By Arré Bench Apr. 12, 2020
India Today’s exposé on Delhi madrasas not following social distancing rules, and hiding the headcount of children, drew sharp reactions online. As many tweeters said, the channel had clearly missed the point — many students who study and live in madrasas come from poor families, and often have nowhere else to go.
It’s not often that anchors from leading news channels end up turning into the news. But that’s exactly what happened to Rahul Kanwal from the India Today Group last evening. The channel’s exposé on Delhi madrasas apparently not following social distancing rules, and hiding the headcount of children residing there, drew sharp reactions online, with the little praise for the investigation overshadowed by a heap of criticism.
According to the first tweet, the channel had identified madrasas in the national capital that were violating national lockdown rules, by cramming kids in small rooms, and lying to the police about the number of children inside.
An @IndiaToday reality check finds Madrasas in the capital violating national lockdown rules. Kids crammed into small rooms. No social distancing norms followed. Teacher boasts he’s hiding kids from the police. Another claims he’s paid off local police. Watch 8 pm @IndiaToday pic.twitter.com/MUHiOBv4Rn
— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) April 10, 2020
But as many tweeters clarified in the replies, the anchor had clearly missed the point — a majority of students who study and live in madrasas come from poor families, and often have nowhere else to go, or no means to get there even if they did.
Madrasas are boarding schools for children from poor Muslim families. The lockdown was sudden & the country was given barely 4 hours to prepare. People were told to stay where they are. Did India Today expect children to walk several kms to reach home? Why an FIR @msisodia? https://t.co/TUv9Ijyrw3
— Rohini Singh (@rohini_sgh) April 11, 2020
Others clarified that there was insufficient reason to term the madrasas “hotspots” especially since there hadn’t been any cases recorded from the schools. They also pointed out that madrasas often double up as hostels, and hence would be considered “indoors”.
We get it you hate Muslims.
But I hope you realise there's nothing like social distancing WITHIN an enclosed space,like a house,a one bedroom flat,a jhuggi in a slum or a hostel.
Madrassas mostly double up as hostels. The lockdown means the kids stay within. https://t.co/mVhoT2VXmM
— Zainab Sikander (@zainabsikander) April 12, 2020
— Gaurav Pandhi (@GauravPandhi) April 12, 2020
One Twitter user drew a comparison to their situation in Germany to add some perspective to the situation. “I live in a student housing complex in Germany,” she pointed out. “When the Covid-19 lockdown came almost everyone decided to stay put. It’s mostly students from India, Pakistan, China on my floor w/ shared bathrooms and kitchen but German media isn’t calling us ‘Corona hotspots’”.
Hey @rahulkanwal I live in a student housing complex in Germany. When the Covid-19 lockdown came almost everyone decided to stay put. It's mostly students from India, Pakistan, China on my floor w/ shared bathrooms and kitchen but German media isn't calling us "Corona hotspots"
— Violins on television (@Just_Screams) April 11, 2020
Soon after the news channel’s announcement, and the subsequent investigation at 8.30pm, the hashtag “ThooRahulThoo” began trending — a variation of which was used to target ANI editor Smita Prakash a few days ago.
Several social media users, including activist Kavita Krishnan, accused the India Today piece of hate mongering, and following a pattern of Islamophobia that’s usually associated with TV news.
I am surprised that at this point, Indian media hasn't begun barging into Muslim homes and saying "look at how these Muslims are all gathered here in one place. Another corona hotspot?
To discuss whether they deserve to live or not, join us on our debate tonight at 9 pm"
— Shivam Bahuguna (@JanusBlinked) April 11, 2020
Had to do this @IndiaToday@sardesairajdeep.
Here is an open video message (in Hindi, and then in English in the next tweet) on Rahul Kanwal's poison
राहुल कंवल जैसे चिकने चुपडे चहरे वाले नफ़रतकारों के नाम खुला वीडियो पत्र. इस ट्वीट में हिंदी में, अगले में अंग्रेजी में pic.twitter.com/4kOukEnn0w
— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) April 11, 2020
In the mainstream media discourse, almost everything that should constitute as hard news is counted as negativity, except hate. Peddling hate is counted as a nation building exercise. I'm sure Kanwal presents his 'madarsa sting' as objective hard news in the service of the nation
— Asim Ali (@AsimAli6) April 11, 2020
Hours before the show, the anchor responded to all the Tweets by clarifying that every story needs to be told. “You cannot love one kind of investigation because it unearths something you want exposed and then dislike the next, because it throws up an image you’d rather not see,” he said, terming all criticism “water off a duck’s back.”
Folks, a story is a story and it needs to be told. You cannot love one kind of investigation because it unearths something you want exposed and then dislike the next reality check because it throws up an image you had rather not see. Being trolled is like water off our backs.
— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) April 11, 2020
But even that drew sharp reactions with other journalists explaining to him why exactly his investigation was under fire.
Rahul, it's not an 'investigation'. You need to refer to WHO's guidelines about reporting on a community that is unwell.
Tying it to their religion (or in the past tying HIV to sexual orientation) & stigmatizing already unwell ppl is predatory.
Pls don't call it journalism
— Vidya (@VidyaKrishnan) April 11, 2020
Meanwhile, other news anchors couldn’t catch a break either. The hashtag “ThooRahulThoo” was also used for Sudhir Chaudhury from Zee News, for announcing on the channel that 11 Tablighi Jamaat attendees were tested positive in Arunachal Pradesh, when there was actually only one confirmed case. The Arunachal police called the channel out on Twitter, and Zee News was made to tender an apology.
It’s clear through these incidents, and the actions of the UP and Karnataka police over the last few weeks that there’s no place for misleading and fake news during a pandemic. It also helps that social media is as vigilant as ever.