous caller asked me last night. I normally don’t respond to the abusive callers but for some reason didn’t block the call. Instead, I tried to explain that we had two reporters on the ground in Bengal who had done special reports on the violence and that the story has been a headline on the news.
“But why aren’t you xxx pseudo secularist personally going there like you did in Gujarat 2002?” insisted the caller. “Because sir, I am anchoring my daily night show programme in the studio this evening. Fifteen years ago, I was primarily a field reporter, now I don’t go out as often but if needed will go and do a ground zero report even now.”
The caller was still screaming: “but you xxx pseudo liberal covered Gujarat night and day, why aren’t you covering Bengal with the same intensity”. “Because my friend, do you really want to compare a riot in which more than a 1000 people died with what is happening in one part of Bengal at the moment,” I answered.
The caller was still ranting: “But why are you and your xxxx ilk not calling for Mamata Banerjee resignation like you did with Mr Modi when he was Gujarat chief minister.” I was getting impatient but responded: “We have questioned the Bengal government like we did the Gujarat government. In fact, Amit Mitra, the Bengal finance minister walked out of my show because he didn’t want to debate the issue of accountability with the BJP. Law and order is a state subject, and no riot takes place without state complicity or incompetence. Which is why Mr Modi was held accountable for Gujarat, and Ms Banerjee will have to answer tough questions on Bengal.”
The caller wasn’t going to back down: “When Akhlaq was killed in Dadri there was an ‘intolerance’ ‘award wapsi’ campaign, why are none of you xxxxx returning an award when a Hindu is killed.” “Sir, returning an award as a form or moral and political pressure is an individual choice. I am a journalist, not an activist and am not going to be judgemental here. My sole purpose is putting out facts in the public domain. And showing a mirror to all. Any form of violence like in Bengal is condemnable and those responsible for it must be arrested right away.”
But why isn’t there any Not In My Name protest organised like you did after Junaid’s death shouted the caller . ‘Sir, I repeat, I am a journalist, not an activist. Yes, as an Indian citizen, I believe no innocent deserves to die in the name of religion and I will speak out against any form of targeted violence, whether it is perpetrated by Hindus or Muslims. I will also as a citizen support those groups who stand up to religious extremism of all forms. This is not a case of ‘your’ riot versus ‘mine’ but about speaking up against all forms of illiberal and extreme forces.”
“But if you bloody xxxxx are going to stand up against violence, then why can’t you put out bold hashtags like other anchors are doing on how Hindus are being targeted and how Bengal is no place for Hindus !” asked the fulminating caller. “Maybe, because I don’t believe in hashtag journalism, especially hashtags that are designed to provoke enmity and hatred, to exaggerate and sensationalise and not to provide any information or knowledge in a sensitive situation ,” was my calm response.
The caller was now out of control: “You know, you son of a xxxxxx you are just a Hindu hater!” I was now angry too but controlled my rage: “no sir, I am not, I am a proud Indian who is also a proud Hindu. But my Hinduism doesn’t push me into a cycle of hatred or violence while my journalism tells me to expose, question and interrogate those who kill in the name of religion.”
I then decided to ask a simple question to my caller ‘friend’: ‘sir, can you tell me who are the leaders/political groups who benefit from widening the communal divide in society after every flare up like the one in Bengal?” There was no response: the line went dead.
Post-script: the above conversation is based on an imaginary phone call. I do receive abusive phone calls often but have chosen to simply block such callers. All I will say is that the narrative of Hindu victimhood which is playing out in Bengal is just as worrying as Islamic radicalism: in fact, they feed on each other.