Small Town News: Gujarat in the Media and Memory of Aligarh













Name: Taran Nishat Khan

Degree Registration: MSc Development Studies

This dissertation is submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MSc in Development Studies of the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London)

29 September 2003









I undertake that all material presented for examination is my own work and has not been written for me, in whole or in part, by any other person(s). I also undertake that any quotation or paraphrase from the published or unpublished work of another person has been duly acknowledged in the work that I present for examination.
















Word Count: 9986



This paper owes a great deal to many people.

In London, many thanks to Dr. Subir Sinha and Dr. Jens Lerche for their help and support. My guide, Dr Kaviraj, for his patience and clarity. Prof. Peter Robb for his kindness at all times. Vidya, for books, lunches and gossip in the library. Nikita, for being the perfect tourist guide cum sounding board for nascent ideas. Manasi, my comrade on the Edge. Sophie, for being perfect. The Desis at SOAS, for the good times. Giuseppe, the long suffering, for articles, advice and snatches of song.  Mala, friend from heaven. I know you must be as relieved as I am.


In India, the staff at Maulana Azad library, AMU for their help in accessing and copying material. Dr Rahat Abrar for his generosity and helpfulness. Nadim, Asad, Abbas Sb, Baba- for plodding through the pile of Urdu newspapers. Shveta, for books and being around.  Anupam, for access to the innards of the Aaj Tak archives. Qamar Bhai, who charmed sundry staff into doing my bidding. Nanna, Reshma Chacchi, Anjum and Niggo Baji, for food and concern. Adil, because he’s just so cool. Samanzaarians, my family, nothing happens without your duas.  My parents, for everything, always.


This paper examines reports of communal violence in local newspapers as an indication of ethnic tensions and differences in perception and construction of events across communal identities. It looks at the large-scale communal conflagration and genocide in the state of Gujarat as it was reported by vernacular newspapers in Aligarh, a small town with a sizeable minority population and fragile inter-community relations. The manner in which events were represented in the Urdu and Hindi dailies indicates the fault lines and themes around which ethnic relations were constructed in the city. This reportage is compared across time to the tone and stance of the same newspapers during the 1990 militant Hindu mobilisation around the Ayodhya issue. Patterns of continuity and change are located in this discourse and the lens of the media is used to map changes in the experience and perception of communal conflict over time. In particular, it is used to examine issues of minority self-perception, security and engagement with a society in flux.







Section I: The Qaumi Awaz………………………………………………………………12

Section II: The Dainik Jagran……………………………………………………………...26

Section III: Image and Text……………………………………………………………….39



Appendix A (An Overview of the RJB Movement)…….…………………………………..46







In early 2002, the state of Gujarat was torn by a series of communal conflagrations, of a scale and nature unprecedented in India’s history of ethnic tensions. A number of reports have documented evidence pointing to the selective targeting of the Muslim community and the meticulously planned nature of the violence. The support and active involvement of the highest echelons of the BJP led state government as well as institutional mechanisms like the police and government hospitals has earned this cycle of violence the description of state sponsored genocide.[1]


The genocide was ‘triggered’ by a single gruesome incident, which nevertheless has deep roots in history. Through Jan- February 2002, the constellation of Hindu chauvinistic forces referred to as the Sangh Parivar [2] had been spearheading a revival of the Ram Janambhoomi Andolan (RJB) or the ‘Birthplace of Ram Movement’. This build up of momentum coincided with assembly elections in key states, and ‘kar sewaks’ (volunteer devotees) from across the country were mobilised to participate in defiant temple construction ceremonies at Ayodhya. On Feb 27th, a train carrying a group of such volunteers back to Gujarat was stopped outside the small station of Godhra and set ablaze, allegedly by members of the minority community. The immediate aftermath was over three days of frenzied bloodshed and arson, particularly in the capital, Ahmedabad. Cycles of violence however continued across the state for months, affecting new terrains like villages and Muslim-Dalit relations. It is this pattern of conflict, with its deep effects on Indian civic and political life that forms the broad area of my study, but somewhat removed from its geographical location. My attempt is to examine how Gujarat was reported, talked about and experienced in the North Indian city of Aligarh. There are several reasons for this.

A Formulation of the Problem:

Aligarh is peculiarly poised between various fault lines of identity and conflict. Part mofussil town and part overlarge industrial centre, it has a sizeable Muslim minority.  In electoral terms, this constitutes a strategically significant vote bank. It is also home to the Aligarh Muslim University, one of the country’s oldest universities, a minority institution and a source of intellectual leadership for Indian Muslims since its inception. “The way India deals with Aligarh will largely determine the shape of things in the future national position of Muslims.”(Husain in Varshney:2002:156) AMU is thus a potent symbol of the Muslim renaissance and a past flowering, as well as present attempts at development and empowerment. This symbolic significance has worked to its benefit, especially in terms of funding and autonomy issues, but has also led to its being targeted by the Hindu Right as a hotbed of sedition and terrorism.


The city’s history of communal tensions also justifies its selection as vantage point for our study. Aligarh is one of the 8 most communally volatile cities in India. (Varshney:2002:7) The majority of Muslims live outside the relatively prosperous University campus, and work as labourers in lock factories and construction sites or as rickshaw pullers. The rise of an affluent Muslim middle class benefiting from the Gulf boom to match the Hindu business elite has added a new dimension to the conflict. The relatively spacious and landscaped University area houses the majority of Muslim teachers and students. The ‘city side’ or commercial area, with narrow, congested bylanes has a largely Hindu mercantile population, with pockets of Muslim dominated residences. This constricted space is where most communal violence ‘originates’.  The last major cycle of riots in the city was in 1990, during an earlier phase of the RJB movement called the Rath Yatra. My attempt here is to examine continuities and changes between Aligarh’s experience of these two communal conflicts. More specifically, it is to examine the role of the media as an impulse in a communally charged situation. The objectives are thus twofold. One, to present a view of media coverage of Gujarat received in Aligarh.  Second, to use this lens of reportage to locate changes in the experience and perception of a communal conflict; to measure a change over time in political/social discourse and minority perceptions across two landmark events.


Structure of the Paper:

This paper is thus divided into three substantive sections. The first two deal with the vernacular press—the Hindi daily Dainik Jagran, published from Agra but with an Aligarh edition and the Urdu broadsheet Qaumi Awaz. Unlike the relatively miniscule but strategically significant English press, vernacular newspapers are perceived to be more in touch with local traditions and typically have a larger readership. However, it would be unwise to generalise too much under the homogenous label ‘vernacular press’, since significant differences exist between papers. I attempt to understand their dynamics using Benedict Anderson’s conception of the newspaper as a cultural product. Newspapers create imagined linkages between ‘communities’; their reading is a mass ceremony which knits together a community in anonymity yet confident of its existence. (1991:33) Such a conception adds an additional layer of meaning to the identification of the newspaper with the community- the Hindi newspaper being synonymous with the Hindu community and the Urdu paper representing the Muslims.[3] I will look at reportage and editorials in these publications on the events in Gujarat and examine how and why they differ from or confirm to the manner in which the same papers reported the 1990 riots.


 The third section deals with the images that emerged from Gujarat, their relationship with the text and with perceptions of reality. The attempt then is to “trace the contingent links through which ideas are twisted and transformed as different groups vie with each other for dominance”.(Rajagopal:2001:11) At the centre of all these themes is history—here in particular, the “social processing of memories of genocide and collective violence” (Lorey & Beezley:2002:15)  I will thus look at Gujarat through the lens of memory- as residents of Aligarh saw it.


Theoretical Tools:

It is important to clarify that this paper does not aim to present an understanding of the causes and nature of communal violence in India. Neither does its focus on the media imply an attempt to establish a crude effects model between irresponsible or inflammatory reportage and the incidence of riots/genocide. This is particularly important given the high degree of causality that has been attributed to the media, especially the vernacular press, in provoking riots and stoking communal passions. It does however work with the understanding that the media profoundly changes the context of politics. “Its ‘influence’ thus has to be presumed rather than discovered as the backdrop, stage and vehicle of social interaction.” (Rajagopal: 2001:24)


In terms of newspapers, my emphasis is on an analysis of language as an indicator of social tensions and structures underlying it. This approach draws from Barthes’ understanding of the difference between a message alone and what can be read from the language (or discourse) it is expressed in.  “Through the same message, we read (several) choices, commitments, mentalities…on the level of the simplest message, language explodes; society, with its socio-economic and neurotic structures, intervenes, constructing language like a battleground.” (Barthes: 1989:106)


This frameworks allows for a probing of the fundamental premise of news/papers-- its role as a communicator of fact; a validater of the Real. The ‘reality effect’ thus dictates that an event really happened (in a particular manner) because it was reported as such. Analysing discourse to understand narratives of violence and associated blame/victimhood/provocation implicitly questions this ‘reality effect’-- of objective history existing in the extra-structural field of the Real--and allows for the existence of many realities. “There are no facts as such. We must always begin by introducing a meaning in order for there to be a fact.” (Nietzsche in Barthes:1986:138)How these meanings are produced, reproduced and contested in the spoken and printed language of packaged news is the analytical heart of this paper.


