Indian religion

How media outlets like NDTV use religion in their headlines to bolster their narrative

In a horrific incident in Dumka in Jharkhand, young student Ankita Kumari was burned to death by Shahrukh Hussain. After Ankita refused Shahrukh’s advances, he threw gasoline at her while she slept and then set her on fire. Ankita then lost the fight for her life in hospital and died in the early hours of Sunday.

It was interesting to note how this horrific crime was covered by ‘liberal’ media like NDTV. While they’ve never been shy about naming the religions of people involved in headlines in the past, even for crimes where no community angle was involved, this time around they not only avoided mentioning religions, but they even stopped short of naming the accused in the headline.

In fact, the title only referred to Shahrukh Hussain as “the bully” and Ankita as “the schoolgirl from Jharkhand”. The report titled “Jharkhand Schoolgirl Dies After Stalker Set Her On Fire: Police” was released by NDTV on Monday, August 29.

It wouldn’t have raised eyebrows if it was the standard style guide for NDTV where they avoided mentioning religions or the names of people involved in such incidents. However, as we can see in this report, from the same state of Jharkhand, the news channel did not shy away from highlighting religion when its own report later said that there is no had no community angle in the crime.

NDTV’s double standards when reporting such incidents were very visible to people online and were quickly exposed.

It is not an arbitrary decision to highlight religion in the headlines in one case and hide it in the other. This is regularly done by major Indian news channels to reinforce the narrative that the victims can only belong to one religion and that the abuser always comes from a particular religion. If the victim is Hindu, the mention of religion disappears from the headlines but reappears when a Muslim ends up being the victim.

Besides this selective mention of religion in the headlines, the media sometimes chooses a new name for the aggressor when he is Muslim. India Today, for example, today changed the name of Shahrukh Hussain in this case to Abhishek while reporting the incident. Online outrage forced them to correct the name in their report and quietly update it.

This is not a new practice in the Indian media industry and is unlikely to change any time soon. If we expect consistency in reporting all crimes, I’m afraid it’s a long wait.