“Madrasa Investigation”: Indian News Channels Continue to Divide Covid-19 Along Religious Lines


“Madrasa Investigation”: Indian News Channels Continue to Divide Covid-19 Along Religious Lines

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

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.

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.

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”.

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’”.

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.

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.”

But even that drew sharp reactions with other journalists explaining to him why exactly his investigation was under fire.

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.