 Aditya Nigam suggests that the spatial organisation and specific histories of neighbourhoods influence the networks of information and sociality that characterise small towns like Aligarh. “The lanes and bylanes where people sit outside on cots…provides a mode of exchange of information, gossip and rumours.” (2002:26) I extend this argument to suggest that this subaltern space influences the manner in which packaged news (newspapers/TV/radio) is shared, discussed, contested and re-invested with meaning. There thus exist dialectics between the city in space and the city in news. My attempt is to foreground this interaction, to map a portrait of a tension ridden city reading about violence internal or external to it, and the circular trajectory of this violence and/or tension from newsprint/TV screens to the streets of the city and vice versa.


Such a foregrounding involves the introduction of memory, an acknowledgement of “the ways in which meanings get glued to events and the ways in which memory plays upon the certitude of facts.”(Amin:1995:3) This process of memorialization operates at various levels. Radhika Subramaniam describes the remembering of causes and incidents of violence in post-1992 Bombay[4] as being ruptured by the linking of seemingly disconnected events in time and space. Historical events such as invasion of Mahmud of Ghazni were cited as causes for the riots along with ordinary experiences such as differences in cooking practices between Hindu and Muslim neighbours. (2002:12) A similar process of fragmented collective memory mediating the witnessing of communal violence can be observed in Aligarh’s experience of the Gujarat genocide. The resonance that occurrences and themes of the genocide found in Aligarh’s memories- often starkly different across its Hindu and Muslim communities –influences their telling of their past and their reading of the present. My objective is to relate this memorialization to the communities’ engagement with the media.


This paper thus broadly locates itself within the growing body of work that aims at a reflexive understanding of issues of identity in general and of Indian Muslims in particular. The central purpose here is to achieve an understanding of what it means to be an Indian Muslim- post-Ayodhya and post-Gujarat. It is to deduce how Muslims perceive themselves, their security and their relationship to an increasingly polarised political and civil discourse, by gauging these indicators against two epochal events in recent Indian history.













Antecedents and Orientation

The Urdu daily Qaumi Awaz  was started as part of the National Herald group in 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru. While not overtly associated with the politics of the Congress, its editorial stance has been centrist and moderate. Its readership and influence has declined from a high in the 1960’s, corresponding with the decline in the Urdu language. Its audience was traditionally upper class Muslim intelligentsia, however this has steadily declined with the majority of these  households opting for English newspapers. At present it is the largest circulating Urdu newspaper in Delhi, with a presence in the UP-- Bihar belt. In Aligarh it is mostly read by University teachers and non-academic staff, and blue collar workers in the city. The Delhi edition services Aligarh; there is a city office with a single correspondent but no separate Aligarh pages. The bulk of its content is agency reports, a trend that has increased from 1990 to 2002. The name Qaumi Awaz (henceforth QA) translates literally to “voice of the community”; its presence in this study is based on its (imperfect and partial) articulation of this function.


Reporting Gujarat

The QA perceives itself as fulfilling certain core objectives- maintaining social harmony, providing a voice to a marginalised and disadvantaged community and acting as input in the development of Muslims. These objectives significantly influence news selection, layout and comment. They also mediate the pitch of language-- use of specific terminology, tone and association-laden words/phrases. Their significance is, however, flexible, especially in times of collective emotional stress. While most reports carried by the newspaper datelined Gujarat were derived from news agencies, news from Aligarh and Delhi was filed by correspondents.


An overview of reportage from Gujarat reveals a gradual explicitness in idiom. While avoiding graphic descriptions of heinous violence, the QA headlines clearly speak of “massacres of Muslims”. The scope and nature of the violence is reported in unequivocal terms, as is the involvement of the administration and the police. Descriptions emphasise the targeting of Muslim homes, burning of properties, desecration of mosques. The word genocide is used fairly early and at least one news item on Gujarat was carried on the front page each day for over a month.


The newspaper foregrounded stories from relief camps, survivor’s accounts and ‘positive’ stories of hope- a conventional method of ‘balancing’ coverage. The ‘Hindu point of view’ was represented by reports on political developments and the activities of the RSS-VHP. A more significant presence was through syndicated columns of several eminent journalists, many of whom are not Muslims. In general orientation, the newspaper tended to be reactive, taking its cue for content and attitude from developments and voices from outside its own audience.


The Godhra ‘Trigger’ and Narratives of Blame:

The Qaumi Awaz carried the news of the attack upon the Sabarmati Express on the front page. The report mentioned in relative detail the modus operandi of the mob that set fire to the train and described the scene of the carnage. However, it avoided all mention of the religious identity of the mob[5] and even the fact that the attack was directed against the Kar Sewaks was mentioned obliquely. The emphasis was on the rapidity with which BJP ministers and politicians reacted to the crisis and the rise in communal temperatures across Gujarat. Like most of India, the paper seemed to be holding its breath.


 Subsequent editorials commented on Godhra as a trigger for the genocide. Interestingly, an early article condemned the “extremist secularists” (i.e. the Indian Left) for sheltering minority communalism.[6] By blaming “every riot on Hindu fascism”, they disappoint the peaceful Hindu majority and strengthen the forces of fascism. “Genuine secularism must condemn fascism in every form. If it is indeed proved that the attack was the handiwork of Muslims they should be severely punished.” [7] 


However, as the violence continued and it’s one-sided nature became apparent, such considerations of ‘fairness’ and the ‘larger social good’ paled into relative insignificance. The emphasis shifted to the dubbing of Godhra as the trigger for the genocide (and the associated implication that the riots were a spontaneous and hence legitimate expression of Hindu fury). While reiterating that the violence against passengers was barbaric, editorials emphasized that there was no proof that it was perpetrated by Muslims. “Even if it was the work of Muslims why should others suffer? Advani is constantly crusading against Islamic terrorism. Would he call this (the riots) Hindu terrorism? The truth is that terrorism has no religion…”[8]


The trajectory of these narratives of blame and conspiracies is interestingly illustrated by small news items which describe statements or memoranda released by various Muslim organisations. “If the mob that attacked the train had been Muslims they would have herded the Hindus out and then killed them all together. That this did not happen shows that the act was the work of hired goons, who could have belonged to any community.”[9]   Other reports played upon the aggression of the travelling Ram sewaks.[10] “The BJP is trying to cover up the real reasons (for Godhra), which were that the Ram Sewaks chased away the ticket collectors, took seats and food belonging to other passengers, and looted stalls on the station.”[11]  These stories indicate a clear need for an explanation that fitted with the collective sense of grievance- of being victims.


The multiple narratives surrounding the events on the train were thus significant sites for contesting and recasting the burden of guilt of Godhra. The QA reported the “discovery” of a Muslim Fact Finding Committee that Ram Sewaks had  “martyred” an old Muslim stall keeper at one of the stations, sparking off the riots.[12] The stories vary in details, but are structured around figures that are unmistakably communal ‘types’- the old, bearded, helpless Muslim vendor; the aggressive, trishul wielding, slogan shouting mass of Ram Sewaks.  Such representations are essentially ruminations from within; a search for logic which fits in with the community’s experience of ethic violence in the past and its present, heinous manifestation. Importantly, these narratives are presented as ‘the hidden truth’ behind the version that is dished out by an overtly communal government and a hopelessly compromised and/or gullible media. This in itself is hardly unusual. What is significant here is that these excavations became increasingly prominent as the genocide continued; the impression is thus one of a community shrinking within itself, and issuing an increasingly vehement denial of having “asked for” any part of what they were getting.


It is an interesting parallel that in 1990 the Gomti Express was stopped some distance outside Aligarh and Muslim passengers massacred. A letter writer in 2002 (while avoiding specifics) makes the association. “Why is it that the massacre of Muslim train passengers did not arouse such a reaction (as the genocide)?” The chain of visual memory extends to Partition, when trains carrying corpses crossed the border. An awareness of this collective memorialization nuances our understanding of the present attempts by certain Muslim bodies to disassociate themselves from the guilt of Godhra.

