He Was Killed Because He Ate Beef? Well, I Don’t Think So

Posted on November 18, 2015 in Media

By Mahesh Rathi:

A considerable amount of time has passed since the news of the horrid crime in Dadri broke out. By now, most people connected to the news would already know about the incident. This article is not a recount of the event. But it is about the narrative built around it by the majority of Indian media (electronic and print) in service of the reigning political forces.

In a discourse based on rudimentary common sense and insight, the response to this crime would be of unequivocal outrage at the perpetrators and the ideology that moved them. It would take political momentum away from the so-called “beef issue” and make it an embarrassment. Independent voices from citizens on social media and elsewhere have betrayed such a response, and since my experience can’t be exhaustive I won’t say a majority, but surely in a significant number.

Image source: YouTube
Image source: YouTube

Significant enough to warrant sincere attention from the media, not to mention its backing in common sense and truth, making it the sole proper response the media should have articulated. However, this wasn’t the case.

In the aftermath of the crime, when the usual punditry and opinion making was set in motion, the picture the media drew for its audience was one that consistently undermined the established fact that not only was it a rumour that the victim’s family had beef in their house, but also that there was no natural reason for it to be suggested in the first place. It assumed the intolerance of beef as a natural and given behaviour (in a supposedly secular socialist republic) and presented the responsibility not as squarely being on the shoulders of the perpetrators and their ideological and political masters who engaged in a staged lynching using beef as a convenient excuse that would sway their ever growing base of fanatical supporters regardless of whether beef was even really there or not, but of an “unfortunate” incident of a crime by a faceless mob driven mad by the possibility of someone eating beef, again a natural and given crime. If only beef were banned and unavailable in India, there would be no cases of such violence, the issue definitely is beef.

The fact that the household didn’t consume any beef makes this all the more dark; from the “rumour” to the subsequent narratological engineering by the media to make the question of beef, made already untenable in the context of this case by evidence (not to imply that is ever a tenable question in a society that doesn’t want theological autocracy), stick and even emerge as a legitimate social issue (exemplified by a well known news reader’s quip on a 9 PM bulletin that “even this was an unfortunate and unacceptable incident, at least it has brought to fore the issue of beef production in India”), is nothing but an attempt to use “beef” as a code-word for obscuring the criminal responsibility of this case by evoking and rallying distrust and intolerance for minorities. Let the record be set straight, the victim wasn’t killed by a mob driven by anger, he was not killed for eating beef or because they thought he ate beef, he was killed because he was a Muslim, he was killed to fan and further the Hindutva narrative and propaganda, in the same brush of ideological violence that is leading to increased fatal attacks on Dalits, that burned two babies to death and that allowed people in highly responsible positions to get away with comparing the victims to dogs.

The bizarre and disingenuous nature of the narrative propped up by the media is only matched by the shamelessness and normalcy with which it was presented. News media doesn’t fulfil its aim of propaganda and engineering narratives favourable to the elite simply on the basis of what is said or printed. It is achieved through a huxwellian regimen of implication, obfuscation, omission and tone and form of content and all these were deployed here. Indian media, much like corporate or state-controlled media around the world, has never been much of an example of the better side of journalism. In these times of increasing neo-liberal transformation of the economy, consolidation of private capital and intense and dominant ideological charging of the society by the right-wing, we must constantly be vigilant against what the news wants us to believe and think or rather what it wants to limit us from thinking.