The Sabarimala coverage 2

The Sabarimala coverage

When faith comes in conflict with the Constitution, journalism becomes complicated. Ever since the Supreme Court ruling on the entry of women of all ages into Sabarimala, questions of patriarchy, equality, constitutionality and tradition have been raised. In an emotionally charged environment, people tend to read reports wearing ideological blinkers. I received complaints from both the critics of the Supreme Court ruling and supporters of the rights of women about The Hindu’s coverage of the ruling and the developments thereafter. Various objections The critics felt that some of the reports were one­sided. For instance, one reader felt that the report titled “Sabarimala ‘purification rites’ violate SC verdict” (Jan. 3) contradicted another report, “Supreme Court refuses to grant early hearing on ‘contempt’ plea against Sabarimala temple chief priest” (Jan. 3), and said the newspaper is deliberately misleading its readers. The first report explained what the majority of the five­judge Constitution Bench observed on the concept of purity and pollution. It did not contain the reporter’s personal comments; it only cited the written observations of the judges. The second was a report filed from the court. It stated that a fivejudge Bench is listed to hear 49 review petitions and a range of applications regarding the September 28 verdict of the Constitution Bench in open court on January 22. I don’t understand how stating facts is misleading. Another reader took strong objection to the editorial “Breaking barriers”, which appeared after two women entered the temple, and termed it “Hindu phobic”. He felt that an impartial editorial would address the issue of gender discrimination across all religions in the country. He may not be aware of the governing values of this newspaper. In 2015, in a column titled “Living values” (Jan. 26), I had documented the consistent stand of this newspaper in its opposition to all forms of obscurantism and how it has spared no group, irrespective of religion, when the actions of that group threatened the peaceful coexistence of religions and people. There was also an angry note from Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association and Polit Bureau member of CPI(ML), regarding a local report in the Kerala editions headlined “A first for Sabarimala Ayyappa temple”, which explained the so­called cleansing ritual after the entry of the two women. Her contention was that the report smacked of Brahmanical patriarchy. I am at a loss to understand this outrage. Isn’t it important to report the level of obscurantism that is prevalent here? Is it right to pull out one short report of 200 words, which is a part of a large package of stories, and arrive at such a conclusion? The package also contained the following stories: “Tantri should have quit if verdict unacceptable: CM”; “Sangh Parivar scaring women, says CPI(M)”; “Traders put loss of business at ₹1,200 crore”; “CM promises protection to women devotees”; and “Operation was kept under wraps to ensure safe passage”. Reporting disturbing realities The Hindu’s reportage on Sabarimala has been exhaustive. No issue has been overlooked. In fact, on the day of the judgment, the newspaper’s report headlined “Sabarimala women entry ban an ‘essential practice’, says dissenting judge Indu Malhotra” gave the lone dissenting judge due space. A later report (October 9, 2018) documented how the Sabarimala review pleas take Justice Malhotra’s line. The newspaper also carried a dissenting view from a former judge, Markandey Katju, who feared that the judgment might open a Pandora ’s Box. This column, like this newspaper, does not discriminate against one form of hatred over another. In fact, it equated the killings of Narendra Dabholkar, M.M. Kalburgi and Govind Pansare in India with the assassinations of Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti in Pakistan and the killings of secular bloggers Nazimuddin Samad, Niloy Chakrabarti, Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman and Ananta Bijoy Das in Bangladesh, and fearlessly declared that these deaths are grim reminders of majoritarian ruthlessness in the Indian subcontinent. If journalism has to remain an effective interlocking public, it has to report everything, including some very unpleasant and disturbing realities.



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