Links with the Ram Mandir Movement:

“Following the VHP’s threat that even if the Ram Mandir causes a fire (of communal violence) across the county then so be it, terrorists set fire to the Sabarmati Express”.[13] The paper clearly linked the Godhra incident to the RSS/VHP’s aggressive campaign around the RJB issue. “It was inevitable, yet what we all feared – when they (the government) allowed lakhs of Ram Sewaks to congregate in Ayodhya and do as they pleased, the responsibility for Gujarat is upon them”. Other pieces claimed that if the “Ayodhya issue had not poisoned so many young minds and created such frenzy, no one would have dared do this shameful act (Godhra); Gujarat would not have burnt”.[14]


The sense of déjà vu is marked. Repeated references to the 1990 Rath Yatra, which acted as the precursor to the actual demolition of the Babri Mosque, emphasise that the genocide is yet another manifestation of the inherent fascism of the RSS­-BJP-VHP. “Mr. Advani[15] is familiar with how easy it is to stoke communal passions and how difficult to get them back in control.”[16] This memory of the Rath Yatra, this evidence of the cyclic nature of the aggression is variously interpreted. An influential intellectual[17] begs his fellow Muslims to “think back to the time when the Rath Yatra had poisoned the atmosphere of the county.  It had acted as a spark to the powder in that volatile situation. People reacted to it, which set off a reaction to the reaction, ultimately culminating in the demolition of the Babri Mosque.” The consequences this time, he argues, may well be similar, or worse.[18]. Regardless of corollaries, this suggests that collective memory of 1990-92 plays an important role in the manner in which (north Indian) Muslims choose to react to Gujarat; it is in fact an active and articulated element in strategisation by Muslim organisations and associations.

The Muslim Within:

“This is a new chance for Muslim leaders. For the first time, Muslim organisations have been able to come together on a common platform and evolve a common stance.”[19] This unity is an elusive value for the loose yet complex amalgamation of politicians, intellectuals and religious figures that represent Muslim leadership. The Qaumi Awaz being a centrist newspaper gave prominence to the machinations and ruminations of this middle ground leadership.


Their most immediate prescription for the community’s security was to exercise restraint in the face of provocation. Dozens of appeals begged citizens to maintain ‘sabr’ or patience-- initially as a defensive strategy “so that the cycle of attacks and counter attacks does not start.” As the nature of the violence became apparent, these appeals were accompanied by bitter pragmatism.  “You have no choice in this (way of reaction), no bargaining power. They have the police and administration on their side. If you take to the streets you will never make it home, you are the ones who get arrested.” [20]  The emphasis is on the fraught nature of the situation. “For now, we must suppress our bile and maintain peace”.


Almost identical appeals for peace and suggested compromises can be found in the newspaper from 1990. These exhortations to “win the hearts of the Hindus” insisted that the time for debates was past. “ Today, when the majority of the country’s Hindus believe that there was a temple at that site, we will have to accept this belief and work for a solution based on their belief.” [21] In the meantime, Muslims should avoid confrontations and work to improve their educational and economic status. These arguments invoke the developmentalist narratives of progress and catching- up. They also locate the solution to ethnic violence in containing the ‘reaction’ of the minority, rather than combating the forces of Hindutva, which are perceived to be beyond their control.


On both occasions, this view was vigorously contested. After Gujarat, there were outbursts on the QA’s usually placid pages.  A Muslim politicians speech in Parliament was reported prominently by the paper, where he demanded to know “if the government does not wish this country’s Muslims to live here anymore? Where should we go? Will any other country take us?”[22] This image of a homeless minority coupled with a reference to Partition indicates the anxiety that surround issues of rootedness amongst the community.


The “Muslim backlash’ that was predicted and feared fairly widely barely finds a mention in print. Despite the fact that the QA is not likely to carry jehadi appeals, the most extreme expressions of anger stopped short at warning “the oppressors not to push us too far, lest we reach the end of our patience- the vengeance of the oppressed can be truly awful.” [23]


It is interesting that despite the prominence given to the appeals for restraint, bitterness permeates even the discourse of conciliation. There was an awareness that “appeals for peace and harmony not going to have any effect since the problem is not in the ideology of people but in the anti-minority ideology of Modi’s government, which is not serious about stopping the violence.”[24]  This indicates a break with the view of ethnic violence as being orchestrated by extraneous anti-social elements, removed from common people and lives. This time, the demons were clearly within.


Engaging with the Other:

A sense of betrayal and disillusionment with the institutions of political life characterized discourse on Gujarat in the QA.  Besides the obvious anger against the BJP state government, the central government and its allies were also indicted for their tacit inaction. While there were appeals to the opposition to safeguard the rights of the minorities, there was also a cynical resignation to the ultimate failure of these protests in the domain of parliamentary politics. “Muslims in Baghpat are angry with local politicians for not having the courtesy to utter even two words of sympathy for what is happening in Gujarat”[25]; a sense of isolation and awareness of their impotence as a political force is evident in such reports. The fear was that “they (the Hindu Right) will get away with even this, a genocide on this scale.” [26]


The pathos of a misunderstood and misrepresented minority is evident in the language of contrasts. “Madarsas are maligned as terrorist training centres, but it is ‘shishu mandirs’[27] which educated the people who are now at high administrative and political posts in Gujarat, who are responsible for the open massacres there.”[28] This juxtaposition of perception (where Muslims are aggressors) with a ‘reality’ (where Muslims are victims) is a recurrent device. The repeated demands that  “VHP leaders be arrested for sedition against the state under POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance)” were significant for the specificity of their language. The accusation of disloyalty is commonly levelled against Muslims, POTA is perceived as a convenient instrument to target Muslims by labelling them terrorists. The construction of these demands thus represents a reversal of power dynamics of the real world, an imagined turning of the tables.


Despite the bitterness, there is an almost fanatical belief in the essentially secular nature of domains like the Constitution, the army and “common Indian people”, which were perceived as remaining uncorrupted by the bloodlust of the militant Right. The space for the latter is limited post-Gujarat; sunshine stories of neighbours helping Muslims to escape are matched by victim’s testimonies of mobs with familiar faces.


The QA editorials make frequent and deliberate use of Hindu mythological references with great dramatic effect, using figures central to the Hindutva discourse to criticize its politics. “Ram spent 14 years in exile to save his kingdom from a crisis, but the VHP is trying to use the same Ram to establish a jungle raj.”[29] Language/icons are thus wrested and re-cast as weapons against their appropriators. This contestation is indicative of a larger struggle against exclusionist readings of ‘Hindu/Indian’ culture and history.


Remembering Gujarat/Ayodhya:

Of the several important ways in which the Gujarat genocide is an echo of the Rath Yatra riots in Aligarh and other towns, the most palpable is the overt complicity of the state administration and security forces with the Hindu extremists. Reports in the QA accused the PAC[30] of remaining spectators to the Gomti Express massacre; the force also allegedly participated directly in riots, targeting Muslims fatally as victims of police firing. This mistrust was so pronounced that in Muslim areas, residents “refused to come out of their houses even when curfew had been relaxed until the area was handed over to the Army and the PAC was removed.” [31] The administration failed in checking provocative campaigns against the minority and refused to register their FIR’s. The list of outrages is lengthy, but points to the steady and incessant process of communalisation of institutions.


A more complex resonance lies in the idea of minorities as targets of planned violence. The QA reports on how tapes with sound effects of a rampaging mob were planted in Muslim neighbourhoods to spark off violence. Here, the riot is a planned operation, with a clear target. More than any actual correspondence of detail, it is the deliberateness of the creation of violence which resonates across the contexts. A crucial distinction is the identity of these engineers of violence. In 1990, these were ‘outsiders’, persons external or at least removed from the immediate community of “ordinary citizens”. Notice that the words to describe the states of mind of ‘the (ordinary) Hindus’ who comprise the Mob —fever, frenzy, ‘junoon’—represent temporary states of uncharacteristic behaviour.  After Gujarat, as was discussed earlier, this innocence of the mythical everyHindu has become impossible to maintain.


Minorities and the ‘Other’ Media:

In 1990, the QA devoted considerable space and effort to documenting the role of the Hindi press during riots in Aligarh. It linked particular false/exaggerated reports in various Hindi newspapers to specific outbreaks of violence. A prominent incident involved a report in the daily ‘Aaj’ alleging that Hindu patients and their attendants had been massacred in the University hospital. “The report was completely fabricated, but it turned Aligarh into Lebanon, with cries of anger and echoes of bullets filling the streets.”[32] The link between report and riot is thus direct and unequivocal, making the newspaper a potent source of influence during times of communal tensions. 

