A typical ploy used by those who hide behind neutrality is whataboutery or accusing others of selective outrage. When you bring up lynching in the name of cows, they will hunt for data on all other lynchings starting from 1947, and ask why you didn’t speak out against those (a trait best exemplified by Anand Ranganathan on Twitter).
22 Indian Journalists murdered since 2013. Gauri Lankesh was the only one who also wrote in English or appeared in the English media. pic.twitter.com/U4YIkG4Wvb
— Anand Ranganathan (@ARanganathan72) September 6, 2017
If you bring up army excesses in Kashmir, you will be countered with why you have nothing to say about Pandits, as though that settles the question. Both are facts. I may choose to highlight one, you another. That said, I am yet to come across a sensible liberal who justifies the eviction of Pandits or attempts to silence others when they bring up that issue. But that’s not the case with those who want you to be silent on the plight of Kashmiris.
Take the case of Gauri Lankesh’s murder. She was an ardent critic of Hindutva politics. So, there was nothing surprising when some liberal writers suspected the hand of Hindutva fundamentalists behind this heinous crime. The investigation is on and they could be proven wrong. At the same time, most of these neutral ‘data-driven’ folks don’t even bother to raise their voice against those who are celebrating her death. Instead, they cry selective outrage again pointing to the silence of the English language journalists when other regional language journalists were killed.
The best part is that those who bring up selective outrage had nothing to say, when the 21 other regional language journalists that Mr Ranganathan points out, were killed. Did Mr Ranganathan speak out? I doubt. Either they didn’t care or they didn’t know, but they suddenly know now. That’s where the bias of neutrality becomes clear.
If the government of the day seems slanted towards a majority community, you would expect an outcry from the state itself on any attack on the majority. It’s unlikely that an attack on the poor and vulnerable from minority communities or on the Dalits or on those who stand up against majoritarian politics will attract the same outcry from the state. And guess who is more powerful in this country? The State or the English language journalists?
We must also not forget that some of those who are accused of the selective outcry now, were stringent critics of the previous government. Ramachandra Guha published “A Short History of Congress Chamchargiri” in 2012 when the UPA was in power. Was he partisan then? Siddharth Varadarajan, current editor of The Wire and then editor of The Hindu, wrote article after article critical of the UPA. Was he biased then? The Outlook, then edited by the late Vinod Mehta, and The Open Magazine, whose then political editor was Hartosh Singh Bal, broke the story of Radia tapes that helped bring the UPA government down. Were Mehta and Bal Congress stooges? Ravish Kumar of NDTV was a harsh critic of the Congress Party as well as the UPA government. And those who abuse him today applauded him then.
What does it say about some of these writers and media persons? They have their flaws and biases. But at least they have never been government chamchas (followers). The role of the free press is not that of a court poet appointed to bestow praise on the king. But that’s exactly what the so-called right-wing media does.
If you write about a political murder in Karnataka, you will be informed that it is a Congress-ruled state. If children die due to lack of oxygen in a UP hospital, a BJP-ruled state, you will be provided with statistics of the number of children who died when the Samajwadi Party was in power. Or about the number of children who died in a non-BJP ruled state.
The last time I checked the map of India, I couldn’t find India anywhere. There was Telangana, Goa, Jharkhand, Meghalaya and so on. So, one would suppose that the dream of ache din (good days) applied to all, not just to BJP-ruled states.
You can never counter “but what about”. And you are not answerable to that question. As Tabish Khair said in a recent column in The Hindu: “I am willing to concede that I can never convince you of climate change. If I point to an extreme winter this year, you will point to a moderate winter another year.”