'NBC News' article strings together an unconvincing narrative on intolerance in India
The article misses out on crucial information, leading to an erroneous interpretation
'India has an eroding image of tolerance in the West. A recent cricket loss proves why.', says the headline of an article by NBC News on Saturday (November 27).
The article strings together a series of unconnected events, beginning with the T20 Men's World Cup match that India lost to Pakistan, to come up with a rather definitive but erroneous narrative about India that is not always based on facts.
Here are some specific points IndiaVsDisinformation would like to highlight.
The article says:
In the aftermath of the crushing defeat, ethno-religious tensions boiled over in India, a Hindu-majority country that neighbors Muslim-majority Pakistan. Cricket fans hurled online abuse at Mohammed Shami, the Indian team’s only Muslim player, unfairly blaming him for the loss.
To begin with, this 'assumption of fact' that the article is built upon is itself flawed.
The days - and weeks - following India's defeat to Pakistan saw several news articles in different Indian publications that tried to get to the bottom of the Shami 'trolling controversy', if one may call it that.
Let us take a look at what Tara Kartha wrote in The Print on November 1.
"A fascinating thread on social media gives a step-by-step analysis of how a single unknown Twitter account, presumably from Kerala, ‘predicted’ the abuse against Mohammad Shami, the much-loved Indian cricket player. The actual abuse was apparently limited to 16 posts, of which only eight were religiously motivated", she noted.
These were the posts removed by Facebook, but the original post was taken up, perhaps unwittingly, by ‘amplifiers’ like Fahad Shah, editor of The Kashmir Walah, a news outlet that claims to provide independent views, as well as other well-known voices in the media such as Mohamed Zeeshan, author and now a critic of Indian policy in American media, with 50,000 followers, whose first Washington Post article was (unsurprisingly) on Kashmir. Also in the list was Fawad Hussain Chaudhry, Pakistan Minister of Information and Broadcasting, a very apt title in this and other cases. Then came a series of posts by Al Jazeera (all using the original screenshots of ‘predictions’) and then the whole story takes off into an ‘us versus them’, with Indian opinion-makers voicing their support for the apparently much-abused Shami once again, this time also on American media.
As the thread notes, the Indian cricket team captain was actually getting the worst of it in terms of abuse and invective. No ‘support’ there. From there it was a short step into Pakistani media, which mostly repeated the stories put out by all of the above, and added a few Instagram posts. What it did not show was that Shami remained one of India’s most-loved cricketers. In short, a ‘hate campaign’ that didn’t exist, even as Kashmiri politicians weighed in to support the player. The end result? A picture of a rabid Muslim-hating India that derides its own players," says the article in The Print.
Read the complete article in The Print
News18 also came out with a report on this controversy on October 26.
The article titled 'Manufactured Outrage Over Abuse For Shami? Trolling Came From Pak Social Media Users' said:
"In a classic case of how social media is used to create a false narrative around India and alleged “religious intolerance” in the country, a close look at most handles that spewed hate towards Indian cricketer Mohammed Shami reveals that they belonged to users in Pakistan".
The article went on to list some of these social media handles.
But the author of the NBC News article has missed these aspects and erroneously taken the buzz around these very posts at face value.
The report mentions sedition cases being filed against Kashmiri students in Uttar Pradesh who celebrated Pakistan's win. It would suffice to say that in such cases, action is taken under relevant provisions of the law of the land. Also, such cases always go through due judicial process.
The NBC News article goes on to say:
"But under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist who took office in 2014, experts say there has been a sharp rise in discrimination and violence against Muslims that is polarizing society and undermining India’s reputation for religious tolerance", the article goes on to say.
Religious tolerance is something that Indians have always prided themselves on.
In June 2021, the findings of a major new Pew Research Center survey of religion across India said:
"Indians see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation. Across the major religious groups, most people say it is very important to respect all religions to be “truly Indian.” And tolerance is a religious as well as civic value: Indians are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community".
"More than 70 years after India became free from colonial rule, Indians generally feel their country has lived up to one of its post-independence ideals: a society where followers of many religions can live and practice freely.
India’s massive population is diverse as well as devout. Not only do most of the world’s Hindus, Jains and Sikhs live in India, but it also is home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations and to millions of Christians and Buddhist," the survey noted.
The Pew Research Centre survey was based on nearly 30,000 face-to-face interviews of adults conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020 (before the COVID-19 pandemic). It said that Indians of all these religious backgrounds overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths.
Read the findings of the Pew Research Centre
The NBC News article also refers to developments in Tripura after Bangladesh saw anti-Hindu violence in October.
The article says:
Across the border in the Indian state of Tripura, a Hindu nationalist group responded to the deaths in Bangladesh by organizing protest rallies that turned violent, with mosques, shops and houses in Muslim communities vandalized across the state.
There have been no arrests related to the violence in Tripura, which is governed by the BJP. But the police detained dozens of people who reported or commented on the anti-Muslim attacks, including journalists, lawyers and more than 100 social media account holders, accusing them of spreading communal hatred.
Tripura Police registered cases after reports of arson and violence in some areas and said they were investigating an instance of a mosque being vandalized.
It is true that the police registered cases against many people who reported or commented on social media but the charges included spreading communal hatred.
Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has since instructed Director General of Police V S Yadav to “review” the cases and submit a report.
It is equally important to see the police action in the context of what actually seems to have happened on social media.
A report in The Indian Express on Saturday (November 27) quoted the Tripura Police as saying that there were "at least 14 links which have originated from outside India revealing the conspiracy hatched outside the country as well to promote hatred between religious groups and creating disturbances”.
According to the report, the police also claimed that at least one post by a handle ‘IAM Council’ had links with a terrorist network of Pakistan and was allegedly supporting Taliban and lobbying with a foreign organisation against India in connivance with Pakistan’s spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
"The analysis of the 68 Twitter profiles also revealed that a retired Major of the Pakistani Army interacted in a tweet of a profile of an unspecified user in the list. However, the listed Twitter user’s tweet was unavailable as his profile was pulled down as well," The Indian Express report added.
Read the complete article in The Indian Express
It is thus clear that the NBC News article has missed out on some crucial information that could have led to a different interpretation of the events that it describes in such detail.