The motivation for the Hindi press to play the role of instigator was partially the dramatic jump in its circulation. However, the QA’s emphasis on the completeness with which these newspapers promoted the cause of Hindu fundamentalism suggests their perceived congruence with the communalised Hindu mass, the Other.[33] The fact that these provocative newspapers alone could manage to reach Aligarh during the curfew while taxis carrying other newspapers were stopped suggests institutional backing to communal propaganda. This indicates a near complete ‘takeover’ of the public space by Hindu extremists. The contrast between the Hindi press and the restrained and peace-promoting tone of the QA enabled it to assume a tone of moral superiority. This added to the ‘virtuous victim’ aura of the paper and the community it represented.


In a report mapping the genealogy of a riot, the QA emphasized the non-spontaneous, engineered nature of these conflicts. “ First there is circulation of rumours to create tension. Pamphlets are then distributed to increase it to fever pitch. Misleading reports are then published in newspapers,” [34]sparking off the riot. Primacy is thus accorded to the persuasive power of various media, or rather to channels/forms of mis/information in this dynamic. The next link is provided when “these riots are written about in an exaggerated way in newspapers again”. This demonstrates the circular movement of the violence from its representations in the media to its manifestation in reality.


Further, these outbreaks are so contrived that the blame can be pinned on Muslims. “Pamphlets urging Muslims to jihad were distributed, signed by non-existent Islamic organizations”[35]. This diction of “pre planned conspiracy to malign the minority community” finds resonance post-Godhra. There is also concern over the “unchecked” proliferation of audio/video tapes containing instigatory speeches and militant songs, “which are being played all over in Hindu neighbourhoods, creating a fever of anger and hate.” The eventual impression is thus of multiple engagements with a hydra headed media, diverse and often hostile. By 2002, these varied threads of analysis and concern appear to have converged within the medium of television. Broadcast journalism now formed the focus of comment by the QA, but the terms of debate and discourse remained similar and revolved around familiar themes.


The Third Eye:

The electronic media was initially criticised by the newspaper for  “provoking violence by repeatedly airing footage of the charred remains of passengers and the interior of the ill-fated bogies.”[36] The channel Aaj Tak was accused of “over- exposing” the Godhra incident and acting “irresponsibly” to prove its Hindu loyalties and gain favour with the BJP.  However, the paper shifted its stance when TV crews (from a different channel) exposed the complicity of the police/administration and recorded testimonies of survivors in relief camps.  “The Star News team was an eyewitness to these incidents, they have broadcast to the entire nation that the attacks were pre planned.” [37] There is thus a clear distinction between Our channel and Their/ ‘Other’ channels, serving broadly the same boundaries of discourse as in the past. The moral tone is again superior --channels like Aaj Tak were working to provoke violence for their selfish ends, while Star News was working for justice by “representing the reality in Gujarat”.


The editorial comment that “the media helped put an end to the genocide by exposing it to the naked eye” thus hints at several important things. One, an enduring belief in the potency of media effects, enhanced by the power of visuals. Images from Gujarat served to “expose the barbarism of Hindu organisations to the entire world”,[38] which was an object for the isolated community.  Second, the overall positive vibes of the minority towards the media, which proxied for the other institutions of democratic civil society by serving the dual functions of protecting the minority and providing them with a voice.  


The overall relationship however remained highly skewed with power remaining in the hands of the representers. “While it is common knowledge that media is dominated by Hindus, still no newspapers have tried to cover up for the BJP.”[39] This echoes the perceived distance of the mainstream media from control by or responsiveness to the needs of the minority. While Muslims are “grateful for… the reality based reportage on Gujarat”, it is clear they find themselves as extraneous (and irrelevant) to the entire process as they did in 1990.


Dateline Aligarh:

An already tense city reacted to the Godhra incident and its aftermath by shutting shop and retreating behind closed doors. The district administration clamped severe security measures into place, including a ban on public assemblies and a curfew that lasted for nearly a fortnight in certain areas.


On March 1st, the QA reported the murders of two Muslim men as proof that the “district administrations claims of providing security to the minority are hollow”. It also accused the local police of helping the VHP in enforcing the bandh (strike) by marching with them and forcing shops to close on that day. Subsequent reports by the QA correspondent present a picture of an anxious city teetering at the edge of violence. “Rumours are flying all over the city, more and more people are being reported missing by their worried families and the deaths are continuing.”[40] Reports on the Muslim majority areas described their “graveyard like silence” and the “plight of infants as milk and medicines remain unavailable”. The imagery is of a community under siege. This contrasts- perhaps deliberately- with majority fears of a Muslim backlash to Gujarat. Reports filed after the first week emphasized that while “the city appears calm, people were still tense and afraid of passing through other’s neighbourhoods.”[41] While there was emotional involvement with Gujarat, the immediate concern in at least the Muslim majority areas seems to have been with the chances of violence breaking out in Aligarh.
















The Dainik Jagran was started in 1948 in Jhansi, but soon shifted headquarters to Kanpur in UP. The Aligarh edition (initially printed in Agra) was started in 1986. From the late 1990’s, Hindi and other regional language newspapers grew considerably, particularly in small towns like Aligarh. The Dainik Jagran (henceforth DJ) has benefited from this trend to emerge as the second widest read Hindi daily in the country. It is also the most popular newspaper in the Hindi heartland (UP, Bihar, Haryana, Delhi) giving it additional clout. Its total readership stands at 1 crore, 26 lakhs, 70 thousand (NRS 2002). There is also a web edition aimed at NRI audiences.


In Aligarh the paper is read across communal lines, partly due to the relative accessibility of Hindi and also for its coverage of local news. Annual net paid sales in the city stand at 118584; the Aligarh office is staffed by nearly 15 people including an AMU correspondent. Local affairs are thus covered in relative detail; the scale and heterogeneous audience of the paper is reflected in a relatively wide pattern of news selection from diverse sources.


The period from 1990 to 2002 has seen attempts by the DJ to reposition itself as a ‘brand’—this is linked to the post-liberalisation affluence of the middle class. There has been a corresponding dilution in its strong communal/parochial associations to win new markets. A number of syndicated columns by established journalists with broadly anti-Sangh opinions have also been introduced.


The Godhra Incident and Regrettable Reactions:

The attack on the Sabarmati Express formed the locus of all initial comment and most reportage in the DJ. It prompted discussion on a number of highly evocative, recurrent themes of Hindu nationalism, which dominated coverage of the actual events that followed the incident.

The report ran under a banner headline-- “57 Ram Sewaks Burnt Alive in Godhra”. Despite the fact that not all the dead were Ram Sewaks (a number of victims were ordinary passengers on the train), the newspaper does not use the conventional, neutral terms like ‘passengers’. From the very first, the emphasis is on the Hindu identity of the victims, and the fact that they were attacked because of their status as ‘servants of Ram’. 


The report describes the causes of the conflict and narrates the modalities of the attack in detail. It avoids graphic details but describes the scene of the carnage at some length, emphasizing the brutality of the attack. The narrative posited by the newspaper clearly identifies the two ‘sides’ as “the local Muslim youth… in this Muslim majority town”  and the Ram Sewaks returning from Ayodhya.  “There was slogan shouting (between the two) at Godhra station.”[42] When the train left, a Muslim mob stopped and attacked it some distance outside the city.  This narrative represents the events at the station as an altercation, an encounter with equal culpability amongst the two factions. No mention is made, then or later, of the aggression of the Ram Sewaks on the station. The tone of the report suggests that a trivial incident at the station was avenged out of all proportion by the Muslim mob.


 It is interesting to note that the main body of the report clearly identifies the mob as Muslim and the victims as Hindus. However, the same report preserves anonymity when describing an incident where a youth stabbed a member of ‘a particular community’ in reaction for Godhra. This selective adherence to the convention of anonymity where the victim is Muslim is an established tactic of covert communal bias (Varadarajan: 2002: 274)


The report on the Sabarmati Express in many ways sets the parameters for the body of coverage by the DJ on Gujarat. In particular, it established the tone of moral outrage and justifiable rage at an “unprovoked assault” that characterized majority discourse on the issue. It also established the collective identity of the victims of the assault. They were not anonymous travellers but members of a social group, ‘pilgrims’ out to build a temple and a ‘just’ Hindu society- the attack on their person thus represented an attack on all these constructs. This contrasts with the anonymity of the victims (and the perpetrators) of the subsequent genocide.


The construction of subsequent reports on the Gujarat issue established a clear chain of causality corresponding with the chronology of events. The first 48 hours following the carnage at Godhra saw virtually unchecked targeted violence against Muslims across the state, particularly in Ahmedabad. This violence was reported by the paper as “Anger and outrage at the Godhra massacre shakes Gujarat.” (March 1st 2002) A related report on 30 Muslims being burnt alive in a village adds, “It is noteworthy that the village is in the same district where Kar Sewaks in the Sabarmati Express were burnt alive.” The inference is clear- the chronology is one of cause and effect (or in Modi’s words, “action and reaction”). The culpability of the Muslims thus tempers their being targeted during the “subsequent violence” and their guilt as the ‘instigators’ of the cycle of violence legitimises the  “Hindu reaction”.


Descriptions of the Godhra carnage were printed repeatedly, keeping the imagery of charred bodies of Ram Sewaks in the popular imagination. The collective memorialization of the event was sharp, with clear outlines of events and characters. In contrast, the genocide was a corollary-- an amorphous, ambiguous tangle of bodies and bullets. “Muslims mercilessly killed Hindus at Godhra. They butchered women and small children…something like this was also done by Hindus in Ahmedabad.”[43] The phraseology is ostensibly ‘objective’ yet subtly skewed -- the fact that the heartrending descriptions are employed for Godhra, with ditto marks sufficing for the genocide is indicative of the ideology which dictates this prioritization.


Simultaneously, this legitimizing discourse established the genocide as a spontaneous outpouring of Hindu anger. “The lava of anger burst forth in several places in the state today,” read reports.[44] This bursting forth was thus essentially unplanned and eminently justifiable. “As any psychologist will testify, such a reaction to (a provocative) action is only natural, though unfortunate”[45]. Nothing in the entire body of reportage suggests that the ‘riots’ bore evidence of planning or state/administrative complicity. The encounter was between “Hindu and Muslim mobs” who “confronted each other” as equal participants in the riot. Crucially, most of the incidents that serve as proof of minorities being targeted and massacred are reported in the newspaper[46]. The manner of their reproduction however, is fragmented and de-contextualised so that their essential nature as acts of violence serving a system of beliefs is glossed over. They thus become stories from yet another set of riots- gruesome and regrettable, yet no different from the regular pattern of violence in times of communal tension.


The Resurgence Revisited:

The images and emotions associated with the Rath Yatra within the broad discourse of Hindu nationalism are almost diametrically opposite from those reported in the QA- of fear, insecurity and a crisis of confidence. For the DJ, the Yatra marked an awakening, a resurgence of the latent might of Hindus and a time when many nascent ideas about Hindutva coalesced to their present forms. The RJB movement is thus represented as a continuing, heroic struggle to recover the “manifest inheritance of Hindutva”. In particular, it established Ayodhya as the focus of geographical and social solidarity of Hindus, invented it as the center of Hinduism (Jaffrelot: 1996:403)  “Ram’s birthplace (i.e. Ayodhya) is to Hindus what Mecca is to Muslims and Jerusalem to Christians. We have always understood and sympathized with their need to defend their sacred spots. I fail to understand why, when we talk of the Ram Mandir, they refuse to extend us the same respect…” [47]


The attack on Kar Sewaks returning from Ayodhya thus represents an attack upon both the memory and the process of realisation of a resurgent Hindu/tva. “What was the crime of these Kar Sewaks that they were burnt alive? Was it that they went to perform a pilgrimage in their own country?” [48]The sacrifices of these ‘pilgrims’ who have repeatedly braved arrest, police brutality and insults to build the temple were glorified. In the process, discourse transforms a socially divisive, legally fraught and contentious mobilisation into an antique and legitimate rite of worship, innocent of all agendas save piety (adding to the pathos of those martyred in its cause) yet paradoxically essential for Hindu self respect.


The Post-Godhra Hindu:

The Godhra incident was thus interpreted as a grave betrayal of faith, an indication of how “pitiable the situation of Hindus is in their own country. If we are not careful, the day is not far off when we will be forced to flee our homeland.”[49] Such apocalyptic visions rest on the construct of an inherently (over) tolerant Hindu tradition being systematically undermined and subverted by the proselytizing zeal of Christianity and Islam. They also resonate with the popular imagery of the ‘angry Hindu” that gained currency during the Rath Yatra. “Our patience should not be tried any further.  Hindutva[50] is a symbol of tolerance, but even tolerance has its limits.”[51] 


There was also marked resentment at the “jaundiced secularism” which led to Hindus “being blamed for every communal conflict in a sort of reflex mental action, even when it is unarmed Hindu pilgrims who are attacked by an armed Muslim mob”.[52] As the genocide was unleashed, however, these arguments were advanced to serve a different agenda -- to discredit the entire range of accusations/arguments of the ‘English media and the Opposition”. Accusations of state complicity in the ethnic cleansing etc. are thus dismissed as specious ‘pseudo-secular’ ramblings based on an inherent disaffection towards the organisations that “defend and promote Hindutva like the VHP.”[53]  The class basis of this clash is manifested in the Left-Liberal composition of the English speaking elite (which compose/consume the English media), represented as being removed from Indian/Hindu traditions. As the nature of the violence became increasingly evident, the conspiracy overtones shifted to a questioning of the perceived bias in reportage. “Why did these people remain silent when Hindus were burnt alive? Weren’t those victims human beings?”  [54]


Prescriptions for Muslims:

The DJ avoids open exhortations to violence against the Muslims as revenge. “Muslims are our brothers...we must not lose our balance in our grief.”[55] The” inherent tolerance of Hindutva is repeatedly invoked to bolster this generosity. Significantly, the same editorial reads “we must strive to remember that the Muslim of today cannot be compared to the invaders who inflicted terrible trials upon the Hindu populace in medieval times.” This appears to be an important admission, since it is upon this rectification of historical wrongs that the RJB movement significantly depends.


However, such overt indications of a basic ideological shift are undermined by provisos and contradictions. While claiming that “we should not view all Muslims as terrorists”, the DJ strongly asserted that “the section of peace loving Muslims must take it upon themselves to identify and punish that section which is anti-national.” The Otherness of Muslims is implied in prescriptions to the community to introspect as to “who are their ancestors. Why are they so reluctant to recognize their roots in Hindu culture/India rather than locating it in the fatwas of Maulvis?” [56] Besides establishing an easy parity between genuine Indian-ness and a benevolent Hindutva, the piece places the onus of ‘integration’ and introspection on the minority. The tone of the article, which forcefully prescribes measures for a culpable minority being given another chance establishes the power equation of the relationship—the Hindus are clearly the big brothers in the family.


It is thus important to recognize that this apparent shift is neither radical nor new- the crude propaganda in the Hindi press in general and the DJ in particular during the Rath Yatra “went hand in hand with an almost pathetic attempt to establish the non-sectarian nationalist credentials of the movement.” For example, a number of papers foregrounded the fact that the driver of Advani’s Rath (chariot) was a Muslim, who was persuading other Muslims to offer karsewa. (Nandy: 1998: 35) Ram Rajya thus represents genuine secularism- it grants equality to minorities, but opposes their ‘appeasement’ in the name of secularism.

This ‘appeasement’ is prompted by vote bank politics; in the immediate context it translated into a perceived unwillingness to criticise Islamic fundamentalism, and to “seek out and destroy their centers of training and collaborators (networks).” [57]This “weakness” extended to an inability to control the intrigues of the ‘external hand’. The theory of Godhra being an ISI[58] plot executed with assistance from local Muslims was stressed by several Hindu organizations and reinforced by news reports of suspected ISI agents captured while trying to escape to Bangladesh. While this served to distance the ‘misled’ Indian Muslims in some manner from the blame, it also established their fundamental untrustworthiness, since their primary loyalties lay with a pan-Islamic ideology rather than the nation. Subsequently, the genocide as well as the Godhra incident was declared to be an ISI plot and Hindus warned not to rise to the bait of the enemy. [59]


This international web of Islam-inspired terror is linked to the cruelty and barbarism inherent in the religion itself. [60]. Similarities between the victims of Godhra and the twin tower bombings hint at an overarching network of Muslim terrorists. This insecurity with the global and particularly Arab alliances of Indian Muslims confirms to the pattern of hostility with which the Gulf boom was viewed in the 1980’s-90. (Jaffrelot: 1996:342) “India will not allow the transplantation of Arab culture on its soil in the form of jihadi training camps and ‘madarsas’. Muslims must be forced to integrate with the tolerance of Indian traditions,” says a letter writer, with no sense of irony.[61]




Disguising Genocide:

The legitimization of the genocide as a “reaction” to Godhra and its representation as an untargeted unplanned riot has already been partially discussed. Reportage on the actual violence established this impression by avoiding even the word ‘genocide’. Reports constructed narratives/causes that explained away the symptoms of an unusual riot. “The police, armed only with ‘lathis’ (sticks) could merely watch helplessly as the mobs clashed.” Subsequent reports claimed that while violence continued in various cities, “The situation is improving barring sporadic clashes”. Early reports also stressed that (various cities) were “handed over to the army” creating the image of prompt, impartial action, at a time when the forces were only standing by. The attempt was clearly to rationalize the role of the police and the administration by invisiblising even the suggestion of a pattern of complicity or sustained violence. [62]Even features on subjects where minority targeting was explicit reported the “plight of minorities” without mentioning the reasons or events that culminated in this plight. An agency feature on survivors in relief camps was edited mid-sentence, truncating narratives of victims that revealed the nature of the genocide. This failure to communicate crucial aspects of ‘other view’ stories indicates the superficial nature of the Jagran’s apparent objectivity and representation of diverse viewpoints.


 As the spiral of killings entered its third week, the Dainik Jagran called a halt. “Even anger and disquiet have a limit and Gujarat is stretching those limits.” It invoked the generosity of Hindus to help ‘rehabilitate their Muslim brothers” and suggested that only material constraints were holding back the state government’s efforts to help  ‘riot victims’.[63] The harshest comment came at the end of a month of violence. “Modi’s claim that the situation was under control within 72 hours is difficult to swallow. Why didn’t the government display the speed it employed post-Godhra later also, when people were taken over by monsters of hatred.”[64] The accusation, while significant, is not of complicity but incompetence and the legitimizing tags of “reaction” and ‘madness’ remain attached to the violence.


Reporting Aligarh:  

A number of articles in the Aligarh Jagran dealt with the administrative clampdown on information/news flows and its effect upon the communal temperature of the city. A ‘reporter’s diary’ column in the Aligarh Jagran further notes that “newspaper hawkers were beaten up, their newspapers were confiscated and a blackout was imposed on satellite news channels.” Further, the administration was not allowing media persons to reach the scene of events and officials were refusing to talk to the press. The initial experience of Aligarh residents of the genocide was thus silence, followed by a mounting tension in the wake of this paucity of news. According to the Jagran, this situation was tantamount to playing into the hands of the rioters, since people starved of news from newspapers will turn to rumours for information. This statement, coming from a newspaper that was rebuked for printing rumours as news in 1990, illustrates the altered space the Jagran was trying to occupy.


A number of evocative articles describe the movements of anxious residents marooned in their neighbourhoods as they attempted to get news of the city outside. “After the news of two deaths in the city, people spent hours trying to discover the truth. They stood around the streets and congregated at nukkars (street corners) exchanging impressions but were chased away by the police. Some stood on their roofs, and fled after being abused roundly by the police… But not before they had seen the official cars tearing down the deserted streets and asked each other “What will happen next?” At the end of the day, many were left with confused impressions of what was the truth and what was rumour.” [65]This illustrates the dialectic between the lived city- of constricted spaces and hurried conversations – and the city in news, which is forbidden yet glimpsed through rumours’ distorting lens.


Despite its relatively wide coverage, the Jagran’s reportage on Muslim areas/issues remained imbued with bias. A story on AMU highlights the persistent myths about the University amongst the majority community.[66] The report described how students had stuck pamphlets describing the ‘real’ story of Godhra being caused by the molestation of a young Muslim girl by the Kar Sewaks all over the campus. While University authorities had removed them from public places “they did not have the courage to remove them from the halls.” The image of AMU as a space apart—a hotbed of ungovernable subversion and anti-Hindu sentiment—is reinforced through this narrative.


Turning Over a New Leaf:

In 1990, the Jagran was one of the four newspapers censured by the Press Council of India for their “gross impropriety and irresponsibility.” (Abrar: 1993:212) While the now defunct Aaj was clearly the worst offender[67], Jagran also participated enthusiastically in the wave of agit-prop for the RJB movement. It carried entirely fabricated news items or printed rumours as reports. Some of these fabrications tended towards the bizarre, like the story about a thousand police officers who planned to quit their jobs to form a brigade with the aim of cutting off the hands and feet of Mulayam Singh Yadav. The persistence of such patently exaggerated stories indicates that people use different standards of credibility or verity checks during times of communal stress. This could perhaps explain the sensationalism of tone, when reporters felt compelled to pitch their reports a little higher to be heard above the emotional tumult.


Death tolls of Kar Sewaks published in the newspaper tended to fluctuate wildly, creating illusions of massacres where needed. A category of reportage seemed to exist to create disaffection against certain  administrators or individuals, like reports claiming that the district magistrate had “run away” on leave. AMU emerged as a prime target for such propaganda, given its symbolic significance for the collective Muslim consciousness. DJ and most other newspapers (also Doordarshan and AIR) reported that the University had been closed indefinitely, and students had been asked to vacate the hostels immediately. In the tense atmosphere, the news created an uproar. Another report claimed that a mob (of Muslims) had stabbed 27 persons outside the University medical college.[68]


Given the extremely militant editorial stance and provocative nature of its content in 1990, the DJ’s coverage of Gujarat appears to represent a dramatic paradigm shift. Possible explanations for this shift include the physical and emotional distance from the events in Gujarat, which could not match the flow of raw emotion of the RJB movement in UP. The change in the demographic composition of its audience has also made it imperative for the DJ to adopt a more open editorial policy and carry news from different sources representing various viewpoints. The bait of increased circulation which was behind the ‘competitive sensationalism’ of 1990 was served better in 2002 by avoiding divisive discourse.


However, as I have attempted to argue through this chapter, this apparent shift is neither radical nor fundamental. The apparent dilution of the DJ’s militant language does not represent an ideological realignment but a time honoured survival strategy. By mainstreaming itself, by creating a space for diverse viewpoints on its pages it will survive and grow in the present context. This expansion of its base is not, however, at the cost of alienating or opposing the interests of its core constituency of middle class Hindu traders (incidentally also the core supporters of the BJP). To my mind, it is essential to recognize this fundamental ideological continuity between the Jagran’s reportage of Gujarat and Ayodhya.


The photographic image has come to represent evidence. This is particularly true when the context, like Gujarat, involves revelation and accountability. Photographs here expose the truth- even with their limitations they “pass for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened.” (Sontag:1977:5) However, the manner of re/production of the press photograph fundamentally influences the ‘truth’ they communicate. This manipulation can be overt- a mauling of form, such as drawing prison bars on the photograph of an arrested mahant (religious leader) during the Rath Yatra agitation.[69] The selection of photographs and their placement on the page, relative to the text, is also significant. The QA’s placement of photographs of sword brandishing, armband wearing youths[70] roaming the streets of Ahmedabad next to a story about the violence during the VHP strike serves to reinforce its message of a takeover of the city by lumpen Hindu organisations. The complete absence of photographs in the Jagran where “rioters” display symbols of affiliation to Hindutva is an equally ideologically driven choice.


 Even when both newspapers used the same photographs, they often transmitted entirely different messages. For the QA, photographs of VHP leaders at that time carried a different set of meanings. Their appearance, militant pose and proximity to political power could only add to the insecurity amongst the Muslims. In the Jagran, the photographs were an illustration of the struggle for the Ram temple, a process of finding solutions, a show of strength. The anchoring text of the caption also serves as a “parasitic message to connote the image.” (Barthes:1982:204) The Jagran anchored an image of people leaving with their baggage as security forces look on in the background with the caption “Riot victims being escorted to safety under strict army supervision”[71]. Thus photographs are not abstractions of reality but a code, an institutional activity located in the social. It follows that their moral effect is contingent upon the existence of a relevant political consciousness. (Sontag:1997:19) It is the nuances of this consciousness that the images in our two newspapers hint at.


Thus the QA avoided carrying photographs of victims after Godhra, but repeatedly printed them during the genocide.  Faces of children at relief camps, a woman weeping outside her burnt house- such images were prominently printed by the newspaper, and were largely missing from the Jagran. The latter had carried colour photographs of the Sabarmati Express, with charred bodies being carried out from the bogies. The images from the genocide that appeared in the paper were of burning houses, anonymous mobs watching vehicles burn and deserted streets scattered with broken glass. The Aligarh Jagran featured several photos of security arrangements around the Juma Mosque in the crowded Muslim majority areas of the city, identifying it as the flashpoint of communal trouble. [72]


It is beyond the scope of this paper to examine the encounter of local newspapers and audiences with an ascendant broadcast media. It is sufficient to point out that the immediacy and ‘realness’ of the visuals from Gujarat beamed on news channels and their intimate manner of engagement with viewers transformed the relationship of vernacular newspapers with their readers. These newspapers were no longer (as in 1990) the source of hard news and description of events. Rather than setting agendas, local newspapers tended to defend/refute narratives suggested by the electronic media. This changed role is linked with the absence of graphic accounts of violence in text and image, and in the repeated use of images culled from television.[73]


The newspaper as a cultural text is composed of more than words. Image and design, the ordering of words and the layout of news represent layers of mediation between ‘event’ and ‘news’. This paper has attempted to probe these denotative elements to achieve an understanding of the structures and tensions that underlie and shape discourse. The examination of texts over time has tried to locate patterns of change (or lack of it) and the social variables they are linked to. A horizontal analysis (between the newspapers) indicates the manner in which the same events can be read/remembered in entirely different ways across communities which living in the same city.[74]


The Qaumi Awaz displayed a basic continuity over time in endorsing the middle path and adopting a reactive stance. While avoiding graphic descriptions of violence and exhortations to jihad, it was unequivocal in its language concerning allegations of genocide, the massacre of Muslims and the complicity of the state administration and police. The emphasis was on establishing this genocide as part of the pattern of violence inherent in the fascist politics of the BJP-VHP-RSS and the electorally motivated nature of their strategy of communal mobilisation.  The fact that after the initial editorial condemning minority fascism, most comment established Muslims as victims gives an impression of a shrinking space for non sectarian reflection. Themes like the ISI conspiracy theory and the chances of a Muslim revenge/backlash, which greatly concerned the DJ, were not accorded much space or credibility. Despite the sense of stress and isolation, the newspaper continued to display a rather battered faith in Indian secularism.


The DJ appeared to have undergone a dramatic change in its style and tone since 1990. However, as I have attempted to argue, this shift was superficial and represented a strategy of survival through ideological dilution.[75] Comment and reports on Gujarat revolved around the essentializing myths of Hindu nationalism, especially concerning the “Angry Hindus” and their need to unify and the cult of martyrdom of Kar Sewaks. The manner in which the paper glossed over the scale and nature of the violence indicates the moral vacuity of the belief that the mere presence of news stories advocating a different chronology/ victimology represents balanced and objective reportage. While it printed news from various sources and representing different viewpoints, the manner in which the items were re/presented indicated their subordination to a clear communal bias.


 The points of incidence between the two newspapers are significant. The near identical language of reports on the pitiable situation of the community, on its dwindling security and its need for protection from the Other indicates a mirroring of insecurities. Also telling is the near complete absence of a focus on gender-targeted violence, which was particularly heinous in Gujarat, even from the Urdu newspapers.


Based on this analysis, I suggest that these vernacular newspapers essentially replicate the tensions and themes that define inter community discourse and engagement. By locating the newspaper (or the media) in the realm of the social, this view contradicts media effects arguments that claim newspapers “cause” riots by publishing provocative reports. I argue for a conceptualization of newspapers as a cultural construct, which reflect social processes as much as they mould them. This is especially true in a communally charged situation, like what prevailed in 1990, where the role of newspapers was to reinforce already existing social impulses.  It thus follows that changes in media attitudes need to be examined with reference to the context in which they operate. In Aligarh, they tend to reproduce the social distance between the communities, the “back to back intimacy” of those who live in spatial proximity but with limited civic engagement. (Varshney:2002:149) 


My analysis also suggests that changes in the media environment and urban landscape have influenced vernacular newspapers. The post-liberalization boom in small towns has changed the nature of urban relationships, brought several televisions to most houses and transformed the manner in which media products are consumed. This complex interaction between the screen, the page and the street has impacted small town journalism in complex ways. For our purposes, it is sufficient to establish the manner in which it dominated the pitching of standards of verity during times of emotional tension. These standards are no longer as flexible as they were in 1990, and not as open to influence from vernacular newspapers.  Clearly, these papers now serve a different purpose and meet different needs for their audience. This does not mean a loss of meaning but a reinvention of relevance-- a task some papers are handling better than others.


Finally, I would argue against the trend in academia and journalism of treating the genocide in Gujarat as an entirely unparalleled (or unexpected) occurrence. While there were many aspects of the violence that were refined or emphasized to an unprecedented degree, it would be myopic not to recognize the genocide as the latest link in the chain of communalisation of Indian social and political life.  Readings of Urdu newspapers reveal the tremendous resonance the events of Gujarat have for Muslims who have lived through riots in other parts and recognize in the former an ‘evolution’ of ‘their’ violence. They have been there before. Given the chilling postscript of the Mumbai bombings, they will probably be there again.[76] Post-Gujarat, platitudes and threadbare appeals to the “inherent secularism of the Indian people” do not hold much conviction for its Muslim population. To my mind, an acknowledgement of the reality of the communal divide, in the scale and depth it exhibited in Gujarat, is an essential and urgent requirement to dealing with it. Language and the media are amongst the most crucial sites where these conflicts will be played out.


As an indication of how clearly language can provide an insight into the complex, nuanced and fragile relationship between the communities, consider this example of usage of a common vocabulary by the two newspapers.  Of the three common words I found were used most often in both newspapers, two are ‘halaak’ (killed) and ‘tandav’ (the dance of destruction). The third, ‘aman’, is peace.






AIR: All India Radio

AMU: Aligarh Muslim University

BJP: Bharatiya Janata Party; the electoral wing of Hindu nationalism, at present heading the ruling coalition at the centre.

DJ: Dainik Jagran

Doordarshan: The national broadcasting corporation of India

ISI: Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s internal intelligence agency.

NHRC: National Human Rights Commission

POTO: Prevention of Terrorist Activities Ordinance

QA: Qaumi Awaz

RJB: Ram Janam Bhoomi; Birthplace of Ram

RSS: Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh; the parent organisation and source of ideology of the Hindu Right

VHP: Vishwa Hindu Parishad; an organisation of sadhus or relegious leaders spearheading the Ayodhya movement




The RJM movement is centered around the site of a 15th century mosque in Ayodhya, which it claims as the  birthplace of Lord Rama. The central argument of the movement is that the Babri Mosque was built by a Muslim general after destroying an ancient Ram temple. It aims to correct this historic wrong by liberating the site and reconstructing a temple on its real and only location.


The issue came into the public domain after 1989, when the BJP-RSS-VHP adopted it as part of their agenda of militant Hindu mobilisation. A campaign of pujas or ritual worship was launched. where consecrated bricks were brought into Ayodhya from all over the country for the construction of the Ram temple. The success of this campaign was followed by the launch of the Rath Yatra or the chariot procession in September 1990 by LK Advani, a BJP leader.  The rath was a Toyota van decorated like a chariot, laden with symbols associted with the RSS and BJP, with loudspeakers playing militant songs or blaring slogans. The chariot halts were puntuated by rituals, fiery speeches and the spectacle of aggressive Hindutva. The yatra wound its way from Gujarat across UP, leaving several incidents of rioting and “anti-Muslim pogroms” in its wake.(Blom Hansen:1999:165) Aligarh was one such town. The Yatra eventually  halted when Advani was arrested in Bihar in late October, but the violence continued, as we have seen, for several months after.


In 1992, during another phase of the agitation, karsewaks demolished the structure of the Babri Mosque. The Supreme Court has since ordered the central government to maintain status quo at the site. However, in early 2002, the VHP launched a campaign to start temple construction at the site  by its deadline of March 15th  2002 . This agitation provided the backdrop for the events in Gujarat.






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Nigam, A (2002) Theatre of the Urban: The Strange Case of the Monkeyman in Sarai Reader The Cities of Everyday Life, New Delhi: Sarai

Rajagopal, A.(2001) Politics After Television: Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Sontag, S. (1997)On Photography  New York: Penguin Books

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     Vilification Campaign Against Aligarh Muslim University (December1990 Communal Riots at

     Aligarh) Issued by Aligarh Muslim University Aligarh.A.M.U. Press, Aligarh

     Crisis/Media The Uncertain States of Reportage Available <http/// 



      Qaumi Awaz : Issues 28th February - 30th March, 2002 and 1st to 30th December 1990.

       Dainik Jagran: Issues from 28th February to 30th March, 2002







[1] See ‘Crime Against Humanity: Concerned Citizens Tribunal; Human Rights Watch Report: ‘We Have No Orders to Save You’; Gujarat Carnage 2002  Report To the Nation by An Independent Fact Finding Mission

[2] Broadly, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

[3] See, for instance, Radhika Subramaniam’s discussion of newspapers as visible indicators of identity in post-1992 Bombay. Her narration of the Muslim man in Bendi Bazar who avoided the stares of fellow commuters by substituting his daily Urdu papers with a Hindi or Marathi language newspaper to “look like everyone else”-- to minimise his visible identity as a Muslim-- indicates the manner which this physiognomy can be manipulated or disguised. In Sarai:2002:10

[4] The city of Bombay (now Mumbai) was torn by large-scale violence in 1992-3 after the demolition of the Babri Mosque. The initial violence targeted the Muslim community and was mostly carried out by lumpen-political elements owing allegiance to the Shiv Sena and other Hindu Right organisations. The violence was followed by a series of bomb blasts in busy commercial areas of the city, believed to be  ‘revenge’ orchestrated by Muslim underworld dons based in the Gulf.

[5] Media convention in India recommends not identifying communities while covering communal violence. The logic for this anonymity is to ‘contain’ the violence. The convention was very partially adhered to by the non-Gujarati vernacular press in reportage and largely ignored in editorial matter. For a discussion on anonymity and ethnic violence, see Siddharth Varadarajan, ‘The Ink Link”: Media, Communalism and the Evasion of Politics”, 1999.

[6] This is possibly a reaction to Left leader Somnath Chatterjee’s comment that the attack on the train was the result of the RSS-VHP’s aggressive politics of communal mobilisation.

[7] Qaumi Awaz editorial, March 1st 2002

[8] QA Letter to the Editor, March 6th  2002    

[9] QA report, March 4th 2002

[10] Jan Satta, a Faizabad based newspaper had carried an article on the violent behaviour of the Ram Sewaks a day before the Godhra incident.         

[11] QA March 4th 2002

[12] QA March 7th, 2002

[13] QA editorial March 1st 2002

[14] QA editorial March 8th 2002``

[15] The BJP leader who embarked on the Yatra or journey, now the deputy Prime Minister of India

[16] Ibid

[17] Syed Hamid, an ex-Vice Chancellor of AMU

[18] It must be remembered that the drama in Gujarat was paralleled by a continued mobilisation for the Ram Temple. The VHP threatened to go ahead with its temple construction ceremonies after a ‘deadline’ of 15th March, putting itself on a collision course with the government, bound to preserve status quo at the site by a Supreme Court ruling.  This caused tremendous apprehension and tension, especially across UP and northern states. Eventually a compromise was reached and the deadline passed peacefully.

[19] QA march 5th 2002

[20] QA March 4th 2002

[21] Ibid

[22] QA report March 8th 2002

[23] Ibid.

[24] QA editorial “Bring Forth the Real Culprit”, March 3rd 2002

[25] QA report March 10th 2002

[26] Ibid

[27] Madarsas are religious schools run by Muslim organisations to teach the Quran etc. They have been recently referred to as ‘jihad factories’ for their alleged role as terrorist recruitment and training centres. Shishu Mandirs refers to the network of schools run by the RSS, where students are indoctrinated into militant Hindu thought.

[28] QA report March 11th 2002

[29] QA editorial ‘The Dance of Death in Gujarat’ March 1st 2002

[30] Provincial Armed Constabulary, a state government force. The PAC faced charges of partisanship before various riot enquiry committees. (See Peoples Union of Democratic Rights, Forgotten Massacres (Delhi 1989) It is no longer used for riot control and has been replaced by the Rapid Action Force. 

[31] QA report Dec 19th 1990


[32] QA ‘Aligarh Newsletter: The Negative Role of the Press’, Dec19th 1990

[33] This has shades of the infamous “police are part of society too” argument put forth during the Gujarat genocide as well as the demolition of the Babri Mosque to explain their collusion with the rioters.

[34] QA ‘How a Riot Happens’, Dec 20th 1990

[35] Ibid

[36] QA , March 1st 2002

[37] QA, March 3rd 2002

[38] QA March 3rd 2002



[39] QA Letter to the Editor, March 13th 2002

[40] QA report, March 4th 2002

[41] QA report March 23rd 2002

[42] DJ report March 1st 2002



[43]DJ editorial ‘An Unforgivable and Heinous Crime’, March 1st 2002

[44] Ibid

[45] DJ “Godhra and Jaundiced Secularism” Dinnath Misra (syndicated column), March 8th 2002

[46] This includes potently symbolic incidents like the murder of a Congress-allied politician, Ehsan Jafri with his family in his home, and the burning of a family of eight in a large car who were attempting to flee from Ahmedabad. The car was bound with barbed wire and the family burnt on the state highway. Various reports, March 1st-15th 2002.

[47] DJ opinion piece, ‘How Long will Hindutva Have to Suffer Insults?’ by Narendra Mohan, the editor-proprietor of the paper

[48] Ibid

[49] Ibid

[50] The repeated use of the word Hindutva instead of Hinduism has possible roots in Savarkar’s demands from Hindus to “profess Hindutva rather than Hinduism as the first defining characteristic of themselves..” See Nandy (1998: 68)

[51] Note the correspondence with the Muslim warnings- the language is startlingly similar and hints at the mirroring of persecution myths in both communities.


[52] The immediate context of this anger are the remarks by Marxist leader Somnath Chatterjee stating that the Godhra incident was the result of the politics of the VHP. Note the similarity with the QA argument against sheltering minority communalism

[53] Misra, Ibid

[54] DJ interview, March 2nd 2002

[55] DJ editorial  March 2nd 2002

[56] Ibid, March 2nd 2002

[57] Misra, ibid

[58] The Pakistani Intelligence Service

[59] The prominence and credence accorded to the ISI conspiracy theory in the Dainik Jagran contrasts with the passing mention it received in the Qaumi Awaz, where it was dismissed as an attempt by an incompetent and complicit government to avoid the blame.

[60] Misra, ibid


[61] DJ March 17th 2002

[62] The closest the Dainik Jagran got to mentioning the genocide was in reporting the accusations of the Opposition members in parliament and the statements of the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) indicting the police and the administration for involvement in the killings. Various reports, March 1st-23rd 2002.

[63] DJ editorial march 17th 2002

[64] DJ  ‘Human Rights Commission’s Warning’, March 25th 2002

[65] DJ report ‘The Genie of Riots in the Bottle of Rumours’ March 2nd 2002  


[66] DJ ‘Pamphlets distributed in AMU on the Godhra Incident’, March 10th 2002


[67] See Chapter II for discussion of the AMU Medical College rumour printed in Aaj.

[68] DJ Dec 10th 1990, both reports

[69] Aaj, October 1990. See Abrar:1993:213 for a discussion on instances of false reportage and their links with violence across UP

[70] The picture shows three young boys on a scooter, wearing a particular red spangled armband that has immediate associations with Hindu cults.

[71] DJ March 5th 2002

[72] This is not to deny that Friday prayers have historically been used to provoke riots or that there are special administrative provisions to deal with the congregation. My attempt here is to point to the agenda behind reconstructing this state of apprehension in the newspaper—to establish the location of communal violence and tension as the mosque on a Friday, crowded with Muslims.

[73] Footage from the Godhra tragedy and the genocide was also distributed on video-CDs. These CDs represent a technological advance to the role played in 1990 by audio-tapes and pamphlets etc. They are easy and cheap to duplicate and distribute and can be viewed collectively, leading to their fulfilling the same functions of creating

emotional mobilization, provoking anger and tensions. An additional layer to this propaganda is provided by the apparent indisputable ‘truth’ of the images, despite the fact that the footage was often doctored.

[74] This does not imply an attempt to compare the two newspapers. Given the difference in operational scale and reach between the two, such an exercise would be meaningless as well as misleading. The attempt here is to examine areas of intersection and divergence between the two newspapers as texts representing widespread and mainstream emotion and ideas.

[75] For  parallels with the BJP strategy of capturing and maintaining electoral power, see Jaffrelot (1996)

[76] On 25th August 2003, the city of Mumbai was rocked by powerful bomb blasts in its most crowded tourist spot. The bombings are believed to have been masterminded by terrorist groups bu executed by ordinary families as ‘revenge’ for the Gujarat genocide. See Sep 2003